He's Tony Stark, a cool exec with a heart of steel.  He's a founding Avenger, often called the Golden Avenger.  He debuted in Tales of Suspense 39, cover-dated March 1963.  Today he's arguably considered an A-lister, largely thanks to the trilogy of Iron Man movies starring Robert Downey Junior, as well as being a major part of the two Avengers movies (Avengers 2: Age of Ultron in theatres now - shameless plugs dept.).  In the comics themselves, he may not have been the biggest star, but he's consistently been a cornerstone of the Marvel Universe for decades.

This reading project will cover the Iron Man stories featured in Tales of Suspense 39-99.

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Tales of Suspense 39 (March 1963)

"Iron Man is Born!"

Plot - Stan Lee / Script - Larry Lieber / Art - Don Heck / Lettering - Artie Simek

Cover by Jack Kirby and Don Heck

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Anthony Stark is working in a laboratory "somewhere in the U.S. defense perimeter".  He tells a skeptical General that a tiny transitor he has made is powerful enough to open a locked vault.  When it works, Stark asks if the General now believes his invention can solve the problems in Vietnam - and the General is now a believer.  But who is Anthony Stark, the man fated to be Iron Man?  He is both a millionaire playboy and a scientist, at home both in a lab and with the jet set.  However, tragedy awaits him.

In the jungles of South Vietnam, a Red Guerrilla warlord named Wong-Chu has subjugated another village.  He offers to free the village if anyone can defeat him in a wrestling match, but no one can best him.  In another part of the jungle, Stark accompanies the military as they transport their weapons, which have been miniaturized thanks to his transistors - otherwise the artillery wouldn't be able to get through.  Suddenly, Stark trips a booby trap, and becomes Wong-Chu's prisoner.  A doctor who has examined Stark tells the tyrant the American has shrapnel close to his heart and will die within a week.  Wong-Chu tells Stark if he builds weapons for him, he will give him the operation he needs to save his life.  Stark realizes Wong-Chu is lying and while he agrees to work for him, he thinks to himself he will use whatever time he has left to defeat the terrorist.

A day later, another prisoner joins Stark.  He recognizes him as the famous physicist, Professor Yinsen.  Stark trusts Yinsen with his plan, and together the two men decide to build an armored suit, dubbed the Iron Man, which will keep his heart beating after the shrapnel reaches it.  They work frantically as Stark is close to succumbing to his injuries.  Stark puts on the suit as an alarm sounds, indicating Wong-Chu and his forces are approaching.  As the suit needs more time to power up, Yinsen provides a distraction and sacrifices his life for Stark, who vows Yinsen will be avenged.

Stark tests out the suit, and while it is a bit shaky for him at first ("I'm like a baby learning to walk!"), he learns quickly and successfully gets the armor to operate.  As Wong-Chu is about to burst through, Stark thinks while the suit will keep him alive, it will also be his prison forever.  He pulls himself together and for the moment hides from Wong-Chu, as he needs to plan his next move.

In the courtyard, Wong-Chu has defeated another man in wrestling when someone else calls out a challenge, and calls the warlord a coward.  Wong-Chu is at first enraged, but then shocked at the sight of Iron Man.  The armored man attacks, and makes short work of the warlord, humiliating him.  Wong-Chu orders his forces to attack.  Small arms fire has no effect on Iron Man, and he uses transistors to create reverse magnetism against bazookas.  The guerrillas flee, and when Wong-Chu tries to rally them over a loudspeaker, Iron Man creates static interference, and then switches his own voice into it, urging the Red forces to keep fleeing.  Wong-Chu locks himself inside a building, but using a transistor-powered mini buzzsaw on his finger, Iron Man quickly gets inside.  From the top of stairs, Wong-Chu throws a cabinet at Iron Man, and its pins him briefly, as each drawer was full of rocks.  He frees himself but it uses almost all of his electrical power.  Wong-Chu has not gotten far, and orders some guards to slay all the prisoners, as he runs by an ammo dump.  Iron Man shoots out a stream of oil, and then ignites it.  Wong-Chu is killed in the explosion, and Iron Man walks away, wondering what his destiny will be.

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My rating: 4/10

The artwork is the star of the show here, as frankly there is a lot to dislike in the story.  Don Heck does a great job, as the first version of the armor looks like a walking tank, if somewhat bulky.  Tying the origin into the Cold War would have been edgy in 1963, but hasn't aged well, although it's hard to fault the creators for not foreseeing that.  I winced at Wong-Chu's dialogue more than once, and was thankful Heck didn't draw him in a manner as Asians were sometimes offensively depicted.  The whole "transistors can do anything" bit got tired fast.  I don't buy Wong-Chu being able to hurl a cabinet full of rocks at Iron Man if said cabinet can pin him down, and furthermore almost completely drain his power.  I also rolled my eyes at Iron Man saying Wong-Chu will kill all his prisoners - that comes out of nowhere - and two panels later, Wong-Chu gives that order - to guards who had all fled into the jungle a few pages back.  I'm not sure what to think of Iron Man killing Wong-Chu.  It seems cold-blooded and not very heroic, not that the warlord didn't have it coming, but Stark more or less shot him from behind.

I wonder if the cover, which is certainly eye-catching, wasn't designed months ahead of the story.  Feels like they were going for a shock when IM's identity will be revealed (Who?  Who??  Who???), but in the story, there's no mystery, it's spelled out for us on page two.

I always thought that the Iron Man on this first cover looked much thinner and sensible shaped than the 'tank' shown inside.

There was an X-Man minor villain called the Cobalt Man (I think, before he went all chunky in the Hulk later) who I thought looked just like this cover....

