Thursday, April 22, 2010

47: Tales of Suspense #40

Tales of Suspense #40
January 10, 1963

  • The first thing we notice in the cover above is that, despite this being the second outing for the character, he's already got a new look! Apparently Stan Lee was shocked to find that the colorist had made Iron Man look like he was made of, well, iron, and promptly decreed a different hue. Fortunately, this works just fine in context; after all, you'd expect that a suit cobbled out of spare parts while in captivity would look much cruder than when Tony had the time and resources to improve upon the design. Speaking of which, we also see the first real suit upgrades this issue, in the form of attachments kept in an accessory belt: a transistor-powered drill to bore through rock, PA speakers and a microphone, a searchlight from his chest, air-pressure jets in the boots, and suction cups on the palms. Some of these extensions are amusingly low-tech, in comparison to later models, but it's still a significant step towards the Iron Man as we would come to know him.

  • When discussing FF #12, I spoke about the need for proper pacing and story structure: Having too much action can feel like flash and sizzle without anything for the reader to connect to, while too much setup and too little action can make the tale rather dull. And given that the action doesn't really start until page 8 (of a 13-page story!), you'd expect that would be the case here - and yet it's not, because this story's not really about the plot at all. As with Thor's first appearance, Iron Man's debut was an exciting origin story with no room for anything else, so it's left to the second appearance to start fleshing out character and setting details. So we see Tony developing high-powered roller skates for the US army (!), charming a dazzling international socialite, recharging his life-giving iron chestplate via a standard electrical outlet, apprehending a mad scientist who's created a shrinking ray, and engaging a pack of escaped circus lions. The menace of Gargantus doesn't come in until the last few pages - and we're not too surprised that it isn't nearly as interesting as everything else!

  • Last issue, I expressed dismay at Don Heck being regarded as the early Iron Man artist, since he only pencilled a half-dozen stories between Tales of Suspense #39 and #50. A closer look reveals the answer, for on most of the issues that he did not pencil, he did in fact still ink, thus preserving a continuity of style even with Marvel's stable of rotating artists; out of those initial 12 issues, he was only absent for two. And impressively, based on this second issue, it's entirely successful! For instance, in this story he inks over Jack Kirby - who has, famously, a markedly distinctive style. But flipping through the issue, you could hardly tell! Rather than going the route of inks over full pencils, they appear here to have taken the route of loose pencilling (also known as "layouts" or "breakdowns"), a method which leaves much of the actual composition to be done by the inker. Honestly, the only time the Kirby designs really come to the fore is in the few panels at the end showing the green, four-fingered aliens, of the sort seen in many a Kirby "aliens from outer space" tale. For the rest, Don Heck's detailed realism is on display more than the muscled exaggeration of Kirby - and the comic is all the better for it.

    I'd be fascinated to see a page of Kirby's layouts from this issue;
    the romance-comic style seen here seems almost wholly Heck.