Tuesday 21 December 2010

Tales of Suspense #39. Iron Man's origin.

Tales of Suspense #39, Iron Man's first appearance and origin
There are many things in life I don't know. I don't know who put the bop in the bop shoo-wop doo-wop. I don't know who put the ram in the ram-a-lam-a-ding-dong and I don't even know why do birds suddenly appear every time you are near. But one thing I know even less than any other is just what a transistor is.

I do know one thing though.

They're the future.

They have to be. Look at them. You can do anything with 'em. According to Tales of Suspense #39, you can increase the power of a magnet a thousand-fold for even more fun with iron filings, you can make bazookas the size of flashlights (although some of us would prefer to have flashlights the size of bazookas) and build suits of armour that can fly. If I had any sense at all I'd be investing in a transistor factory right now.

That factory would of course belong to Tony Stark, the Western World's greatest manufacturer of transistor-made technology. Not that that does him any good when he goes to Vietnam to get his jollies by seeing how good his weapons are at killing people who don't matter. You know. Communists.

That's right, it's the early 1960s and, if he can't be fighting alien invaders, there's nothing a Marvel protagonist loves more than getting one over on a Red.

Before Stark can even find time to stop and question whether being an arms dealer's the most ethical way to make a fortune, he has bigger fish on his plate as he finds himself captured by the evil communist Wong-Chu. Not only that but the booby trap that led to Stark's capture's left him with shrapnel embedded in his body. Shrapnel that's making its way towards his heart as remorselessly as the Proclaimers were once making their way to our front door. Can he survive?

Of course he can. He's got transistors.

Looking to buy himself some time, Stark agrees to make a weapon for his captor. Well, he makes the weapon all right but has no intention of giving it to a communist. He makes a suit of transistor-powered armour, and Wong-Chu's in trouble.

I've said before that, along with the origin of Thor, Iron Man has my favourite debut of all Marvel's Silver Age heroes. I'm not sure what this says, as both tales were scripted by Larry Lieber and not Stan Lee. Could it be that Larry was the true comic book genius in that family?

So, what's the appeal of the birth of the super-hero who doesn't introduce himself as, "I: Ron Man"? Well, I suppose it's a three-pronged attack. There's the tragedy of a grim reality being inflicted on a man who'd previously led a charmed life. Then there's the same man getting his comeuppance in a war he's done more than anyone to help propagate. There's also the self-sacrifice of Chinese scientist Yinsen - giving his life that Iron Man might live. As well as adding an element of tragedy and nobility to the tale - he is, after all, it's only genuine good guy - Yinsen's also important in letting us know it's communists we're meant to hate and not just anyone from East of Doncaster. Above all, there's the sheer sense of focus to the tale. Because of its low page-count, there's no room for the sort of diversions that found their way into the origins of the Hulk or the Fantastic Four.

But writing's only half the tale when it comes to a comic book. Just how good a job does Jack Kirby do on this new character's origin?

He doesn't. For once, Jack must've taken five minutes off work, because the thing's drawn by Don Heck and, as we all know, Don Heck was an artist whose bad days could leave you feeling like shards of glass were being hammered into your eyes.

Fortunately, when it came to Iron Man, Don Heck didn't have bad days. For me, the strip's early days  featured the best work I ever saw from him, and that applies here where he tells the tale with a pleasing simplicity. He didn't have the abandoned dynamism of Jack Kirby or the stylishness of Steve Ditko but, at his best, he occupied a ground somewhere between the pair and, while occupying the ground between greats might never confer that status upon you, there are times at least when Heck proved there are worse territories to occupy. But then, Tony Stark could have told him that.


Kid said...

Larry also scripted Ant Man's first appearance, I believe. He came up with the names Don Blake, Tony Stark and Henry Pym. Stan once said that why he didn't give Don Blake an alliterative name like Bill Blake or Don Drake is a mystery. No it isn't, Stan - it's because your brother came up with them.

Steve said...

As far as I'm concerned that proves it beyond all doubt. Larry was definitely the genius behind Marvel's success.

Didn't he also give us the word, "Uru"?

Kid said...

Yup. THAT one Stan remembered was down to his brother. He's proud of ol' Larry.

dbutler16 said...

This was a pretty good origin story. Unfortunately, many of the subsequent Iron Man stories were not nearly as good. I agree about Don Heck - not my favorite artist but he does a good job here.