Friday, March 26, 2010

40: Tales of Suspense #39

Tales of Suspense #39
December 10, 1962

  • Here comes Marvel's finest armored hero! And, weirdly, it's launched without a regular artist. Oh, all the listings give Don Heck as such, and he did draw many of the early stories (in addition to this first one) ... but then, so did Jack Kirby. And Steve Ditko. With seemingly no rhyme or reason to their schedule at all! Jack would be on for one, then Heck for two, then Jack for two, then Don for three, then Ditko, etc. One would think Stan really believed in the potential of this character; after all, he not only made Iron Man a a new monthly feature, but gave it the lead story in one of his anthology mags - just as he'd done with Thor, Ant-Man and the Human Torch.  And yet, these and every other new hero had been assigned a regular penciller, right from the start, who typically performed the chore every month - so what happened here?

  • Those who know Tony Stark primarily from the movies probably have no idea that his origin was set during the Vietnam War. While using an actual, current war as backdrop would be startling now, Stan probably didn't think it too daring at the time. After all, one of his innovations, quickly made standard, had been to place fantastic characters in realistic, believable settings - and you couldn't get more real than a war that the U.S. was actively involved in. However, such a move wouldn't happen much, if at all, after this. For one thing, the American public's view on warfare would become far more complex in the wake of Vietnam, and Stan would have already realized how divisive involving a hero directly would be to the readership. And from a story perspective, if superpowered characters did get involved, they would likely end the conflict in no time flat. (As it is, Tony's decision to deliberately kill his captors at the end of the tale is surprising for a 1962 comic!)

    Hubris, thy name is Stark.

  • An unusual point of interest is that Tony Stark was a hit with the ladies - and not just in the book! According to Stan Lee, Iron Man received more fan mail from girls than any of their other characters. By a LOT. And while the staff certainly welcomed this, it perplexed them too: What about this character, they wondered, was reaching their female readers more than any of their other comics? They had two leading theories: First, that perhaps they'd done a better job than they'd thought of portraying Tony Stark as the confident, bachelor playboy, and that Tony had in fact been charming the readers as much as his supporting cast. Secondly, they wondered if the critical weakness they'd saddled Stark with during this first story really had tugged effectively on his female readers' heartstrings, so they responded to this very human vulnerability even in the midst of all his power.

  • Speaking of which, this was yet another case where Stan came up with an incredibly powerful concept - perhaps moreso than he knew. When arms manufacturer Tony Stark visits the U.S. military in Vietnam to demonstrate the effectiveness of his new transistors, he accidentally trips a booby trap which sends deadly shrapnel into his heart. While captured by the enemy, he's able to construct an iron suit with which to combat his adversaries and escape - a suit centered on a chestplate which also acts as a sort of pacemaker. In other words, that which makes him super is also that which keeps him alive. Were he separated from his armor, he would die, which means we could really view his trial by fire as the death of Tony Stark and the beginning of the Iron Man - a level of rebirth and reinvention that borders on the near-mythic.

    Iron Man's first baby steps.