Friday, August 30, 2013

Tales of Suspense #45 (September, 1963)

"The Icy Fingers of Jack Frost!"
Plot: Stan Lee
Script: Robert Bernstein
Artist: Don Heck
Synopsis: Having spent the morning assisting the FBI with rounding up a spy ring, Iron Man rushes to the track of the 500 mile Speedway Classic, where Tony Stark will be racing his own car - just like in the second movie!
He's off to a great start, winning every lap and on his way to setting a new track record... when the charge in his electric chest plate begins to run out! With his heart beginning to fail, he crashes the car and is sure to die.
But what's this? A man rushes out from the audience to save Stark, pulling him out of the wreckage before the car explodes. Stark weakly demands the man take him to the nearest motel room instead of a hospital, and with the amount of money Stark's offering he agrees.
Once in the motel room Stark can plug in and is soon charged up with live saving electricity. Stark rewards the man with a job on his staff as his chauffeur/bodyguard, so that he'll always have someone to help him out if his heart conks out on him like that. The man's name is "Happy" Hogan, a washed up boxer who never won a bout because he could never bring himself to finish a guy off. 
Stark and Happy drive to Stark's plant - now established as being located in Flushing, Queens next door to the site of the upcoming 1964 World's Fair and the new Shea Stadium - where on arrival Stark introduces Happy to the site and to his staff, including his secretary, "Pepper" Potts. Pepper is a plain, mouse-y looking girl trying to find herself a husband at Stark Industries -- she has a crush on the boss but knows she can never land him. Happy is instantly smitten with her, but she finds him oafish, boorish and ugly. So now we have a love triangle on our hands.
In Stark's office, he changes into Iron Man to perform a systems check - and lucky he does, as the alarm for the vault goes off. Rushing down there, Iron Man discovers Professor Shapanka, a brilliant Stark Industries employee, attempting to raid it. Shapanka is attempting to steal the plans for Stark's transistors since they may hold the key to Shapanka's research in immortality. Wait - if Shapanka's a Stark employee, wouldn't he already have access to the transistors? Stark puts them in all his tech. And why does he need to steal anyway? If the dude is researching immortality, I think that might be research Stark would be willing to fund.
Nonsensical plot aside, Iron Man stops Shapanka, hands him over to Stark guards, and then changes back to Tony, who makes the really bone-headed decision of not having Shapanka arrested. Instead he just fires him, and tells him to get off the property before he gets "cold feet" about not having him arrested.
Shapanka suddenly realises this is the answer to his research and runs off. See, Shapanka believes he can freeze biological organisms and keep them alive in the ice indefinitely. But what use is immortality if you're just frozen in an ice block? Somehow Stark's comment has given Shapanka the idea of creating an "ice suit" that will regulate his body temperature to the lowest possible while keeping him alive, and also give him the standard comic book assortment of ice powers like the ability to encase himself in an icy form and shoot ice and freeze people with a freezing gun, like a mixture of Captain Cold, Mister Zero, and Iceman.
So now that Shapanka has, without even stealing those transistors, figured out a way to keep a human being cryonically preserved but NOT suspend their animation, does he patent it and sell it to the world and become famous and rich? No, he starts robbing banks and dreaming of revenge on Stark and Iron Man and being called "Jack Frost" by the newspapers because we're thirteen pages into this "eighteen page epic" and we need a supervillain, dammit!
Frost attacks Stark Industries, freezing the guards and Pepper Potts, whom he remarks was always "cold" to him. Happy comes at him with an assault rifle but is likewise frozen. Frost bursts into Stark's office, but finds... Iron Man!
At first Frost's powers seem a match for Iron Man, but then the Golden Avenger turns the "searchlight beam" into a "heat ray" for the first time and puts it full power on Jack Frost, whose ice melts and whose cold suit malfunctions and burns. Shapanka is arrested and everything's back to normal at Stark Industries.
My Thoughts: This is really the best Iron Man story since the origin. It gives us a lot of firsts for the feature. It's the first appearance of Happy Hogan and Pepper Potts, most significantly. These characters have gotten a lot of prominence lately due to their use in the Iron Man movies, and while Happy's role as Tony's chauffeur/bodyguard wasn't changed much, the Pepper seen in this comic is very different from Gwyneth Paltrow's confident, intelligent movie version. Pepper is characterized as a kind of shallow secretary with a crush on the boss looking for a husband, a very stereotypical and common female role in the 1960s. She's also portrayed as fairly plain in appearance. These attributes will change as the series goes on but "desperately trying to get Tony to notice her" will be a big part of her character for a while. This story is also the first to give us a proper costumed supervillain character, with an origin and powers and everything. He's also the first Iron Man villain to start out as a disgruntled Stark employee, which will become a running theme in Iron Man's enemies. It's the first story to establish and flesh out the location of Stark Industrie's munitions plant, and overall it's just the first story to really flesh out the characters in any real way. This is largely because it's five pages longer than all the previous Iron Man stories.
It's also the first issue after Iron Man joined forces with Thor, Ant-Man, the Wasp and the Hulk to defeat Loki in The Avengers, and thus the first issue after Iron Man has been firmly planted in the shared fictional universe of Marvel Comics. I thought long and hard about whether I wanted to review Iron Man's Avengers appearances, as he was a regular and vital team member up to Avengers #16 and has returned to the team many times over the succeeding years. But I decided that The Avengers, despite being really the first big cross-over of the Marvel universe, are really their own thing and if I included it I would be opening the doors to reviewing every appearance of Iron Man in every Marvel comic and that would drastically overcomplicate this review project, which is already insane enough as it is. So I'm only going to cover Iron Man appearances in comics not his own when storylines directly cross-over and intersect (like if Part 1 of a story is in Iron Man, Part 2 in some other comic, etc). I'll also cover other "Iron Man family" comics if I ever get that far into this to deal with such things.
The Art: Good stuff from Heck. He of course creates here the visages for Happy and Pepper, although Pepper will go through a make-over in a few issues. His Jack Frost is sort've a spiky, icicle covered version of Iceman (who at this point in his design history is more like "Snowman"), with Mister Zero's freeze gun. Heck's action scenes are getting marginally better, but his strength is still people's faces, which he renders very individualistically. His use of shadow to create drama is also really effective in places.
The Story: Stan and Robert are really, really helped by those extra five pages. The pacing is enormously better and the characterizations that much more fleshed out. Heck, even when the first seven pages are devoted to introducing Happy and Pepper and the new set-up of the strip, the Jack Frost plot still gets another nine pages. It really helps the storytelling overall - even the ridiculous stuff seems slightly less so because there's enough time to pretend to justify it.
The love triangle set-up Stan has created is pretty standard - he'll repeat it almost identically in the Matt Murdock/Foggy Nelson/Karen Black triangle in Daredevil (ironically, Jon Favreau would go on to play both Happy and Foggy in the Marvel movies).
It makes utterly no sense as to why Professor Gregor Shapanka would decide to become a supervillain once he develops his powers, but then that's a pretty common problem with comic book villains in this era - heck, comic heroes too, after all Stan's given no reason for Stark to become a superhero instead of just turning his Iron Man suit into cash dollar as a defense contract.
Stark Science: Stark's using those rocket-powered roller skates from ToS #40
The big science thing in this ish isn't a Stark invention, it's Shapanka's cold suit. Now, to be fair, the general ideas he's operating under are pretty standard comic book conventions for a cold villain, but the specifics of his "science" are newer. His research is into suspended animation, specifically cryopreservation. The temperature required for this is 77.15 Kelvin (-196 Celsius, -320.8 Fahrenheit). However Shapanka is trying to do this while being able to move and live -- these two goals are mutually exclusive by the way. His suit lowers his body temperature to the "coldest possible", but that's really only between 28-20 Celsius (82.4-68 Fahrenheit) - any lower than that and your organs start failing and you die. And that's nowhere near the freezing point of water, which Jack Frost is obviously lower than given his "icy" form. So we must conclude that Shapanka's cryonic science is far beyond our own, although how Stark's transistors and their various degrees of bullshit would've helped him is beyond me.
Notes and Trivia: First appearance of Happy Hogan, Pepper Potts, Gregor Shapanka (Jack Frost), first time Stark Industries' location is established in Flushing, first time a Stark employee goes crazy and becomes a supervillain

