When the Marvel universe exploded and there were suddenly multiple Spider-Man titles and countless comic books devoted to mutants of one sort or the other, I gave up reading dozens of Marvel comic books each month and just kept up with two titles: "Daredevil" and "Iron Man." The latter selection was pretty ironic because I had ignored Iron Man for years. Outside of the story of his origin, I never read very any of these early stories from "Tales of Suspense," issues #39-50, reprinted in color and collected in "Marvel Masterworks: Iron Man, Volume 1." In fact, if I picked up an issue of "Tales of Suspense" in the Sixties, it was to see what was happening with Captain America, the other Marvel superhero sharing the title with Iron Man. I never really read Iron Man until he got his own comic.
My problem was never with the character of Iron Man because I thought the idea of inventor Tony Stark coming up with and continually upgrading and specializing his Iron Man armor was a pretty good premise: give me a suit of armor like that I am too will go out and fight the good superhero fight. However, the whole rich playboy bit was nothing special (the tradition goes back to Bruce Wayne/Batman and Britt Reid/The Green Hornet), and it was not until many years later when Stark was revealed to be an alcoholic that his normal side became really interesting. I also though the weak heart bit was rather unnecessary, except that it provided an unnecessary rationale for why Stark did not let some healthier and heavily insured younger guy do the death defying heroics.
My problem was that I never really liked Don Heck as an artist. He was competent enough, but when the competition is Jack Kirby, Gene Colan, John Romita, Neal Adams, and Jim Steranko, it is hard to hold up to artistic comparisons month after month. Heck does most of the pencils in these "Tales of Suspense" stories, although Kirby does several issues as does Steve Ditko (with Heck usually doing the inking in those instances). For that matter, Stan Lee often does just the plot for these comics, leaving the actually scripting to others, primarily Robert Bernstein.
A lot of these early stories put Iron Man in a Cold War context, which made him rather unique as a Marvel superhero. Iron Man first appears after Tony Stark is captured in Vietnam and his early villains include the Red Barbarian, a top Red general, the Crimson Dynamo, his Soviet counterpart, and the Mandarin in issue #50, who is apolitical but lives in Red China. But you will also find American villains, such as the Melter (an obvious threat to a guy in armor) and even an early villain called Dr. Strange, who is not to be confused with the Master of the Mystic Arts. Meanwhile, Tony Stark, his best friend and loyal associate Happy Hogan, and the beautiful Virginia "Pepper" Potts, start to become entangled in their own little unrequited love triangle.
Another thing I did not like about these early comics has to do with the 10-page stories we had to put up with for Iron Man, Captain America, the Hulk, the Sub-Mariner, Ant-Man, Dr. Strange, and Nick Fury Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D., during the Sixties. Actually, until issue #58, we were getting 13-page stories or longer for Iron Man until Captain America showed up for good (the two actually fight each other in that issue before sharing the magazine officially in the next issue). It is not surprising that the early, longer stories are better. But it was not until Happy and Pepper married and got out of the picture, the major subplots had to do with the business problems of Stark International, and Iron Man got his own comic book, that this title reached its heyday. However, it is not until we get to Volume 3 in the Marvel Masterworks collections of "Iron Man" that you will get to see the character reach that stage.
on December 25, 2005
This book collects the first 12 stories of my favorite solo Marvel superhero, IRON MAN, from TALES OF SUSPENSE #39-50. It's a mixed batch, and one can't shake the feeling Stan Lee & co. were struggling to figure out how to do this series at first.
Tony Stark, a rich, impossibly-handsome, utterly brilliant inventor-industrialist, is seriously injured and captured by a North Viet Namese warlord, who tries to force him to design weapons for him on the promise of saving his life-- of which he has no real intentions. Instead, Stark fashions a device that can not only keep him alive, but doubles as a suit of armor. He dispatches his captor and escapes back to America, but his normal life has been shattered, for he can't remove the device he now wears without suffering a fatal heart attack.
Jack Kirby designed the initial armor (and did almost all of the covers), while the interior art was assigned to veteran DON HECK, a master of horror, sci-fi, romance, and known for drawing some of the most beautiful women in comics. Iron Man was his first superhero assignment, and while some may feel he's out of his depth he brings a "real-world" feel to everything.
