Let’s revisit the early 1980s this week with a review of Iron Man #152, which featured one of the first specialized suits of armor, his all-black Stealth Armor. The first was his Space Armor ten issues earlier, and at this time it seemed that Bob Layton and David Michelinie were using the logic behind Tony Stark custom building armor for a specific mission to introduce new variations of armor designs.
Iron Man #152
Writer: Bob Layton & David Michelinie
Pencils: John Romita, Jr.
Inks: Bob Layton
Colors: Glynis Wein
Iron Man is in East Berlin in new, black stealth armor, taking a survey of a mountainous base named Heaven’s Hand. After covertly taking pictures, he lands inside the perimeter, camouflaged with fake buildings. When he utilizes a sonic spike to get a sonar scan, he triggers a laser grid around the perimeter and defense drones to neutralize him. Since his armor wasn’t designed with any offensive weaponry, he has to use his boot jets to send the drones careening into each other. He flies off to escape, going directly through the laser grid, expecting to be protected from it, but nearly being fried by it instead.
He limps back to his lab in West Berlin and goes over why he’s there. His girlfriend Bethany McCabe went to Germany on a secret quest, but ended up arrested for espionage. After exhausting all diplomatic efforts, all he learned was that she was being held at Heaven’s Hand. Using the readout form the sonar scan, he finalizes his plan to rescue her. He wakes up his pilot, James Rhodes, and informs him that Iron Man needs his assistance to rescue Bethany the next night.
In Heaven’s Hand Bethany is reunited with her husband, whom she had believed to be dead. A KGB agent explains that the KGB faked his death to capture him, a US Ambassador, and get information on sleeper agents from him. Unfortunately, the drugs they used reacted with his own drug dependence to send him into a coma, from which he had just recently returned. The KBG hopes to use the threat of torturing Bethany to get the information out of her husband.
Iron Man flies over Heaven’s Hand with Rhodey in a stealth-equipped aircraft. He dives into the lake bordering the installation and enters through the waste pipe for its nuclear reactor, Since the water coming out of it is insanely hot, it’s not equipped with any sensors. He breaks into the reactor room, flooding it, forcing everyone to evacuate it. He quickly decontaminates and cools down his armor to change into the disguise of an East German Major.
He has Bethany brought to him. After he gets her alone, she informs him of her plan to rescue her husband using hired mercenaries which attack as they’re talking. Because of Tony’s rescue attempt, she doesn’t have the explosives that she smuggled in to help her escape with her husband. Therefore, she tells Tony to change into Iron Man, which surprises him. She confesses to learning his secret identity some time ago.
As Iron Man, he helps Bethany rescue her husband, and radios Rhodey for a pick-up. Rhodey picks up Bethany, her husband, and the mercenaries that she hired while Iron Man takes care of the tanks the East Germans try to use to stop them. As he flies off to join them in their flight from Heaven’s Hand, he is struck by a blast of energy from the ground. Rhodey has orders to get them back, no matter what and leaves Iron Man behind. When he comes to, As Iron Man lies unconscious the source of the energy that took him down is revealed as an old foe of his, the Living Laser.
The story is pretty straight forward and provides Iron Man with difficulty achieving his goals. He’s surprised by the strong defense perimeter of Heaven’s Hand, which is refreshing given that most writers would play off how powerful Iron Man is. However, the real trick to his plan is not working as Iron Man, but undercover. It’s refreshing to see. AT the time it was published, new Iron Man armor, especially armor that veered so drastically from the established norm, made for real excitement, especially with young fans.
The first few pages are excellently crafted, but the rest of the issue lacks a little bit. It comes across a little flat and very sparse and generic in its settings, except where they are established. It has the feeling of being produced on a tight schedule. This is not the John Romita, Jr. that would be producing some excellently crafted storytelling fifteen and twenty years later. Even in just a few years, his style would come into a new level of excellence with his work on Uncanny X-Men.
This issue has been collected a few times, see the links below for a few. It’s also available digitally, if that’s the way you prefer to read it. If you feel like you need to get the actual issue, don’t spend more than ten dollars. It wouldn’t be unbelievable to find it in a dollar box in a slightly lesser grade, but this is from an era where print runs were not outrageous and it has obvious importance to Iron Man collectors.
FINAL RATING: 6.5 (out of a possible 10)
The quality is absolutely average, but the story is slightly above average. The new armor is handled very well, but the rest of the story comes across as pedestrian, albeit relatively believable. The cliffhanger takes it away from a Cold War plot to another battle with a super-villain.
RECOMMENDED READING (AND BUYING):