Iron Man has been the subject of great stories during his comic book history, including a run by Mike Grell, known for his work on DC’s Green Arrow. Iron Man’s popularity in the comics has been overshadowed, but Matt Fraction’s run on The Invincible Iron Man captured the cinematic nature of the movies. Mike Grell’s run on Iron Man brought the character into more grounded stories, testing Tony Stark’s limits and showcasing his tragic elements.

Iron Man is one of the most iconic Marvel superheroes, although this is mainly due to his presence in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. In terms of the actual comics, he’s almost always been something of an also-ran next to Spider-Man, the X-Men and even Daredevil. Nevertheless, he’s had a decent amount of great stories, some of which were written by a creator known for his work at a rival publisher.

Mike Grell is a prolific comic book writer and artist, with his biggest claim to fame in mainstream comic books being his acclaimed run on DC’s Green Arrow. He also had a fairly overlooked run on Iron Man, which encapsulated similar themes as his take on the Emerald Archer. Despite not being as well-known as other stories featuring the armored Avenger, this run is a classic that truly got to the heart of the hero.

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As mentioned, Iron Man has always been popular enough to sustain a monthly comic book, but said book has rarely been the most popular. For instance, while stories such as “Demon in a Bottle” and “Armor Wars” are widely seen as some of Iron Man’s most notable stories, the Bob Layton/David Michelinie run that they come from is as a whole rarely spoken of. This is especially the case compared to other landmark runs such as Chris Claremont’s Uncanny X-Men, Frank Miller’s Daredevil or Peter David’s runs on The Incredible Hulk and Peter Parker, the Spectacular Spider-Man. The relatable Spider-Man and the X-Men in particular largely outshined the rest of the Marvel Universe, with the heroes that made up the Avengers having only middling popularity for quite a while.

With Iron Man, his most critically and financially successful book was Matt Fraction’s run on Invincible Iron Man, which began right after the release of the first Iron Man movie. This series fittingly captured the cinematic nature of the movie, which even the well-received comics from previous runs failed to do. This was preceded, however, by other great runs that similarly modernized the character and gave him a thick layer of charm and sleekness. These comics were written by creators such as Warren Ellis and Charles and Daniel Knauf, which largely set the stage for Fraction’s stories. Even before these, however, another series brought Iron Man down to Earth while still making his adventures interesting.

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Mike Grell’s Iron Man Gave the Hero His Most Grounded Stories

Beginning with Issue #50 of the third volume of Iron Man, writer Mike Grell took over the reins. In doing so, he brought the character into somewhat more grounded territory, taking Tony Stark to his limits while also showcasing the tragic elements of his character. The first issue of the run sees the hero in a war-torn country resembling Bosnia, with the war in the real-life region still a topical subject. Without his armor and in the depths of a brutal conflict, Tony strives to be a hero against a threat that he simply can’t punch away. His technology eventually comes to his aid, but only after a doomed woman that he had become close to is bonded to a much more primitive (and inhuman) suit of her own.

Other stories see Tony trying to help a wayward young woman navigate her life on the streets, with the result being that another person he held dear is caught in the crossfire. These relatable issues make it clear that Stark is much more than just a stock rich man tossing around his money at problems. Instead, Grell truly embraces the idea that he’s a modern knight in shining armor who fights valiantly to protect those around him.

Even at his most heroic, Tony’s actions have dire consequences. These range from his trying to save the day as Iron Man and his relationships with former bodyguard Happy Hogan and his estranged wife Pepper Potts. It’s the sort of workplace drama that might almost seem odd in an Iron Man comic book, but these foibles show that there’s much more to Stark than his fancy armor. Toward the end, Iron Man even has a faceoff against fellow hero and powerful Asgardian god Thor, tying into the Dan Jurgens Thor comics of the time. There’s actually very little in way of supervillain fights involving Iron Man’s rogues gallery. This is unfortunate due to how overlooked said foes already are, but it highlights how the strength of Mike Grell’s Iron Man is very much like that of his Green Arrow.

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Mike Grell’s Green Arrow and Iron Man Runs Have a Lot In Common

Beginning with the miniseries Green Arrow: The Longbow Hunters, the ensuing run on the character from Mike Grell took DC’s Emerald Archer in a much different direction from what had come before. Gone were the trick arrows and usual stomping grounds of Star City, and in their place were the real-world locale of Seattle and a much more violent version of Oliver Queen. Oliver was somewhat more mature and not quite the same “loudmouth liberal voice of the streets” as he was under Denny O’Neil’s pen. Supervillains were swapped out with more street-level antagonists, namely gang members, drug pushers and international crime syndicates. Many of these threats were ripped from the proverbial headlines, echoing current events in a way that felt real without being immediately dated. It’s clear to see the ways in which the series inspired the long-lived Arrow series on The CW.

Grell’s Iron Man was the same way, with the Armored Avenger facing more international espionage conspiracies and similar threats than ever before. The only member of his rogues gallery to make an appearance was Temugin, the son of The Mandarin who had inherited his father’s powerful Makluan rings. This actually had the effect of making Iron Man and Tony Stark feel more “important” in the Marvel Universe, with the high-flying hero dealing with the sort of threats that Marvel MAX version of The Punisher or Daredevil usually handled. In doing so, there was less of a sense that he was an “uncool” Avenger who had less interesting stories than other characters. Another interesting parallel to the writer’s Green Arrow work is that Tony at one point ends up in the medieval era, echoing a Grell Green Arrow story in which the hallucinating Emerald Archer encounters the world of Arthurian legend.

Sadly, Mike Grell’s Iron Man came out at a time when the character was still mostly ignored by comic book fans. It also built upon characters and threads already introduced in previous comics from Kurt Busiek’s run, with little of its own ideas making a lasting impact. The biggest major exception is Temugin’s relationship with Tony Stark, which cooled when the former put down the legacy of his villainous father. Regardless, the 19 issues showcased how to make Iron Man more appealing by tapping into both his brand of heroism and the many times gritty issues that he came up against. Now that Iron Man as a whole is far more popular and well-known, a retrospective look showcases how Mike Grell’s time with him involved some of his best and most overlooked stories.

 Before the MCU made him famous, Iron Man had a great but overlooked run from the creator behind one of Green Arrow’s best stories.  Read More