Stan Lee plotted all the stories here, but left the dialogue to others for the first 8 installments. His brother Larry Lieber, never as flashy as Stan, brought a solid, deadly-serious feel to his only episode, helping to fashion of the of the truly GREAT "origin" stories of early-60's Marvel! Back in the States, veteran scripter Robert Bernstein dialogued the next 7 stories. The really odd thing is that Jack Kirby pencilled episodes 2, 3 & 5 (SUSPENSE #40, 41 & 43). Kirby is known for his unparalled creativity, and anything he worked on it's a good bet he added immensely to the plots along the way. Looking over the first few episodes carefully I've suspected they may even have been done out-of-sequence, though one noted comics historian has suggested they weren't. Iron Man tackled various minions of the Communist Bloc, in line with Tony Stark being a weapons designer & manufacturer. Along the way he even tackles "Kala, Queen Of The Netherworld", who strikes me as a variation of Simon & Kirby's own "Green Empress" from the 1940 BLUE BOLT series! (Never throw away ideas.)
The one thing missing in the early episodes is anything remotely resembling a supporting cast! This is finally addressed in ep.7, "The Icy Fingers of Jack Frost", with the introduction of Stark's flighty, love-lorn redheaded secretary, "Pepper" Potts, and his ex-fighter turned chauffeur, "Happy" Hogan. While Don Heck's rendition of Tony Stark in many panels is a DEAD RINGER for Errol Flynn, he claims he based Pepper on Ann B. Davis! (A very YOUNG Ann B. Davis, I'm guessing.) Happy, more than anyone in these early stories, reminds me of Maxie Rosenbloom. Not too pretty, not too bright, not too couth-- but he takes one look at Pepper and falls HARD-- to her HORROR (and the humorous delight of anyone else watching). Pepper gets a facelift in ep.12 (SUSPENSE #50), but it's such a change it looks more like what happens when a tv show recasts an actor! Stark finally takes notice... but keeps her at a distance because (typical soap-opera problem) he feels she'd have no future with a man who could die any day now!
Steve Ditko (SPIDER-MAN, DR. STRANGE) was brought in for 3 episodes, and gets credit for completely redesigning the armor-- variations of Ditko's design lasted for decades! But when Heck returned, he & Lee began the REALLY "classic" run of the series. With all the right elements in place, they kicked off a nice solid run in #50 by introducing The Mandarin, a mysterious evil Oriental would-be world-conqueror (very much in the Fu Manchu mold), who would quickly become I.M.'s #1 arch-enemy!
One major drawback to most of Marvel's reprints is their longterm low quality standards with stats. Much linework tends to fatten, blur, or disappear. One of the worst victims of this, tragically, is the art of DON HECK. Fortunately, I happen to have all but a few of the original comics here. They've allowed me to compare side-by-side, and realize just how much younger fans are MISSING! Often, without the original 40+ years-old comics, you may have NO IDEA just HOW GOOD his work was. Also missing is Stan Goldberg's superb, intense, moody coloring on the covers. I see the new edition of this book at least gave I.M. back some of his shine on the cover-- the 1st edition (1992) reduced his armor to a single drab shade of brown. I have the original (1963)-- Goldberg used 4 different shades of gray, and made that suit look like REAL METAL!!!
One could look at this entire collection as the "origin" of Iron Man. After this, the next 2 years of the series would be among the BEST episodes seen in its entire run!
This typically gorgeous Masterwork volume covers the origins of our beloved Shell-Head, Iron Man. Included here are his first twelve stories from the pages of "Tales of Suspense", one of Marvel's Silver-Age anthology titles.
These are a kick to read through, as their brevity makes them quaint. Relics of a bygone age where the Commies were the bad guys.
The Marvel "twist" on a superhero with a miraculous suit of iron, is that our hero needs it to stay alive...something about shrapnel obtained from a wound in Vietnam moving closer towards his heart. It's the predecessor to our modern pacemaker.
Iron Man fights a string of villains we never saw again...his first one, Wong Chu...a Kirby-designed Gargantus...The Red Barbarian...
There's a weird episode involving Angel from The X-Men...radioactivity makes him temporarily evil. Kinda makes you scratch your head wondering what they were thinking...
On the other hand, we get the debut of one of Marvel's enduring villains, The Mandarin.
Pepper Potts and Happy Hogan, two of the title's oldest and best-remembered supporting cast members, are first seen here as well.
The writing is period-appropriate clunky (the non-Stan Lee stories are worse...) and the art leaves a LOT to be desired. I never "got" Don Heck...and his revisions over Kirby and Ditko are jarring and incongruous.
Plus, I don't think Iron Man has EVER gone through as many costume changes in twelve issues than he did here. He went from grey to gold to the relatively svelte red-and-gold in ten issues, and would change again within the next five.
That's a huge part of the charm of these early stories. It's a look back into the pop culture of the early 60's with little interference or criticism.
The physical book itself is, as you'd expect, lovely. Crisp, colorful reproductions and a sturdy binding make for a worthy, nay...necessary, addition to your library.