Ironjaw #1

“The Saga of Ironjaw”

Writer: Michael Fleisher
Artist: Mike Sekowsky
Inker: Jack Abel
Letterer: Alan Kupferberg
Editor: Jeff Rovin
Cover artist: Neal Adams

Publisher: Atlas Comics
Cover date: January 1975
Cover price: 25 cents

Atlas Comics was formed in 1974 by Marvel Comics founder Martin Goodman. Goodman sold Marvel in 1968 and stayed on a few years afterwards. He started Atlas, resurrecting the name Marvel used during part of the 1950s, after the new owners fired his son Chip, though perhaps the motive was not revenge but the challenge of conquering the newsstand again. Though they lured many of the best creators in the business by throwing piles of money at them, Atlas died in less than a year because of poor distribution and because they weren’t offering anything that readers couldn’t get at other companies.

One of those things was sword and sorcery comics. Barbarians were big in the 1970s for some reason, perhaps people were reacting against the Alan Alda sensitive man shtick, or perhaps they just like seeing women wearing chain mail bikinis. Barbarian comics littered the newsstand, including the long running independent comic Cerebus, which started out as a parody of them. The most important was, of course, Conan the Barbarian, featuring art by Barry Windsor-Smith and later Sal Buscema. When you could have Windsor-Smith or Buscema drawing Conan, why would you want another barbarian comic?

Atlas thought differently, and released at least three barbarian comics: Ironjaw, Barbarians (an anthology comic featuring, you guessed it, Ironjaw), and Wulf the Barbarian. Ironjaw’s gimmick is that he’s got an iron jaw. That and he’s written by an absolute nutcase: Michael Fleisher. Fleisher, tapped to write five ongoing Atlas titles, was known for his moody, violent work on comics like Jonah Hex and The Spectre. He also wrote a novel called Chasing Hairy, about a female hitchiker who gets raped and set on fire. In an interview published by The Comics Journal in 1979, Harlan Ellison, pontificating on random subjects, voiced his admiration for Fleisher’s work and called him, among other things, “bugfuck”. Ellison meant this as praise, but Fleisher was not amused and sued Ellison and TCJ. The case lasted seven years before a jury threw it out after deliberating only 90 minutes.

The text page at the end of the book is full of praise for Fleisher’s work. “Ironjaw, unlike most other comic book characters, is a real human being. What he thinks, what he says, how he reacts are all gauged by what Mike feels a real man, placed in that same situation, would do.” So let’s see what Fleisher’s idea of a real man is, based on the words of wisdom from Ironjaw himself:

“It is a good thing I slew a deer this morning and ate its bloody heart. Nothing is as strong medicine for a warrior as the heart of a fresh-killed deer!”

“I am strong and you are weak! So it does not matter what you want!”

“But you are a woman, and so you will tell, because women are unable to keep silent!”

“Freedom is a word used to recruit soldiers by those who have no gold to pay!”

“You are just like all woman, never knowing what you really want!”

“The fighter dies young who heeds the counsel of women!”

“So they have sent me a lovely wench to help ease the boredom of my final hours!”

“I like a woman with spirit! For the wilder the filly, the better the ride!”

Ironjaw is your cookie cutter barbarian, murderous and misogynistic. We first come upon him riding his trusty unicorn, when he finds an old man and his daughter being chased by a group of armed men. “For the old man, I care nothing,” thinks Ironjaw. “But the wench is comely and may prove an agreeable companion…I will have to take her from those men, and then see to it that she thanks me properly!”

Dad is quickly dispatched and Ironjaw wades into the group of warriors, slaughtering them all save one. Before he flees for his life, that one spies a birthmark on Ironjaw’s shoulder which looks strangely like a dove. That he recognizes the birthmark tells us that Ironjaw isn’t some random, garden-variety sociopath, but a sociopath of royal blood.

The woman reveals that she is and her father are rebels fighting an evil tyrant, but Ironjaw doesn’t care, he just wants an attractive blonde to keep him warm at night. The surviving soldier brings news of Ironjaw back to that evil tyrant, and since the messenger always gets killed, you can guess what happens to him. The tyrant, disturbed by news of the royal birthmark, immediately puts a price on Ironjaw’s head.

Ironjaw and Anonymous Blonde have taken refuge in a cave. Anonymous Blonde seems to have warmed up to the brutal charms of our hero. Originally, the pair was drawn naked with strategically placed limbs blocking all the naughty bits, but the Comics Code Authority demanded that all barbarians and their captive women wear clothes. So clothes had to be drawn in later, which is why Ironjaw looks like he’s wearing a pair of biker shorts.

Their love nest is invaded by a freakish-looking shepherd boy. Ironjaw’s first reaction is to slit the boy’s throat, but Anonymous Blonde begs for the boy’s life. Against his better judgment, Ironjaw lets the boy go, and the boy promptly runs to the nearest tavern and tells everyone where Ironjaw is. The moral: Never trust a woman, especially one you have captured and enslaved.

Ironjaw and Anonymous Blonde are captured and taken to a foreboding looking castle and tossed in separate cells. “In you go, slut! Tomorrow we feed you to the bears!” Upstairs, the king and queen are fretting about Ironjaw. Apparently, Evil Tyrant is deposed the rightful king and married his wife, and they worry that since he bears the royal birthmark, Ironjaw is the rightful heir to the throne. Princess Elena is listening at the door, and unlike Gertrude and Claudius, we can tell she isn’t evil because she doesn’t have jet black hair.

Elena makes a beeline for the dungeon and demands to see Ironjaw, wondering if the barbarian is her brother. Instead of greeting his sister with open arms, Ironjaw tries to rape her, which prompts the guard to knock him unconscious with his big keyring. But Elena has left a knife behind, either on purpose or by accident, and with it Ironjaw makes his escape, killing two guards while complaining that the knife is of shoddy craftsmanship. While he is climbing down the castle wall, he suddenly remembers Anonymous Blonde and climbs back up to get her. Apparently, Anonymous Blonde is really, really hot, and really, really hot women are hard to come by in this miserable future.

Ironjaw lasted only three more issues, and appeared in both issues of the anthology Barbarians.

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