For this week’s Marvel Rundown, we’re looking at yet another classic storyline from the history of the House of Ideas. This time Tony Stark is given the spotlight as a member of the Rundown crew reads what many believe to be the quintessential Iron Man story, “Demon in a Bottle.” We look at how well the Bronze Age tale holds up, both in terms of storytelling and in its depiction of the complicated subject of alcoholism.
Our look at the Iron Man: Demon in a Bottle collection is ahead in the latest installment of The Marvel Rundown!
Iron Man: Demon in a Bottle
Written by David Michelinie & Bob Layton
Pencilled by John Romita Jr. & Carmine Infantino
Inked by Bob Layton
Colored by Ben Sean, Carl Gafford, & Bob Sharen
Collection Color Reconstruction by Jerron Quality Color and Jamison Services
Lettered by John Costanza, Irving Watanabe, Jim Novak, and Joe Rosen
Collection Cover by John Romita Jr. & Avalon’s Ian Hannin
Reviewed by Joe Grunenwald
I should open this with a bit of a confession: I’ve never been a big Iron Man fan. I don’t know what it is about the concept that just does nothing for me. He’s basically Batman in a suit of armor, and I love Batman. Even Robert Downey Jr.’s seemingly endless charisma couldn’t get me that excited about Iron Man. Maybe it’s the facial hair? I really don’t know. So when I sat down to read one of the most influential Iron Man stories of all time, “Demon in a Bottle,” it was also my first time sitting down to read any full Iron Man story.
The Iron Man: Demon in a Bottle collection includes issues #120 through 128 of the series; issue 122 features a full re-telling of Tony’s origin story. Even without that, though, the collection serves fairly well as an introduction to the character. The stories are largely one- or two-issue tales that find Tony Stark struggling to maintain control of his company, facing off against a new threat in the form of Justin Hammer, and framed for the murder of a foreign diplomat. It’s a welcome respite from more current decompressed storytelling, with satisfying self-contained stories that feature sub-plots running throughout.
It’s one particular sub-plot that’s the focus here. At first I have to admit I expected Tony’s developing alcohol abuse to be a bigger part of each story in the collection, but once I realized that wasn’t going to be the case I was able to enjoy plotters David Michelinie and Bob Layton’s pacing of that element of the stories more fully. It’s present, and the stories place some emphasis on it simply by its presence, but it’s not until the last issue-and-a-half or so of the collection that it really comes to the forefront.
That final issue, which gives the collection its name, is a whirlwind, with Tony being confronted head-on about his alcoholism, seemingly kicking it, and nearly relapsing before apparently putting the problem to rest. It’s a condensed way to deal with a complex issue in a short period of time, but as a 22-page comic book it’s pretty powerful stuff. Michelinie’s scripting is less verbose than some other writers of the era, but he still brings readers into the heads of his characters well. In the moments when the visuals do all the talking, Layton (working from breakdowns by John Romita Jr., and in the case of issue #122 pencils by Carmine Infantino) makes the pages sing. His linework is clean and classic, and he and Michelinie do a fantastic job avoiding things that overly date the stories in a way that took me out of reading them.
Aside from the social relevance of the story, I’d imagine one of the reasons Demon in a Bottle has remained such an influential Iron Man story is that, like last week’s Daredevil: Born Again, it’s an incredible jumping-off point for future stories. Reading Demon in a Bottle very much made me want to know what happens next. I know that at some point James “Rhodey” Rhodes becomes Iron Man due to Tony’s alcoholism, but I was surprised to learn that wasn’t in this book, and that it’s actually not for another forty-odd issues. I really want to know what happens between the end of this collection and when that takes place. I can’t say I’ve fully come around to being an Iron Man fan, but the fact that I’m interested in finding out what’s next after this story seems like a good first step.
Next week, another look at a classic Marvel Comics tale of yesteryear!