Great Moments In Comic Book History #28: Iron Man Meets Thanos and Drax The Destroyer

50 years ago, in Iron Man #55, both Drax the Destroyer and Thanos made their first appearances.

Iron Man #55 opens with Drax the Destroyer being held prisoner on Thanos’s mobile prison planet.  This Drax is far different from the Drax who became famous as a result of being a part of the MCU.  This Drax is a former Earthling who was killed by Thanos but then resurrected and given one mission, to kill Thanos.  There’s nothing funny, not even unintentionally, about his Drax.  Knowing that Drax will not stop until he has destroyed him, Thanos has chained Drax up and spends his spare time taunting him.  Just because Thanos is evil, that doesn’t make him smart.

Drax sends out a mental message to Iron Man, despite the fact that he and Iron Man have never met.  Tony Stark agrees to help Drax because Drax’s messages are so powerful that Tony can’t even attend a business meeting.  After suiting up as Iron Man, Stark flies out to Thanos’s prison planet.  Along the way, Drax tells him the abbreviated details of Thanos’s origin and Thanos’s love of death.

Iron Man’s fist meeting with Thanos is not particularly auspicious.

Thanos thinks so little of Iron Man that he assigns the moronic aliens known as the Blood Brothers to battle Iron Man.  Iron Man is able to free Drax, the Blood Brothers are easily defeated, and Thanos makes a hasty retreat.  Drax thanks Iron Man, shakes his hand, and then heads after Thanos.  And I suppose Iron Man gets back to Earth somehow.

Thanos and Drax were created by Jim Starlin, who wasn’t even Iron Man’s regular writer.  When the planned story for Iron Man #55 ended up running behind schedule, Starlin was assigned to create a filler story.  Thanos and Drax were both characters that Starlin had invented for a planned-but-never-written sci-fi epic in college.  Starlin reused them and their origins in Iron Man #55.

Though thrown together at the last minute, Iron Man #55 predicted the future of Marvel in a way that, even at the time, few realized.  When Starlin took over Captain Marvel, he reused both Drax and Thanos and crafted an epic space opera that was later reused during phase one of the MCU.  For all the credit that was given to Kevin Feige, the Russo brothers, Stan Lee, and countless others, the MCU owes much of its success to Jim Starlin.

And it all began with Iron Man #55 running behind schedule.

IRON MAN #55 (October, 1972)
Writer: Jim Starlin/Mike Friedrich
Penciler: Jim Starlin
Inker: Mike Esposito
Letterer: John Costanza
Editor: Roy Thomas

Previous Great Moments In Comic Book History:

  1. Winchester Before Winchester: Swamp Thing Vol. 2 #45 “Ghost Dance” 
  2. The Avengers Appear on David Letterman
  3. Crisis on Campus
  4. “Even in Death”
  5. The Debut of Man-Wolf in Amazing Spider-Man
  6. Spider-Man Meets The Monster Maker
  7. Conan The Barbarian Visits Times Square
  8. Dracula Joins The Marvel Universe
  9. The Death of Dr. Druid
  10. To All A Good Night
  11. Zombie!
  12. The First Appearance of Ghost Rider
  13. The First Appearance of Werewolf By Night
  14. Captain America Punches Hitler
  15. Spider-Man No More!
  16. Alex Ross Captures Galactus
  17. Spider-Man And The Dallas Cowboys Battle The Circus of Crime
  18. Goliath Towers Over New York
  19. NFL SuperPro is Here!
  20. Kickers Inc. Comes To The World Outside Your Window
  21. Captain America For President
  22. Alex Ross Captures Spider-Man
  23. J. Jonah Jameson Is Elected Mayor of New York City
  24. Captain America Quits
  25. Spider-Man Meets The Fantastic Four
  26. Spider-Man Teams Up With Batman For The Last Time
  27. The Skrulls Are Here

Great Moments In Comic Book History: The First Appearance of Werewolf By Night

From 1954 to 1971, comic book readers across America were safe from werewolves. The Comics Code Authority, that set of rules instituted to get Dr. Frederic Wertham to stop declaring comic books to be the greatest menace to the American way of life since the horseless carriage, forbade any supernatural characters. Werewolves were not allowed to fight alongside or against any of the super heroes published by D.C., Marvel, or any of the other comic books companies governed by the CCA.

The CCA started to relax their rules in 1971, especially after Marvel published an issue of Spider-Man that did not get the CCA’s seal of approval because it featured a friend of Peter Parker’s getting hooked on drugs. When the issue not only sold well but also generated a lot of negative publicity about how out-of-touch the CCA was with what comic book readers were actually having to deal with, the CCA started to relax their rules.

Marvel reacted by introducing a whole host of supernatural characters who had previously been banned under the CCA. Throughout the 70s, Captain America, Spider-Man, and others often shared their pages with the likes of Dracula, Frankenstein’s Monster, and sometimes even Satan himself.

Werewolf by Night was Marvel’s first werewolf. (The title had previously been used before the CCA went into effect, back when Marvel was still known as Atlas.) He made his first appearance in the 2nd issue of Marvel Spotlight. By day, he was Jack Russell. He was also Jack Russell by night, unless there was a full moon. Then, he was Werewolf by Night! He was different from most Marvel characters in that he lived in Los Angeles instead of Manhattan. However, one thing that he did have in common with a surprisingly large amount of comic book heroes is that his story started with a mugging.

At first, Jack thinks this was just a dream. It’s only later in the issue that his mother confesses that Jack’s father was a werewolf and apparently, the curse has been passed down. Jack is not happy to hear that and after promising to never attack his stepfather, Jack runs off into the night. Later, when Jack nearly breaks his promise, he realizes that a werewolf cannot have a family. A werewolf must always be alone.

