John Dunbar re-reads Iron Man (Tales of Suspense 39-99)

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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John Dunbar (the mod of maple) said:

The authorities trust Iron Man so much that they guess immediately he is being mind controlled and there's never an accusation he's in cahoots with Strange. As a long-time Spider-Man fan, that's practically refreshing.

I had the same reaction.

But often those early stories read as if each hero exists in their own universe, with no heroes in that reality.

Yeah, as in "no one can stop me but Ant-Man!" They were playing it like the hero of each book was the only one in the world. Was this a holdover from Martin Goodman's habit of using different publishing company names for each title, which I believe was a legal tactic held over from the pulps?

Ron M. said:

Considering the shrinking guy in the last story and Marion acting as if she's been seeing Iron Man for awhile now and can't stand how scary he looks grey, and now Dr. Strange and the police assuming Iron Man was mind controlled and hadn't run amok and asking him to perform at a hospital, it really looks like an attempt was made to make it look like he'd been around a lot longer than a couple of months, say, as long as the other fantasy books had a superhero. Reading #40 and #41 I had the feeling I'd missed a couple of issues.

The two panels in #40 that show him battling gangsters and a mad scientist were intended, I think, to indicate that he had established himself in the public eye. This fits with the circus patrons recognizing him when he shows up. It's not all bad writing.

Richard Willis said:

Perhaps another story by "R. Berns?"


It's the first Loki one from Journey into Mystery #85, with a Larry Lieber script.

Goodman used different company names for his pre-Code horror and crime comics, just in case one got him in serious trouble. Store owners were getting arrested so the publishers were pretty skittish in the early 50s.

Reading the history of these publishers (not just Goodman), when they were printing and distributing "spicy" pulp titles in the days when comics were just starting, one "publishing company" would catch a lot of heat from the public and law enforcement. It would be "shut down" and other existing publishing names or new ones would be used. The ownership wouldn't change. I think the multiple "publishers" in early Marvel were hold-overs from that mindset.

Ron M. said:

Goodman used different company names for his pre-Code horror and crime comics, just in case one got him in serious trouble. Store owners were getting arrested so the publishers were pretty skittish in the early 50s.

I believe during the early 50s Marvel had over twenty of them. Overstreet used to list them all. I know as late as the late 60s they were still using Vista, I think for Tales to Astonish.

Here is the thread I started in 2012 about Goodman's publishing companies.

Overstreet mentioned a few more, but they probably disappeared when he was forced to go to just a few titles. I think Male was used on Menace. I remember in the 70s some Archie comics said something like Close Up, making me think they were owned by the toothpaste company.

If you'll look at the publisher names and the dates for titles that I dug out of GCD for my 2012 thread you'll see he was doing it for a long time, up to 1968. He was doing it in the early 50s and for long-standing titles (Millie the Model) in the 40s.

Ron M. said:

Overstreet mentioned a few more, but they probably disappeared when he was forced to go to just a few titles. I think Male was used on Menace. I remember in the 70s some Archie comics said something like Close Up, making me think they were owned by the toothpaste company.

I did. But I remember Overstreet saying he had about 20 in the 50s. Unfortunately I no longer have any issues. Overstreet's spine wasn't designed for multiple page turning and they ended up falling apart into several pieces before I threw them away. Stan saying he wasn't allowed to use Frankenstein because Goodman was afraid Universal might sue, forcing him to come up with the Hulk suggests Goodman was kind of paranoid. A few years after he sold the company they did make a Frankenstein comic and Universal didn't say anything. Kind of figures concerning his origin that Universal would end up with some rights to Hulk though.

Then again, imagine the Monster in the Avengers movies. "Frankenstein smash!"

...As far as that goes , weren't Goodman's " naughty/not suitable for lil' kids " titles of any form ~ " Spicy/black terror " pulps , horror comics , " men's swea/men's adventures " magazines of that " Tortured At The Razor Length Of Hitler's Lesbian Leather Nuns !!! "- type " what old guys read at the barbershop in the Sixties "-type things ~ Sort of considered as being in the middle of the spectrum , as far as " level of ' naughtiness/sleaziness/whatevs " went for those genres ?

  Not as strong as the nastiest ~ and Goodman felt that the stronger ones brought undue negative attention to him , it said in a book I read about " sweats " ~ but stronger that the " lighter/more mainstream...respectable " ones (DC mystery titles in comics , ARGOSY in men's adventures) ?

Richard Willis said:

Reading the history of these publishers (not just Goodman), when they were printing and distributing "spicy" pulp titles in the days when comics were just starting, one "publishing company" would catch a lot of heat from the public and law enforcement. It would be "shut down" and other existing publishing names or new ones would be used. The ownership wouldn't change. I think the multiple "publishers" in early Marvel were hold-overs from that mindset.