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Tales of Suspense #44 (August, 1963)

The Mad Pharoah”
Plot: Stan Lee
Script: Robert Bernstein
Artist: Don Heck
Synopsis: Tony Stark is travelling to Egypt and while the gossip columnists think it may be to start some international romance, he is actually visiting an archeologist friend of his to assist with a dig.
When he arrives the archeologist explains that they are searching for the tomb of King Hatap, who was known as the “Mad Pharaoh” for his knowledge of black magic and his ruthless crimes. They know it's in the general area but not the precise location and hope Stark can use his technological expertise to pinpoint the location so they don't waste time digging around to find it.
Stark suggests they call his... friend... Iron Man to assist due to his many technological gadgets. Which are all Stark gadgets anyway, so why Tony feels the need to “call Iron Man in Cairo” and then return in costume eludes me.
At least until we find out that Tony is spending his time in Cairo gambling at the casino, drinking champagne and watching belly dancers. However his chest plate is running out of charge and so he hurries back to recharge it, nearly drained. He damns the need for the chest plate to keep him alive and needing to keep his Iron Man identity a secret, which... wait, why is Tony keeping his identity a secret, anyway? There's basically no reason for it other than that he's a superhero and it's a trope of superheroes.
Anyways, he returns to the dig site as Iron Man and uses portable transistorized fluoroscope goggles to see through the tomb walls and locate Hatap's burial chamber, digging to it easily with a supercharged diamond drill (all the workers must be pissed. They probably aren't being paid now).
They find Hatap's mummy but the archeologist notes that it's very peculiarly embalmed. The next day, it's missing! They search for who the thief may be, but Stark is cornered by a strange figure... it's Hatap himself, somehow still alive after 2,000 years!
Hatap explains that he had led a rebellion against Cleopatra, but his forces were defeated (wait, so if he was a rebel, how was he a king and a pharaoh?). But he faked his death by ingesting a serum which placed him in suspended animation for two millennia. Now he is going to travel back in time to defeat Cleopatra with Stark's help!
Hatap transports them back in time using a golden charm (you rub it twice and it takes you back two millennia apparently) and as much as crazy bullshit ancient Egyptian magic shouldn't really be in an Iron Man comic, it totally works and the two find themselves in ~31 BC or so.
Tony rolls down a sand dune out of sight of Hatap and changes into Iron Man (because of course he brought the attaché case). When Iron Man flies up into the sky Hatap believes that this strange armoured demon has killed Stark and flees into the desert.
Instead of, I dunno, attacking Hatap and trying to get the golden charm so he can return to his own time, Iron Man flies off to meet Cleopatra. Because, hey, why not?
She's being attacked by Roman forces (presumably Octavian's) but Iron Man shows no regard for the temporal prime directive and promptly wipes them out to ingratiate himself to the queen. Iron Man is regarded as a saviour from the gods, and Cleopatra offers for him to stay with her as her consort (wasn't she married to Marc Antony at this point, with like three kids?). Iron Man offers simply to destroy Hatap's forces, which are even now marshalling against her.
Iron Man easily devastates Hatap's army because, y'know, he's a dude in a powered armour from 2000 years in the future. He grabs the golden charm from Hatap, who trips and falls on an upturned sword, killing himself.
Despite Cleopatra's protestations that her heart belongs only to him, Iron Man rubs the charm and returns to the present. As Tony resumes examining the tombs with his archeologist friend, they discover odd hieroglyphics depicting Cleopatra embracing a golden armoured figure.
Returning to America, Tony attends the gala premiere of the movie Cleopatra. When reporters question him whether he would've been able to woo the “Siren of the Nile”. Stark replies that “stranger things have happened.” 
My Thoughts: A valid question might be "why the hell is Iron Man travelling back in time and falling in love with Cleopatra, like a bad Silver Age DC comic?" The answer, of course, is to be found in the ending of our tale when Tony goes to the movies. 20th Century Fox's megaepic, Cleopatra, was released that summer. The most expensive motion picture ever made to that point, it starred Elizabeth Taylor as Cleopatra and was definitely the most hyped film of the early 1960s. It nearly bankrupted the studio and was so costly that it only made back half it's budget... despite being the number one box-office hit of 1963! It's an overlong, overambitious, ridiculously over-the-top movie - so as much as Stan Lee jumping on the bandwagon strikes me as terribly unoriginal for the "Marvel Age of Comics", at least he kept it short at thirteen pages.
The Art: Heck is back by himself this issue, and his work is really great to behold. When I first encountered Heck's work I didn't like the style of it, but seeing it in these early Iron Men stories I've really taken a liking to it. It's almost completely different from the Kirby style that quickly became the "house style" of Marvel, but in that lies it's charm to me in a way. Even with it's somewhat "scratchy" nature, it feels refined and stylized in a way that fits the world of Tony Stark. Heck's Cleopatra is beautiful, his Hatap mad and evil, his Stark is handsome and dashing. That being said I prefer the way Kirby renders Iron Man himself. Heck's version is okay, but it just lacks a certain mechanical oomph that Kirby delivers. 
If this story were done today I would take Heck down a peg or two for rendering the Egyptians in styles and clothing from 13,00 years earlier than the time period the story takes place in -- Cleopatra's Egypt was a Hellenized society, so more likely everyone would be going around in white togas instead of crazy King Tut get-ups. But pretty much every cultural depiction of Ancient Egypt makes this mistake, taking 3,000 years of Egyptian history and culture and compressing it like it all happened at the same time. Even the Cleopatra movie this comic is desperately trying to cash in on does this.
The Story: Why did Hatap's serum put him suspended animation for 2,000 years? What would be the use of that, strategically? Why not a few days or a few weeks til the heat died down? If he had a magic fuckin' time travel charm on him the whole time, why not travel back in time and kill Cleopatra when she was a baby? Why is he rebelling against her, anyways? Was he actually a pharaoh or just some crazy usurper? How was Stark supposed to make advanced future weapons for him with Iron Age technology? How did Hatap know Stark was a weapons designer anyway? If the charm can transport multiple people, why not transport an army to the future, steal the weapons, and then come back? Why does Stark worry about maintaining his secret identity in 31 BC? And yet not worry about violating the timeline at all, using all kinds of modern weapons to destroy Roman and Egyptian armies? And how is Stark able to speak to Hatap and Cleopatra, who would be speaking Koine Greek? (Granted almost everyone always ignores language differences in time travel stories).
Wait, I'm not supposed to be analysing this so carefully, am I? Stan just wanted to do a comic where Cleopatra falls in love with Iron Man because there was a movie out.
It's still nonsense.
Stark Science: Iron Man can see through walls with fluoroscope goggles - a fluoroscope is a device used to view x-rays in real-time, so it's use here is consistent and fits with Stark's penchant for miniaturization - the idea that it would let Stark see through stone walls is scientifically hilarious but consistent with the standard comic book (mis)understanding of how x-rays work. Likewise Iron Man's diamond drill fits the standard Stark gadgets introduced so far -- tiny and overpowered. Iron Man's other gadgets in this issue are pretty lowkey mechanical devices: a small rotor he can attach to propel himself through water, wheels he can attach to roll while lying down (an awesome idea), etc.
The idea that an Egyptian "pharoah" from the first century BC could make suspended animation serums and time travel devices is ludicrous, but "magic is real, but only in ancient societies" is another common comics trope and the "potion that only makes you seem dead" is as well, as much as I dislike seeing such things in an Iron Man comic.  

