For Part One of these Iron Man 1970s classics click HERE.
IRON MAN Vol 1 #79 (October 1975)
Title: Midnight on Murder Mountain
Villains: Dr. Kurarkill and her Neo-Apes
NOTE: Before moving on to the conclusion of the long-running Black Lama storyline, Marvel’s editors had to apologize yet AGAIN for the next issue not being ready and a fill-in story having to be run in its place. This one is set AFTER Iron Man’s final run-in with the Black Lama, presented below.
Synopsis: On a rainy night, Tony Stark, clad in his Iron Man armor, is flying back to New York from Cleveland, where he continued refashioning his company now that he will no longer be doing munitions work. Along the way, in western Pennsylvania, he comes to the aid of a man, a woman and their pet cat whose vehicle was pinned under a falling tree.
With the car inoperable now, Iron Man flies to the nearest town, switches back to Tony Stark and rents a car. He drives back to pick up the couple (Keith and Carrie) and their cat as well as their belongings. As the torrential downpour continues, Tony and his passengers are turned away at five motels due to no rooms being available.
At last, a creepy lodge atop Murder Mountain (yes, really) takes them in. Overnight, Tony has to become Iron Man when Dr. Kurarkill, the supervillainess who uses the lodge as a cover for her experiments on human guinea pigs, tries to make Keith and Carrie her next victims.
Our hero battles an enormous bald Hulk-sized creature called Quasar, Kurarkill’s lone success thus far in her attempts to evolve apes into humanoid paragons of strength and intelligence. The mad doctor also mutates human victims into backward, apelike, caveman beings.
Iron Man falls in battle and is imprisoned in electrical stasis fields alongside Keith and Carrie. Dr. Kurarkill reveals that – typical of so many mad scientists – she was laughed out of the scientific community for her theories and condemned for her inhumane treatment of her experimental subjects.
She set up her laboratory in this lodge on Murder Mountain, so-named for a crazed serial killer who stalked the area long ago. Kurarkill has been preying on the occasional “guest” ever since.
Needless to say, our hero and the couple escape, Iron Man defeats Quasar and Dr. Kurarkill winds up being torn to pieces by her vengeful human guinea pigs.
IRON MAN Vol 1 #80 (November 1975)
Title: Mission into Madness
Villains: The Black Lama and Firebrand
Synopsis: This issue picks up where issue number 78 ended last time around – with Iron Man following the escaping Black Lama and Firebrand into the closing dimensional rift caused by the Golden Globe of Power. That globe, if you’ll recall, was the prize for the winner in the Black Lama’s war pitting several of Earth’s supervillains against each other.
The Lama declared Firebrand the unlikely winner after the villain defeated an exhausted Iron Man. Firebrand planned to use the power of the Globe to launch his “revolution” and take over the world. To his surprise, the Black Lama had been lying to all his war’s participants and the Golden Globe of Power turned out to be a trap which, instead of bestowing Ultimate Power, opened an interdimensional rift leading back to the Black Lama’s homeworld and taking Firebrand with it. Iron Man dove in just before the rift closed.
Iron Man and Firebrand find themselves in Michigan on a parallel Earth, the home of the Black Lama, who materializes along with them in an elaborate throne-room of some sort. Though appearing medieval, the place has advanced technology, including ray-blasting guns and cannon of all kinds.
Just like many other parallel Earths in the Marvel Comics universe, the castle’s inhabitants and guests speak English. The guards are ordered to kill Iron Man and Firebrand, NOT by the Black Lama, but by a royal addressed as “Baron Rockler.”
Iron Man and Firebrand are forced to fight side by side for once, but they still argue throughout the entire battle since Firebrand is killing every foe he strikes down. Our hero once again points out Firebrand’s hypocrisy, always claiming to champion oppressed peoples but ruthlessly exterminating anyone who opposes him.
Because Iron Man is still low on power and physically exhausted after fighting his way through so many participants in the Black Lama’s War of the Supervillains during the past 12 hours or so, it looks like he and Firebrand will be overwhelmed and killed. At the last minute, a sliding wall opens to admit them while closing to prevent the attacking soldiers from following.
To their surprise they find themselves in another room of the castle with the Black Lama and a blonde princess who identifies herself as the Lama’s daughter. Tony assumes he and Firebrand are still about to be killed, but by the Black Lama instead of the ray-gun wielding army.
Astonishingly, the Black Lama tells Iron Man that in spite of their past encounters, this time he is on our hero’s side. And, for the first time we see his face as he pulls off his mask to reveal that he is the Gerald Ford of this alternate Earth, but with a royal hairpiece and forehead jewelry.
NOTE: Bizarrely enough, this setup is not used for any real sort of political commentary, but just as a bizarre “alternate Earth” tale, with familiar figures in roles outside their roles on OUR Earth. This is similar to when the Avengers would visit the alternate Earth where the Squadron Supreme (not Squadron Sinister) lived and oddball figures would be president of the United States.
Back to the story and the Black Lama’s Origin Rant, on this Earth he is not the American president but is instead the feudal ruler of the Kingdom of Grand Rapids. Like on our Earth he has a daughter named Susan but in this world she is the princess of the realm.
