Iron Man: Super-Villain?

iron1By the end of this weekend we’ll probably all have seen the third installment of the Iron Man film series, Iron Man 3. The armored avenger seems to be more popular now than ever before. He wasn’t always this popular though, even to comics fans.

When I was a wee one, I didn’t even know who Iron Man was, beyond the guy in the armor in the Avengers. My very first impression of him, my first comic book with him in it… was a wild one. It was a comic that showed me a whole different side of Iron Man, or at least in the memory of a six year old boy. I’ll be back after the jump with my memories and thoughts on The Incredible Hulk #131 from 1970.

A DC Boy on the Marvel Farm

It is worth mentioning that beyond an Amazing Spider-Man comic or two, that I had only because of the ultra-cool cartoon on television, and one or two of my big sister’s Fantastic Fours and X-Mens, this might well have been my very first Marvel Comic. At the discerning age of six, I was a DC Comics reader. I was all about Batman and Flash and Justice League, although again, my sister’s tastes also put Teen Titans and Supergirl into my reach. I guess you could say, it was a DC household.

Somehow, this copy of Incredible Hulk #131 made its way into my hands however. Looking at it was like looking at something in a foreign language. I remember friends and cousins poo-poo-ing Marvel Comics, saying their heroes always had problems, and that their stories were always to be continued. This was my first chance to find out for myself.

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See what a nice guy the Hulk is?

Shades of Grey

I remember being so confused by this comic. The good guys were fighting the good guys. Or maybe, Iron Man wasn’t one of the good guys. I would learn soon that superheroes fighting superheroes was a trademark of Marvel Comics, and eventually all superhero comics in the coming years. At six however, it was a puzzlement.

The set up of the story, which was continued from a previous issue, and continued in the next (the rumors were right!), had the military chasing the Hulk, wanting to destroy him, The Hulk was minding his own business, only helping his new friend Jim Wilson, who had shared a candy bar with him. The comic was called The Incredible Hulk, so he had to be the good guy, right? So why was Iron Man fighting the Hulk?

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Iron Man vs. the Hulk by Thomas and Trimpe

Definitely a Bad Guy

Iron Man shows up and helps the military, so clearly the bad guys, even provided them with a weapon to stop the Hulk. After ambushing our hero, Iron Man attacks, threatening to ‘destroy’ the Hulk, and promising a ‘final showdown.’ In the midst of battle, the armored avenger even demolishes a tenement with his repulsor rays. There’s no way this guy was on the side of good. And at the end of the comic, the Hulk was on his back unconscious with his enemies triumphant.

It would be almost two years before I picked up my first Avengers comic book (I know, hard to imagine for me too). So I really had no idea that my suspicions were not correct. Until I saw he was a member in good standing of the Avengers, and I needed proof, I didn’t believe that Iron Man was anything other than a Hulk foe.

Odds and Ends

Granted there was lots of stuff in this twenty page comic from forty-two years ago that I just did not get. There was the thing with this half-naked guy Banner who got merged with the Hulk. And there was young Jim Wilson referencing Steppin Fetchit, wow. Writer Roy Thomas doesn’t slip much, but that one hurt, even for 1970.

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The villainous Iron Man collapses a tenement on the Hulk.

There is also a bit of style shock going from the comics of today to the dialogue and caption heavy books of that era. And of course the best part is the Herb Trimpe art, only improved by the wonderful inks of John Severin. All you kids who talk about Todd McFarlane and Dale Keown on the Hulk, Trimpe is the real thing, baby.

Thanks for coming along on a look back on a six year old’s first exposure to Iron Man, and the Hulk, and the Marvel Comics Universe as well. Consider it a lesson in perspective, and that it should be well remembered by today’s creators – every comic is somebody’s first.

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