Today's Iron Man story represents the darker side of Assistant Editors' Month. As we saw in the earlier entry that covered 'Incredible Hulk' #291, not every AEM story was a laugh riot.
We pick up from where we left off in the last post: Assistant Editor Mike Carlin's laughter over part 1 turns into tears over the second story of #178:
'Struggle!' was written by Denny O'Neil, drawn by Luke McDonnell and inked by Steve Mitchell. Once again, we get a different origin banner on the splash page, which nicely sets up the story.
It begins with a hung-over, homeless Tony Stark wandering aimlessly through New York on a hot summer day.
That's some nice descriptive text from O'Neil, I can taste copper in my mouth after reading it!
A man throws Stark a quarter, his companion says it's wrong to give their "hard-earned money away to bums!". Stark protests, saying he's no bum, but a millionaire and a superhero.
Two NYPD officers (let's call them "younger cop" and "older cop", they're never named) notice the slumped over figure of Stark and confront him. He denies being a "drunk", saying he just got out of detox for a "nervous condition". Stark's refusal to admit he has an alcohol problem disgusts younger cop and older cop says Stark is "hopeless".
I have to say that this is one of the lowest points I've seen for any comic book character. This is right up there with Spider-Man after the death of Gwen Stacy.
Younger cop makes a bet with Stark. He'll give him $50 if he can stay sober until midnight. Stark accepts and walks away. We learn that younger cop's father was an alcoholic. He made the bet with Stark knowing that staying sober will be a painful experience.
Stark spends his last quarter on a phone call to Jim Rhodes, who isn't home. Morely Irwin (a former Stark employee) answers the phone, but Stark won't talk to him.
Stark remembers another former employee named Vic Martinelli lives nearby and heads for his apartment. He passes a bar on the way, fixating on the "open" sign on the door.
Vic lends him $20, but Stark disappointed that he hasn't quit his job even though Obadiah Stane now runs the company. He tells Stark he can't expect loyalty anymore because "you drank it away." Vic regrets yelling at Stark, but the damage is done. Stark passes a bar and hears two men talk about getting "knee-walkin' drunk". He contemplates joining them for a drink, but changes his mind.
Instead, Stark enters the bar and uses the pay phone to call his former secretary Bambi Arbogast. She asks if he's been drinking and recommends Alcoholics Anonymous for Stark. He won't do it, still insisting he's not an alcoholic.
Stark is asked to leave the bar if he isn't drinking. Back on the streets, he encounters a man named Ozzie Sanborn, who recognizes Stark from detox. Ozzie says that his liver and kidneys will stop working if he keeps drinking, but his alcoholism is so intense that he doesn't care.
Ozzie's "girlfriend" Gretl(who Ozzie "just met") offers to buy drinks for everyone, Stark turns them down, which angers Ozzie. Left alone again, Stark wonders why he didn't take them up on the drink, as his withdrawal symptoms worsen and he doubles over in pain on a bench.
Stark falls asleep on the bench and is woken up by a policeman who tells him "it's almost midnight". Stark goes to meet younger cop and collect his $50. He says "in five minutes, I'll be drinking again" and thanks the officer for showing him that he is indeed an alcoholic. Younger cop is glad Stark has admitted his addiction, and cries, telling him "That's the reason I did it...You see, my old man was a drunk." The end.
Great story. Tony Stark(and Iron Man,for that matter) was never my favorite character, but I sympathized with him in this story. When I first read this, my image of alcoholics came from "very special episodes" of sitcoms. Ozzie's line about drinking even though he knows it will kill him is still chilling all these years later. O'Neil, McDonnell and Mitchell did a great job here of conveying the pain and emptiness of addiction as well as the disdain some people have for "drunks".
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