Weekends are the time for Balladeer’s Blog’s escapist forays into superheroes, who seem to be everywhere these days. This time around it will be a multi-week look at Iron Man and one of his most memorable story runs from the 1970s.
IRON MAN Vol 1 #52 (November 1972)
Title: Raga, Son of Fire
Villains: The Black Lama and Raga, Son of Fire
NOTE: This is still the decades-long period of time when Tony Stark covered up his identity as Iron Man by pretending publicly that the armored superhero was really his high-tech bodyguard. That explanation allayed suspicion about why Iron Man so often showed up wherever Tony Stark was at the time.
Synopsis: This issue starts off with Tony Stark in his Iron Man armor using his high-tech training room at Stark Industries Headquarters on Long Island. Our hero uses this hidden area as a testing ground for every upgrade he adds to his armor.
This afternoon all of the destructive devices and traps are overcome by Iron Man’s latest improvements. The test session over with, Tony Stark catches a flight to California. With his engagement to long-time girlfriend Marianne Rodgers called off recently our hero is off on a vacation.
He starts partying with other members of the Jet Set in the on-board lounge during his flight westward. With Tony once again available – and with his secret heart transplant working perfectly – he returns to his old playboy ways. The women on board vie with each other for Stark’s attention, smitten with his looks, brains and immense wealth.
Tony assures one of the ladies, named Tanya Sims, that he has cut down on his drinking and is more interested in spending this vacation indulging in assorted outdoor and indoor “sports.” (Already they were planting the seeds for Tony’s future alcoholism.) We readers are then shown a montage of scenes with Tony also partying in California with a long line of beautiful women.
He and they spend their time golfing, sailing, scuba diving, dancing, etc. (If you’re wondering, this is during the period when Pepper Potts was married to Happy Hogan in Merry Matrimony & Nuptial Nirvana and was no longer working for Stark Industries.)
In the Santa Monica Mountains, we join the brand-new supervillain Raga, the Son of Fire. Raga leads a cult and is himself a pupil of a mysterious entity called the Black Lama. (As the old saying goes, “The one-L lama is a priest, the two-L llama is a beast.”)
Raga catches one of his female disciples, Cynthia Chong, kissing and cuddling with forest ranger Mackenzie Davies. This violates his cult rules against associating with outsiders. Raga intrudes on the lovebirds, threatening Cynthia with punishment for her “transgression.”
Mackenzie tries to protect her from the Son of Fire, but the villain uses the powers he has gained under the Black Lama’s tutelage – he can generate incredible heat from his body. Mack burns his fists on Raga’s face when he tries punching him, then the Son of Fire musters up greater than human strength to easily batter the forest ranger around.
Next he uses his flame power to set the grass around the fallen Mack on fire then drags the screaming Cynthia back to their cult’s camp. The fire Raga started spreads quickly since its Fire Season in California (yes, even back in 1972).
From the resort for the wealthy at which Tony Stark and his latest lady friend are frolicking, they eventually spot smoke from the spreading flames. Tony mentions the state’s “tinderbox fire season” and slips away to don his Iron Man armor.
Our hero flies off toward the now-blazing inferno, where he uses his power to save Mack’s life and to blast a firestop which arrests the spread of the forest fire. Back with Raga and his disciples of both sexes, they debate Cynthia’s fate and decide she must be put to death.
Elsewhere, Marianne Rodgers has been working as a scientist at an unnamed corporation, trying to put Tony Stark out of her mind. One day her psychic powers once again slip out of control and she thinks she sees monstrous figures attacking her. Marianne’s coworkers call for help and a nurse from an institution leads her away.
Back in the Santa Monica Mountains, Iron Man has been flying above the forest, circling until the fire is completely out. Catching sight of Raga and his cultists about to kill the bound Cynthia Chong, he swoops down and stops it.
After easily smacking around Raga’s non-powered disciples, our hero is attacked by Raga himself. A battle royal results as Iron Man deals with Raga’s ability to shoot flames, grow to giant size and cause earthquakes which unleash lava flows on the surface.
As Raga and Iron Man continue fighting amid the ruptures and lava flows, Tony’s jet-boots get mired in some of the lava, seemingly leaving him at the mercy of Raga as the lava threatens to melt through his armor.
