By Jim Beard
The 1970's proved as much a challenge to Tony Stark as his inaugural decade—perhaps even more so. Beginning with new hope for his handicap and ending in a slow slide into addiction, over the course of the 70's Iron Man continued to prove himself a multi-textured hero. Love, life, and loss—not to mention a few villains—all came calling in the sparkling seventies.
– The 60's ended with two important changes to Tony's life: the introduction of Whitney Frost in 1968, and an incredible heart transplant at the tail end of 1969. Vexatious and alluring, Whitney's family ties to the Maggia criminal organization led to hideous scaring of her face and the eventual adoption of her Madame Masque persona. Tony saw only another lady love to be conquered and with his own new heart he succeeded in winning Whitney's—for a time. By the end of the 70's, the armored hero would feel the sting of betrayal as Madame Masque returned to her criminal legacy.
Tony's transplanted heart wouldn't be the end of his physical troubles. By IRON MAN v1 #58 in 1973, his body had accepted the new organ but it continued to be a source of trouble for years to come. On the upside, the millionaire became independent of his weight chest plate, but on the downside he became intimately aware of the ever-present threat of seizures.
Another disco darling to dance in Tony's direction: the beguiling Roxie Gilbert, a granola-crunching earth mother who hated capitalists but swooned for Iron Man's boss. Roxie presented herself as a delicious distraction from problems with Pepper Potts Hogan, Tony's long-time secretary, and Iron Man even ran off to Vietnam to find Roxie's brother in IRON MAN v1 #67 just to avoid another awkward scene with Pepper's husband Happy.
By 1979, Tony's heart palpitations, both physical and romantic, would seem tame in comparison to the "demon in a bottle." While he began drinking simply for relaxation and social obligations, the increasing demands of being Iron Man and running an immense corporation took its
toll on the Golden Avenger and by IRON MAN v1 #128 he had become virtually a lost soul. What villains and financial concerns couldn't conquer, alcohol did, and Tony's very existence hung by a string.
– For the most part, Tony Stark kept the status quo with Iron Man's armor throughout the 1970's, at least outwardly. The famous red and gold suit remained the order of the day, albeit with a few modifications here and there—like losing a nose. In 1976, IRON MAN v1 #85, told the tale of the Golden Avenger's new suit of "micro-thin" armor that could "depolarize," allowing it to feel "just like cloth" in its stand-down state. Unfortunately, what Tony gained in maneuverability he lost in strength; the new armor became more vulnerable than previously and as, Tony explained, "…in order for the mask to retain symmetry, the nose had to go…" The times they did change, brother.
By late '76 and IRON MAN v1 #95, Shellhead decided he'd had enough of armor-like-cloth and cranked up a "neo-classic" suit that was bulkier but a heckuva lot stronger. Never being one to let a good thing lie, Tony went 49 hours without sleep to craft new "ultrapower" duds in IRON MAN v1 #98. That suit made history as Iron Man
gear that wasn't solar-powered. Unsatisfied, Tony restored the suit's solar collectors in IRON MAN v1 #118 in 1979, just about the time it started to malfunction…
– Old pals—and employees—Happy Hogan and Pepper Potts finally tied the knot, making Tony so happy that he hit on Pepper. Yes, you read correctly. IRON MAN v1 #63 in 1973 treated us to the ultimate event in the long-standing love triangle: Mr. Stark smooched on Mrs. Hogan and Mr. Hogan caught 'em red-lipped…err, handed. Eventually there were fisticuffs, harsh words, and the weird world of Tony, Happy and Pepper devolved into disillusionment, depression, and divorce. Oh, and Happy kept right on transforming into the Freak, just to add spice to things.
Tony also palled around with a bevy of super types throughout the 70's, including Thor's alter ego Dr. Don Blake, Captain America, and the jaunty Jack of Hearts. One of the greatest stories of friendship from the 70's emerged between Iron Man the Guardsman. An employee of Tony's with whom he became close to the point of revealing his secret identity, the first Guardsman went by the name of Kevin
O'Brien. Granting Kevin a suit of spare armor in IRON MAN v1 #43, Tony soon found that a malfunction caused madness and battled Kevin, leading indirectly to the Guardsman's death. In 1975, along came Kevin's brother Michael to investigate the accident, and he became the new Guardsman to "bring Iron Man to justice." Suffice to say it all worked out okay, and the second Guardsman became a staunch ally and friend of the Golden Avenger.
Need we mention the bald-headed Moondragon, who debuted in IRON MAN v1 #54? Okay, let's. How about the first appearance by those Titan-ic titans Drax the Destroyer and Starfox in IRON MAN v1 #55? Sure, we'll throw them in, too. While we're at it, we'll also paint a picture of perhaps the very best friend Mr. Tony Stark ever had: James Rhodes. Debuting in IRON MAN v1 #118, "Rhodey" impressed as one of the most loyal Stark employees ever and eventually the man that Tony would turn to in the most desperate and dangerous of times. Jim Rhodes defined capable and confident, willing to do just about anything for his boss.
No further discussion of Tony Stark's friends in the 1970's would be complete without mentioning the beautiful Bethany Cabe. Rival first, then lover, Bethany came on like gangbusters, a professional bodyguard who couldn't stand Iron Man but hit it off rather
well with the hero's boss. The crimson-tressed Ms. Cabe made her debut in IRON MAN v1 #117, late in '78, but by the end of the decade she figured as a crucial ally of Tony's in his desperate struggle with alcoholism—an angel in aqua chiffon.
– New enemies: a way of life for a costumed hero, no two ways around it. The 1970's threw some doozies at ol' Shellhead and he gave a few repulsor rays in return. Early in the decade came the third Crimson Dynamo, the Minotaur, and the stealthy Spymaster, then the second Freak, the Blizzard—the former Jack Frost—and the powerful Dr. Spectrum. By 1976, Iron Man's rogues gallery had grown to horrific proportions, extending even to an alternate Earth version of President Gerald Ford who got all dolled up and called himself the Black Lama. Don't believe us? Take a look at 1972's IRON MAN v1 #53!
Prior playmates of ol' Shellhead's also crawled out of the woodwork; crooks like the Unicorn, Whiplash, and the Melter—and no place proved sacred to these fearsome foes, not even Atlantic City
. IRON MAN v1 #123 and #124 told the sad tale. What a waste of a good roulette wheel.
And of course we can't forget the Mandarin. The ten-ringed criminal genius bedeviled Iron Man throughout the 1970's, dead set on proving his superiority over his sworn
enemy. Alas, that honor fell to a man who without even a hint of superpowers or alien technology as rival industrialist Justin Hammer managed to manipulate the Golden Avenger into one of his most frightening situations of the decade: a murder in 1979. Guarding a visiting ambassador, Iron Man's repulsor beams—controlled by Hammer—shot the foreign dignitary through the heart, killing him. Before the situation got cleared up, Tony surrendered the ron Man armor to the authorities, sank deeper into the bottle, and went on the run. That run took him into the glittering 1980's and into another decade of action and adventure...
Need to catch up on your Iron Man reading? Looking for the perfect stories starring Ol' Shellhead? Check out our list of the 10 Collections marked as required reading by any Iron Man fan!
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