It’s been 25 weeks since retro-reviews of Amalgam Comics began appearing on Multiversity, and even longer since I began researching and reading them in preparation. Today we finally reach the end of our journey with a review of “Iron Lantern”, the only Amalgam comic I read in 1997 as a starry eyed 12 year old. If you’re joining late, you can still check out the other Amalgam Comics reviews. After I cover “Iron Lantern”, I’ll wrap up with some final thoughts on the Amalgam experiment as a whole.=
Iron Man meets Green Lantern when Hal Stark, a wealthy industrialist is injured and must use technology from a crashed alien spaceship to keep his heart beating. Powered by a mysterious lantern-shaped battery, Stark uses full body armor to protect the world and those he loves.
Supporting cast includes Pepper Ferris, a feisty red-headed test pilot, Happy Kalmaku, an Eskimo mechanic, and Kyle O’Brien, an embittered former substitute Iron Lantern.
This issue was written by Kurt Busiek, penciled by Paul Smith, inked by 7 guys, and published by Marvel.
This story is the first issue of an ongoing series spinning out of anthology stories in “Showcase of Suspense” and the one-shot “Iron Lantern / Mariner”. The opening scene shows Stark dropping off the master villain from his last few adventures, H.E.C.T.O.R., in a prison cell at Oa, the Living Planet. He muses to himself about how much he doesn’t know about Oa, the other Lantern agents in the universe, or his connection to the WWII era Human Lantern (last seen in Super Soldier: Man of War” #1.
Back on Earth, Stark arrives just in time to save Pepper Ferris from a sabotaged experimental aircraft. Before Stark and his allies can investigate the sabotage, they must attend a formal dinner with a Senator who was on site to see the incident. The Senator (who is also Pepper’s dad) is mad and ends up causing Pepper to leave the party unhappy. As she leaves, she encounters a magic sapphire that turns her into Madame Sapphire (again). The sapphire was sent there to find her in order to complete a mission.
Meanwhile, Kyle O’Brien sneaks around the hangar bays in search of Stark’s power lantern. O’Brien is tired of being the former substitute Iron Lantern and wants to return to the role permanently, even if that means he has to steal Stark’s battery and leave him powerless.
Madame Sapphire’s mission was to awaken Great White, a giant shark robot that was buried under Stark Airfields (???). Iron Lantern gets Great White into space and starts fighting him with fisticuffs.
Just after Iron Lantern defeats Great White, O’Brien succeeds in removing the battery. Cut off from his power, Stark falls back to Earth out of control. Madam Sapphire, having completed her mission, abducts Senator Ferris out of anger shared between her and Pepper Ferris. The final panel reveals the mastermind behind the sabotage, the sapphire, and O’Brien’s jealousy: Mandarinestro!
What “Wizard” thought then
Busiek told “Wizard” that he’d been wanting to do “Iron Lantern” since he heard about the Amalgam experiment a year earlier. It’s also a character that was in high demand from fans – Wizard’s fan art department ran several amateur versions of the character prior to the second wave being announced.
After release, “Iron Lantern” beat out other popular Amalgams like “Dark Claw” and “JLX” to be the second-highest seller. “Wizard” attributed the sales to Busiek and Smith’s high profiles.
What I thought then
Holy cow, “Iron Lantern” was great. I bought my copy off a spinner rack at Walden Books and read the thing to tatters. I also spent about three months trying to find the second issue before a comic-savvy friend explained the gag. Armed with that knowledge, I promptly borrowed all the “Green Lantern” books available at my local library. I don’t recall borrowing any “Iron Man” though…
What I think now
Can anything live up to nostalgia? I submit this as evidence that the answer is no. Don’t get me wrong, it was a fun story with great art. It just wasn’t as mind blowing as I remember.
The most surprising element to me is the sheer number of thought balloons. I didn’t count, but I’d hazard a guess that the text in this comic is at least half thoughts, a ratio that’s much higher than most 1997 books. There were a few thought balloons in other Amalgams, but “Iron Lantern” is more in line with a book from 1977. Knowing Busiek’s inclinations, that was probably intentional.
Unlike some other Amalgams I could name, “Iron Lantern” was nothing close to being a complete story. Aside from Great White’s attack being stopped, none of the problems introduced were resolved, and the final page includes a Next Issue banner. There’s nothing wrong with that – it’s part of the fun of the Amalgam gimmick and the cliffhanger ending fits right in with the 1977 feel evoked by the thought balloons.
Smith’s artwork is top notch – I never would have guessed he had seven different inkers. (My guess is a deadline rush.) He varies the panel sizes but mostly sticks with a conventional three-tier approach with defined gutters between panels. The only instance of overlapping panels is shown below, where the effect it to show simultaneous events in different locations.
Would I buy a second issue? Darn right I would! I’d track down those “Showcase of Suspense” tales, too!
Final thoughts on the Amalgam experiment
It’s been a fun ride, but I’m happy to be off of it. When I started, I decided the success of any particular title would be based on how much I wanted a second issue. Across 24 issues, I only found ten that met that threshold, plus a few that were fine but not my cup of tea. Too many of them were outright bad. It’s probably for the best this universe only existed briefly – a third trip to this well probably would have been embarrassing for Marvel and DC sales-wise. (Although Marvel did try a similar gimmick a few years ago with “Infinity Warps”. I haven’t read those, but I assume if any of them had been good they’d have returned by now, a-la Spider-Gwen.)
Here’s the final tally, with a brief recap and a link to the full review:
Wave 1 (1996):
2. Bullets & Bracelets
6. Legend of the Dark Claw
7. Bruce Wayne: Agent of SHIELD
8. Speed Demon
9. Magneto and the Magnetic Men
11. Dr Strangefate
Wave 2 (1997):
1. Spider-Boy Team-up
2. Super-Soldier: Man of War
3. Challengers of the Fantastic
4. Exciting X-Patrol
5. Generation Hex
6. Lobo the Duck
8. Thorion of the New Asgods
9. Magnetic Men Featuring Magneto
10. Dark Claw Adventures
11. JLX Unleashed
12. Iron Lantern
Thanks for reading, and thanks to you readers who helped me identify the Amalgamations I was lost on.