Great to see this thread John,

 

John, I will be looking forward to your reviews as well. The Tales of Suspense era of Iron Man has always been my favorite for the character. I began reading the series during the latter days of TOS when Gene Colan was the artist, at the same time I was able to catch up on Shellheads early adventures via reprints in Marvel Collector Item Classics and the animated tales that were running during that time as part of the Marvel Super Heroes cartoon show. It will interesting to see how Iron Man took shape as a character and concept through those early years.

I'm down with this. Definitely one of my favorite runs of the Silver Age, particularly when Stan Lee took over the scripting duties.

And yes, like most origin stories, this one wasn't that great.

At first I wasn't buying all of the Marvel books, so I started with TOS #49, where he meets the Angel. I later got the back issues.

John Dunbar (the mod of maple) said:

He tells a skeptical General that a tiny transitor he has made is powerful enough to open a locked vault.

He was able to direct the magnetism at the vault door without affecting any other iron or steel in the room? Okayyy.

In the jungles of South Vietnam, a Red Guerrilla warlord named Wong-Chu has subjugated another village.

They seem to think Vietnam is a part of China. The scientist is referred to as Chinese and Wong-Chu is a Chinese name. The reward he offers is in Chinese currency. At least they show South Vietnamese troops and don't use faux Chinese lettering in their signage. The "guerillas" appear to be wearing Chinese uniforms.

In another part of the jungle, Stark accompanies the military as they transport their weapons, which have been miniaturized thanks to his transistors - otherwise the artillery wouldn't be able to get through.

Miniaturizing mortars is silly. They aren't so big they can't be carried into battle. Heavy artillery in the Civil War was line-of-sight, like tanks. Howitzers fire great distances and don't have to go through the jungle. They just need the coordinates to deliver the shells. Unfortunately, the jungle problem was solved later using Agent Orange.

Suddenly, Stark trips a booby trap, and becomes Wong-Chu's prisoner.

In 1963 the only U.S. ground troops in Vietnam were Special Forces/Green Berets working with the South Vietnamese troops. Stark should never have tripped the booby trap with the U.S. adviser right there.

.... together the two men decide to build an armored suit, dubbed the Iron Man, which will keep his heart beating after the shrapnel reaches it.

Yinsen does say this, but I think it was clarified later that magnets were keeping the shrapnel from reaching his heart.

…. transistor-powered mini buzzsaw on his finger…..

It’s amusing that he has a mini buzzsaw and suction cups on his hands, considering all of the things he adds later.

From the top of stairs, Wong-Chu throws a cabinet at Iron Man, and its pins him briefly, as each drawer was full of rocks. He frees himself but it uses almost all of his electrical power.

He actually tips it down the stairs. I’m surprised he had the foresight to fill a cabinet with rocks. Iron Man may not have had a lot of power at this point.

….Iron Man walks away, wondering what his destiny will be.

Oddly, when he walks away he is wearing trousers, a trenchcoat and a hat over his armor. They appear to be the same ones Tony was wearing when he was captured. How can they possibly fit over his iron suit? He was wearing at least the trenchcoat and hat when he first confronted Wong-Chu. This is invoking the early depiction of Ben Grimm, but Ben Grimm could have those things made to fit him by the time he was shown wearing them. At the end of the first story they make it seem like he has to wear the entire armored suit to survive. Maybe they meant to show him just wearing the torso portion but they didn’t show it.

Tying the origin into the Cold War would have been edgy in 1963, but hasn't aged well, although it's hard to fault the creators for not foreseeing that.

As I’m sure you’ll agree, no one foresaw these comics being collected and debated all these years later.

Richard Mantle said:

I always thought that the Iron Man on this first cover looked much thinner and sensible shaped than the 'tank' shown inside.

The cover depiction looks like he is established back home and is suiting up. Unlike his first, clunkier version of the armor he probably had streamlined it at that point.

Iron Man says "he had just enough time to fill all the drawers with rocks." Is Tony really that slow in that tin can?

The story sort of implies he has to wear the whole suit in order to stay alive. This would briefly be true awhile later, which was one of the reasons given for why he quit the Avengers.

I always wondered why, if he has such super powerful magnets before he even becomes Iron Man, why don't we ever see him doing anything with that power? Stan decided it would take too much from Magneto if somebody else could do the same things?

Also wondered what happened to the guy he's talking to when he trips the booby trap. Except for that one piece of shrapnel he's fine, so it seems odd the mine killed anybody with him. Unless the soldiers decided they weren't worth carting back to Wong Chu and got rid of them. The scientist might be referred to as Chinese but Yinsen definitely sounds Japanese.

As for Iron Man looking already established, that's even more strongly implied in the next issue. It's like Stan is trying to make it look like Suspense had a superhero as long as the other titles did.

Magneto's first appearance in X-Men #3 was six months in the future. Did Stan continue to use magnets in Tales of Suspense until that time?

I'm pretty sure that Iron Man's repulsar rays started out as reverse (repulsive) magnetism, but as time went on, that origin was mostly forgotten.

Mostly he used them to make things blow up so they didn't act like any kind of magnetism I'm familiar with. Like Stan would insist Cyclops' eye beams were force rays but then we'd see them melt something. He also said they came from sunlight so heat rays make more sense anyway.

That's as much like magnetism as Iron Man's transistors were like real transistors!

Stan admitted in one of those 1970s Fireside books that he was eventually told transistors don't actually power anything and he'd been describing how they worked completely wrong all those years. It's amazing how someone that knew nothing about science was able to convincingly fake all of Tony Stark's and Reed Richards' inventions. People that say he just took credit for what Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko did and didn't really contribute anything don't get just how much he brought to the table. Ditko's modern stuff is pretty unreadable (Right? Wrong? Positive? Negative? Indecisive? Decide! Choose! Take sides!) but Stan could probably make even the strangest ones them fun to read.

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