Monday, January 23, 2012

162: Tales of Suspense #56

Tales of Suspense #56
May 12, 1964

  • This issue sees the introduction of the Unicorn - and, although he'll never go on to become a major foe, he's still one of those villains so darn goofy in concept and design that you wonder how he ever came back at all. I mean, he wears a suit with a power-beam mounted on his forehead - so, sure, why not name him after a mythical creature from European folklore (and one with a quizzical connection to virginity, at that)? This naming is made even more inexplicable when it's revealed that the character hails from Soviet Russia, and that the suit was designed by the Crimson Dynamo before his defection to the West. Although I suppose we could speculate that the suit was perhaps named after the Russian myth of the Indrik...?

    Um. Nobody wants to see Emo Tony.

  • On the more human side of things, the cover hints at a closer look into the psyche of Tony Stark, and this is revealed as a re-emphasis on his mortality, poignantly held in check during Iron Man's origin story, but oddly underplayed ever since. The doubled-edged sword of this premise - that the chestplate he wears represents not just his enormous strength, but also his greatest weakness - is a powerful one; strange, then, that it's been overlooked for so long. In virtually all of the Iron Man stories that have touched on it since, this vulnerability - Tony Stark's need to recharge his chest battery at regular intervals, in order to keep his very heart beating - has always been presented as little more than a lighthearted "Whoops!" moment, rather than something more akin to "My God - I lost track of time and nearly died!"

    "Black light tracker"?  I think this is another case of
    what we can generously deem "Marvel science".

  • In this issue, as well as the two following, Iron Man's feature is upgraded to 18 pages again, and so it's worth taking a moment to talk about format. As we've previously discussed, Marvel's various anthology books - Tales of Suspense, Tales to Astonish, Journey into Mystery and Strange Tales - all began life in the 1950s as comic books that featured multiple stories per issue, all of them unconnected from any other, and each story finite unto itself; no continuing stories with returning heroes there! Stan's early innovation, not long after the introduction of the Fantastic Four, was to place an ongoing superhero feature as the lead story in each one of these mags, so we got Thor in JIM, the Human Torch in Strange Tales, Ant-Man in TtA and Iron Man in ToS. At first the lead feature continued to be rounded out by unconnected tales as of old, but then the backup strips started, featuring the Wasp, the Watcher, Doctor Strange and "Tales of Asgard". With most of these, there was still just enough space left for one of the "filler" strips - perhaps burning off purchased, yet-unused inventory? - but as of now, they're done and used up. From this point forward, all of the superhero-related titles contain only superhero features (barring a couple of one-page text stories still trickling out over the next few months). The anthology titles will further concretize in the next few months into the double-feature books that will define the next period, but there's no denying it: Truly, the Marvel Age of Comics has taken hold!

    Did you ever think you'd see the Watcher in love?
    No, neither did anyone else.

  • Along similar lines, this title's backup strip, "Tales of the Watcher", has only a few months left to live. (Don't worry; it'll get another brief run in '68.) Interestingly, just as the last couple Wasp backups have focused more on the character in question rather than just using her as a framing device, so too do these last few Watcher tales take a greater interest in the enigmatic alien himself, as evidenced from the titles alone: "The Watcher's Sacrifice", "The Watcher's Power", and "The Watcher Must Die!" And why not? If they're going to (temporarily) take the character off the table, they may as well go out swinging!

    The Watcher seems to have an oddly flimsy
    interpretation of "non-interference".