Tales of Suspense #43 (July, 1943)

"Kala, Queen of the Netherworld!"
Plot: Stan Lee
Script: Robert Bernstein
Pencils: Jack Kirby
Inks: Don Heck
Synopsis: There's an accident at the wind tunnel at Stark Industries, but "luckily" Iron Man is on hand to save everyone. Changing back to Tony Stark, he then re-arrives on the scene to inspect the damage.
At this point Jim the security guard vanishes, followed quickly by a scientist named Evans. Then a clear polygon shape envelopes Stark and begins phasing through the ground, sinking him deep under the earth. 
He drops down into an ultra-advanced society living below the surface of the Earth where he he greeted by Kala, Queen of the Netherworld. So yes, we're now in Jules Verne/Hollow Earth/Batman: Odyssey territory. 
Kala explains they were meaning to transport Stark and only transported his employees accidentally while trying to lock on to him. Of course the Netherworld is highly technologically advanced, years beyond the surface world (though I wonder how they survive without food, water, sunlight, etc) and thus their technology appears to us as magic.
Turns out they are the descendents of the lost city of Atlantis (ohboy). The ultra-advanced city was taken out by tidal waves which swallowed the city and sank it down to the ocean floor (not how geology works, guys). The scientists luckily saw this coming and covered the city with a giant dome which protected it. However with each passing year Atlantis sunk deeper and deeper until now it exists at the core of the Earth as the Netherworld! (That's really not how geology works, guys!)
So why do they need Stark? Well, Kala has decided now is the time to invade and conquer the surface world "which we alone once inhabited!" Wait, if the only humans were Atlanteans when it sunk, then how did the story get passed down? How is there a human civilization at all? Also, why now? Why not any time in the last ~11,526 years? 
Anyways, they want Stark to design weapons for them because even though they are super-advanced they don't have Stark's transistor technology (this seems unlikely given their other advances) and so they want him to design new weapons for them or else! You may recognize this as the exact plot of the origin story, minus the utter insanity. What's the or else? Well, Kala has a machine that will reverse the axis of the Earth (holy shit!) which would utterly fuck the entire surface world, killing everyone, while those at the centre of the Earth would be unharmed. So Stark either builds her weapons to march on the surface world, or...
...Wait... if Kala already has the capacity to kill everyone on Earth while her civilization remains unharmed... why not... just... do that? And then move in? Why instigate a costly war? Why do you need more weapons than the "one button pressed and my enemies are all dead and I'm fine" one?
Anyways, Stark agrees to help them and then when they give him a lab and equipment he just builds an Iron Man suit and kicks all their asses. Seriously? Did no one in the Netherworld read ToS #39? Kala throws a bunch of sophisticated sci-fi weaponry at him, but Iron Man is able to easily beat all of them in the most over-powered sequence this side of a Mort Weisinger Superman comics. Disintegrator ray? Iron Man has a "electronic reverse energy ray". A flamethrower cannon? He has crystals that transform the fire into ice! (How does that even work??) A machine gun with atomic bullets (what?)? His magnets send them hurtling harmlessly away (and into the dome that protects the city?!)
Then Iron Man throws a bunch of mirrors on the ground and these... project... multiple images of him... that confuse Kala... and then he captures her and they journey to the surface as he digs up with a pair of... nuclear powered transistorized gardening shears?? 
And then when they get to the surface the atmosphere ages Kala into an old woman, and she decides she can't stand not being beautiful and so returns to the Netherworld (this restores her beauty of course) where she agrees to marry her male general Bazu (because this whole problem was caused by her being a power-mad woman, you see) and then Iron Man returns to the surface.
My Thoughts: Why does this comic exist? This is definitely the dumbest issue thus far, and that's saying a lot. It's basically just the origin story again, only with more improbably science, a Hollow Earth society descended from Atlantis, and some casual sexism. Also -- ATLANTIS? Did Stan Lee just, like, forget that Marvel already has a version of Atlantis? And that one of their oldest characters rules it? Namor, the Sub-Mariner? Stan had already brought Namor back into Marvel continuity by this point, so there's really no excuse for this sloppy break in continuity. I mean, while the Iron Man stories haven't been explicitly brought into the nascent Marvel universe yet the fact of the matter is that Amazing Spider-Man, Hulk and Fantastic Four have all already had cross-overs at this point, establishing the interconnectedness of Marvel's superhero output. FUCK. This issue is DUMB.
The Art: But, with Don Heck inking Jack Kirby again, I can't really complain about the art. It's not mindblowing or anything, but it's good. Heck keeps things looking like Iron Man, while Kirby gives us his trademark inventiveness. Kala's outfit is classic Kirby, even if it looks like something from the "Thor" Asgardian reject pile.
The Story: It's the origin story. But underground. And stupider. Like, that's it. It's everything an Iron Man story should not be, at this point. So, there's a huge underground civilization that wants to destroy us and totally can at any time and chooses not to because their leader is vain and her husband likes peace? Great longterm solution there, Iron Man.
Also - Atlantis? Seriously, I knew Stan Lee's memory was bad but how bad is it when you forget about Sub-Mariner entirely. It's also a little weird considering our script writer, Robert Bernstein, was the primary writer of Silver Age Aquaman. 
Also also -- the entire "broken wind tunnel" action and rescue scene at the start. Two whole pages out of thirteen that have nothing to do with the story. At all. This is not good pacing, guys.
Stark Science: So the Netherworlders get a pass since they're operating on a "science sufficiently advanced so as to be indistinguishable from magic" routine -- although yes reversing Earth's axis would severely fuck up everyone and everything on the surface (not reverse time, Superman!)
Stark builds his second Iron Man armour underground using Netherworlder technology and maybe that's why it has all these hilariously overpowered attachments. The electronic reverse energy beam might as well be called "Anti-Disintegrator Spray", and let's all see if Iron Man remembers he has it at all next time he comes up against a beam weapon.
I don't know how Stan, who using at least attempts scietific plausibility, thinks you can turn flaming petrol into a wall of ice by throwing some crystal chemicals at it. That's just science word salad. You might as well have made Iron Man a sorceror at that point.
Atomic bullets seem like the stupidest and most impractical weapon of all time -- but at least Iron Man's ridiculous overpowered transistorized magnets are consistent with tech he's been using all along.
Mirrors work by reflecting light, but it has to hit your eye for you to see the reflection, hence you must look at the mirror. Somehow Stark's mirrors are also projectors but Stan and Robert never call them that so instead we have some really sloppy optical science to go with everything else.
The very existence of Netherworld makes absolutely no geological sense at all, even by 1963 no one believed in a Hollow Earth (except maybe Neal Adams, who's still banging that drum), but the Hollow Earth is a standard adventure fiction trope so I'm also willing to concede it. But the idea that Atlantis kept sinking until it hit the Earth's core and then it sustained a population for 11,000 years? That's just silly.
I'm not even gonna touch the physics of digging from the Earth's core with a pair of nuclear powered garden shears -- other than to say it's obviously impossible and damned silly to boot.
While it's plausible that an unfamiliar atmosphere would have a debillitating affect on a person, if Netherworld's environment was so different from the surface's to turn Kala into an old crone, why didn't it do anything to Tony when he went down there? Also, returning Kala to her original environment wouldn't magically restore her, just as removing fire from a burning man doesn't cure his injuries.
Notes and Trivia: Tony builds the advanced MARK I MOD 2 golden suit using Netherworld technology.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Tales of Suspense #42 (June, 1963)

