Note that I’m working from the reprint in Iron Man volume 3 #46, so any changes made I’m not aware of.
Iron Man #78
Marvel Comics Group (September, 1975)
“Long Time Gone”
WRITER: Bill Mantlo
PENCILER: George Tuska
INKER: Vince Colletta
COLORIST: Phil Rachelson
LETTERER: John Costanza
EDITOR: Len Wein
As Tony watches the construction of his new company, Stark International, he flashes back to the event that convinced him to stop making weapons. He had designed a new long-range cannon for use during the Vietnam War, and the first test was a success. Perhaps too successful as the Viet Cong immediately attack the cannon. The team is killed and only the visiting Iron Man survives. He then finds that the cannon did indeed hit its target but the movement wasn’t troops but civilians, leaving one boy an orphan. Seeing so much death is what convinced Tony to stop making weapons.
What they got right: This could have been a story that took shots at the US Army and I imagine the story being written today would do just that. Instead they’re just very eager to win the war and go home. (If only they knew what was waiting for them.) It is about questioning the war, which wasn’t new for the time, and since Iron Man’s origin was tied to the Vietnam War until the sliding timeline moved it up (when was it now, the war against the Taliban?) it makes a bit of sense to use him to speak out on it. It’s not so much propaganda as it is just explaining what Tony/Iron Man witnessed and the effect it had on him. Everyone pretty much agrees the war was mishandled whether they think we should have gone or not, but this is not so much a debate on the Vietnam War as it is showcasing the horrors of war itself.
What they got wrong: This feels like a filler story. The opening narration notes that this was during the “War Of The Supervillains” and Black Lama stuff (I reviewed the one comic I own from that time period, #80) and may have been just an attempt to give the usual team a bit of breathing room. Marvel used to have filler tales ready for just this sort of occasion and that’s not a problem in itself. The problem is Mantlo writes Tony’s dialog a bit weird. You ever read a story where the narrator is passive aggressively belittling the focus character of the story? That’s how Tony talks to himself, and yet his dialog in the flashback is okay. Not so okay is how the armor is drawn. I know the artists have to make tweaks but this is regular inker at the time, so the penciling must have been the issue. Iron Man’s armor in the flashback doesn’t look like any of the armors I know from that period while the present day armor (of 1975) looks more like the Silver Surfer painted himself yellow and put on Iron Man’s body armor.
Recommendation: I see why this was one of the reprint choices for the “100 Page Monster” since it was an important period in Tony’s history but it’s not a very interesting story. It’s not a must-read to me.