Tuesday, June 8, 2010

58: Tales of Suspense #42

Tales of Suspense #42
March 12, 1963

  • One of the joys in reading these old comics is picking up the newest issue and seeing the villain: Is it some one-shot baddie? Is it the first or evolving appearance of a well-known rogue? Maybe it's some obscure Marvel villain who had a few early appearances but soon disappeared. And so there's an initial reaction when reading the captions on the cover: "Oo! The Red Barbarian? Who's that?" followed immediately by the reaction when looking at the villain's uniform: "Oh. Never mind." Yes, it's another "dirty Commies" story! But while the Soviet general is of no interest, we're considerably surprised by the agent who comes to offer his services. He calls himself The Actor, and with the use of a rubbery face and a little makeup, claimes he could impersonate anyone. (Even, bizarrely, the metal-suited Iron Man.) What's confusing about this to even a moderately knowledgeable Marvel reader, of course, is that his schtick is essentially identical to that of infamous Spidey foe The Chameleon, who appeared just a few months earlier and was also a Soviet spy. Needless to say, neither the Actor nor the Red Barbarian would be seen again.

  • As the story opens, Iron Man is foiling a group of Commie spies who are attempting to steal "America's newest atom bomb" (can a comic get more 1960s than this?) before demonstrating to army personnel his prototype for a disintegrator ray. Yes, that's right: A DISINTEGRATOR RAY. Despite vaporizing an entire monster tank and a two-foot thick wall, Tony apologizes for the ray not being ready yet. Why, if he could just figure out how to enlarge the ray, it could disintegrate "a fleet of enemy battleships or even a great metropolis"! Which, even allowing for the fascinating complication that our hero is an arms manufacturer, really leaves us wondering if Tony has finally become completely drunk with power. Then again, future stories would assert that his father, Howard Stark, worked on the Manhattan Project - so I suppose he's not that far afield.

  • Plotwise, the story's a bit of a mess. When The Actor, disguised as Tony Stark, raid's Starks laboratory in search of the disintegrator plans, he also comes across "various metal spare parts ... gleaming like gold!" ... and somehow leaps to the conclusion that Tony Stark is Iron Man. Rather than telling anyone, however, he opts to keep it to himself, in case he ever needs to get out of a bind. When Tony realizes that the plans have been stolen, however, he quickly catches up to the Actor, imprisons him, and returns to the Red Barbarian's base with the plans. Passing himself off to the general as The Actor dressed up as Iron Man, Stark explains that the plans are in the attache case he carries, which is closed with a time-lock that will only open in four hours. So the general congratulates him, tells him to come back then, and lets him leave (with the case). Iron Man then frees The Actor before leaving the country, and when The Actor returns to the Red Barbarian without any plans ... the general shoots him. And not a single thing I've recapped here makes a lick of sense...!

    The twist ending has something of an EC Comics feel to it,
    and the use of the silent middle panel is really quite gorgeous.