Monday, September 2, 2013

Tales of Suspense #46 (October, 1963)

"The Crimson Dynamo!"
Plot: Stan Lee
Script: Robert Bernstein
Artist: Don Heck
Synopsis: In Soviet Russia, comic reads you!
Nikita Khruschev, General Secretary of the Communist Party, enters the laboratory of Professor Anton Vanko. He is the world's greatest expert on electricity, and he has a new discovery to show Khruschev. Changing into a bizarre red powered armor suit, Khruschev declares that Vanko looks ridiculous, like a human dynamo. 
And indeed, that is the point, for Vanko's suit gives him complete remote control power over electrical signals and circuits (somehow). Vanko sics a robot of Iron Man and a remote control tank after Khruschev before destroying them both with a remote rheostat (which only kinda makes sense). 
Khruschev fears Vanko and privately wants him liquidated (maybe intimidating the leader of the country with your toys wasn't a great idea, Vanko?) but he also realises Vanko is powerful and useful and so he decides to send him to America to destroy Tony Stark and Iron Man.
So two weeks later in America Stark is launching a test flight of a new rocket design for space travel. The Crimson Dynamo is there, and using his "technology" he attacks the rocket and causes all of it's circuits to short out.
It begins to fall out of the sky, but luckily Iron Man is there to save the rocket and the astronaut crew within. But over the following weeks the Crimson Dynamo begins a campaign of sabotage against Stark's plants - and Iron Man isn't always there to stop them.
Soon, Stark's industrial empire is crippled, and the Pentagon is threatening to take away his defense contracts. Further more, Stark's loyalty is being questioned by senators in Washington -- after all, what better way to cripple American defense than the scoop up all the contracts and then allow them to be sabotaged because your a double agent? (Which is a completely ridiculous theory, but then people really were that paranoid back then).
Within three weeks Stark Industries is close to bankruptcy. Happy and Pepper vow to stay on with the boss, but Stark still has no idea who's sabotaging his plants. Luckily, Crimson Dynamo won't be satisfied until he has faced Iron Man, so he attacks Stark's main facility in Flushing. 
Stark changes into Iron Man and begins the battle with the Crimson Dynamo. He attempts to short out Iron Man's circuits like his other targets but Iron Man emits electrical interference that blocks the signal. Iron Man goads the Dynamo into revealing his identity as Vanko and taking responsibility for the sabotage, capturing it all on a micro tape recorder so as to clear Stark's name.
The fight ends when Iron Man picks up a signal from Russia of Khruschev telling his men that Vanko will be killed when he returns from America. Playing it to the Dynamo, Vanko realizes that communism is a double-dealing system that punishes success and intelligence - what he doesn't realize is that Iron Man actually faked the signal, recording it earlier during the fight when the Dynamo was distracted.
However Iron Man is successfully able to convince Vanko to defect to the US, to serve a system where men of genius are appreciated and his work can be used to "aid mankind". Vanko even agrees to come and work for Stark!
Back in Moscow, Khruschev throws a fit about how there's no one he can trust, but that he'll get Iron Man... next time!
My Thoughts: The introduction of the Crimson Dynamo gives Iron Man his first really challenging villain to fight against -- a Russian answer to Iron Man, a villain with his own powered armour suit, something that'll become something of a pattern in Iron Man villains. It took Stan a few stories to get it right, but he's also figured out what kind of villains Iron Man should be fighting -- villains who are directly threatening Stark and his interests, preferably communist ones.
I like the implied philosophical battle between Vanko and Stark, both men of science in armoured suits, serving very different systems. The ending where Stark actually convinces Vanko of communism's faults and gets him to defect is brilliant, even if it is a bit rushed and actually gets rid of Vanko as a villain, even though he's the best baddie in the feature so far.
Although this kind of black & white "commies are the villains" schtick seems very hokey and featuring an actual world leader as the villain in a comic book may even strike modern readers as tasteless, this sort of thing was very common at the time, especially in the very early Marvel comics which were particularly anti-communist. It's essentially the same kind of thing that American comics had done with the Nazis during World War II - and at the height of the Cold War no one saw much of a difference between communists and Nazis. As far as I'm concerned it actually feels appropriate for Iron Man -- a capitalist industrialist weapons manufacturer kinda should be battling communist villains, philosophically speaking -- so it doesn't stick out so bad here as it does in, say, Journey into Mystery comics of the time that feature Thor battling the "Red Menace".
The Art: Heck hits it out of the park on this one. I love his character design for Vanko and his armour design for the Crimson Dynamo, which looks even better than Kirby's version on the cover. It's unique and gets across the idea that it's bigger, bulkier and less advanced than Stark's armour. Hecks sequences of Dynamo's destruction of various equipment and so on look fantastic.
The Story: Although Stan and Robert are back to thirteen pages this month they still deliver a cracking good story that's paced quite well. The addition of Pepper and Happy last month continues to help the feature as Tony now has a supporting cast to talk to and care about. A great addition to the story is the subplot about Tony losing his contracts and being suspected of sabotage himself. It not only raises the stakes, but gives a feeling of depth and realism - this is the kind of thing that set Marvel storytelling apart and above DC's at the time. It's also the kind of thing we should be seeing more often in Iron Man -- international intrigue, corporate drama, these are the hallmarks what the strip should be about. My only complaint is how quickly Vanko's about-face is achieved, although I can understand not really wanting to have a full adult debate about the virtues of capitalism vs. communism in a comic book for kids. That being said, I still have to give Stan kudos for recognizing that mistrust is an inherent flaw in the communist system - indeed, in all bureaucratic big government systems where doing your job well actually makes you a bigger target.
Stark Science: I should call this segment "Vanko Science" this time around. In general the basic principles of Vanko's science aren't bad, but their execution can leave you scratching your head.
First up, a dynamo is an electrical generator producing direct current, and in some places a synonym for a generator. By the early sixties they were mostly obsolete as devices, but it's true that the design of Vanko's armour does in some ways resemble one. 
How Vanko is able to wirelessly control electical circuits isn't really explained other than "he's really good at electrical science", which is fair enough and means we can't really question his methods. However we know he uses a rheostat to induce short circuits. A rheostat is a type of potentiometer that allows the user to vary the level of resistance in a circuit. Presumably Vanko is upping the resistance in the circuit to far above operating levels, thus causing the short circuit leading to violent explosion.
One thing I don't understand is how was Tony able to fake the Khruschev recording? Can Tony speak Russian? Mimic Khruschev's voice? That bothers me.
Notes and Trivia: First appearance of the Crimson Dynamo, Anton Vanko defects to the US.

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