Friday, October 30, 2009

Marvel Masterworks: Iron Man vol. 1

Marvel Masterworks: Iron Man vol. 1

originally posted December 29, 2008

It was fun to take a look at the earliest days of Iron Man. However, for the most part these were not memorable or even good issues. In fact I have an even greater appreciation for Stan Lee’s dialogue after reading the efforts of the lesser talents of Bob Bernstein who scripted all of these early issues, except the first one which was scripted by Larry Lieber, Stan Lee’s brother.

Since Iron Man is dependent on technology and with the possible exception of light nothing seems to move/change quicker then technology, it is not difficult to imagine that these stories from the early 60’s quite obviously seem more outdated than Van Morrison’s Brown Eyed Girl (I am eluding to his lyric about transistor radios, since transistors are Iron Man’s omnipresent devices in this collection)

However, I feel I have to add that I am a huge fan of science fiction novels of the 50’s and 60’s. I read Asimov, Heinlein, Herbert, Leiber, Dick, Vonnegut, Zelazny, Pohl, Kornbluth, and countless other. I mention that to prove that if a story is well written I don’t mind that it refers to atomic powered rocket ships or transistors, or quantum singularities. What’s wrong with these Iron Man stories is that they were not well written or well researched and just don’t make any sense scientifically, even using 60’s technological knowledge.

Also not helping these stories is that the first 2/3rds of the issues do not feature any of the villains or supporting characters that will become integral to the Iron Man mythology.

Without further ado…


Tales of Suspense 39

The origin issue is the single non Stan Lee scripted issue in this volume worth reading. Us GSB folks know that the story in the beginning of the recent Robert Downy Jr. Iron Man movie was pretty close to the original. Tony Stark is a brilliant scientist who has sold his tiny transistor technology to the military for use in Vietnam against the communists.

As if that wasn’t enough he’s also a millionaire and an eligible bachelor. Maybe it’s the unlikely pairing of his black hair and blue eyes that turns on the ladies.

Anyway Stark’s life changes forever when he goes to a Vietnamese jungle with an American military unit to do combat tests for a miniature transistor powered rocket launcher (they’re no heavier than a flashlight!). The rocket launchers kill the commies; but during the fight Stark steps on a tripwire and gets blown up. He wakes up in a prison camp, Shrapnel is working its way towards his heart and the crazy communist commander Wong-Chu demands that he build him a weapon. Instead Stark builds the Iron Man suit and destroys the prison camp.

The original Iron Man suit looks like a standard robot from any number of science fiction movies; (Gort from“The Day the Earth Stood Still” comes to mind because I watched it last week.) This Iron Man actually looks like it might be made of iron, this is of course soon going to change.

My favorite part of the issue is when the evil Wong Chu throws a filing cabinet down a flight of stairs and hits Iron Man.

Tales of Suspense 40

R Bern’s first issue like the ones that follow, isn’t very good. It’s got art by the great Jack Kirby, but that about it.

At the start of the issue Stark is demonstrating transistor powered roller-skates to the army. The general says it will revolutionize troop movements. However, despite the fact that the military loves Stark’s technology it is never used in Marvel Comics! The MU is a place that has technology greater then our own, but the only ones ever seen using it are super-heroes and super-villains.

Iron Man then goes to the circus and dons his Iron Man suit when the lions and tigers go crazy. He keeps his Iron Man suit folded up in a small attaché case. How can you fold iron?!! This makes zero sense.

While fighting lions and tigers the public is scared of Iron Man, so Stark decides to take the advice of his date Marion and paint his suit with gold paint, so people will know Iron Man has “a heart of gold and an appearance to match his golden deeds.” (Do girls really think like that? God I hope not!)

Then Iron Man fights a giant that turns out to be a robot sent by aliens. (Don’t ask!)

Tales of Suspense 41

In-between issue 40 and 41 it seems like Iron Man put on a few pounds. In this next Jack Kirby issue Iron Man looks more and more like a big yellow bathtub.

