Today, Iron Man is one of the most popular comic book characters around, but this wasn’t always the case. Since his creation in 1963, Iron Man has been one of comic’s most enduring figures, but had little crossover appeal. Thanks to Marvel Studios and Robert Downey, Jr., the Armored Avenger is now on par with Batman and Spider-Man as one of the most recognizable heroes on screen.
But Iron Man would not have gotten this far if it wasn’t for a history of stellar comic book tales. Of all of Iron Man’s stories, few are as popular or iconic as Doomquest. But don’t count on ever seeing this one on screen, there’s probably no way that this could ever be successfully turned into a film.
The original two-part story from Iron Man#149-150 and its sequel Recurring Knightmare, Iron Man #249-250, are collected in the hardcover Marvel Premiere graphic novel, Iron Man: Doomquest. Both two-part stories are written by David Michelinie and Bob Layton with art by John Romita, Jr.
Unlike the vast majority of his classic stories, what sets these two tales apart is that they are both heavily steeped in time travel and mythology. They also feature a rarely used foe: Doctor Doom, the Fantastic Four’s iconic villain. In Doomquest, Iron Man and Doctor Doom come to blows and are transported back in time to the age of King Arthur. In Recurring Knightmare, the two enemies are transported into the future, where they encounter a reborn Arthur and Merlin, tying heavily into T.H. White’s The Once and Future King.
While Doomquest is the stronger of the two stories, both are fun and completely unique, creating exciting tales that mirror one another while also taking unexpected turns with their characters.
While Iron Man and Doctor Doom seem like fairly different characters, their similarities are played up in both of these stories for greater dramatic effect. Both are extremely intelligent, rule over their organizations (a company and a country, respectively), and wear technologically advanced armor that keeps them alive and strengthens them. However, their choices concerning this power and responsibility are vastly different.
Doomquest hurtles both characters into the distant past, and while they are technologically superior, they are forced to adapt to their surroundings. On one side, Iron Man and King Arthur band together to defend their land from invading forces. On the other, Doctor Doom and Morgana Le Fey join forces to destroy the heroes and rule the land.
It’s rare when an Iron Man story sees Tony Stark go up against supernatural forces, but this adventure has him fight not only Le Fey and Doom, but also an army of the dead and dragons. It’s this uncommon match-up that makes the story so memorable, with multiple modern stories still paying homage to it decades later.
Iron Man is obviously the hero of the story, but we’re given enough of a glimpse into Doom’s tortured soul that we understand him and his motivations. Romita’s art is classic and dynamic, creating great single panel scenes while also creating a strong sense of motion and action. The colors are classic ‘80s comic books, but it works well with the style of storytelling.
As Recurring Knightmare flings the two into the distant future, both hero and villain find themselves in an even more uncommon place, far behind in power and technology. This time, both hero and villain are outgunned and overpowered by their counterparts from the future and are forced to work together. Iron Man must face his evil descendant while Doom squares off against his future self, kept alive by technology and magic.
In line with the King Arthur legend, Arthur has been reborn in the future and is watched over by the backwards aging Merlin. However, unexpected events have forced Arthur to take action as a young boy who needs help from Iron Man.
Recurring Knightmare takes the idea of mixing magic and technology even further than the original story. The result are entertaining and exciting, but sometimes too outlandish. Nevertheless, the story moves at a fast pace and is buoyed by its unique aspects. It echoes Doomquest but makes sure to move to its own beats so it doesn’t become stale.
The two stories are not without flaws, the writing feels somewhat dated when reading it 30 years later and the coloring is indicative of its time. Additionally, both stories wait until the end of the first issue to throw the characters through time. When reading in full awareness of the time travel element and waiting for the most iconic elements to occur, this wait can seem tedious and uninteresting by comparison.
But when hero and villain are warped through time in both tales, the ideas begin to really pop. Giant battle scenes jump off the page and the unique visions of Iron Man and Doom battling skeletons, dragons, magic spells, and future technology in space all make the story stick in your mind. Plus, the perfectly drawn images of Doom and Iron Man going toe-to-toe are as exciting as they should be. By the end, you’ll want more of these characters coming to blows.
Above all, both of these stories are just plain fun. It’s obvious that Michelinie and Romita are focused on telling entertaining stories with exciting, unique action.
As far as retro Iron Man stories go, not many are more fun or iconic than Doomquest.
Note: This collection does not include the third Doomquest story, Iron Man: Legacy of Doom.