"Trapped by the Red Barbarian"
Plot: Stan Lee
Script: Robert Bernstein
Artist: Don Heck
Synopsis: Iron Man stops a communist spy ring from stealing an American A-bomb through some ridiculous magnetism tricks, and gives the captured spies to the FBI
As Tony Stark, he returns to his factory where he is working on a disintegrator ray for the US army capable of wiping out tanks, walls, perhaps even cities instantaneously - it's clearly the most powerful weapon ever developed and makes nuclear weapons look like firecrackers, oh and did I mention it can be installed in a flashlight casing and is totally handheld and portable?
Instead of reflecting on the horrors of science and technology, Stark and the army are mostly just worried about what will happen if the Reds get their hands on the plans.

Meanwhile, "in a Red Satellite country", the Red Barbarian, the leader of the communist spy network in America, sits hearing reports from his subordinates (in reality Soviet foreign intelligence was controlled by the First Chief Directorate of the KGB, led at this time by Aleksandr Sakharovsky). They tell him of Stark's new weapon and he wants them to go steal the plans, but no one can get into Stark's factory because it's so heavily guarded by the US Army.

There is one agent who can do it, however: The Actor! A master of disguise so talented he is able to even fool the Red Barbarian into thinking he's Nikita Khruschev! The Actor proposes that he disguise himself as Stark, get into the factory and then steal the plans. 
The Actor successfully makes it to the US and gets Stark away from the factory by faking a summons to the Pentagon. However, while he is rooting around Stark's office he discovers spare Iron Man parts and makes the obvious deductions. He decides to sit on the knowledge so he can use it in the future to spare himself in case of some blunder or change in fortune. Leaving with the plans, he sets some assassins to kill Stark when he returns.
However the assassins are no match for Iron Man, and they are quickly defeated and spill the beans about the Actor's plans. Then Iron Man figures the only way to beat the Actor's plane to it's destination is to travel by ROCKET and this is either ridiculous or ridiculously awesome, I'm not sure which. It certainly makes it the most expensive counter-intelligence mission of all time - such a flight would've cost something like $24 million to execute (about $176 million in modern dollars).
After being launched into orbit, the command capsule seperates and is guided into Red territory by US radio control, somehow not being shot down by the Soviets or detected by their radar. He catches the Actor in his car and traps him, heading to the Red Barbarian's headquarters (presumably he got the location from the Actor?)
Reaching the Red Barbarian, Iron Man pretends to be the Actor pretending to be Iron Man, and shows the Red Barbarian an attaché case which he claims contains the plans, which he claims cannot be opened for another four hours due to a timelock which would explode a miniature A-bomb if tampered with. "The Actor" tells the Red Barbarian he will change out of his Iron Man costume and return in four hours with the plans, which Red Barbarian seems to think is totally reasonable.
Iron Man then returns to The Actor and lets him go, then flies off to "the nearest Western country." The Actor heads to the Barbarian and begins explaining how Iron Man took the plans from him but it doesn't matter because he knows Iron Man is really Tony Stark, but the Barbarian thinks the Actor is trying to trick him, he thinks the Actor went off and delivered the plans himself in the interim and took all the glory and is trying to stall the Barbarian finding out. 
So he orders the Actor killed. The End.
My Thoughts: So, it's not great, but this is actually a huge improvement over the past two issues. Espionage, international intrigue, fighting against communist enemies, these feel like natural things to find in an Iron Man story based on the set-up and premise. The Red Barbarian isn't a great villain, he's pretty generic actually (Soviet general, he just looks kinda caveman-ish in appearance), but he also feels like a villain I wouldn't mind seeing again and perhaps seeing develop into something better (the Red Skull was pretty shallow to begin with after all). Although I have to wonder why Stan Lee decided to make up a new Soviet spy who's a master of disguise character when he already had one?
The Art: Don Heck is back on solo art duties and I like it. The soul of the feature is in Heck, I think. I mean, I like Kirby as much as the next guy but the more of him you put into Iron Man and less of Heck and the thing became very awkward and generic feeling. Heck draws Iron Man's world of high-class international intrigue very well. Despite being a romance artist, or more likely because of that background, Heck brings Tony Stark to life, whereas I haven't been really satisfied with Kirby's version. Good art this time around, is what I'm saying.
The Story: It's a pretty standard story with a pretty standard structure but at least it's competent, which puts it miles above the last two issues. We get right into the action, even opening with a kind of James Bond esque "end of the last mission" sequence (even though the Bond movies hadn't even started doing that at this point) and then we get a nice focused plot. I can forgive it's somewhat generic and shallow nature because after all it's only thirteen pages. My only nitpick is the disintegrator ray -- what happened with it? Did Stark perfect it? That's a pretty devastating loose end to leave! Stan has had a bad habit, as seen in my Stark Science section, of having Tony invent all kinds of really over the top gadgets to cement his reputation as a genius, but then forget about them soon after and never deal with any real repurcussions from them. And why the heck isn't the Actor the Chameleon? I mean, "The Actor" has gotta be among the worst villain names ever, and even at this early stage Stan was already laying the groundwork for the unified Marvel universe in his other books.
Stark Science: First up, early on Iron Man uses super-powered "transistorized" magnets to lift up the guns of some crooks, but when asked why he himself isn't affected explains that his armour is made up of alloys that reject magnetic attraction. Which means Tony must've changed the composition of his armour since IRON is pretty fucking magnetic. It's also a weird exchange because it shows that Stan Lee does understand that NOT EVERYTHING IS MAGNETIC, which isn't what you'd think from reading most of his other comics.
Tony's disintegrator ray is science fiction to an insane degree, as mentioned earlier. It's basically a ray of light that just annihilates stuff. It's totally outside the way the laws of physics work and if it existed it would drastically change the balance of power and totally fall under the "too dangerous to ever use" category.
As mentioned earlier, using a rocket to send just one man over the Iron Curtain is the most expensive and least subtle counter-intelligence method ever.