As the Black Lama – calling himself King Gerald/ Jerald – explains, on this Earth no United States was formed. The North American continent became a disparate collection of nations, some ruled by monarchs, others set up as republics, etc. Many North American Indian tribes retained their independence and rule powerful nation-states of their own.
As a few examples, Iron Man and Firebrand learn there is a Boston Republic, a Nation of Menomonee Indians and a Minnesota Empire ruled by an “Emperor Norton.” Given the many nods to 1970s American politics that this world has, I’m surprised the ruler of Minnesota wasn’t instead called Emperor Muskie or Emperor Hubert Humphrey the First. After all, Gerald and Susan Ford’s ties to Michigan are still intact on this alternate Earth, so why not other political families?
At any rate, “King Jerald” continues his explanation by saying that his predecessor was forced to abdicate the throne due to certain indiscretions. I guess we’re supposed to assume it was a “King Richard” as in Nixon, but Nixon was from California so the writers here can’t even stick to their own rules.
Jerald/ the Black Lama was not prepared for ruling a kingdom and was caving in under the pressures, including an incipient rebellion being instigated by Baron Rockler (read “Rockefeller”) and his family. Jerald longed to leave the crown behind but to find a successor of his own, one ruthless enough to deal with Rockler’s rebellion. Using his expertise in this Earth’s odd blend of science and sorcery, he created the Golden Globe of Power, which was capable of interdimensional travel throughout the Multiverse.
Using his Globe and wearing his Black Lama outfit, King Jerald left his daughter Princess Susan temporarily ruling in his place and came to our Earth. Once there, the existence of our world’s Gerald Ford caused psychic feedback, making King Jerald’s mind malfunction, undermining the Lama’s sanity.
As the Black Lama sought to train a successor by educating pupils of mysticism via the cult he was running when Iron Man first fought him, it turned out that the madness was spreading.
Jerald wasn’t the only victim. The madness and its accompanying nightmarish visions were spreading throughout a network or web of “psychic feedback” among psychics and other ESPer sensitive people. The most prominent victim for this story’s purpose was Marianne Rodgers, the former fiancee of Tony Stark.
A while after their breakup, she seemed to lose control of her psychic abilities, as seen in multiple installments of this long-running storyline that I’ve covered. Eventually the horrific visions drove Marianne as insane as Jerald and she was put away in a Connecticut insane asylum.
The Black Lama began to use Marianne’s abilities – and the abilities of other psychics drawn into the web of psychic feedback – to draw in even more minds, this time of non-psychics, as we saw Marianne draw Tony Stark and Firebrand into the web/ network.
To recap Jerald’s actions as the Black Lama during his long months on our Earth, his prize pupil Raga the Son of Fire ran afoul of Iron Man in California. (I’d have had Fangor plus the artist and the sorcerer who made and animated that creature turn out to be pupils of the Black Lama, too.)
Abandoning his pupils as too weak or too lacking in ruthlessness to prevail against Baron Rockler/ Rockefeller back on his own Earth, the Lama moved on to our Earth’s many supervillains, luring them into his war for ownership of the Golden Globe of Power.
By now he was so deranged that he justified his lie that the Globe would make the winner the “ruler of the world” by assuming that winner would not just rule his old Kingdom of Grand Rapids but would lead it in a war of global conquest.
And so was launched the War of the Supervillains storyline, which saw appearances by the Mandarin, Ultimo, Sunfire, Unicorn, the Yellow Claw, the Melter, Whiplash, the Man-Bull, Doctor Doom, the Red Skull, Fu Manchu, Modok, the Mad Thinker and finally Firebrand. (If not for the three fill-in and reprint issues maybe a few other supervillains would have shown up, too.)
The Black Lama wraps up his explanation to our hero and Firebrand by saying that once returned to THIS Earth, free of psychic interference from our own world’s Gerald Ford, the madness left him, and he is cured now. As, presumably, Marianne Rodgers and others back on our Earth are now cured of their madness now that the web of psychic feedback is gone.
Firebrand, VERY angry at the Black Lama for misleading him into thinking the Golden Globe of Power would make him ruler of our Earth, says he plans to join Baron Rockler’s rebellion, which has now been openly declared, and then take over THIS Earth instead. Iron Man tries to stop him, but has still not had time to recharge his armor, so Firebrand easily beats him and flies off.
While King Jerald and Princess Susan give Iron Man time to plug in and recharge, we cut to Baron Rockler’s treacherous wife, the Baroness. She is working with a “professor” who seems to be their Earth’s version of Henry Kissinger. He is conspiring with Baroness Rockler to overthrow King Jerald, then kill her husband and rule in his place.
The duo send out a team of four powerful robots to swiftly kill Jerald, Susan and Iron Man. Our hero has recharged, so he is able to defeat the androids, then agrees to help Jerald against Baron Rockler if he helps him capture Firebrand and take him back to our Earth for his sister’s (Roxie Gilbert’s) sake.
The former Black Lama is still devious, however, and his thoughts reveal that he has not told our hero the truth that the existence of his own counterpart and Firebrand’s own counterpart on the alternate Earth will begin driving the two of THEM insane, like he was when he was on our Earth.
