By David Michelinie (writer), Bob Layton (co-writer, inks), and John Romita Jr. and Carmine Infantino (pencils)
Touted as the story that defined Tony Stark, Iron Man: Demon In A Bottle beautifully reprints Iron Man #120-#128. First printed in the late 1970s, this story of drug abuse isn’t pioneering by any means, nor does it try to preach to its readers. Instead, it starts off as something casual before almost morphing into a running gag. But before you know it, the joke becomes something more serious and when tragedy hits Tony he hits the bottle… and hard.
Most of the issues collected within this hardcover have nothing to do with Tony’s alcoholism. Iron Man fights an evil oil corporation (which showed up in many other Marvel books of the time period), gets his origin story re-told, and deals with Justin Hammer – a man who’s found a way to control the circuitry in Tony’s armor. As we go through these stories, there’s a panel here and there strewn about showing Tony casually drinking. Eventually, the drinking affects him during a fight and this is where things become a tad more noticeable.
Now, if you think about it, this whole drinking problem slowly built up over nine issues. Imagine reading this month to month back in the late 1970s. How long would it have taken before the drinking became noticeable? I say this because when reading it in collected form you know what to look for, but back then, it must have hit readers maybe five or six issues in that there was a problem brewing. A lot of this credit has to go to David Michelinie, who cleverly crafted this story. John Romita Jr. also deserves a ton of credit for making the scenes work. But Bob Layton is ultimately the one who has his fingerprints all over this. His finished art over Romita’s pencils is highly distinguishable and his contributions to the story, undeniable.
The actual “Demon in a Bottle” story is saved for last, and when you finally get to it, the whole world seems to collapse around Stark. It’s incredibly easy to see why this issue is lauded. It’s not just the overpowering effects of alcoholism that propel this story, but it’s also Tony’s fallibility that makes this issue so engaging. And yes, it’s a bit silly to see him recover from it all over the course of one issue, but there’s no mistaking the losses and struggles he deals with. Iron Man was never known for having engaging stories, but in this one rare case it happened and that is why we treasure it. (Grade: B)
– J. Montes