Sorry about this being late. I’ve had a bit of a relapse. Balladeer’s Blog’s look at 1970s Iron Man classics comes to a close with this review of the Return of the Mandarin storyline leading up to the hero’s 100th issue anniversary. For Part One of these Iron Man 1970s classics click HERE.
IRON MAN Vol 1 #95 (February 1977)
Title: Ultimo Unleashed
Villains: Ultimo and the Mandarin
NOTE: We jump ahead to issue #95 from where we left off with issue #81 and the end of the Black Lama storyline. By this point in the 1970s Marvel considered it okay for Tony Stark to go back to selling “defense systems” to the government and the military.
Synopsis: At the Long Island headquarters of Stark International, Iron Man tests his armor’s latest upgrades against an atomic piledriver. Witnessing the test are a few Stark employees, including the blonde Krissy Longfellow, Tony’s newest executive assistant and his replacement for the departed Pepper Potts-Hogan.
The atomic piledriver is destroyed and Iron Man switches back to Tony Stark and dives into his latest office work regarding his company. Soon he winds up pondering Krissy Longfellow’s enigmatic appeal and that leads him to contemplating some of the previous women in his life, like Pepper, the late Janice Cord and Roxie Gilbert, whom he has finally given up pursuing.
His reverie is interrupted by a phone call from Senator Andrew Jackson Hawk in Washington D.C. Hawk informs Tony that he and his committee have frozen all of Stark International’s new defense contracts because of evidence that Tony is selling classified information to the Communist Chinese and the Soviet Union.
NOTE: The “evidence” has all been faked by the Mandarin for reasons that will be made known below.
The next day when Stark arrives in Washington D.C. and is being grilled by the committee, some of the Mandarin’s agents on a Soviet submarine launch a missile at Washington D.C. which slips through America’s outdated defense systems since they have not finished upgrading to the new Stark International system.
The seeming Soviet missile hits a pier in Washington DC but does not explode. The military surrounds the unexploded missile and an international incident breaks out between the U.S. and the Soviets over this apparent act of war. Tensions are rising.
Without warning, the enormous missile turns out to be hollow when the Mandarin’s alien Makluan android Ultimo emerges from it. We readers see that Senator Hawk’s aide Jonathan Rich activated the android remotely. Ultimo rampages through Washington D.C. as the military fails to stop him.
Senator Hawk calls an emergency adjournment of his committee. Tony slips away to don his Iron Man armor and attacks Ultimo. While their destructive battle rages all over Washington D.C. our hero reflects on how him being framed for selling classified information plus the arrival of Ultimo bear all the hallmarks of a Mandarin plot.
However, the Mandarin was clearly killed by the Yellow Claw back in Iron Man #70 (September 1974) AND his body was cremated. Iron Man wonders if it is really the Yellow Claw using Ultimo. At any rate, the Makluan android is as powerful as ever and gains the upper hand, crushing Tony’s armor in his enormous hand and triggering heart problems for our hero.
IRON MAN Vol 1 #96 (March 1977)
Title: The Power and the Fury
Villains: Ultimo and the Mandarin
Synopsis: Ultimo drops the seemingly dead Iron Man. Soon, our hero is taken aboard a S.H.I.E.L.D. aircraft by agent Jasper Sitwell, who used to be the agency’s liason to Stark’s company years earlier. Jasper tells the recovering Iron Man that Nick Fury has once again assigned him to Stark International affairs.
Our hero wonders if that is just Nick’s excuse for investigating the charges against Tony and his company. At length, he finishes recharging his armor aboard Sitwell’s aircraft and once again attacks Ultimo.
Elsewhere, Senator Hawk is furious that the few Stark Defense Systems that WERE installed in Washington D.C. went dead the minute Ultimo attacked, further convincing him that Tony Stark is dirty.
Back at Stark headquarters on Long Island, Krissy Longfellow – once again showing skills beyond those she supposedly possesses – detects an intruder penetrating to the interior buildings on the premises. She follows along, but gets jumped and knocked out by an unseen figure.