IRON MAN Vol 1 #53 (December 1972)
Title: The Curse of the Black Lama
Villains: The Black Lama and Raga
Synopsis: In tried and true cliffhanger fashion, Iron Man manages to fly free of the lava just in time. From his sudden altitude he can see that Raga’s lava flows are pouring toward several houses in the area. Already a panic has started with civilians fleeing the area.
Temporarily abandoning his battle with the Son of Fire, our hero uses his armor’s strength and repulsor rays to pile high enough rocks and granite to divert the lava flows away from the homes and into the ocean, where they erupt in harmless steam.
The bystanders cheer on Iron Man and return to their homes as he flies back to Raga’s location. Meanwhile, the Son of Fire is addressing his disciples, who are scared to death by the incredible powers Raga displayed while fighting Tony.
Suddenly, the Black Lama himself materializes behind Raga and expresses his disappointment with the Son of Fire. The two argue while we learn how they met. Months earlier, Raga – real name George Friedrich in honor of the writer and artist who created him, George Tuska and Mike Friedrich – was stalking a girlfriend who no longer wanted anything to do with him.
The villain was already a very ugly human being and angrily beat the woman and her new husband to death. The Black Lama, drawn to him by his anger, took him on as a student. He taught George Friedrich to harness his anger as spiritual energy that ultimately let him control flames and earthquakes plus grant him a degree of super strength and the power to grow to giant size.
With Iron Man still not having arrived back yet, the Black Lama chews out Raga for unleashing his new powers before he (the Black Lama) had planned for him to.
Raga’s other disciples decide to use the argument as cover to escape. They all do, except for Cynthia Chong, whom the Son of Fire grabs and tries to kill to impress the Black Lama. Cynthia has learned a little bit of her own soul powers under Raga and manages to fight him off for a few seconds before being overpowered.
Before the villain can kill her, Iron Man arrives and blasts him again with his repulsor rays. The Black Lama buys time for Raga to recover by using his reality altering powers against our hero. Iron Man tries to punch and blast the Black Lama but the latter uses his power to turn intangible to make himself immune to Tony’s attacks.
Presently, Raga engages in battle with Iron Man again and our hero ultimately defeats him. The Black Lama then uses his own powers to render Tony, Raga and Cynthia Chong unable to move. Before the Lama can take further action against them, forest ranger Mackenzie Davies stumbles upon the scene and tries to attack the Black Lama.
Mack does no damage to the supervillain, of course, but distracts him enough for Iron Man to break free and regain movement. Raga is granted freedom of movement by the Black Lama and the Son of Fire attacks Tony again.
This time Iron Man decisively defeats him and the Black Lama teleports away, pronouncing Raga a failure. Raga is so upset that he loses control of his earthquake powers and winds up dying in a massive rockslide that he unleashes.
Iron Man flies Cynthia and Mack to safety as they see Raga perish. As Cynthia and Mack embrace and kiss, Tony appreciates the happy ending for these lovebirds.
NOTE: Believe it or not, Raga really was dead and has STAYED dead since 1972. Knowing comic books, though, he may yet turn up alive some day. The Black Lama, naturally, will strike again and becomes a major villain in the installments ahead.
I’LL POST THE NEXT INSTALLMENT SOON. KEEP CHECKING BACK.
FOR CHAPTER LINKS TO MY REVIEW OF SPIDER-MAN 1970s CLASSICS CLICK HERE.
FOR CHAPTER LINKS IN THE AVENGERS/ MANTIS/ KANG/ CELESTIAL MADONNA STORY CLICK HERE.
FOR A LOOK AT “IRON MAN & SUB-MARINER” # 1 and ONLY, CLICK HERE.
FOR CHAPTER LINKS IN THE AVENGERS/ KREE-SKRULL WAR STORY CLICK HERE.
FOR CHAPTER LINKS TO THE 1970s ADAM WARLOCK/ GAMORA/ THANOS/ MAGUS STORY CLICK HERE.
FOR THE EARLY GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY STORIES CLICK HERE.
FOR CHAPTER LINKS TO THE 1970s BLACK PANTHER VS KILLMONGER STORY CLICK HERE.
FOR DC FANS, CHAPTER LINKS TO MY REVIEWS OF WORLD WAR TWO ERA JUSTICE SOCIETY STORIES. CLICK HERE.