Tales of Suspense #41 (May, 1963)

May 1963 saw the debut of image logos on Marvel Comics covers. Previously Marvel Comics were distinguished only by a small "MC" on the cover -- now a full Iron Man logo (showing him as the main feature of Tales of Suspense) is displayed accompanied by the legend "Marvel Comics Group". This concept will become a trademark of Marvel books and endure for decades, becoming adopted by other companies as well.

"The Stronghold of Doctor Strange!"
Plot: Stan Lee
Script: Robert Bernstein
Pencils: Jack Kirby
Inks: Dick Ayers
Synopsis:  On a date to a hospital charity dance with Marion, Tony Stark donates $100,000 to the hospital and announces that he has arranged for Iron Man to perform a demonstration for the children at the hospital. 
Marion asks Tony when he's going to settle down and get married, but Tony doesn't want to be an absentee husband, being that he's so busy running his company, doing scientific research and assisting the US military -- examples given this issue include atomic naval cannons, flesh-healing serum, radiation protection for space capsules (where was Stark Enterprises when Reed Richards needed them?), and finally machine guns that can fire .50 calibre artillery shells that can annihilate pill boxes and dug outs in a single shot (I don't think Stan & co. know how artillery shells work).
He's also Iron Man, of course, but he can't tell Marion that - examples are given of Iron Man fighting gangsters, communist spies, averting disasters and warding off aliens , continuing this weird habit of insisting that Iron Man has totally been doing a ton of superheroing off-panel between issues. Finally, we get another reminder that Stark can't even let anyone see him shirtless since he has to wear the armour chest plate all the time to keep his heart beating, and continually recharge it or he'll die.
Anyways, with the recap out of the way, Iron Man heads to the hospital to entertain the children by juggling cars with his transistorized magnets while flying in the air with his air pressure jet boots and taking cannon balls to the gut and crushing them in his arms. The journalists covering the event believe the only man who could possibly equal Iron Man is the villainous Dr. Strange, who is currently behind bars.
Which conveniently leads us to the villainous Dr. Strange, working in the prison machine shop to create an electronic radio hypnosis machine, which he uses to override Iron Man's brain and make him come to the prison and bust him out!
During the jailbreak Strange exposits about himself -- how he was captured when US paratroops surrounded his mountain laboratory, at which point he was struck by lightning, which had the effect of "increasing the electrical energy" of his mind, whatever that means. Now his plan is to conquer the entire world so that his daughter will... be proud of him? Yes, Strange regrets that his life of crime caused him to neglect his daughter but once he rules the world she'll have her pick of "kings and billionaires" to marry and then she'll love him! Say, Strange, ever try not being an evil criminal? Maybe that'd work too?
Anyways, Strange lets Iron Man out of his hypnotic spell once he's successfully ensured Strange's freedom, which seems like Supervillain Mistake #1 to me, but whatever -- at least the authorities all instantly realize Iron Man was being hypnotized and don't consider him as abetting a felony - how nice of them!
Strange and his daughter journey to his secret island lair in the Atlantic Ocean (no shit -- there's ready made elaborate Jack Kirby buildings on it and everything!), where he is met by "the most cunning scientists and power-mad military men on Earth!" For some reason, his daughter is unimpressed and unhappy.
Strange's ultimatum to the world is "unconditional surrender or extinction" and to prove he means it he detonates a 200-megaton S-bomb in orbit around the earth (this would be a bomb four times more powerful than the most powerful bomb ever,) and he threatens to destroy all life on Earth in 24 hours if not made ruler of the world. (I find myself wondering how Strange is doing all of this -- was all this firepower sitting around while he was in prison just waiting to be picked up and used again or did he somehow acquire the resources to create it all just in the last few days?)
The armies of the world attack Strange with A-bombs, but Strange has designed a protective force field capable of resisting 20 kiloton explosions apparently. Iron Man has the US army bring him to the island by submarine and fire him out a torpedo tube, reasoning that Strange wouldn't have thought to extend his force field under the water. Luckily, Iron Man is right -- he drills up through the rock and into Strange's fortress.
Strange and his daughter Carla are arguing because she can't understand how he could possibly be so evil and he can't understand how she can't see that he's doing it all for her! Uh-huh. Iron Man shows up and smashes all of Dr. Strange's generators which kills the power to his lair and somehow all of his devices... and also somehow drains all of Iron Man's power too? (This is not how electricity works, Stan). 
Strange boasts that Iron Man has destroyed himself as there is no electricity left on the island, but Carla tosses Iron Man a couple of D batteries out of a flashlight that was lying around, which Iron Man uses to recharge his armour (somehow...) but Strange manages to escape before he is fully charged. 
The army arrests everyone else and Carla tragically wonders why Strange uses his scientific genius against the world instead of for it. The audience wonders too, among other things.
My Thoughts: Who the hell is Dr. Strange? No, not that one! Who is this stereotypical mad scientist villain featured in this issue? The story implies he's a villain who has previously appeared and has a developed history, since he starts the story in prison after a previous defeat and has all these resources already and a backstory and a supporting cast and so on. So what Marvel comic had he appeared in previously? What corner of the Marvel universe did he crawl out of? Turns out - none of them! This is his first appearance! But he escapes at the end, to terrorize Iron Man again, right? The saga of his "tragic" relationship with his daughter will continue, yeah? Nope. This is his last appearance as well. So he's a nobody villain copied cookie-cutter from the "standard comic book villain" mold who only appears once and who's greatest claim to fame is having the same name as a later successful Marvel hero. Altogether it makes this issue feel very, very forgettable.
The Art: This time Kirby's pencils are being inked by his regular collaborater Dick Ayers. As opposed to Don Heck's fine lines and "attractive" reworking of Kirby, Ayers' has a much thicker line and preserves the innate Kirby style of the artwork, only softening him just a little. This results in a very different looking Tony Stark than Heck's -- he's still Tony, but way more Clark Gable than Howard Hughes in appearance. Can't say much more about the rest of it - Dr. Strange is drawn as the stock character he's written as, with a widow's peak, bushy eyebrows, and purple cape that just scream "He's A Villain" in the least interesting way possible.
The Story: "Generic", "cliché", "trite", and "underdeveloped" are words that come to mind to describe this story. Like last month, we spend a lot of time recapping who Iron Man and Tony Stark are and unrelated escapades before we actually get to the story so that when we do it's rushed and underwritten. Doctor Strange is completely uninteresting, despite a typical Stan Lee effort to give him a touch of "human drama" with his relationship with his daughter, and I have to wonder just what his deal is. He seems to have infinite resources and scientific knowledge, but Iron Man defeats him basically without a fight, and he's got the worst reason for wanting to rule the world ever. It's basically the same story structure as last month, but I can't decide whether the stock villain here is worse than the utter nonsense of Gargantus.
I could describe this ish as eminently skippable.
Stark Science: Tony develops atomic naval cannons for battleships, capable of firing nuclear salvos at a range of 500 miles. To my knowledge tactical nuclear devices were never mounted on battleships (military historians can correct me in the comments) but the ASTOR nuclear anti-submarine torpedoes had been developed in 1960 and were being put into service in 1963 -- to be fired from submarines at submarines, and with a range of only 5 miles.
Stark's "flesh healing serum" is described as closing wounds with synthetic liquid tissue, an advancement that I do believe is still on the outer boundaries of what medical science is capable of today. 
Stark also invents "artillery shells" miniaturized down to be fired from .50 calibre machine guns (which Kirby incorrectly draws as something closer to an assault rifle) -- an artillery shell is effective and does what it does because it is filled with explosives and is big. An explosive shell you can fire as a bullet is just an incendiary bullet and it's effectiveness limited by how much explosive you can pack in there. What Stark has invented is essentially very very effective Hi-Ex rounds for .50cal.
The idea that device emitting ultra-frequency waves could tamper with the electrical signals in the brain enough to grant mind control is obviously balderdash, but at least plausible in a "comic book science" kind of way.
Strange's 200-megaton "S-bombs" would be utterly devastating -- dropped on Washington, D.C. it would utterly annihilate the city and essentially light the entirety of Maryland state aflame. No nuclear bomb has ever been made this big, not even close. As to what an "s-bomb" is, it could either be a purely egotistical name ("Strange" bomb) or refer to a salted bomb lined with Sodium or Strontium -- a theoretical device that would be designed to increase radioactive fallout, rendering a large area uninhabitable (it's called a salted bomb in reference to a "salted earth" policy). This would be consistent with the intent of Strange's threats.
The idea of a force field, especially one capable of deflecting A-bombs, is pure classic science fiction. The idea that destroying the island's generators would render Iron Man without electrical power displays a really poor knowledge of how electricity works on the writers' part, and the idea that his armour can be recharged with a couple of dry-cell batteries isn't something I can disprove, but I do find it fairly laughable.
Notes and Trivia: First and only appearance of the "other" Dr. Strange

