Demon In A Bottle is an essential Iron Man storyline which changed the way superhero characters could be developed.
Alongside the external battles faced by Iron Man as he faces an assortment of villains, Tony Stark must confront his drinking problems to keep Stark Industries from failing.
Iron Man #120-128
Original publication date: 1979
Story: David Michelinie
Artwork: Bob Layton, John Romita Jr, Carmine Infantino
Marvel Comics continued to evolve in the 1970s. There were more books and creative teams than ever before. There were also many memorable storylines during the decade.
While you probably know about the Kree/Skrull War and the Korvac Saga in the Avengers and the deaths of Gwen Stacy and Norman Osborne/the Green Goblin in the Amazing Spider-Man, a lesser known but very powerful story arc you may not know about is Demon In A Bottle in Iron Man #120-128.
The storyline was written by David Michelinie, with pencils by John Romita Jr. and inks/co-plotting from Bob Layton. It remains one of the most important chapters in Iron Man’s history today.
What Is The Storyline For Demon In A Bottle?
Issue #120 begins with Stark drowning his sorrows in booze while on a commercial flight. His reverie is suddenly interrupted by a military tank that crashes through the plane. Tony quickly dons his armour and saves the passengers and crew.
The tank was part of a military operation on a remote island with only one occupant, the hermit-like Hiram Dobbs. Dobbs is defended by Prince Namor the Sub-Mariner because the old man rescued him after being washed ashore on the island.
Meanwhile, Stark’s employees hear the news about his plane going down. Pilot James Rhodes and security consultant Bethany Cabe fly to his rescue. The pair are soon subdued by the supposed military group, which is actually an operation by Roxxon Oil. The company reps are there to mine precious vibranium from the island.
Justin Hammer Vs Iron Man
This is also the first time that we see rival Justin Hammer. Hammer’s men have devised a hypersonic scan to tamper with the programming of Iron Man’s armour.
Their first incident causes Iron Man’s eye and mouth plates to open suddenly while underwater, forcing an almost certain doom until Namor rescues him during their battle.
The two heroes soon realize who the real enemy is on the island, and retaliate against the Roxxon forces. They are able to get Rhodes, Cabe and Dobbs to safety before the conglomerate obliterates the island.
Following a re-telling of Iron Man’s origin in issue #122, we see Hammer’s next sabotage attempt in issue #123. Tony’s boot jets start to malfunction as he is flying back home.
Stark survives the crash but is baffled by what happened. He’s unable to find anything wrong with his armour after exhaustive tests.
Tony re-emerges as himself in the office, much to the relief and anguish of his employees. Cabe calls him out on his behaviour in his private office and later that evening over dinner and drinks at a casino in Atlantic City. The quiet evening is soon interrupted by an attempted robbery of the building by Iron Man’s old foes Whiplash, the Melter and Blizzard.
Stark dons his armour once more and is able to defeat the villains, with some timely assistance from Cabe. The next day, we see Tony signing paperwork to guarantee Iron Man’s presence at a ceremony at the United Nations honouring the visiting Carnelian ambassador.
Cabe has been assigned to be the ambassador’s bodyguard. We also see Hammer planning his next evil scheme!
Iron Man Accused Of Murder
Cabe and Iron Man are both present that evening as the ambassador is surrounded by reporters and news photographers. While Stark rests his left hand behind the ambassador’s back, the repulsor suddenly fires a blazing bolt through the dignitary’s chest, killing him instantly.
The crowd is just as stunned as Iron Man is about the incident. Officials ask the Avenger to turn himself in, but he politely declines.
The next day, Stark surrenders the Iron Man armour to city hall officials, after secretly removing the circuitry for further inspection. Tony drowns his sorrows in alcohol and later appears at Avengers Mansion.
The team is dismayed by the fact that Iron Man can no longer serve as chairman because of being under suspicion for murder, but they take Stark’s personal appeal well. Tony also gets a series of physical defence lessons from acting chairman Captain America while there.
Tony was still determined to find out why his armour failed repeatedly. After hearing Whiplash mention the name “Hammer” while being apprehended following the foiled casino burglary, he seeks out the assistance of employee Scott Lang. He asks Lang what he knows about Ryker’s Island.
