Thursday, April 30, 2009

Iron Man Run

As I have mentioned in the past, I had a friend in high school who collected the Marvels, while I focused mostly on the DCs (except for Spiderman). However, we also did "temporary" swaps where he'd pick out twenty of my comics to read and I'd borrow a score of his.

So I did read a lot of the Iron Man and Tales of Suspense issues back then, and greatly enjoyed the character. But with incomplete runs I never really got a chance to read through a whole bunch of these. So today I thought I'd rectify that. Rather than do single issue reviews for these (at least for now), I just want to talk about general impressions.

Tales of Suspense #39-44. After an excellent start with the debut story, Iron Man wandered around in a daze for the next five issues. No continuing supporting characters were introduced, nor were any continuing villains. Iron Man battles a neanderthal robot from outer space. Iron Man battles a mad scientist named Dr Strange. Wrong Dr Strange. Iron Man battles the commies. Iron Man battles the Kala, Queen of the Netherworld (who never returned as far as I know in the Silver Age, although she did come back in the 1970s). Iron Man goes back in time and meets Cleopatra. Pretty humdrum stuff.

Tales of Suspense #45-49. Things pick up quite a bit here. We meet the major backup characters in #45; the alliteratively-named Happy Hogan and Pepper Potts. Hogan, a washed-up fighter, saves Tony Stark's life when he crashes his racecar. Happy, so-named because he never smiles, is immediately smitten with the boss' new secretary, but she's got her own dreams:

Now that's actually pretty different; making the love interest cute as a button but not drop-dead gorgeous makes Pepper more interesting, especially since we've seen the glamor dolls that playboy Tony has been dating. And Happy and Pepper settled in as the constantly squabbling backup duo, almost like the comic relief characters found in so many Golden Age series:

In #46, Stan finally found the right style of villain for Iron Man in the Crimson Dynamo. The following issue introduced the Melter, another important Silver Age villain. Stark began to hear complaints from the government due to constant sabotage by the communists; this creates the "guilty even if he's innocent" peril that Spiderman endured at the hands of J. Jonah Jameson and the Hulk due to General Ross. If there was one thing that Stan could do, it was to create long-term headaches for his major characters.

In Tales of Suspense #48, Steve Ditko redesigned the Iron Man uniform from a bulky, golden-colored armor to the reasonably tight-fitting red and gold outfit that we all know and love (although there were some changes yet to come). The actual manufacturing job is the usual gorgeous Ditko of the 1960s:

Here's the revised product:

The radio antenna didn't last long but aside from that Iron Man's costume is not far from finished.

In #49 we get more Ditko plus an X-Men crossover featuring the Angel:

The story is just okay. The Angel, while flying over one of Stark's plants, is turned evil by an explosive missile that was being tested. He and Iron Man battle it out but in the end the Angel's good nature overcomes his bad side. But the art is really a treat.

Overall comments: Stan struggled at first with most of his characters and Iron Man was no exception. One of the major differences between DC and Marvel at this point was that DC's characters were well-thought out and planned while Marvel's were more seat of the pants. But Stan was more willing to tinker with his heroes to improve them slightly. This is similar to the way the DC heroes of the Golden Age had developed and it results in more dynamic characters.

The five issues from 45-49 are really where the series starts to gather steam.