First Published: April 2010
Contents: Iron Man #39 (July 1971) to #61 (August 1973)
Key Creator Credits: Gerry Conway, Gary Friedrich, Mike Friedrich, Steve Gerber, Jim Starlin, and George Tuska
Key First Appearances: Guardsman, Moondragon (as Madame MacEvil), Blood Brothers, Thanos, Drax the Destroyer, Chronos, ISAAC, Mentor, Eros/Starfox
Story Continues From: Essential Iron Man Vol. 3
Story Continues In: Essential Iron Man Vol. 5
Overview: You would think that Tony Stark would have things easy by now. His company, Stark Industries, is doing well; Tony’s heart is getting stronger thanks to a pacemaker; his love interest Marianne Rodgers, really digs his thoughts; and his Iron Man armor has never been better. Life’s good, right? Um, not so much….
Tony Stark/Iron Man faces a variety of challenges – at home, in the corporate boardroom, and on the battlefield. Stark finds that with his heart healing, he can commit to a long-term relationship with Marianne, and proposes to her. However, Marianne has E.S.P. powers that constantly foretell of dangers that Iron Man will face. She can’t bear the thought of Tony dying, and stumbles down the path to insanity. Tony breaks off the engagement, as he finds that his role as Iron Man once again gets in the way of living a normal life.
At Stark Industries, Tony is facing a takeover battle by Simon Gilbert, the chairman of the board. Gilbert uses his sway to have Kevin O’Brien don the Guardsman armor, which corrupts his thinking. The Guardsman becomes a pawn for Gilbert to use against Stark. When the takeover bid fails, Gilbert takes matters into his own hands by planting a bomb in one of Stark’s construction plants. His hubris gets in the way, and Gilbert is killed in the explosion.
While in the armor, Iron Man faces a variety of foes, some familiar and some new. No book would be complete without an appearance by the Mandarin. He sneaks into the picture as Gene Kahn (think about it!), a labor organizer trying to create unions at Stark’s facilities. Firebrand returns and the revelation of his parentage explodes across the pages. And in the midst of everything, a new villain is introduced that would have far-reaching effects on the Marvel Universe as Iron Man is caught up in a fight between Drax the Destroyer and Thanos!
What makes this Essential?: Issue #55 (first appearance of Thanos) is what makes this volume of stories Essential. However, the stories preceding and following this issue seem small in comparison. You could get this volume as a cheap way to read this issue. There are other reprint collections which feature issue #55, in color, for close to the same price. Pick up one of those volumes. Get this only if you are a die-hard Iron Man fan. Even that might be a waste of money, but not as much a waste as Iron Man installing roller skates in his boots — see issue #56.
Footnotes: While Iron Man #55 is considered to be the first appearance of Thanos, he does not truly appear in this issue. The Thanos we see is a robot, and other appearances are in flashback. The first full appearance of Thanos is Captain Marvel #27.
Iron Man #55 was also reprinted in Essential Captain Marvel Vol. #2.
If you like this volume, try: the Thanos Rising story by Jason Aaron and Simone Bianchi. I realize that I am quickly making this review into Essential Thanos Vol. 1, but bear with me. Thanos has become a major player in the Marvel Universe, and now the Marvel Cinematic Universe. With the interest in the character, Aaron and Bianchi visit the origins of the demigod, explaining his childhood and how he came to power. Both creators are at their artistic peaks with this storyline, making the reader feel compassion for what is one of the most-evil villains in the Marvel library.