Iron Man: Demon in a Bottle
Collects: Iron Man #120-8 (1979)
Released: 1989, re-released June 2006 (Marvel)
Format: 168 pages / color / $24.99 / ISBN: 9780785120438
What is this?: Iron Man battles Justin Hammer and the bottle.
The culprits: Writer David Michilinie, writer / inker Bob Layton, and pencilers John Romita Jr. and Carmine Infantino
I picked up Iron Man: Demon in a Bottle because it’s a major storyline for a character who doesn’t have very many major storylines. Really, Iron Man has Armor Wars and his various battles with Dr. Doom, and that’s it.
So many fans have been clamoring for Demon in a Bottle to form the nucleus of the next Iron Man film. That’s fine; it’s inevitable it will be used sooner or later in the film series, and it is one of the standout stories for the character. But how does it measure up to the rest of the Marvel Universe and the comics world in general?
Not as well as Iron Man fans might hope. The story gets its power from the idea: hero as alcoholic. But liquor isn’t Tony’s only enemy; no, he has to battle rival industrialist Justin Hammer. And boy, does Hammer school him.
But he’s upstaged by Tony’s personal problems. As a 21st-century reader, Tony’s battle with alcoholism is disappointing at some level. While some children in the ‘70s were probably getting their first glimpse of the damage alcohol could do, even to a great man, alcoholism isn’t as shocking to modern, adult readers. There’s also a risk of insensitivity; judging from Demon, there’s a very fine line between liking to drink and becoming a dysfunctional boozehound. I have a feeling it’s not quite that black and white in real life. Even though I admit writers David Michelinie and Bob Layton don’t have a lot of space to devote to a very real problem, I don’t think it’s developed well enough. I realize that’s subjecting the storyline to a critical viewpoint it was never intended to endure, but given the current demographics of comic-book readers, I think it’s fair to look at Demon from the adult point of view.
The real interesting conflict is between Iron Man and Hammer, who was introduced by Michelinie and Layton in this storyline. Hammer not only crushes Tony’s reputation and drives him to the bottle, he also manages to recruit an army of colorful second-string villains that deserves to be celebrated. I mean, any time you see the Beetle, Leap Frog, Blizzard, Whiplash, and the Constrictor together, that has to bring a smile to your face.
I really enjoyed penciler John Romita Jr.’s work on Demon. I’m a fan of his early work on Uncanny X-Men and Amazing Spider-Man, and his work here is just as excellent as his well-known runs on those titles. Iron Man is sleek, powerful, and always in motion. Even at a young age (he was 23 when this storyline ended), he can handle a crowded fight scene with aplomb. He can even handle subtler emotions. I might not enjoy his work in the ‘90s, but man, he was on top of his game here.
The structure of the storyline shows it obviously isn’t meant to be looked at as we see it today, in TPB form. There’s an issue in the middle of the collection that simply recaps the Iron Man story. It starts with a two-part story with Namor that doesn’t have much to do with the rest of the story, except for Tony’s fondness for martinis and the introduction of Hammer. The tight weaving of the alcoholism and Hammer stories, each of which would be excellent on their own, leaves each of them a little strained for space.
Still, there’s too much good stuff here to deny Demon is worth reading. It’s a product of another time; it’s a portal to a different world. Quibbles aside, it’s an entertaining story, and there are aspirations here to something beyond a good story. I might argue it didn’t quite do the job, but it’s impossible to argue Michelinie, Layton, and Romita Jr. haven’t done something unique here.
Rating: (3 of 5)