Perhaps realising he was slipping into repetition, Stan Lee restrains himself with regard to communist villains for the content of this third hardbound Iron Man collection, taking us through material originating from 1965 and 1966. He also decides to let himself go a little, and not cram an entire story into twelve or thirteen pages. When the red menace manifests in the form of the Titanium Man, Lee twice extends the story over three chapters.

A more human menace is prevalent also. Senator Byrd maintains a watchful eye over the US defence budget, and has a personality clash with the much younger Tony Stark, whom he believes an irresponsible playboy not deserving of the large government commissions he receives. Byrd is a dramatic method of exploiting the dual identity of Stark and Iron Man, forever demanding to see Stark immediately when Iron Man is away fighting Attuma or the Black Knight. It requires ever more ingenious excuses on the part of secretary Pepper Potts.

She’s part of the love triangle that dominates the series. She loves Stark, but is in turn loved by Happy Hogan. Stark can see this while she can’t, and it leads to a perpetually glum Hogan as all the efforts engineered by Stark to being him and Potts together fail. Stark also loves her, but feels he can’t plague her with his own literally injured heart. On a month by month basis as per the original comics this probably just about worked, but gathering them together between two covers highlights the repetitive and melodramatic nature.

The first Titanium Man story retains a spark, although he looks far better in the second as illustrated by Gene Colan. Boris Bullski is a giant of a man, feared even by the Russian president, and when exiled to a work camp he has the scientists imprisoned there construct his titanium armoured suit. Bullski is a credible threat, Iron Man’s life is endangered by a chance incident relating to Stark’s vanity, Senator Byrd plays his J. Jonah Jameson role, and the love triangle implodes. If there’s a single tale that encapsulates the best of the early Iron Man, in terms of plot at least, it’s this. You really don’t need to read any others.

Don Heck’s final Iron Man story, apart from later fill-in material, is the bridge between that Titanium Man story and the appearance of the Freak. While his Iron Man becomes less stiff, dynamism’s never really on the agenda, and even his character scenes have slipped. Colan’s first work, under the alias of Adam Austin, supplies improved draughtsmanship (see sample page) and his immediate innovation is supplying movement to Iron Man’s mask, permitting greater emotion. That tale’s also of historical note for being the first Marvel script written (over Lee’s plot) by Roy Thomas.

Lee fully writes most of the material here, although Al Hartley as well as Thomas scripts an issue, and he’s definitely enthused by Colan’s work, extending all stories beyond the single chapter, and even crossing over one into the Sub-Mariner’s strip where Jack Kirby finishes the story. This is still a considerable rung below Lee’s best Marvel material, but by the end of this book he and Colan have dragged Iron Man to an acceptable level of soap opera superheroics.

Those preferring a greater collection of Iron Man are directed to the Invincible Iron Man Omnibus, which covers Iron Man’s first appearance to the end of Heck’s run on art. Alternatively this content is available in black and white spread over Essential Iron Man volumes 1 and 2.