Cut back to Washington D.C. where Senator Hawk’s aide Jonathan Rich has found Tony Stark’s attache case, where he hastily abandoned it after donning the armor it contained. Meanwhile, Iron Man remembers that he and Sunfire used lava to render Ultimo inert last time around, and he uses his repulsor rays to blast a tunnel into the ground, prompting Ultimo to pursue him.
Eventually the battle reaches far enough under the Earth to mire Ultimo in lava once again, trapping the indestructible android once more.
For this issue’s cliffhanger we return to Stark International on Long Island. Krissy Longfellow regains consciousness, and sees that the intruder is really Michael O’Brien, who has found and put on his late brother Kevin’s green Guardsman armor.
Michael still blames Tony Stark and Iron Man for his brother’s death when he was the Guardsman years earlier and plans to wear the armor against our hero.
IRON MAN Vol 1 #97 (April 1977)
Title: Showdown with the Guardsman
Villain: The Guardsman
Synopsis: This issue picks up with Jasper Sitwell and Iron Man riding back to Stark International’s Long Island headquarters after Tony defeated Ultimo in Washington D.C. When their S.H.I.E.L.D. aircraft approaches, our hero and Jasper see several buildings on fire.
Iron Man flies down to talk to security guards, who tell him that someone in the Guardsman’s armor caused the fires and is still running amok. Our hero searches for the Guardsman, not knowing yet that it is Michael O’Brien in the armor.
The Guardsman attacks Iron Man and the two fight it out until Iron Man, still suffering from heart issues from what Ultimo did to him in Washington D.C., has a mild heart seizure and collapses.
Back in Washington D.C. Senator Hawk is infuriated that Tony Stark has not yet returned to the reconvened committee hearing and calls for Stark to be subpoenaed. On Long Island, Iron Man crawls into Tony Stark’s private lab to recharge his armor and its life-preserving tech.
The Guardsman returns to Krissy Longfellow to make sure she is okay because he only wants Tony Stark and Iron Man to suffer. (This was back when Tony had convinced the world that Iron Man was just his high-tech bodyguard.) Krissy asks O’Brien why he is doing this and Michael provides his usual distorted version of the death of the original Guardsman, which he has always insisted was a case of Iron Man murdering his brother Kevin. (Iron Man #46 February 1972)
When Krissy pokes some holes in his story, the deluded Michael storms off. Krissy again displays skills beyond what is expected of her by slipping out of her bonds. Elsewhere, the recharged Iron Man attacks the Guardsman and tries to talk sense into Michael O’Brien, truthfully telling him that the Guardsman armor is electromagnetically faulty and it drove his brother Kevin insane.
Kevin realized he was losing his mind and sacrificed himself, but Michael has always blamed Iron Man for Kevin’s death. Michael is able to feel himself growing unbalanced from the green armor, like his brother before him. He collapses and Tony Stark insists that he simply be hospitalized rather than imprisoned due to the circumstances.
IRON MAN Vol 1 #98 (May 1977)
Title: Sunfire Strikes Again
Villains: Sunfire and the Mandarin
Synopsis: We pick up an unknown number of days after the previous issue. Tony Stark cannot admit that his heart is back to giving him problems and he needs more time for his Iron Man armor to stabilize him.
Krissy Longfellow informs Tony that the media and Senator Hawk are crushing him over his stalling over Hawk’s subpoena. Tony tells her to keep stalling anyway.
Jasper Sitwell introduces himself to Krissy and notices something familiar about her but can’t quite place her. (Krissy’s secret gets revealed below.) Fujiko and Goro Watanabe arrive from Japan as part of a proposed deal to purchase some Stark technology. While they are being taken on a tour of the Long Island headquarters, Tony Stark visits the still-recovering Michael O’Brien in his hospital bed on the premises of Stark International.
Tony at last discusses with Michael how close he was to his brother Kevin, including how Kevin as the Guardsman even replaced Iron Man as his “bodyguard” for a while years ago until the green armor drove him insane.
