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

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