Tuesday, March 8, 2011

118: Tales of Suspense #50

Tales of Suspense #50
November 12, 1963

  • Introducing: The Mandarin! Yes, after enduring such throwaway baddies as The Red Barbarian, the Mad Pharaoh, and Mister Doll, we finally get Iron Man's Doctor Doom. Sadly, he's always been a problematic character as well. A "Yellow Peril" figure from Red China, he's a stereotype through and through: From the "Chinese mystic" caricature displayed on the cover, to the pointed beard and Fu Manchu mustache - itself named after the more famous stereotype who wore it - the racist overtones of these early appearances have dogged the character ever since, preventing his appearance in the Iron Man films of the last few years, and even prompting Tony Stark's current writer, Matt Fraction, to address these elements in interview before bringing the character back (in what proved to be a satisfyingly complex tale of terror). Although it should be said there is something appropriate about Iron Man's archenemy being a product of the politics of the time, given that Iron Man himself came out of the Vietnam War.

    That thing you just heard?  That was the sound of my jaw hitting the floor.

  • And yet, just as in Doctor Doom's first appearance, in this debut issue ... the Mandarin's not that great. Specifically, Stan just can't seem to settle on what, exactly, he wants the character to be. He's a despot feared by his government; he's a technological wizard; he wears ten "power rings", each one a different weapon (though we only really see one or two in action); and he's a martial arts master who can finish off an armored Iron Man with a single blow. These are all characteristics that could be layered onto the villain, if done gradually. But trying to cram all this into the few scenes which feature him? In a 13-page story, no less? In this first glimpse, it makes the character a bit of a mess. Fortunately, we know this won't remain the case....

    Great ending: Stan & Heck set up the character conflicts for future stories, as well as
    showing that the Mandarin may have been stalled, but he's surely not been defeated....

  • So, it's issue #50! How, we wonder, will Marvel celebrate this milestone achievement for the title? Well, by ... dropping Iron Man's story count from 18 pages back to 13 (as mentioned above), for the first time since issue #46. (Why?) In its place is an unrelated 5-page backup story, "Them!", of the sort that Tales to Astonish, along with the rest of Marvel's anthology books, looked to have been getting away from. Strange, that. But we'll let it go, because "Them!", a story in which a terrified man is fleeing from storybook characters come to life (which only he can see) has the funniest twist of all - when it turns out that he, too, was nothing but a fictional character! A character created by ... Larry Lieber.

    And note that Larry both scripted and drew this story - so, sure enough, that's his
    depiction of both himself and publisher Martin Goodman.

  • Meanwhile, the latest installment of "Tales of the Watcher" gives us "Journey's End!", a story about meek and timid Wilbur Weems, a space pilot in the far-off 21st century. Picked on and laughed at by his unwaveringly gorgeous peers in this futuristic society, he nevertheless volunteers for a dangerous, one-way mission that no one else will consider. The predictable twist, of course, is that instead of doom he receives great rewards, as the threat he was sent to investigate turns out to have been a test designed to attract the most brave. Though just a 5-page story, it's effectively pleasing to see the character make his resolute decision simply because it's the right thing to do. On the one hand, yes, it is simplistic (and we can debate whether or not the ending reward undermines the idea that hard decisions should be made on their own merits, and not for what we think we can gain), but it's worth remembering that these were stories written for kids, and read by kids, and the unfettered delivery of ideas like selflessness and self-sacrifice were - and still are - ones worth introducing.

    Oh yeah, and the dust cloud also transformed him from a nerdy shlub into a muscled hunk.
    A bit too much wish-fulfillment there?