Michael, a police detective, can sense that there are parts of the story that Tony’s leaving out so he is still suspicious of him. (Tony is having to leave out part of the story in order to maintain his secret identity.) Their conversation is cut short by the attack of the Japanese mutant Sunfire, who wants to sabotage the Watanabe deal with Stark in order to force them to deal with Sunfire’s family’s business Yashida Technology.
Agents of the Mandarin tipped off Sunfire to the Watanabe/ Stark negotiations to once again drag Sunfire into conflict with Iron Man. Because his new, upgraded armor has not finished recharging, Tony has no choice but to don the Guardsman armor to fight Sunfire and must make sure to remove the armor as quickly as possible to avoid being driven mad like the O’Briens before him.
Michael sees Tony as the Guardsman attacking Sunfire and remembers that Tony has a bad heart and realizes he is selflessly endangering himself to save the Watanabes. Sunfire defeats the Guardsman, driving him off. O’Brien takes action to protect the Watanabes and dons the at last fully recharged upgraded Iron Man armor.
O’Brien in the Iron Man armor battles Sunfire until at length the Mandarin – watching the fight on his viewscreens in China – uses his teleportation technology to snatch the figure he believes is his archenemy Iron Man. Tony realizes that the way the O’Brien Iron Man was teleported away is a vintage Mandarin maneuver, so maybe his old foe is not dead after all.
Because the Guardsman armor lacks pacemaker tech, etc for his heart, Tony goes to the vault to don another of his Iron Man suits of armor only to encounter Madame Masque – Krissy Longfellow’s true identity.
NOTE: Madame Masque aka Giuleta Nefaria aka Whitney Frost is the daughter of the Avengers foe Count Nefaria. She often ran their family’s crime empire and a few years back she and Iron Man developed a Batman/ Catwoman “loving enemy” relationship.
Madame Masque knows Tony Stark is Iron Man and she shows him that the vault is empty because someone has stolen all his newer suits of armor. The only one left is the Mark II armor that he hasn’t worn in years, but at least it has tech that will keep his heart functioning.
Tony dons the Mark II Iron Man armor and flies off to battle Sunfire.
IRON MAN Vol 1 #99 (June 1977)
Title: At the Mercy of the Mandarin
Villains: The Mandarin and Sunfire
Synopsis: Iron Man fights Sunfire while Jasper Sitwell protects the Watanabes. Our hero defeats Sunfire and then rushes to Tony Stark’s private lab to trace any residual traces of the teleportation beam that abducted the Michael O’Brien Iron Man.
On his lab’s viewscreen he sees O’Brien as Iron Man foolishly trying to fight the Mandarin’s high-tech security forces in China. O’Brien is easily defeated due to his inexperience and is taken inside the Mandarin’s reconstructed castle. Once inside, Tony sees the Mandarin in his new costume and wearing his ten Rings of Power.
His heart sinks at the way everything has been the work of his archenemy – the framing of Tony Stark, the rampage of Ultimo, nuclear tensions between the U.S. and Soviet Union and the manipulation of Sunfire.
The Mandarin straps his captive “Iron Man” to a nuclear missile and unmasks him. Because the Mandarin knows that Iron Man is really Tony Stark he angrily realizes that he did not nab the real Iron Man, just this impersonator. He begins torturing him.
Iron Man switches back to Tony Stark and brusquely tells Jasper Sitwell that despite his legal troubles from Senator Hawk and others he needs to take an emergency trip. He rushes to Avengers Mansion where he becomes Iron Man again and tells the butler Jarvis that he needs to use an Avengers quin-jet.
As Iron Man pilots a quin-jet on the hours-long flight to China, the next day sees Senator Hawk’s committee convene once again. Not only does Hawk crucify Tony Stark for not showing up but his aide Jonathan Rich comes forward with evidence that he says proves Tony’s guilt regarding selling classified info to Russia and China. That evidence is in Tony Stark’s briefcase which Jonathan grabbed previously.
