August 8, 1963
- With this issue, we have the final piece of Stan's plan. For these first two years, all of the superhero half-length features - Ant Man in Tales to Astonish, Thor in Journey into Mystery, the Human Torch in Strange Tales, and Iron Man in Tales of Suspense - all had Stan providing only the plot, with dialogue and captions added later by someone else. By taking over full writing duties on this issue, those days are now over. (I know I've hammered on it again and again as those changes have occurred, but it really is the beginning of a new stage.) And, as he's done before, Stan further heralds his greater attention to these heroes by having one of his lead artists take over for a few issues - in this case, Steve Ditko!
I love seeing a well-constructed tableau such as this, where so much
information is conveyed in a single panel, rather than in several.
- That said, the contents within don't show sweeping changes - and in fact, some of them are downright repetitive! In this story, Tony Stark finds his arms plant the victim of industrial sabotage. (Just like last issue.) When he therefore can't deliver on his contracts, this leads to congressional pressure. (Just like last issue.) Fortunately, this unoriginality is made up for by the action - which starts immediately, before delivering a flashback and the villain's origin by page 3! So you at least can't say the plot wastes any time.
What he possesses in inventiveness he more than lacks in fashion sense.
- Speaking of plot, the villain this time is one Bruno Horgan, The Melter. A former competitor of Tony Stark's, whose business failed when Stark pointed out his use of inferior materials, he subsequently discovered a directed beam by which he could dissolve iron in seconds. With his parallel background and inverse ability, he's seemingly Iron Man's direct foil - but then, so was the villainous Dr. Strange, and he was never seen again. Amusingly, since the Melter's beam specifically melts iron, Tony tricks him by ... remaking his armor out of aluminum?! (Or "aluminium", as our international friends might have it.) It's a great, if ridiculous, twist, and one that foreshadows another major change, coming next issue. Tellingly, the Melter gets away at the end - and unlike Strange, will actually return. And not just on his own, either!
I think I can see Ditko's work in the particular way Iron Man moves.
But not much else!
- It should be said, though, that the only real oddity in this issue is the art. As mentioned, this is the first of a three-issue guest-stint by Steve Ditko, with finishes by Don Heck. And yet, this seems to be one of those cases where the style of the underlying art is almost wholly subsumed by the style of the inks. I'm not the strongest in identifying art styles, but the wide eyes and lanky figures associated with Ditko's art are nowhere to be found! The look of the villain is quirky enough to possibly be of Ditko's design, and the "staging" of the figures show some of his distinctive poses as well. But to my untrained eyes, what I see is mostly Heck - especially in the faces. (The very unusual credits may be a clue, as instead of the normal "pencils" and "inks", we get "interpreted by Steve Ditko" and "refined by Don Heck".) In any case, Ditko's pencils will be much more visible in the next instalment....
Another clue to Ditko's work may be how the pages spring from a six-panel spread,
in the way (for instance) that his Spidey work is based on grids of nine panels.