Two Perspectives of a Hero

September 16, 2004

Iron Man: The Iron Age, Books 1 & 2

Writer: Kurt Busiek
Artist: Patrick Zircher

By Avi Green

Iron Man has been on-and-off a big time favorite of mine, but whether his adventures have been of good or bad quality, Tony Stark, the millionaires businessman and playboy who doubles as the Golden Avenger, is still a great character all around. And this two-part prestige format miniseries is an excellent update and look at the origins of Tony’s alter ego, Iron Man, told here from the perspectives of his two most notable co-stars, Virginia “Pepper” Potts, and Harold “Happy” Hogan, executive secretary and bodyguard/chauffeur of Tony’s, respectively. It’s a most touching story and update of the origins, told by an author who’s got a real sense of what makes comics like these work, and what fits in well with them too. And I guess you could probably say that about the artist too!

The book’s inner cover sides come ingrained with B&W panels from a lot of IM’s most notable stories, from both Tales of Suspense and his own solo book that began in 1968, that are here updated, and though here of course, they’re secondary to the purpose of this book, which is to tell the origin from an updated viewpoint, both writer and artist do an excellent job revisiting some of those many exciting scenes.

The first part takes place from the viewpoint of Pepper Potts, who had begun as a simple finance secretary at Stark Enterprises when Howard and Maria Stark were still alive, and the former still head of the company. Back then, Tony was merely an irresponsible big-man-on-campus at the colleges he went to, who didn’t care for lending a real helping hand to the company he was also part of, even at the time his father was still alive and head of it. He would rather go to parties, meet many hot girls, and become an alcoholic than spend his time in an office and at meetings to help build and develop the company, much to the distress of his father.

That all changed when Tony’s parents were killed in a car crash, and whether or not it was discovered at the time, Howard and Maria Stark’s death was no accident. It was the doing of a shady corporation that hoped to wrest ownership of Stark Enterprises from the hands of Tony, who was perceived as less witting and more vulnerable than his late parents were. And this same corporation had also hired the services of one sinister employee, Krieger being his name, to find ways to put Stark out of business, and to make it easy for his bosses to perform a corporate raid of the most crooked kind.

Pepper was promoted to executive secretary after she corrected an error on one of Tony’s financial records, much to the jealousy of her other female colleagues, who also swooned over the handsome company executive. But whereas in the original 60’s stories, she was more of a daydreaming, lovestruck gal who harbored a crush on Tony for a long time, here the story is that her liking for Tony was offset for a brief amount of time due to the fact that, while it was far from the most cruel thing he could do, he'd given her a friendly pat on her butt before leaving for a trip to a party with his cousin Morgan, who was probably even more of an aimless drifter in life than he was, and this got her understandably annoyed. She eventually got over it and was able to forgive him.

Until then, she did her best to focus on helping to run the company, and, as per the origin told here, Tony got his heart related injuries when taking a trip to Asia and was struck by shrapnel, and ran afoul of a powerful arms dealer who held him hostage in order to force him to build him some menacing weapons. But Tony turned the tables on him by secretly building a suit of armor, which would eventually become his first Iron Man guise, and escaped back to America, where he continued to use and develop his armored suits for crimefighting, and was none other than the main founding Avenger when the team first began.

The original premise had Tony being held by Communist agents who wanted him to build them special weapons, and our hero’s own injuries from then had come while doing service in Vietnam. This proves to be a pretty good update, with a simpler premise that doesn’t involve much timely, let alone political, content.

The second half is from the viewpoint of Happy Hogan, a down-and-out boxer from NYC who also worked at the racecar tracks in Indiana, and saved Tony’s life when his own car crashed and was in danger of exploding, with him in it. Returning the favor, Tony hired him as his personal chauffeur for Stark Enterprises, where Happy met and fell in love with Pepper, though she wasn’t impressed with his approach in trying to woo her at first. It was later, after the following events that he’d succeed in winning her heart, even if slowly.

Until then, Kreiger first tries to strike at Stark’s company by ways of a female mercenary named the Saboteur, but the attempt is abortive, as Tony knows how to handle the situation, and certainly when the opponent tries to use a robotic device against him. And it makes for an enjoyable showdown battle in the first half of the miniseries.

So then it’s plan B. Kreiger tries to talk Iron Man into taking the other side, using a pack of mercenaries to reach and make the offer to him. Happy, who sees this from the window of the office he’s in the evening this is done, begins to grow suspicious of IM, fearing that he could be betraying his ally, and tries to investigate in his spare time. Little does he know that Kreiger happens to be a disguise master himself, and is planning on pulling a frame job on Tony, by making it seem as if he’s masterminding the takeover of an airship meeting of foreign delegates whom Stark was going to be hosting, while at the same time planning to ambush IM if he does indeed intervene.

That’s where Happy, who’d accompanied the disguised villain to the airship, and was knocked out and tied up briefly, gets to prove himself just as much as IM does, by exposing Kreiger to the public, and blow the whole scheme out of the water, and also by using his boxing skills to fell a few of the terrorists working for Kreiger. And it makes for a very enjoyable second showdown battle in the latter half of the miniseries.

Kurt Busiek, one of the best comics writers in the business, has come up with a very engaging update and look at the goings-on of IM’s origins, how they began, and how his two most closest of friends got to know him, and how they see him. Most impressive here is how some of the scenes from the Silver Age are being reenacted here, including how Tony, in his original suit of armor, which was bulky and gold plated, used the strength provided to use a mobile airline staircase to stop some terrorists from escaping in a plane, and even the part where Happy tries to impress Pepper with his street talk, though it drops the part where Pepper admits her crush on Tony to Happy. And the best part is how it really cares about the characters to boot. Tony is portrayed as a flawed but otherwise kindly and intelligent man with a heart as gold as his armor, and Pepper and Happy are both appealingly and believably written too. And the villains are all enjoyably cunning and flamboyant.

Patrick Zircher’s artwork is splendid and suits the book perfectly. His drawing of Pepper certainly makes her look hot, even with the freckles that gave her her nickname, at the time she was a young girl in her early twenties, and the color here is bullseye.

The Iron Age is an excellent read for both old and new fans of Iron Man alike, balancing the drama and the action quite well, without resorting to the kind of excesses that plague today’s overly “commercialized” products, and is perfect for anyone who wants to know the man behind the armor for who he is indeed.

Copyright 2004 Avi Green. All rights reserved.

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