Iron Man #85 hit the stores in early 1976. The cover said April 1976, but I think they usually were published a month or two early. So it was probably February or so. It was during that first six months of 1976 that Marvel prepared us all for the price hike that was coming later in the year. Hence the "Still Only 25¢" price you see there on the upper left. Hard to believe that there was a time in my life that I could walk into the candy store (that's where I bought my comic-books) and walk away with four comic-books for a dollar. There may be someone reading this who remembers when they were even cheaper. 10 cents or 12 cents through most of the 1960's. Nowadays comic-books are printed on glossy premium paper and usually carry a price-tag of $2.99 or more. That's a shame. I guess that the price is fair, but it still seems like kids should be able to walk into a candy store with a few quarters and walk out with a handful of fantasy.
Anyway, I had read and enjoyed comic-books for a few years before Iron Man #85. I probably in late 1973 or early 1974. Somewhere around there. But until this particular issue, I had never heard of anyone "collecting" comic-books. That is, until I made a new friend at school who happened to spy this issue peeking out from inside a notebook or binder I was carrying.
He hadn't picked it up yet, and it was the second part and conclusion of a story that had started in the previous issue. Tony Stark's good buddy, Happy Hogan, had mutated into The Freak after trying an experimental cobalt ray machine to cure his illness. Whatever that was. He would revert to his normal self after a while, but any contact with cobalt would set him off again. Like a walking bomb. No...I don't remember if he was actually going to explode, but that's what they called him. A walking bomb.
So my new friend asked if he could read it quickly and asked me if I had read the previous issue. At the time, I was buying comic-books in a willy-nilly fashion. I didn't really follow any title religiously, so it was common for me to pick up an Iron Man when I hadn't read it in a few months because I was busy reading The Hulk or The X-Men or Thor or Daredevil or Luke Cage, Power Man. I hadn't read the previous issue. So he invited me over to his house after school to check it out. Cool. I didn't really know anyone else who liked comic-books at that time, and he seemed harmless.
I couldn't believe the boxes and boxes of comic-books this kid had when I got there. Holy crap! I can't really recall now, but I know he had some stuff going all the way back to the 40's, 50's and 60's. Stuff his father had "collected" and handed down to him. Thinking about it now, that's some trusting man right there. Giving your valued comic-book collection to a nine-year-old. Then again, comic-books weren't anywhere near as valuable back then as they have become since.
He also had this book published by Marvel called Origins or something like that. It was a real book about comic-books. I had never seen anything like that before. Told the tale of every single character in the Marvel Universe from way back in the Golden Age up until that time. I had no idea that there was so much background involved. The Silver Surfer was considered a villain when he first appeared? The Hulk was originally gray? The Human Torch was an android? What the hell?
But I was hooked. I didn't actually become a "collector" until I was an adult. A couple of years after I graduated from college and I had some spending money in my pocket. But I did try to follow a few titles a little more closely back then. Iron Man was one of them. In the next year he would do battle with villains like The Blizzard (guess what his power was?), The Blood Brothers, The Controller, the mysterious Melter (he melted things...think about it), a peg-legged pirate named Kraken and Ultimo...just to name a few. The covers were always awesome, including a few by the King...Jack Kirby. Same theme over and over again, though. The villains always seemed to have the upper hand on him, but he usually came through unscathed.
And since he was just a guy in a metal suit there was something comforting and, um, realistic about it all. Yeah...I know. "Realistic" probably isn't the right word to use there. Especially when he was fighting against a guy who became super-strong and invulnerable by his use of a "cobalt ray machine", but you know what I mean...right?
Within a year my family moved to another town. One that was a lot safer than where we had been living, but it also had a lot less personality. Not a single candy store in town that sold comic-books. Sure, I could still get them at the deli or the the supermarket or that weird hobby shop in the mall, but it wasn't the same. The secret formula of candy and comic-books was lost forever. I held on for a little while, but I was pretty much done with the world of superheroes by the time I had turned 12.
For about a decade, at least.
___________________________________________________Note: Remember to play the Badgerdaddy Trivia Challenge every day. Tony Stark will make you feel, he's a cool exec with a heart of steel...