Friday, November 4, 2011

More Tales of Suspense

Tales of Suspense 40-50

After ToS 39 these cover the first year of Iron Man, circa 1963. Artists are pretty much Don Heck and Jack Kirby depending on the issue.

#40 features Gargantus, a giant Neanderthal Man. A girl doesn't show up for a date with Tony (clearly an indication of trouble) so Iron Man flies over to the town where she was visiting and finds it's cut off from the surrounding countryside by a big stone wall. He burrows under the wall and finds the townspeople hostile, referring to a "Gargantus" who now rules the town. he had them build the wall and they are now building a statue to him in the town square. The buildup here is pretty good.

Now there's no way IM is going to tolerate this state of affairs so he starts damaging stuff and calls the big G out. The traditional caveman with fur briefs and a big club appears (about 10' tall too) and starts fighting IM all over the town. Tony notices something weird about his eyes during the fight, deduces that he has hypnotized the town and that therefore he's more than just a caveman and then uses some kind of magnetic attack to rip Gargantus apart - he's a robot! And he's controlled by a UFO hovering above the town concealed by an artificial cloud! The aliens flee and the people snap out of it, saved by our hero.

Armor: Iron Man is repeatedly told that he is frightening at the begining of this issue so on the advice of a girlfriend he paints the suit gold to give himself more of a shining knight appearance. He's otherwise the same, so this marks the beginning of the original gold suit. Another thing to note is that he really doesn't have a lot of blasting powers at this stage. He's very much like a tech-based Magneto as he is throwing out magnets, reversing charges, and tossing metal around. He is strong and he can fly and he is armored but he is constantly running out of power and struggling to get to an electrical outlet to recharge.

Things you can steal: I think the basic plot looks like a lot of fun, though it makes no sense at all. Sure, have a local town cut off by a big stone wall and have a huge hypnotizing caveman robot controlled by a UFO behind it all! It's awesome! Then when your players tell you it's stupid you can point to the second Iron Man comic ever and say "Stan Lee and Jack Kirby thought it was just fine" and bask in the glow of your superiority!  Seriously, you might need more than one big robotic Neandethal to give your team some real opposition but it can work.

#41 features "Dr. Strange" who is definitely not the Strange we all know. This one is a villain in a purple suit (eventually - see:).

He does use magic, sort of - he's a kind of menatlist. He disappears at the end.

#42 features Red Barbarian who is not literally red (unusual for this time period) nor is he literally a Conan-esque barbarian, nor does he appear to have any actual powers, but he is pretty angry during most of this story. He is a Chinese warlord who plans to steal Stark technology by sending a face-changing agent known as "The Actor" (effective but not very inspirational) over to impersonate Stark. There is some simple skullduggery here and rather than a straight-up fight Iron Man uses his brains to get ahead of Actor and set him up for execution at the hands of Red Barbarian. RB is alive at the end of this one.

#43 features Kala, Queen of the Netherworld who again does not appear to have powers beyond being the queen of an underground kingdom with some advanced technology. Her goal is to conquer the surface world. She uses a device like a Star Trek transporter to kidnap some people, including Tony Stark who is caught without his suit. Feeling a little Deja Vu he promises to build weapons for her if he is left alone in a lab for a while. He promptly builds another suit (gold from the start this time) escapes, makes his way into the throne room, and then convinces the queen to marry her right-hand-man who is against the war anyway. This is another one where Stark talks people into things to resolve the situation instead of just issuing an armored beatdown. Kala ends the issue engaged and dissuaded from attacking us. Note the rather conservative costume, by today's standards anyway.

#44 features a trip back in time where Tony hooks up with Cleopatra and defeats the Mad Pharoah who is rebelling against her. This is an odd side trip story and is the kind of plot you probably cooked up when you were 12. It's kind of funny to see several panels regarding Tony's contemplation of whether he could have scored with Cleopatra - almost as much time as is spent on whether IM could defeat an ancient Egyptian army. Iron Man smashing chariots is cool and all but that's about it.

#45 finally features another super-powered opponent: Jack Frost! He runs around freezing stuff (including Happy Hogan) until IM reverses a polarity somewhere and freezes Frost. He is melted out and taken into custody. A lot of these early plots boil down to "guy attacks Stark Industries, Iron man has to figure out how to stop him in between charging cycles, Iron Man pulls new manuver that defeats bad guy" - this is one of those. Also: Hapy Hogan and Pepper Potts (called "Kitty" in one panel for some reason) make their first appearance. Not sure about that "favorite" comment on the cover but they are a part of the lore.