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Tales of Suspense #40 (April, 1963)

"Iron Man versus Gargantus!"
Plot: Stan Lee
Script: Robert Bernstein
Pencils: Jack Kirby
Inks: Don Heck
Synopsis: Our story opens with a short summary of the life of Tony Stark, who lives "three lives": He's a genius scientist who develops military technology for the US army (the ridiculous example given being "transistor" powered rocket skates for infantry -- the most useless thing ever if they're going to be deployed in Vietnam) but he's also a millionaire playboy constantly dating movie stars and society debutantes. He can't let anyone get close to him, however, because he must constantly wear an iron chest plate containing an electromagnet to keep pieces of shrapnel from digging into his heart -- and he must periodically charge the plate by plugging into wall sockets! This is because Tony Stark's third life, of course, is as IRON MAN -- who for no reason at all has become a superhero, fighting mobsters and mad scientists on a regular basis. 
On a date to the circus with a woman named Marion, the jungle cats get loose of their cage and so Tony absconds to change into Iron Man to deal with the menace. The cast iron metal in the Iron Man suit is apparently collapseable and foldable "thanks to my knowledge of micro-transistors" (which makes no sense) and thus he carries it around in his attaché case.
Changed into Iron Man, he makes quick work of the cats, but when changes back to Tony Stark and meets with Marion she remarks that Iron Man looks just as terrifying as a monster in his big ugly grey suit. She suggests that if he's going to be like a modern day knight in shining armour, he should dress the part and look heroic. 
Tony takes her suggestion and spraypaints the armour with "untarnishable" gold paint, somehow this doesn't lead to Marion instantly figuring out Tony's secret identity. Marion makes plans to meet Tony that Saturday, but her plane from Granville never arrives. Upon reading a damned newspaper, Tony discovers that Granville has shut itself off from the outside world with a wall. 
Looks like a job for Iron Man, and so with a miniature transistorized drill he burrows under the wall and pops up in the town, where the populace immediately begins attacking him! They all seem to be under a kind of mass hypnosis, and have taken to worshipping a being called Gargantus, who resembles a giant Neanderthal. 
Iron Man calls out Gargantus to fight, when the beast tries to hypnotize him by reflecting bright light from his eyes at Tony (this is not how hypnotic induction works). However Tony realizes something is up because there's a dark cloud covering the sun so there's nothing for his eyes to reflect -- and the cloud isn't moving despite there being a strong breeze. 
From this Tony realizes what's up and throws out three top-hat transistor powered magnets at Gargantus, pulling his body apart and revealing him to have been a robot all along. With the Gargantus robot destroyed the people in the town come out of their hypnosis, wondering what's been happening. Iron Man directs his searchlight (emitted from the circle on his chest where we are used to his unibeam coming from) up to the dark cloud, revealing it to be a... flying saucer!
Yes, turns out aliens from outer space built Gargantus as a plan to rule the Earth, based on their mistaken assumption that humanity was still like it was the last time they visited 80,000 years ago -- seeing that humanity has evolved and has protectors like Iron Man, they decide to leave and never come back. Iron Man deduced this all from his realization that Gargantus was emitting the hypnotic light from within himself, leading to a fit of crime-fighting apophenia so extreme I'm sure even Silver Age Batman would be impressed.
Tony is reunited with Marion and jokes to himself that no one has ever gone to so much trouble to find out what happened to a date.
My Thoughts: Seriously? What the fuck was this? Maybe it's the thirteen page limit, maybe it's the fact that the Iron Man feature is still fairly new, but this really feels like a story more in line with the old Atlas Comics "monsters and aliens" style of doing things than a real follow up to "Iron Man is Born". The opening of the story is actually pretty good, setting up the status quo for the feature, but something about seeing Iron Man doing, well, any of the things he does in this issue just rubs me the wrong way. Gangsters? Circus animals? A robot neanderthal built by aliens? Marvel Comics made its name by having better stories than what DC was publishing at the same time, but this story feels like just the kind of by-the-numbers nonsensical gibberish you'd find in a 1963 Batman or Superman.
I'm disappointed that we don't really pick off from where the last issue left off. We don't see how Tony got back to America, how he realized he only needed the chest piece to survive, and most importantly we don't get ANY reason as to why he then decides to start fighting crime as Iron Man. We just get a montage of sequences and references to offpanel adventures that establishes that since we last saw him yep, he decided to start superheroing because... he can, I guess? It's as if Stan figured since he was clearly a superhero, what does he need with motivation? Forgetting that in the superhero game the hero's motivation is often what sets them apart and defines what makes sense for them to fight -- we can see the problem with this hands-off approach here. What is cool, however, is Stan realizing that Tony would likely improve and modify his armour as time went on and technology improved, rather than just stick with the version he built in Vietnam. The "Golden Avenger" look that debuts here will be the first of many, many, variations on the armour.
The Art:  This time we got Don Heck inking over Jack Kirby. It's not a bad combination, actually. Kirby's dynamite in the "superhero" action scenes, with powerful layouts, while Heck appears to be redrawing Kirby heavily in the civillian scenes, delivering more "attractive" looking people more in line with the way the characters looked last issue. As a team it really works for the book, keeping Stark looking suave and handsome but Iron Man looking powerful and dynamic. Gargantus is obviously a Kirby design, he's like a non-rocky version of The Thing, but the aliens are very generic and weak -- little green men in a cliché flying saucer. Oy.
The Story: The Kirby art almost makes this thing readable, but on a story level it really fails. It spends the first couple of pages giving us the new status quo, then a few pages on the adventure that inspires Iron Man to repaint his armour, and so when we finally get to Gargantus we only have seven pages left, just over half the story. And once we do the whole thing just falls apart on any kind of sense-making level. You can see they are still ironing out the kinks in the Marvel Bullpen, sort've taking a "throw everything at the wall and see what sticks" approach, but it doesn't excuse how lame this is. I mean, at least Stan realized that a giant hypnotizing Neanderthal trying to take over the world is a little farfetched -- but were generic UFO aliens the best explanation you could muster? And the fact that Iron Man deduces it all so easily just because Gargantus tried to hypnotise him on a cloudy day? And everyone reacts to "oh, it was just aliens" as if that was the most reasonable thing in the world when really you think that would be waaay freakier. Once again Stan's plot is scripted by someone else, this time Robert Bernstein, who's credited as "R. Berns" for probably much the same reason we don't call the man "Stanley Lieber". Bernstein was actually the main writer of the Silver Age Aquaman and a really talented guy, but his script here is just workmanlike, doing an amiable job of fleshing out Stan's plots and Jack's pencils, but nothing more.
Stark Science: Stan's misunderstanding and exaggeration of "transistors" continues here, and with Bernstein's help they basically just become magic -- I have no idea how electrical current amplifiers, even miniaturized, can cause solid metal to become foldable and collapseable. Other gadgets introduced on the suit this issue are pretty standard: public address speakers, a drill, the ability to electrify the skin of the suit, etc. 
I have no idea where Stan got the idea that hypnosis works by the hypnotist reflecting light from their eyes into the eyes of their subject. Classical hypnotic induction actually works by getting the subject to focus on a bright object so that their mind is focused while their eyes and sense actually wear out from the strain.
Notes and Trivia: Based on a suggestion from a girlfriend, Tony spraypaints the Mark I gold, beginning the "Golden Avenger" look for Iron Man (although he won't be an Avenger for five more months). The suit also gains a metal miniskirt that goes unremarked upon, completing the look of the MARK I MOD 1.