IRON MAN Vol 1 #81 (December 1975)
Title: War of the Mind-Dragons
Villains: Firebrand and the Rocklers
Synopsis: This story picks up an unknown number of days later. We learn that Iron Man has been defeating Baron Rockler/ Rockefeller’s troops and their futuristic weaponry in battle after battle. In addition, we are told that this alternate Earth, with its blend of science and sorcery, never entered upon a nuclear arms race, but rather an arms race centered on powerful energy blasters and deadly robots.
Presently, Iron Man is mopping up the last of Baron Rockler’s allies from the Empire of Minnesota despite their numbers and their high-tech weaponry. The Baron escapes, however, and returns to his wife in another castle.
Baroness Rockler concludes that her husband’s rebellion has failed, so she kills him via a poisoned drink. She and her new ally Firebrand work with Not-Kissinger, whose newest invention will be powered by Firebrand riding inside it, piloting it. This dragon-shaped warship will amplify Firebrand’s flames many times over, hopefully letting him destroy all of King Jerald’s troops AND Iron Man himself.
Meanwhile, Iron Man, King Jerald and Princess Susan plan their next moves, when Iron Man suddenly yields to some of the nightmarish visions caused by being on this alternate Earth. When he comes out of it, the former Black Lama confesses to Tony what is happening to him, so our hero realizes the quicker he can find Firebrand and take him back to our Earth the better.
Before any further action can be taken, the kaiju-sized dragon warship being piloted by Firebrand attacks King Jerald’s castle and starts wiping out his army. Baroness Rockler and Not-Kissinger are aboard the warship, too, to ensure that Firebrand doesn’t double cross them.
Iron Man takes on the mammoth dragon-shaped warship and, after a prolonged and destructive battle, causes it to explode. Baroness Rockler and Not-Kissinger were knocked unconscious by the blast, but Firebrand’s armor protected him.
Our hero and Firebrand engage in one last battle, with both of them ultimately being stricken with the nightmarish visions caused by the psychic feedback. Iron Man, outdoing his foe, maintains enough sanity to win the battle and prevent himself from killing the defeated Firebrand.
EPILOGUE: King Jerald retrieves the Golden Globe of Power from the wreckage of Firebrand’s warship and, after he and Iron Man exchange tense but respectful good-byes, the former Black Lama uses the Globe to open up a teleportational rift leading back to OUR Earth.
By now Firebrand has regained consciousness and Iron Man forces him through the portal first, then flies through it himself as it seals behind them. Our hero and our villain materialize in Michigan back on our Earth. Unfortunately, the time-lag that the Black Lama explained made his months on Earth pass by as just a couple weeks back on the alternate Earth now works in reverse.
Even though Iron Man entered the dimensional rift mere seconds after Firebrand did, the time-lag made that so that Firebrand arrived back on our Earth MINUTES before Iron Man did. He escapes by flying off, and though Iron Man chases him when he materializes in Michigan, he winds up losing him over Lake Michigan.
Still, Tony feels relieved to finally have the mysteries of the Black Lama behind him and the War of the Supervillains over with. He knows he and Firebrand will face each other again some day, and in the meantime he can let the villain’s sister Roxie Gilbert know that at least her brother is on the right planet.
And those thoughts make our hero reflect on his growing love for Roxie, but now that Marianne Rodgers is cured and can be released from the insane asylum, he realizes that his feelings for HER have returned, and he ponders what he will do about this love triangle.
NOTE: And so ends the lengthy Black Lama storyline. Writer Mike Friedrich and artist George Tuska were no longer going to be the creative team on Iron Man. Beginning with the next issue, Len Wein would be writing and Herb Trimpe drawing.
Even though Mike Friedrich had set up Marianne Rodgers to come back into Tony Stark’s life, the next writers completely ignored Friedrich’s progress with her character. Thankfully she’s just fictional, because Len Wein and company even ignored the fact that she was now sane and never even made a reference to her being released from the insane asylum!
And making it even worse, the next few creative teams on Iron Man apparently forgot that she was cured by the Black Lama’s departure from our planet, and depicted her as still being insane. It was not until several issues after Iron Man #100 that Marianne Rodgers was brought back – as an escapee from the asylum, still deranged and wanting to kill Tony Stark/ Iron Man.
It was even longer after THAT that Marvel writers at last gave Marianne some happier storylines. Like I said, thankfully she was just fictional and no real person had to go through anything.
NEXT TIME – I will wrap up my reviews of 1970s Iron Man classics by jumping ahead to cover the memorable “return of the Mandarin” storyline from Iron Man #95-100.
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 TO MY REVIEW OF CAPTAIN AMERICA & THE FALCON 1970s CLASSICS CLICK HERE.
FOR CHAPTER LINKS IN THE AVENGERS/ MANTIS/ KANG/ CELESTIAL MADONNA STORY CLICK HERE.
FOR MY LOOK AT THE FIRST TWENTY DOCTOR STRANGE STORIES IN THE 1960s 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 THE FIRST SEVERAL IRON FIST STORIES 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.