Ron M. said:

Goodman used different company names for his pre-Code horror and crime comics, just in case one got him in serious trouble. Store owners were getting arrested so the publishers were pretty skittish in the early 50s.

Tales of Suspense 42 (June 1963)

"Trapped by the Red Barbarian!"

 Plot - Stan Lee / Script - R. Berns / Art - Don Heck / Lettering - E. Thomas

Cover by Jack Kirby and Don Heck

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Working with the F.B.I., Iron Man captures a spy ring that works for a Communist general dubbed the Red Barbarian.  Afterwards, Iron Man switches to his civilian identity as Anthony Stark, and thinks to himself that the Red Barbarian's agents would love to know what he is working on in his lab; they have no idea it's his greatest weapon, a pocket sized disintegrator ray.  Stark's plant is heavily guarded by the U.S. Army, so that no one but him enters or leaves his lab.

The next day, Stark demonstrates the disintegrator to some army officials.  It can fit inside a flashlight, and instantly vaporize a tank or a two foot thick wall.  With some adjustments, it could be used to wipe out an entire fleet of enemy ships, or even an entire city.  The military is quite impressed.

Meanwhile, in an unnamed Communist nation, at the headquarters of the Red Barbarian, his men are telling him about Stark building a new weapon.  He is outraged they have not been able to obtain any further information, verbally and physically abusing them.  A man then enters, telling him he is disappointed in what he sees.  The Barbarian is visibly shaken, thinking his visitor is Khruschev.  The man tells him to relax, saying he is there to congratulate him for employing an undercover agent who can perform miracles.  When the Barbarian denies he has such an agent, the man reveals he is not "Comrade K" but a master of disguise calling himself the Actor.  In moments, he changes his features to look like the Barbarian as well, and offers to steal Stark's plans by impersonating him.  The Actor even boasts he can impersonate Iron Man, and says he will defeat both Stark and Iron Man.

The Actor arrives in America a few days later, and uses various disguises to advance his plan.  He dupes Stark into going to Washington for a non-existent meeting with the Pentagon, then impersonates him to infiltrate his lab.  He brings men with him, disguised as Pentagon officials.  He finds pieces of Iron Man's armor in Stark's lab, and realizes Stark is Iron Man.  His men find the plans for the disintegrator ray, and he takes them so he can bring them to the Red Barbarian.  He orders the men to stay there and kill Stark when he returns.  He keeps the discovery of Iron Man's identity to himself, to use as an ace in the hole if he should ever need it.

Stark returns to his lab and gets ambushed by the spies.  He survives as the bullets bounce off Iron Man's chest plate.  He kills the lights and changes to Iron Man.  He makes short work of the spies and intimidates them into spilling the beans about the Actor.  He hitches a ride on a rocket to catch up to the Actor, who is already on his way back to the Barbarian by plane.  He lands a few miles away from the airport at the same time the Actor lands.  He catches the spy, twists his car into make a makeshift prison, and takes back the disintegrator plans.  The Actor realizes Iron Man has no idea the spy knows he is Stark.

Iron Man goes to the Red Barbarian's headquarters, pretending to be the Actor.  He shows the RB an attache case which he says contains Stark's plans, but cannot be opened for 4 hours because Stark armed it with an A-bomb.  He tells the RB he will return with the case after the time lock is deactivated.  He goes back and frees the Actor, and flies off to the nearest Western country.  The Actor goes right to the Red Barbarian's HQ, intent on sharing Iron Man's secret, to make up for losing the plans.  He tries to explain but the outraged Red Barbarian won't listen, thinking the Actor wants to take the plans to the nation's leader and get all the credit.  He orders his men to kill the Actor, and they do, despite the Actor offering to tell them who Iron Man is just before he dies.  The Barbarian dismisses the Actor's last words as "fairy tales", designed to save his skin.

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My rating: 5/10

Just okay.  This is the second month in a row with a cover that's somewhat misleading, as there is no battle between Iron Man and the Red Barbarian, not that there would be much of one.  The plot feels familiar, similar to the second Thor issue (Journey Into Mystery 84), where he faced a Castro stand in known as the Executioner (a mortal, not Skurge, obviously), with a Chameleon knock-off thrown in here.  In the Thor story, a brutal Red general dies at the hands of his own men, and there's just a slight twist here.

I don't know if the disintegrator ray is ever revisited in the series.  It's a plot device here, the McGuffin that moves the story along, but I found Stark's nonchalance disturbing.  It's one thing to wipe out a tank, a wall, or even enemy ships, but an entire city?  Yikes - chilling.  Up to now, he's been shown helping the American defense effort, but this goes far beyond that.  Stark comes across as pretty callous; looks like he has always been an "end justifies the means" type of person.

I knew reading this in 2015 that the Actor was a dead man walking as soon as he figured out Iron Man was Tony Stark, wonder how readers in 1963 felt - was it already old hat even then?

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