Tales of Suspense #39 (March, 1963)

By early 1963, the Marvel Age of Comics had exploded - a revolution in Silver Age storytelling masterminded by writer Stan Lee and a cadre of talented artists led by Jack Kirby. Joining the resurgence of the superhero genre in 1961 with the groundbreaking The Fantastic Four, they soon followed their success with The Incredible Hulk, The Amazing Spider-Man, and characters Thor and Ant-Man appearing in old anthology series Journey Into Mystery and Tales to Astonish.

The key to Marvel's storytelling success was a more "mature" style of characterization mixed with ongoing story-arcs and serialized subplots populated with flawed, human characters that appealed to an older (read: teenage) readership compared to the Distinguished Competition. Always seeking to push boundaries and try new things, Stan Lee decided to create a character that would be purposely designed not to appeal to Marvel's teenage, liberal, counter-culture audience... and make the readers like him anyway. And so the idea came for a billionaire, alcoholic, warmongering, arms manufacturing, womanizing, capitalist industrialist superhero powered by technology... IRON MAN! Due to a bizarre publishing situation that limited how many books Marvel could put out in a year, many new characters debuted and were published in shorter 13-page stories in anthology series... and so Iron Man made his debut in March 1963 in the pages of sci-fi/monster anthology Tales of Suspense.

