Gimmick or Good? – Iron Man #288 and 290
In this column, Mark Ginocchio (from Chasing Amazing) takes a look at the gimmick covers from the 1990s and gives his take on whether the comic in question was just a gimmick or whether the comic within the gimmick cover was good. Hence “Gimmick or Good?” Here is an archive of all the comics featured so far. We continue with 1992/1993’s foil covers for Iron Man #288 and 290…
Iron Man #288 and #290 (published January 1993 and March 1993) – story by Len Kaminski, art by Kevin Hopgood and Mike Decarlo (#288) and Hopgood and Steve Mitchell (#290)
As more and more early 90s comic books were getting gimmick enhancements on the cover, it was only a matter of time before Marvel would give “Old Shellhead” some kind of metallic-looking treatment. In celebration of the character’s 30th anniversary in 1993, Marvel released two separate giant-sized issues, one featuring the silver War Machine on the cover, and the other with the traditional red and gold Iron Man. Both had metallic “foil” enhancements despite the fact that the two comics were not consecutively numbered issues. Oddly enough, around the same time, Marvel did a similar thing with its Avengers anniversary issues – every third comic between #360-#369 received a chromium embossed enhancement.
But what about inside the comic?
Despite the fact that the two comics are not technically part of the same story arc, the overall plot that was dominating the Iron Man series in late 1992-early 1993 links the stories together. Due to complications from using the Iron Man technology, Tony Stark fakes his death fakes and leaves both the responsibilities of being Iron Man and CEO of Stark Industries with his long-time friend James “Rhodey” Rhodes. Unfortunately, Tony never tells Rhodey what’s going on until after he’s reanimated, which leads to Rhodes ending their friendship.
While neither of these comics can claim to be Shakespeare, I found them both to be enjoyable reads, especially considering they’re anniversary issues penned during an era where these “special editions” tended to be recycled fluff pieces that did little to advance the title’s overall story. There are major plot developments in both of these issues and #288 in particular ends on a pretty compelling cliffhanger where Stark is analyzing his central nervous system and other elements of his internal anatomy from the “spiritual” plane as his staff looks to bring him back from the lifeless state he’s been in since issue #284.
Stark manages to bring himself back to consciousness, and, always the smart aleck, lets his staff know via computer that he’s got everything under control.
Rhodes, meanwhile is pulling double duty as both War Machine and the CEO of Stark Industries, putting targets galore on his back. In #288, he confronts a villain named Atom Smasher who is revealed to have been disfigured by a chemical accident suffered while working for Stark when the company had been taken over by Stane Enterprises. The government sends in one of its machines, Firepower, to deal with Atom Smasher, which leads to some legitimately funny dialogue and one-liners courtesy of Rhodes. There is one exchange where both War Machine and Firepower are down for the count and Firepower is threatening a beatdown of Rhodes once his system reboots in 14 minutes, when War Machine casually gets up after only six minutes. Maybe I was just in a silly mood when I was reading this, but it seriously got a guffaw out of me.
Rhodes promising to work with Atom Smasher to help clean up all the toxic waste at his company comes across a little trite, but I still give kudos to Kaminski for putting together an issue that just feels appropriately paced. There’s just enough of a War Machine “A” story here where I don’t feel cheated by its length once the secondary Stark story kicks off. Of course one would argue in Iron Man’s anniversary issue, the Stark story should take precedent, but I guess that’s what issue #290 was for.
Like its predecessor, issue #290 is a breezy read that’s also a lot of fun. This comic focuses almost exclusively on Tony as he now has created a new Iron Man model that he’s controlling remotely/mentally from his hospital bed. Kaminski has a nice handle on Stark’s voice, making sure to work in plenty of the character’s notorious wit and devil-may-care attitude. While running through some technological jargon relating to the new suit, Stark finishes one sequence by quipping to himself, “what’s life without a little danger to keep things interesting?”
Kaminski and the art team work in a clichéd “attempt to reconcile” scene between Stark and Rhodes, where Tony is leaving an apologetic voice mail on Rhodey’s answering machine, but at least the creative team is working to establish this plotline. Still, I wish there was a way the scene could have been done in a way that didn’t mirror every single soap opera and romantic comedy scene between a fighting couple that has ever been written.
But these little flaws still don’t change the fact that I legitimately enjoyed these issues. I admittedly haven’t read a ton of early 90s Iron Man as I was much more interested in Captain America and the Avengers at this point in my life. So I read these two comic books with a very fresh perspective. Perhaps having no prior inclinations about the quality of the series just allowed me to read the comics at face value and enjoy them. Or as somebody wrote in the comments section in a Gimmick or Good? piece from a few weeks ago, “sometimes I just want hamburger.” Iron #288 and #290 are two pretty solid burgers. I maybe wouldn’t wait over an hour in Madison Square Park for them, but I’m definitely going to tell other people that these burgers are worth eating if they come across them in a $1 box or have a Marvel U subscription.