Powerful Panels: Iron Man #149 by John Romita Jr.

The original context of the two-part "Doomquest!" storyline in Iron Man isn't really known to me, but it's been recontexualized as significant or notable by a relatively recent hardback put out by Marvel that's a sort of companion piece to the other, big Michelinie-written, Romita Jr.-drawn story "Demon In a Bottle". In its current context then, opening up to the first issue of what sounds like a crazy-awesome story--Iron Man and Dr. Doom in Medieval times--you expect to be immediately blown away by something...that big, storyline opener that hooks you in or grabs you.

Not so much here, which isn't a surprise if you've read a lot of these pretty-smart, leisurely Marvel comics from the 70s, but it's strange in any era that the comic's first fight scene would be represented in a single panel like the one above, Even the most "sophisticated" of superhero comics never avoid illustrating a fight scene, but here we are, on page three of a new storyline, and John Romita Jr. represents a confrontation between Iron Man and a bunch of helicopter gunboat modern-day pirates in one rectangular panel of abstract images and odd sound effects.

The immediate things that come to mind are the old Adam West "Batman" show, with its over-the-top sound effects that bursts across the TV screen atop the awkwardly chereographed fight scenes, and old cartoons which often represented a fight or tussle as a cloud of motion lines and limbs popping out here and there. Both of these are references to things a little less serious than most Iron Man comics and so, it seems in a way, Romita Jr. even hinting towards the absurdity or at least, the weird, kinda hilarious choice he's made to not draw what could easily be a cool, mood-setting fight scene right at the beginning of the book. The sound effects too, are particularly weird and nonsensical, certainly not ones I've ever read before: "Whram", "Shrak", "Phlow".

It's hard to tell and silly to speculate as to why Romita Jr. chose to skip over this first fight scene, but the most reasonable argument seems to be that he and Michelinie have a whole lot of story go rush through in the next two issues--one double-size but still--and taking a page or two to illustrate a fight that's ultimately irrelevant just made sense. Of course, that only kind of makes sense...it's a fight scene! Show it anyway!

Still, there's a very cool, weirdly satisfying feeling to the panel, especially in the context of the ones before and after it. It reminds me of the "Superhero Minimalism" experiments over at 'I Love Rob Liefeld' where a comic's reduced to the fewest panels as possible while still making sense and retaining the power of the entire comic. Here then, Romita Jr. reduces the played-out fight scene of every comic into three panels: The Villian talks some shit, the Hero kicks his ass, the Villain goes to jail. Still, there's something inexplicably weird and almost like Jim Starlin cosmic about that odd frame of yellow and orange, "Batman" sound effects, and shards of debris or something flying in the center. It's easy to look at it and know it represents "Iron Man beats people up" but looking closer, it's represented in a really strange way.

This odd choice to eschew the fight scene for a bunch more exposition and set-up illustrates the specific joys of really good comics starring Iron Man, wherein the storyline and emotions are always much, much cooler than the action That statement could be easily applied to most good superhero stories, but it's especially true of "Iron Man", where it's Tony Stark that seems infinitely more fascinating and engaging than his alter-ego.

Even in the pretty-much perfect movie, the big, giant fight scene feels more like an inevitability and thing that's gotta happen than any kind of culmination or explosion of all the emotions and stuff that preceded it. Lopping off this "Doomquest" fight scene that really, really doesn't need to be in there and really would only serve as some kind of attention-grabbing device is a brilliant move, but one that would be rare in comics, even today.

No comments: