First Published: November 2004
Contents: Iron Man stories from Tales of Suspense #73 (January 1966) to #99 (March 1968); Sub-Mariner story from Tales to Astonish #82 (August 1966); Iron Man & Sub-Mariner #1 (April 1968); and Iron Man #1 (May 1968) to #11 (March 1969)
Key Creator Credits: Stan Lee, Gene Colan, Archie Goodwin, George Tuska, and Johnny Craig
Key First Appearances: Ultimo, Whiplash, Whitney Frost/Countess Giulietta Nefaria, Janice Cord
Story Continues In: Essential Iron Man Vol. 1
Story Continues In: Essential Iron Man Vol. 3
Overview: Welcome back to the world of Iron Man! Tony Stark is a man of many roles — inventor, businessman, playboy, and Avenger. Whether holding off another scheme by the Mandarin, or testifying before Congress, Tony Stark balances the many demands and threats on his life with the charm and suave that makes men jealous and women swoon.
In this volume, we see more of Tony’s ties with Nick Fury and his agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. (Supreme Headquarters, International Espionage, Law-Enforcement Division). Tony’s best friend, Happy Hogan, undergoes some freakish changes. And the villain known as Whiplash makes his debut; however, he will rename himself Blacklash in later issues.
Some new ladies come into Tony Stark’s life. First up is Whitney Frost, a.k.a. the Countess Nefaria, the heiress to the Maggia crime family. This puts her at odds with Tony Stark, in and out of his armor. In the next Essential, we see Frost injured in a place crash, forcing her to don a mask to hide her disfigurement and adopt a new identity of Madame Masque. Another character introduced was Janice Cord, Tony’s girlfriend and the daughter of the CEO of Cord Industries, a rival to Stark Industries. Unfortunately, being the girlfriend of a Marvel hero is a hazardous occupation, as we see in Essential Iron Man Vol. 3.
What makes this Essential?:This collection explodes off the page as Gene Colan replaces Don Heck as the Iron Man artist in Tales of Suspense. These stories read quickly, as the stories cram a lot of events into 12 pages of stories. Colan would stay with the character for the remainder of the Tales of Suspense run. (It was also in this era that Colan took over the art duties on Daredevil.) The end of Tales of Suspense marked a lot of changes for the character. Iron Man moved into his own title, and Archie Goodwin replaced Stan Lee as the Iron Man writer. New artists take over from Colan at the same time. Because of the art, I consider this to be a better volume than Essential Iron Man Vol. 1, but so much gets introduced in that first volume that it still remains an essential read.
Footnotes: Tales to Astonish #82 and Tales of Suspense #80 were reprinted in Essential Sub-Mariner Vol. 1
If you like this volume, try: reading S.H.I.E.L.D. by Jonathan Hickman and Dustin Weaver. This series from 2010 explored the history of the S.H.I.E.L.D. organization, with roots back to Leonardo da Vinci and Isaac Newton. While the story jumps around in different eras, the characters from the most current era of the story are Howard Stark (future father of Tony Stark) and Nathaniel Richards (future father of Reed Richards). Hickman creates a wondrous history of an organization designed to protect humanity, and Weavers illustrations are majestic in the scope of the story. Easter eggs are scattered throughout the issues, sure to delight long-time Marvel readers. Hickman and Weaver keep promising to finish up the second volume of S.H.I.E.L.D., so hopefully we will see that later this year.