By the time Iron Man’s Avengers quin-jet arrives in China near the Mandarin’s castle, that villain is done torturing O’Brien and he launches the nuclear missile that O’Brien in the Iron Man armor is bound to. Just like the missile with Ultimo unleashed tension between the U.S. and Soviet Union, the Mandarin plans for THIS missile to provoke tension between China and the Soviets.
Iron Man lands the quin-jet and flies after the missile to free Michael O’Brien from it and to disarm it and send it into the far northern seas. Realizing that the Mandarin will no doubt have observed all this, Tony has no choice but to remove his old Mark II armor on the spot, revealing his secret identity to O’Brien.
Michael at last puts it all together and realizes that Tony had nothing to do with his brother’s death and apologizes. Tony dons the armor that O’Brien was wearing and has Michael fly off in the quin-jet which Tony has programmed to fly him straight to Avengers’ mansion.
As the quin-jet flies off, Iron Man, in his upgraded armor, flies toward the Mandarin’s castle as some of the villain’s high-tech air force rises to take him on.
IRON MAN Vol 1 #100 (July 1977)
Title: Ten Rings to Rule the World
Villain: The Mandarin
Synopsis: This anniversary issue picks up right where we left off – Iron Man is fighting his way through the Mandarin’s high-tech pilots, aircraft and soldiers.
After all the stage-setting in the previous issues, there is an emphasis on action this time around. At length Iron Man fights his way into the Mandarin’s castle where they come face to face once again. Tony still doesn’t know how his archenemy survived being blown up AND cremated but he will learn soon.
We readers get another classic battle pitting our hero and his armor against the Mandarin and his alien Makluan Rings of Power. After a lengthy clash the villain encases Iron Man in near Absolute Zero ice.
With Tony unable to do anything but listen, the Mandarin does a Villain Rant, explaining how his minions – INCLUDING Jonathan Rich – framed Tony Stark and got the government to stop installing the new Stark International defense systems.
Without those systems in place the Mandarin can proceed with his plan – he will launch multiple nuclear missiles against the U.S. the Soviet Union and Communist China while his agents convince each government that the nuclear havoc they suffered was a deliberate act of war, provoking a three-way nuclear war among China, America and Russia.
The Mandarin and his armies and followers will safely sit out the war in the comfort of his miles-long castle, then emerge to conquer what is left of the world. Continuing his rant, the villain explains how, during his final moments of life after being mortally wounded in Iron Man #70, with his dying breath he transferred his mind into his ten rings.
When Loc Do, the Yellow Claw’s underling who cremated the Mandarin’s original body, put on his Rings of Power, the Mandarin was able to snuff out Loc Do’s consciousness and use Loc Do’s younger body as his own.
As usual with villains in pulp fiction, the Mandarin has ranted long enough for Iron Man to free himself from the ice and the battle is on again. We get an action orgy once more as the fight takes them throughout the Mandarin’s castle.
At length, Iron Man uses some of the castle’s Makluan technology to rig up a means of temporarily de-powering the Mandarin’s ten rings. He then disables the villain’s fleet of nuclear missiles and destroys their launch mechanisms. The Mandarin counters by turning on a viewscreen to show our hero the Senate hearing back in Washington DC.
Senator Hawk’s aide Jonathan Rich tries to open Tony Stark’s briefcase, only to unleash the tear-gas booby trap. In the chaos that follows, we are shown that Senator Hawk was secretly cooperating with Tony Stark in a sting operation to reveal which member of his staff was covertly working for a foreign power.
With the feds taking Jonathan Rich off in cuffs for being an agent of the Mandarin, the Mandarin angrily triggers an explosive embedded in Jonathan’s body, killing him. Iron Man in turn trashes the Mandarin’s rebuilt castle and flies off in triumph, having saved the world from a nuclear holocaust.
OKAY, that ends this look at Iron Man. Madame Masque rekindled her romance with Tony/ Iron Man in the issues ahead, our hero’s old supervillain foe Mordecai Midas turned out to be behind the theft of his other suits of armor but naturally Iron Man won out in the end.
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.