Thursday, August 29, 2013

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.

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