From such simple beginnings, one of Marvel’s most venerable characters was born. Many of the Marvel horror characters disappeared after a few issues but Werewolf by Night has remained an active member of the Marvel Universe. Though my favorite Marvel werewolf remains Man-Wolf, Werewolf By Night has had his moments. My personal favorite was when he, Spider-Man, and Franenstein’s Monster teamed up to take down the Monster Maker. It’s not easy being a werewolf but Jack Russell (and, when the series was recently rebooted, Jake Gomez) has always done his best.

Marvel Spotlight Vol.1 #2 (February 1972) — “Night of Full Moon — Night of Fear

Writers — Roy Thomas, Dean Thomas, Gerry Conway

Penciler and Inker — Mike Ploog

Letterer — John Costanza

Editor — Stan Lee

Previous Great Moments In Comic Book History:

  1. Winchester Before Winchester: Swamp Thing Vol. 2 #45 “Ghost Dance” 
  2. The Avengers Appear on David Letterman
  3. Crisis on Campus
  4. “Even in Death”
  5. The Debut of Man-Wolf in Amazing Spider-Man
  6. Spider-Man Meets The Monster Maker
  7. Conan The Barbarian Visits Times Square
  8. Dracula Joins The Marvel Universe
  9. The Death of Dr. Druid
  10. To All A Good Night
  11. Zombie!
  12. The First Appearance of Ghost Rider

Winchester Before Winchester: Swamp Thing Vol. 2 #45 “Ghost Dance” (February 1986, written by Alan Moore)

The Winchester Mystery House

The Winchester Mystery House stands in San Jose, California.  The home of Sarah Winchester, construction began on the house in 1883 and continued nonstop until Sarah’s death in 1922.  The result was a gigantic and maze-like mansion that was built without any master building plan.

Because Sarah was the widow of the treasurer of the Winchester Repeating Arm Company, it was rumored that her mansion was haunted with the ghosts of all the people who had been killed by a Winchester rifle and that, because new ghosts were always arriving, Sarah had no choice but to keep adding extras rooms to the house.  Those legends served as the inspiration behind the new horror film, Winchester.

However, Winchester is not the first time that the supposedly haunted mansion appeared in popular culture.  In the 45th issue of Swamp Thing, Alan Moore took readers on a trip to the Winchester Mystery House.

Swamp Thing #45 was a part of the American Gothic storyline.  For 13 issues, John Constantine led Swamp Thing across America so that he could witness and sometimes battle modern versions of classic monsters.  In the larger DC mythology, the events in American Gothic were due to the first Crisis on Infinite Earths.  (While the rest of the DC Universe was worrying about whether they would live on Earth-1 or Earth-2, a South American cult was planning on using the crisis as their opportunity to take over the supernatural dimension.)  In reality, American Gothic was an excuse for Swamp Thing’s writer, Alan Moore, to indulge his interest in both the occult and contemporary affairs.  The Winchester Mystery House and its connection to gun violence was a natural subject for Moore to take on.

Entitled “Ghost Dance,” the story begins with two couples, David and Linda and Rod and Judy, arriving at the long abandoned Cambridge House.  While David fills everyone in on the history of the mansion and the legends about the ghosts, Rod openly flirts with Linda and makes jokes about The Shining.  Though the name may have been changed, the Cambridge House is drawn to look exactly like the Winchester House.

It does not take long for the four of them to get separated and lost inside the mansion.  Rod starts to make love to a nude woman who he thinks is Judy until her wig falls off and he discovers that she is actually the ghost of Franny Mitchell, who was shot in the head by a scorned lover.  Rod flees and, after opening a door that would have led to a room that was never actually built, he falls to his death.  Judy dies when a herd of bison, all killed by a Cambridge Repeater Rifle, burst out of a closet and trample over her.  After seeing two long-dead gunfighters reenacting their final gun battle, Linda faints while surrounded by the blind-folded spirits of people who were executed by shooting squads.  As for David, he goes mad as he watches the spirits of everything ever killed by a rifle march through the house.  It’s all the ghostly rabbits that finally cause him to snap.

Towards the end of the issue, Swamp Thing finally does show up, long enough to save both David and Linda and to send the spirits back into the chimneys of the Cambridge House.  After Swamp Thing leaves with John Constantine, Linda finally regains consciousness and tells David that she wishes he had died instead of Rod.

Sometime later, David visits a gun shop and buys a Cambridge Repeater of his own.  Feeling less alone now that he has a gun in his hands, David says he is going back home to see Linda and it is inferred that at least one more ghost will soon be moving into the Cambridge House.

Though controversial when it was first released, “Ghost Dance” is one of the high points of Moore’s run on Swamp Thing.  At the time, several readers felt that the issue was too blatantly anti-gun and there were the usual complaints about the story’s violence and sexual content.  Moore was one of the pioneers of the idea that comic books, even ones that featured “super heroes” (or swamp things), could deal with real issues and mature themes and that’s what he did with this story.  Whether you agreed with his opinions or not, the unapologetic approach that Moore took in Swamp Thing was always far more interesting than the safe, middle-of-the-road approach taken by most of the other mainstream comics of the era.

Swamp Thing Vol. 2 #45 (February, 1986)

  • Writer: Alan Moore
  • Letterer: John Costanza
  • Inker: Alfredo Alcala
  • Penciler: Stan Woch
  • Colorist: Tatjana Wood
  • Cover: Steve Bissette and John Totleben
  • Editor: Karen Berger