Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Tales of Suspense #49 (January, 1964)

Well, we're 11 issues in and we've got our first cross-over! The novelty will wear off by the time we hit the 90s, let me assure you.

"The Angel"
Writer: Stan Lee
Pencils: Steve Ditko
Inks: Paul Reinman
Synopsis: The Angel, a member of the fledgeling X-Men, decides to fly over the Stark Industries factory in Flushing as "shortcut" to Professor Xavier's mansion in Westchester.
However, at that moment Iron Man is guarding an atomic explosion test and when he sees Angel he tries to warn him off from the blast zone. How the hell does Stark get the permits for these things?
Anyways, if a scientist trying to warn a teen away from an atomic blast test sounds familiar to you, then you can guess what happens next. Iron Man is unsuccessful in warning the Angel and the bomb goes off -- luckily the Mk II Iron Man armour can withstand the force of the blast and radiation but Angel is hit with the full force of the radioactivity.
And instead of killing him, it turns him evil. Yes, you read that right, he turns evil.
Now, to be fair, personality changes are a possible side effect of radiation to the brain, but Iron Man's reaction that this is just what he feared would happen is so completely ridiculous.
Anyways, the now-evil Angel flies to the X-Mansion where he announces to the rest of the X-Men (Cyclops, Marvel Girl, Iceman and Beast) that he is quitting the X-Men to go join the "evil mutants". 
The X-Men try to stop him, but fail, because as Chris Sims has taught us, the X-Men are terrible at being superheroes. With this being a major emergency, Professor Xavier sends a call out to the Avengers to assist them in taking down Angel before he joins the "evil mutants". However, none of the team gets the signal except... Iron Man!
Meanwhile Angel has been flying around New York City dropping dynamite on people thinking that this will get the evil mutants' attention and let them know he's on their side, but they all think it's a trap and stay home and do not appear in this comic.
Instead, Iron Man shows up and the two have a battle in the skies for four pages, narrating to themselves every action they do in the best Silver Age tradition, that ends up overtaxing Iron Man's transistor batteries and so he begins to plummet to his death -- which causes the inner good in Angel to come out just in time for him to snap out f being evil and rescue Iron Man.
At this point it is revealed that Iron Man planned to run out of batteries (uh-huh, sure Tony) and force Angel to save him because he knew that this would cause Angel to snap back to his old self as well as demonstrate to the NYPD watching the situation that Angel wasn't really evil. 
Angel goes back to the X-Men and Professor X promises to do Iron Man a favour in return some day.
My Thoughts: It's hard for us to understand the impact that the shared Marvel universe had in the early 1960s. Today corporate comics are almost defined by their incestuous interconnectedness, opague continuity and untangleable storylines. But in the early 60s the idea that characters from one comic existed in the same world as characters from another was radical.
Now, to be fair DC had pioneered the concept with Justice Society of America, World's Finest, Brave and the Bold, and finally Justice League of America, but the DC universe was still very nascent and disconnected -- sure Batman and Superman hooked up in some books, but their solo series where still very much contained.
Stan Lee changed everything when he started having his major characters start appearing in each other's books on a regular basis, weaving a web of storytelling that drew tighter and tighter until to readers of the time it really did seem like the Fantastic Four, Ant-Man, the Hulk, Thor, Spider-Man, Iron Man, Dr. Strange and all the rest really did all live a few minutes drive away from each other in a bizarrely crowded and event-filled New York City.
You can see how unusual this was by the blurb at the start of this story which states that the X-Men and the Avengers appear by permission of the owners of their respective magazines, a bizarre notice considering they're all owned by Martin Goodman. 
However, the biggest hurdle for any cross-over story, even today, is justifying just why these characters are together in the same book. Sometimes it seems like a natural extension of the story, building the universe these characters live in, other times it feels like shameless cross-promotion.
Hmmm... which one is this?
The Art: Paul Reinman inks over Steve Ditko this ish, which makes sense because Reinman was Kirby's inker on the original X-Men and so the idea was probably to retain the look of the characters in the cross-over. But Reinman really isn't suited to ink Ditko - the story looks rough, it lacks polish and subtlety, Reinman's lines are thick and really drown Ditko's pencils. It's not a pretty issue to look at.
The Story: Oh, man, Stan. I'm willing to give a lot of leeway for Silver Age ridiculousness, but "Angel shows up and turns evil because of radiation and fights Iron Man" is NOT one of your best ideas, nor does the execution make up for it. This whole comic is just so useless -- we learn nothing about the characters, there's no meaningful interaction between Iron Man and the Angel other than chases and fights, and Angel turns evil just as arbitrarily as he turns good again.
Consider how one of the central themes of the X-Men is protecting a world that fears and hates them, and how early on it was in the book's history (only two issues had come out), so it would be easy to justify that people wouldn't trust the X-Men and would perhaps lump them in with all the "evil mutants" given that we're building up towards the height of anti-mutant hysteria in X-Men #15. It would be interesting to see if Tony would give in to that prejudice, if he'd assume all mutants are bad. How could we compare and contrast Tony and Angel -- who is also a rich white guy named Warren Worthington III, who like Tony has a physical condition (heart defect, wings) that he must hide from the public but is also connected to his secret identity. But nope! None of that. To be fair, with the X-Men being as new as they were at this point I can concede that they aren't being characterized very deeply -- but that doesn't change the fact that Angel has always been the least interesting of the original X-Men, except for that other time that science turned him evil.
Usually the way hero cross-overs go is that there's a contrived reason for the heroes to fight, then they realize they are on the same side, and team up. In this issue, all we get is the contrivance.
Stark Science: Stark Industries is setting off an experimental nuclear device in Flushing Meadows??? How the hell did they manage that??
A nuclear bomb small enough ("refined" is the word Stan uses) that it could be set off in a controlled explosion amidst the most populous city in America and only radioactively affect people in the very nearby vacinity would have to have a yield as small as, say, 3 kilograms. Which is, of course, waaaaaaay smaller than the minimum theoretical yield of 10 tons for a fission weapon. Then again, maybe that's what Stark was testing.
Even assuming a nuclear weapon that small (which, even if you could do it, what would be the point? 3 kilograms is a small explosion), it's amazing that this comic isn't about Iron Man and Angel slowly dying of radiation poisoning. Iron has to be 5.2mm thick to withstand 100 keV of radiation, which is about how much an x-ray at the doctor's tends to be -- even an nuclear explosion below the minimum yield limit has more keV of radiation than that, especially absorbed at the meager distance our heroes were at, meaning Tony's armor would have to be significantly thicker than the "wafer-thin" it was described as being last issue.
As for the Angel, who takes all of the radiation with none of the protection, well, granted, the trope of "radiation gives you superpowers instead of cancer" was fantastically, incredibly, amazingly common in early Marvel Comics, but usually it manifested in the form of mutations and physical transformations. The idea that radioactivity makes you evil and that this is such a common thing that Stark was expecting it, and then that the effect of the radioactivity that would cause such a change in brain chemistry can be shaken off a few hours later through the strength of inner morality?
Yeah, this isn't a great issue of Iron Man for science.
Then again, the story sees the debut of Iron Man's "magnetic repellers" -- devices in his boots and gloves that he uses to slow his descent and push off from the ground a few times in this story in tandem with his "air jets". These devices will slowly evolve into "repulsor rays", the most significant of Iron Man's gadgets.
Because the focus of this blog is Iron Man, not the X-Men, I'm not even gonna try on the science of mutations in the Marvel Universe.
Notes and Trivia: Iron Man meets the X-Men, who now owe him a favour.

No comments:

Post a Comment