#46 brings in one of my favorite bad guys and one of IM's oldest (maybe he is the oldest,  looking at the timing here) recurring foes: CRIMSON DYNAMO! A Russian electrical genius builds a battlesuit, gets endorsed by Khruschev, then flies off to America to take out Stark and Iron Man. It's a big bulky red suit against a big bulky yellow suit! Stark eventualy convinces the scientist that the Russian leader is planning to betray him by using a trick voice recording (wasn't that part of 24 Season 2?). The Russian defects to America and all is well by the end of the issue. The funny thing is that the Russian leader WAS planning to betray him. This follows the pattern I mentioned above but it's better because it has communists and the Dynamo.

#47 features a new supervillain named the Melter (again descriptive but not all that imaginitive). He has a ray gun strapped to his chest that melts things when fired. This again follows the usual pattern but it has Tony running around worried about his secret identity being revealed if his maks gets melted off. Personally I would be worried about having molten metal dripping down my face but that's not really an issue here as the melted armor seems to run off without burning the exposed skin beneath. There is an extended running fight and the Melter ends up fleeing into the sewers, surely to return another day.

#48 introduces a brand new red and gold suit, the one with the "double-peaked" yellow mask It also introduces "Mister Doll" (wow that is bad, even for 1964) who uses a small voodoo doll he stole from an African witch doctor to cause harm. He uses it on several millionaires to get them to sign their fortunes over to him (on threat of voodoo-torure, not because of mind control) and then comes after Tony Stark. The odd thing is that he shapes the doll to look like Iron Man and makes Tony hurt...then he makes it look like Stark and hurts him again - I'm not sure that should work that way but it's magic anyway so who cares? Iron Man saves the day by reversing the whip - he makes a sudden move and changes the doll to look like its owner just as he drops it from a height, seriously harming the villain. He is taken away by the police.

#49 is the first IM crossover featuring Angel from the X-Men, who gets caught in a nuclear blast which scrambles his brain and makes him a bad guy. He and Iron Man get into a scrap, he quits the X-Men, then spends a bunch of time doing bad things to get the attention of the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants until Iron Man comes back and sorts him out by ... falling. He puts himself into a lethal situation which forces the good side of Angel to act and snaps him out of the evilness. This seems a little out of character for what we know about Tony so far and it also seems to me to be more like something a sidekick would do to save his hero, not something Iron Man does to save an X-Man he just met the same day! Gaming note: If your players can handle it then having one of them "turn bad" for a session could be a lot of fun.

#50 features the first appearance of The Mandarin, a recurring Iron Man enemy. He has a big old fortress somewhere near China and is a bad enough dude that Chinese generals go to him begging for help and fearing for their lives. The Pentagon asks Iron Man to do something so he flies out and pretty much gets his lunch eaten by the Mandarin. He ... sort of defeeats the Mandarin, then while he is recovering IM escapes ... and flies back home. This is the first time we see IM not really coming out completely victoroius - instead it feels like he was lucky to get away! This is kind of an odd way to go but it does set the big M up as a formidable opponent. It also reverses the typical plots we have been seeing which is kind of neat.

One funny note: despite being Chinese the Mandarin's costume features a big "M" in the middle of his chest. It's one of those Silver Age things you don't see as much anymore and I love it.

So by the end of Iron Man Year One (1963 edition):

- We know his origin

- We've met Happy Hogan and Pepper Potts, two major supporting characters

- We've met Crimson Dynamo and The Mandarin, two major recurring villains

- His powers are more like Batman plus Magneto than the later versions of the character

- We've seen him build a suit, repaint a suit, build another suit, and build a new version of the suit much closer to the iconic version

 Oh and ...

Yeah, that dreamy Rock Hudson...guessing it would be Clooney today.

Yeah. Anyway that's not a bad first year. More to come...


bliss_infinte said...

I've always hated that Cleopatra story but the series slowly picks up after that with the red and yellow suit, the Crimson Dynamo and the Mandarin, my personal favorite IM villain.

I actually like Don Heck's work during this period too.

Blacksteel said...

I'm glad it's not just me then I think that one stands out like a sore thumb. Besides, it's Tony Stark - OF COURSE HE THINKS HE COULD SCORE WITH CLEOPATRA!

I am by no means a comic artist expert but Kirby has that incredibly distinctive style that stands out instantly. I think Heck's work here is fine, though I have no idea what the larger comic community thinks of him or what he does later on.