Stark Week: Demon in a Bottle

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David Michelinie, John Romita, Jr., and Bob Layton shocked the comic reading world with a story called “Demon in a Bottle” wherein Tony Stark admits to having a drinking problem. Though the seeds had been planted throughout the run, the collected version starts with IRON MAN #120 and concludes with issue #128.

That first issue kicks off with a stewardess asking Mr. Stark if he really wants a fourth martini, him saying yes and then thinking, “After all, I’m drinking for two men…” Moments later, a tank nearly hits the plane and our hero changing into his metallic duds in the bathroom.

Returning to his own home base after a run-in-turned-team-up with Namor, Stark pledges to uncover the cause of his armor’s recurring malfunctions. After a battery of tests, he finds nothing wrong. Shortly after, while having an argument with Bethany Cabe, he pours himself a drink. That night they reconvene at dinner in an Atlantic City casino where he goes to open a bottle of wine and she says, “Don’t you think you’ve had enough? I know you need to unwind, but couldn’t we find some…other way?”

The ensuing attempted casino robbery by Blizzard, Whiplash, and Melter ranks as both a bad idea in general and an unfortunate case of coincidence for the villains who find themselves on the wrong end of a buzzed and angry Iron Man who refrains from holding back during the conflict.

Stark’s drinking continues to present itself throughout the story. Libations at 9:30 AM and coffees with brandy lead to trouble concentrating while trying to design a new fuel cell distributor followed by another outing as Iron Man which ends with longtime villain Justin Hammer blasting through an ambassador using Iron Man’s own repulsor ray.

The police allow Iron Man to leave, but the events take their toll on Stark who heads into work the next day smelling of liquor. He soon pulls himself together, trains with Captain America and calls on pals like Scott Lang and James Rhodes to help figure out what’s going on.

Eventually taken in by Hammer, Stark learns the truth about his recent equipment troubles, including the ambassador’s murder, but without his armor he breaks out like a super-spy. Even though he stops Hammer’s plans and clears his own name, Stark continues to drink leading him to get Bethany’s address wrong and bring another woman home to Avengers Mansion. There, he treats Jarvis poorly which results in the longtime servant resigning.

By the time the final issue begins, Stark’s sitting at his bottle-covered desk in his Iron Man suit staring at his own helmet wondering what he’s been doing with his life, but still downs a shot, puts the helmet on, flies through his office window and screws up a train save. He returns home to pour another drink, but Bethany’s there. After he realizes he has a problem she sticks around for the long detox process before he finally sobers up. Faced with even more adversity at the end of the issue, he struggles with pouring himself another whiskey, but decides to honor the dream instead of give in to the drink.

At the very end he declares his intentions to not only stay sober, but also deal with his variety of problems. “I’m going to keep on fighting, to get Stark International’s reputation back in shape, and to get its control back in my hands.” He concludes by adding, “I’m going to win,” brandishing the kind of confidence that comes from having a clear head for the first time in a long time.

Hacking the System

Bethany Cabe first appears in IRON MAN #117 and clearly goes on to become an important part of Tony Stark’s life by helping to sober up. From there, the professional bodyguard starts a solid relationship with Stark that brings her into conflict with his ex, Madame Masque. Those two continue to have run-ins, including one in which their bodies get switched at the hands of Obadiah Stane. Years later, she dons her own armor to assist James Rhodes during his second WAR MACHINE series and often serves as head of Stark security.

Tomorrow, in an effort to get his hands back on all of his potentially dangerous technology Stark wages Armor Wars in IRON MAN #225-231.