Lang decides to investigate by using his Ant-Man guise to sneak into Whiplash’s cell at Ryker’s Island. He coerces the villain to tell him everything he knows about the man named Hammer.
Upon receiving Lang’s information, Stark decides to take a trans-Atlantic flight to Monaco to follow up. The duo are soon met by costumed armed guards who quickly subdue them.
The Hammer Strikes
Tony then finally meets Justin Hammer face to face. He learns about Hammer’s plans to sabotage the Iron Man armour and discredit Stark Industries.
Stark tries to escape until he realizes that he is on a large houseboat, miles from the coast. He is imprisoned but manages to cleverly outwit a guard and gain access to his suitcase containing his armour.
A bevvy of villains has been flown onto the houseboat, just in time to do battle with the Avenger. Iron Man is able to easily defeat the Melter, the Constrictor, Leapfrog, Man-Killer, Stiletto and Discus, Blizzard, Whiplash, the Beetle, the Water Wizard, the Porcupine and Spymaster.
Hammer escapes during the battle, but Rhodes and Stark are able to apprehend one of his employees and bring him to the States. Hammer’s lackey confesses to the authorities, and Iron Man is cleared of all charges.
Tony Stark Faces His Demons
The major theme from The Demon In A Bottle is tackled in the final episode. Tony Stark must confront his alcohol problems and acknowledge what it means to be Iron Man.
Back home, Tony celebrates his good fortune by living the nightlife and drinking heavily. He returns to the office and engages in an argument with loyal butler Jarvis, one that causes the faithful servant to tender his resignation.
The story arc ends in issue #128 with Stark contemplating his personal and super-hero life. He crashes through the windows of his office suite and soon finds a derailed train.
In his drunken state, he ends up doing more harm than good when trying to move a train car containing toxic gases. He returns to the office and is confronted by Cabe.
Cabe confides in Stark about the destructive behaviour she witnessed from her husband. She didn’t want her friend to go down the same path. Stark agrees to try to change, and Cabe helps him avoid the temptations of alcohol. It isn’t easy, but Stark succeeds.
Jarvis eventually returns and asks for his job back. He admits to Tony that he sold his two shares of Stark Industries stock to pay for his mother’s mounting medical bills. The shares were owned by a greedy loan shark.
Realizing that ownership of those shares would give him primary control over his company, Tony decides to meet the loan shark as Iron Man.
Iron Man destroys the loan shark’s office until the businessman admits that he already sold the shares in question. Stark returns home and picks up the bottle in frustration.
Cabe and Jarvis persuade him to put the bottle down and continue his fight to regain sobriety for the ones who care about him.
Disney Rejects Iron Man Alcoholism Storyline From Iron Man 3
Even though Tony’s fondness for the bottle was touched upon in Iron Man 2 the ideas from Demon In A Bottle were not explored further.
Disney executives told Iron Man 3 writers, Drew Pearce and Shane Black, to stay away from the topic for Iron Man 3.
The studio wanted to portray Stark as an industrialist and a workhorse. They also wanted the movie to be a family-friendly film.
The writers agreed not to approach the topic in the movie but hoped that it might be addressed at some point later on. It was put on the back-burner and hasn’t been returned to since.
Why You Should Read Demon In A Bottle
This is a major turning point in Tony Stark’s life. It gave him more human qualities than ever before. It also foreshadows his relapse years later, where he eventually loses his company and sees his friend James Rhodes donning the Iron Man armour in his place.
Stark would later regain everything he had lost following a pivotal confrontation with another rival, Obadiah Stane, in issue #200.
Even though it isn’t the first time that Marvel approached the topic of addiction (Peter Parker’s roommate Harry Osborne’s drug addiction was a plot point in the Amazing Spider-Man #96-98), it was the first time that such an issue was approved by the Comics Code Authority, which was the industry’s regulating authority until 2011.
It brought the problem of alcoholism to the mainstream and made more readers realize that no one is immune to the issue.
Demon In A Bottle showed how addiction affected both Stark in his daily life and as a superhero, as well of the lives of his friends and fellow heroes. It also gave addicts hope that they could overcome their demons just as Stark did.
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Read the Complete List of Best Iron Man Stories.