The villain in this issue is named Dr. Strange, but it’s not the Dr. Strange master of the mystical arts we know and love. It’s some other guy that wants to destroy mankind by detonating an S-bomb. However, he’s stopped by Iron Man, the mad man’s kindhearted daughter and two flashlight batteries. (Seriously, you can’t make this stuff up!)

Tales of Suspense 42

The Actor, a Russian agent that is a man of a thousand faces attempts to steal the plans to Tony Stark’s newest invention a disintegrator ray. In the process he learns that Iron Man and Stark are one and the same. However, Iron Man manages to recover the plans and discredit the agent. But the disintegrator ray is never seen again.

Tales of Suspense 43

Iron Man fights Kala, Queen of the Netherworld. According to this issue the lost city of Atlantis is at the center of the Earth. I have many problems with this issue. First off is that the Mole Man and the Subterraneans are at the center of the Earth, second is the Namor and the other Atlanteans are the descendants of Atlantis, not these guys. And my third problem is with the ending, Iron Man takes Kala up to the surface where she rapidly ages due to atmospheric differences between the surface and the underworld. This convinces her not to invade the surface. This makes no sense because how did Iron Man and the other captives survive in the underworld if the atmosphere was so different?

Tales of Suspense 44

Tony Stark goes to Egypt and every reporter he meets want to know how ladies man Stark would have made out with Cleopatra. Yeah there’s a great story! Don’t they have anything better to do? Like maybe trying to figure out who Iron Man is.

Then Iron Man ends up traveling back in time and single-handedly beating the tar out of a bunch of Romans. He even puts wheels on his back and makes Iron Man a human roller skate. This is a new low.


Tales of Suspense 45

Iron Man fights Jack Frost, a mad scientist who gives himself powers very similar to Iceman’s. This issue actually came out the same month as X-men 1.

But the big news is the addition of Iron Man’s supporting cast. It is however a rough start. Happy Hogan is a thug like character who saves Stark after a racecar crash and becomes his limo driver through the joke is Stark never actually lets him drive anywhere. Pepper Potts is Stark’s frumpy secretary that pines for her boss. The dialogue for both characters is awfully clunky.

Tales of Suspense 46

The first appearance of the Crimson Dynamo, a communist equivalent to Iron Man. I think he looks like a robo-Santa Claus. Iron Man wins by making a fake tape of the Dynamo’s superiors betraying him. I guess Iron Man was watching Mission Impossible.

Tales of Suspense 47

Praise be, Thanks to God. Finally an issue written by Stan Lee. The art is listed as Ditko, but it looks identical to Don Heck’s work. Anyway I see a marked change for the better in the quality of the dialogue and story.

The Melter who becomes a somewhat laughable villain later on is actually a formidable foe and the first to cause Iron Man to redesign his suit.


Tales of Suspense 48

This issue is drawn by Ditko and it shows. Overall the art is good, and obviously I’m a fan of Iron Man’s red and yellow armor over the previous bathtub armor. However, something funny happened when Ditko drew Pepper and Happy. Often Pepper’s face is overly shaded and in one panel Pepper looks about 50 and Happy looks even older.

The villain in this one is Mr. Doll. He’s kind of like the Puppet Master only he manipulates the clay faster than Iron Man can attack him. I find it hard to believe that even with training a sculptor could get that level of detail on faces in seconds.

Tales of Suspense 49

An atomic explosion is detonated at one of Stark’s factories and Angel on his way to Prof X’s mansion in Westchester is directly over head. So Stark blew an atomic bomb somewhere on Long Island or worse in NYC. So everyone in the city should die from radioactivity. And Iron Man and Angel are at the center of it and just shake it off.

However, it turns out the blast makes Angel evil!

Angel quits the X-men and goes looking for the evil mutants. However Iron Man shocks him back to normal by putting his life in danger.

Tales of Suspense 50

Heck is the artist again for this final issue.

In the first appearance of the Mandarin, he shows off his karate skills and nearly beats Iron Man in hand to hand combat, but he only uses one or two of his rings. I’m sure readers where left wondering what deadly powers his other rings gave him.

Iron Man knocks the Mandarin unconscious but then retreats. Why didn’t he take the Mandarin with him and bring him to justice?

Also of note is that Pepper gets a new more glamorous look in this issue.

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