Friday, September 13, 2013

Tales of Suspense #48 (December, 1963)

Based on the Jack Kirby cover art, we can already tell this is an issue to be excited about. Red-and-gold, baby!

"The Mysterious Mr. Doll!"
Writer: Stan Lee
Pencils: Steve Ditko
Inks: Dick Ayers
Synopsis: A Mr. Carter unexpectedly reneges on a deal to supply Stark Industries with steel. Tony heads over to Carter's residence to find out what's going on.
On arrival he spots a costumed criminal entering Carter's house, and so changes into Iron Man to confront him. The costumed individual's name is "Mr. Doll" and he has been torturing Carter with sympathetic magic, harming a fetish in Carter's image and causing him pain until he has finally agreed to sign over all of his money, estate and business over to Mr. Doll.
Iron Man moves to attack Mr. Doll, but the villain is able to dextrously alter the features of his clay doll to resemble Iron Man, and thus apply pressure to cause the Golden Avenger great pain. Iron Man ends up having to retreat, the strain of fighting Mr. Doll's attack was too much for his heart and he must rush home to recharge. Carter signs his forture over to Mr. Doll.
Stark is only able to just barely reach his private office in time to plug in, and spends an entire day unconscious on the floor, recharging. When he awakes, he realizes that he's been having to recharge more and more, that he's becoming increasingly vulnerable as Iron Man because the suit is so heavy, bulky and inefficient that it's taking so much charge to run the suit that his heart is in danger of failing on him. (Apparently replacing all the iron in the suit with aluminium last issue wasn't enough to help!)
And so Tony resolves to build a brand new model of the suit that will be lighter, faster and more efficient, so that he can defeat Mr. Doll before the strain on his heart grows too great. 
Meanwhile, the police implore Mr. Carter to swear out a complaint against Mr. Doll, as Carter is the third millionaire to be threatened into signing over his forture but the law cannot move against him -- and Carter won't sign a complaint out of fear against Doll. Who, at that moment, is planning his next victim - millionaire Tony Stark!
But Tony has completed the Mark II Iron Man armor, it's brand new features introduced to us in a THREE-PAGE, twenty-two panel suiting up sequence:
Of course, even though the new armour is undoubtably sweet, I'm not sure how it's supposed to defeat a dude with vodoo magic.
Luckily it turns out that Stark has been asked by the police to act as bait so they can catch Mr. Doll, as he's the next logical target. Stark agrees, but needs to shake the tail he's been given so he can change into Iron Man. So he does the rational thing and takes Pepper on a date in a sealed room where the guard agrees to leave the two of them alone because no one could get in or out. Instead of realizing this is very creepy behaviour for her employer, Pepper is overjoyed her crush has finally noticed her and jumps on Stark to start making out like she's got no time to spare!
Of course, Tony's actually planned this so he can access a secret door in the room to get out and change to Iron Man, but thanks Pepper for her energetic "performance" that will "convince" the guard. Ew.
Mr. Doll shows up at Stark's factory, which he declares will make an excellent headquarters (for what? What is he after, anyway?) before promptly using his doll to inflict pain upon Iron Man. He reveals to Iron Man that he learned this magic in Africa from a witch doctor and he will now inflict pain on Stark so that he will sign the factory over to him!
Iron Man must now not betray any sign that he feels the pain that is being inflicted upon him or else give away his secret identity. Luckily Doll orders Iron Man to retrieve Stark and bring him there on pain of death, giving Iron Man a chance to escape.
He still feels the intense magical pain, so once in his workshop he disconnects the power from his heart so that his nerves will deaden and not feel the pain long enough for him to complete a weapon to use against Mr. Doll. He manages to do it within the four minutes the brain can survive without oxygenated blood, and flies off to face Mr. Doll.
Doll changes his talisman to resemble Iron Man and then prepares to drop it, the force of which might kill him, but Iron Man fires a small force beam at the clay figurine which actually changes the doll's appearance to that of Mr. Doll himself! The doll drops, and so does Mr. Doll.
Doll is arrested, and Tony Stark reappears, where Happy Hogan reminds him that the totally forgot about Pepper Potts left waiting in the storage room. She's so mad she won't speak to either of them!
My Thoughts: As I mentioned in the previous review I am a huge fan of Steve Ditko, and one of his greatest strengths is costume design. Spider-Man is one of the all-time classic designs, up there with Superman and Batman, and I think part of the reason The Question has lasted so long is his visual distinctiveness. So here we have the debut of the classic red-and-gold look for Iron Man, designed by Ditko, which will last in variations of some form or another up until this very day. It's hard to really grasp how HUGE this is. Stan always knew that Iron Man would be constantly upgrading his armour, but this is a MAJOR change in look, and in 1963 superheroes didn't channge their costumes every six issues like they do now. This really was a NEW Iron Man. Too bad it happens in such an otherwise lame story.
The Art: Great stuff from Steve Ditko this month, with of course an absolute classic new look for our hero debuted. And clearly Marvel knew this was a huge improvement since they let Ditko have three pages out of an eighteen page story to introduce it.  On the other hand, Ditko's being inked by standard Kirby collaborator Dick Ayers, and I'm not sure if it's a great pairing. In the previous issue Don Heck had been inking and this helped keep characters like Tony, Pepper, and Happy "on-model" as it were with their appearances as Heck had created them. Ayers' alters Ditko far less, and as a result the figure work is classic "quirky" Ditko, which renders characters like Pepper as "less attractive" than normal. On the (third?) hand, Ditko's talent for expressive faces really serves him well, especially with Tony's pained eyes seen through the eye-holes of his mask.
The Story: Of course, none of this should hide the fact that this is really a fifteen-page story about a boring one-note villain that is only "book-length" because it got three extra pages to introduce the "New" Iron Man. Now, it's true that putting science-based Tony Stark up against a villain who uses magic is a good idea because Tony can't just science his way out of things (except when he does), but Mr. Doll is so freakin' dumb. I mean, yes, he was originally supposed to be named "Mr. Pain" until the Comics Code Authority nixed that idea. And a more menacing name like that may have helped, but at the end of the day he's still just a crazy guy in a stupid hat extorting money out of rich people using vodoo dolls because... ?? What's the motivation? What's the scheme?
Also, and maybe this is just me, but when Iron Man had to rebuild his entire suit to fight against the Melter last issue, maybe that would've been the time to intro the New Iron Man, instead of against a magic-based foe for whom the change in armour really affects nothing.
Stark Science: Mr. Doll's powers work on the premise of sympathetic magic, and he might have learned it in West Africa among the religions of voodoo and juju, where it could have something to do with the "nkisi" figures. In other words, this is magic, not science.
Stark's new armour has a ton of new features and gadgets. It's made of ductile iron, and consists of boots and gloves that then expand magnetically to form the greaves and sleaves of the outfit. There are back-up transistor batteries in all the individual pieces, but it still plugs-in for recharging if all the back-ups run out. The new helmet slides into place and allows Stark's expression to show to "strike fear into his enemies". Right, because you weren't similar enough to Batman, Stark.
The force beam that reshapes the clay figurine is left so vague that we can't really question the science behind it, but let's just say a remote beam that can reshape clay into exact forms is fairly implausible.
Notes and Trivia: Debut of the Iron Man Armour MARK II, otherwise known as the classic red-and-gold look. This issue is set after Iron Man's appearance in The Avengers #2, wherein he grants the Earth's Mightiest Super-Heroes permission to use his mansion in the Upper East Side of Manhattan as their base of operations. When he next appears in Avengers #3 he'll be wearing his new red-and-gold armour.

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