"Iron Man is Born!"
Plot: Stan Lee
Script: Larry Lieber
Artist: Don Heck
Synopsis: Millionaire industrialist Anthony Stark is a 1960s Howard Hughes: a brilliant genius scientist inventor bachelor playboy with lucrative military contracts supplying the United States Army with new military technology. 
In 1963 the United States had 16,000 military personnel in Vietnam assisting the South Vietnamese troops in their war against the communist north and the Viet Cong guerillas, but had yet to actually send in combat troops -- these were merely "advisors". Inside the the US Defense Perimeter, Stark has arrived to give a demonstration of his new "transistors" -- transistors are electronic signal amplifiers designed to give a higher controlled output than the controlled input signal, but Stark's are immensely more powerful (to an exaggeratedly ridiculous extent) than regular models: by applying one to a magnet he can smash a steel vault (what?!) and so the US army believes they can be used to create immensely powerful weapons to give to the South.
Meanwhile Viet Cong guerillas led by Wong-Chu continue a reign of terror through the villages of the South -- Wong-Chu is a sadistic tyrant who gives villages a chance to free themselves if a single man can defeat him in hand-to-hand combat -- but none ever do.
Stark accompanies the South Vietnamese troops through the jungle to ensure his new weapons function properly, but while the transistor mortars (small as a flashlight!) are super effective, the company falls prey to tripmines and are taken out in the explosion. Stark is captuerd by Wong-Chu's guerillas, who recognize the famous American weapons designer.
Wong-Chu's doctors reveal that shrapnel from the mine has lodged itself near his heart and will soon find it's way into his heart and kill him. Wong-Chu tells Stark that his surgeons can save him... if he will build weapons for the guerillas. Stark is smart enough to realize that this is a bluff, that if the doctors could save him they would've done it already, and that he'll be dead in a matter of days.
Stark decides to spend his time and the resources Wong-Chu has given him to instead build a weapon for himself, to prolong his life and to destroy Wong-Chu. In this he is assisted by the famous Professor Yinsen, a brilliant physicist whom the Reds kidnapped years ago. With Yinsen's help, Stark designs and builds the Iron Man, a cast iron suit of armour packed full of transistorized gadgets and an electromagnet in the chest plate to keep the shrapnel out of his heart. 
Eventually the guerillas realize that Stark and Yinsen aren't building any weapons, and send some troops to investigate. Yinsen straps Stark into the armour, but it'll take some time for their generator to cycle enough power into its batteries for it to operate. Realizing the need to stall, Yinsen heads out into the hallways to confront the soldiers -- and all Tony can do is lie in the armour as it powers up and listen as Yinsen is gunned down... dying just to help Tony live.
The armour fully charged IRON MAN stands up, takes a step forward... and falls flat on his face. It takes Tony a while to get used to controlling the armour, whose transistorized circuits are controlled by electric impulses from his brain -- but once he does he's ready to take on Wong-Chu! Tony also realizes that so long as the sharpnel is in his body... he'll never be able to take the armour off. 
Tony finds Wong-Chu in the courtyard about to fight another villager -- when he is challenge to one on one combat with IRON MAN! With the power of technology Iron Man is able to easily defeat Wong-Chu and his troops, achieving victory by dowsing their ammo dump in oil and then lighting it aflame, causing a huge explosion that presumably kills all the Viet Cong.
Protected by his iron armour, Stark puts on a fedora and trenchcoat (a hilarious sight) and sets off into the jungle for a long trek back to civilization...
My Thoughts: Like many people, I became a fan of Iron Man after his absolutely excellent 2008 debut feature film starring Robert Downey, Junior. I've been a reader of Marvel Comics ever since I was a kid, but I'd never really been into Iron Man -- my favourites were Spider-Man and the X-Men. The first time I really became aware of Iron Man was in the Civil War cross-over event, where he was portrayed as a liberal artist's idea of a straw-man Bush-era Republican: an oppressive, Orwellian, "for the greater good and national security" destroyer of human rights and civil liberties. In other words, not a very likeable character. But Civil War raised the character's visibility in the Marvel Universe enough that it more or less directly led to the production of the movie, which was immensely succesful and lead to the current renaissance of excellent Marvel Studios motion pictures we're currently enjoying.
What I loved about the character I saw played by RDJ in movies was he was a hero who really reflected some of my own values and stood out from the crowd of superhero tropes: a hero who enjoyed being heroic, who chose to be heroic, who solved problems with his mind and with science and technology, a heroic capitalist, a heroic industrialist, who fought for himself and the people and ideals he held dear, who fought to protect his ideas, his creations from falling into the wrong hands, and a hero who didn't lie to the people around him and instead reveled in revealing his heroism to the world. 
I enjoyed the Iron Man movies so much it turned me on to the comics. I started in the usual places: Extremis, Demon in a Bottle, the Armor Wars, and the more I read the more I got into it. And so we arrive here, with the first of my retrospective review series of the original Iron Man stories, starting from his beginning in Tales of Suspense.
Even in thirteen pages, it's pretty amazing to see how much of the modern concept is here. Although it's set forty years earlier and in Vietnam, the origin is still pretty much exactly the same as the one presented in the movie -- although here Stark must wear the entire suit to save his heart, the ARC reactor being an invention of the movie universe.
The Art: The iconic cover of this issue is by Jack "The King" Kirby, and as was standard practice at the time at Marvel the cover was done before the interior art and so Kirby designed Stark's Mark I grey Iron Man armour. For coming up with the look of the original armour, Kirby is often awarded a co-creator credit on the character. The interior art is by Don Heck, a veteran artist from the Atlas Comics days (the 1950s precursor of Marvel), who was most known for his strengths as a romance comics artist. This background in romance makes his depiction of superhero action a little awkward and not as powerful as Kirby's, but on the other hand it makes Heck perfect for portraying the handsome Tony Stark and his jetsetting lifestyle as an international playboy. Stark looks exactly like a comic book Howard Hughes -- or at least, the Howard Hughes of thirty years earlier when he was a dashingly handsome Clark Gable lookalike with a pencil moustache. What struck me looking at the art this time around was it's relative "photorealism" by 1963 standards, as well as it's scratchy line-work. It looks unusual for a superhero book, but if you've ever read Millie the Model or other Silver Age Marvel or Atlas romance comics, you'll find the style very familiar.
The Story: In the early days of the Marvel Comics revolution, Stan Lee was writing basically all of the company's output. By '63 he had co-created and was writing Fantastic Four, The Incredible Hulk, The Amazing Spider-Man, Journey into Mystery, Tales to Astonish, Tales of Suspense, Sgt. Fury and His Howling Commandoes, and other series. So while Lee created the concept of Tony Stark and Iron Man, developed the character, and plotted his origin story, he was too busy and overworked to actually script the issue. So his brother, Larry Lieber, stepped in and took over the scripting duties. While I'll give Stan immense credit for coming up with the character and his fantastic origin story, there's not much I can say about his brother's script. In thirteen pages you have to cram a lot of story in a very small space -- the script does an amazing job of it, communicating everything it needs to without ever feeling unnecessarily rushed. The pacing is great, but in this short space there's not a lot of room for character. Stan often does a great job of putting in characterizing details in his dialogue, but Larry goes for the more standard route of giving us almost purely plot-driven dialogue. It's fine, it does the job, it's not bad, per se, but I gotta give Stan more credit for the successful elements of the story than his brother -- who because of his scripting duties on this first story also often gets credit as a co-creator of Iron Man. 
Lee's plot contains many elements that mark it as following the successful formula of the early Marvel comics. Although Tony Stark seems more like a DC hero on the surface (handsome, wealthy, genius-level intellect), the addition of the heart problem, the fact that he needs to wear the suit or he'll die, is the classic note of ironic tragedy that Lee had already used to great effect in almost all his previous Marvel Age creations. Although by 1963 it seemed clear the superhero trend was back to stay, it's also worth noting that this origin story keeps things fairly simple and has an ending that is fairly ambigous -- for all we know, the series could've become something like the Hulk, with the bulky disguised Iron Man wandering the world, searching for a way to remove his armour/the shrapnel without killing himself and getting in adventures. Not the way things went, but the fact that Lee doesn't set up the status quo of the series in this story, instead leaving it open for him to decide later, is a mark of how clever he was at playing the trends of the time and giving himself space and room to adapt to them.
Stark Science: Much is made in this story of transistors, but it's pretty clear that Stan and Larry had only the most basic understanding of the technology. Transistors in the early sixties were electrical components that amplified current, so that small changes in input voltage produced large changes in output voltage, allowing complex mechanical devices to be built in smaller and more efficient packages, allowing for devices such as radios, televisions, speakers, and much later the microchip and personal computers. All the Lieber brothers seem to get out of that is "small input, large output, for use in miniaturization", so we get mortars the size of flashlights, and magnets and air pressure jets that can cause the Mark I armour to fly and smash through steel doors. In my favourite moment, Stark slaps a transistor onto an ordinary U-magnet giving it the ability to deflect rockets being fired at him! I mean, I know Stark's a genius, but you still need electrical input and output for a transistor to function! 
Attachments seen in the Mark I suit include suction cups in the hands, air-pressure jets in the feet (no repulsors yet!), and a flamethrower.
Notes and Trivia: First appearance of Tony Stark/Iron Man, Yinsen and Wong-Chu, debut of the Iron Man armour, MARK I.