Sunday, August 25, 2013

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

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