Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Tales of Suspense featuring The Power of Iron Man #53 (May, 1964)

"The Black Widow Strikes Again!"
Plot: Stan Lee
Script: Don Rico (as "N. Korok")
Art: Don Heck
Synopsis: Tony's been working on an anti-gravity device for months with no success. He decides to try arranging the circuits of the device at random and it just happens to work! However an accident results in the wires fusing, meaning Tony will never be able to analyse the circuit patterns and figure out how it worked!
Tony presents his new invention at the Pentagon the next day, but the brass aren't pleased to hear it can't be replicated. Somehow, a newspaper photographer sneaks into the presentation and takes pictures, and then gets out and gets them to the press! Like, the Pentagon allows this!
So the Russians hear about the fantastic new weapon of the Americans, and so does the exiled Russian spy, Natasha Romanov, aka The Black Widow.
Natasha figures stealing the anti-gravity machine might earn her ticket home, and so she shows up at Stark Industries all sultry and sexy and batting her eyelashes like "I'm so sorry I tried to kill you last time, I want to redeem myself, really!" and then she gases Tony and steals the anti-grav device and Pepper's so ready to bust out an "I told you so!"
In her hotel room, Natasha somehow makes an Trans-Atlantic phone call direct to the Kremlin (seriously, the CIA wouldn't be ALL over that shit?) and tells Khrushchev she's got the anti-gravity device. Khrushchev orders her to use the device to destroy Stark and Iron Man.
And so with Stark's loyalty being questioned for allowing the device to fall into Soviet hands, the Black Widow begins her reign of destruction, using the anti-grav device to destroy Stark Industries industrial factories and production plants. Iron Man always arrives too late, and never knows where she will strike next.
Meanwhile, Black Widow is joined by two more Russian agents - Igor and Stansky, who have been ordered to "assist" her in stealing all the gold from Fort Knox!
Stansky wants to try out the device, and uses it to lift up a car, just as Iron Man happens to be flying by and spots it! So he busts into their... apartment?.. and they tussle, but Natasha uses the anti-grav device to collapse the building around Iron Man, while the Russians escape (somehow?).
Luckily, Iron Man survives because his armour is super tough, although presumably everyone else in the building died?  Anyways, Natasha and the others hightail it to Kentucky to rob Fort Knox, using the anti-grav device to lift up the mountain the gold is buried under which... wait... what? Stan, have you ever been to Kentucky? Ever seen Fort Knox? And even with the mountain lifted up, how would you get the gold out...??
Anyways, US army tanks show up like WTF but Natasha just anti-gravs 'em. Luckily, Iron Man shows up, because he was able to track the Soviets by adjusting his radar to the frequency of the anti-grav device (why didn't you do that before??) and so he rescues the tanks, then shoots a "photon electric charge" at the anti-grav device which "destroys the output" of the device. 
The mountain falls again, but Iron Man swoops in and saves the Russians from certain death, leaving the Black Widow amazed at a man who would risk his life to save others.
The spies are arrested by MPs, while Stark still finds himself criticized by the military authorities.
My Thoughts: Last month's team of Stan Lee and the two Dons returns to bring us a second tale of the Black Widow. Frankly, it's just all right. It's a gimmick driven tale that doesn't make much effort to develop its characters. Natasha doesn't get much to do besides use her feminine wiles to take advantage of Tony. One thing that is made clear however, is that she still can't go home. That was the most promising element of last month's ending - this enemy alien alone in a foreign land, but this month didn't do much with it.
The Art: Another fine effort from Heck this month, with Pepper and Natasha looking smokin' hot as usual, Tony his usual suave self, but as usual the action is a little stiff and uninvolved. Stan's constant captioning is actually pretty useful because Heck's panels and compositions actually make it hard to ascertain just what Iron Man is doing in some of the fight sequences. i mean, the artwork is good, but Heck's sense of movement and action need work.
The Story: Cut and dried stuff this month. Tony invents something, villain steals it, Iron Man gets it back. Simple as i comes. The Fort Knox thing at the end is kind've crazy considering Goldfinger wouldn't come out for a few more months so I can't even accuse Stan of ripping off the zeitgeist again like that awful Cleopatra issue. But yeah, the whole thing just feels perfunctory. 
It also continues to feel weird that Stan keeps using Khrushchev as a villain in these issues, the same way one would expect Hitler to be used in WWII propaganda comics. I mean, not only was Khrushchev one of the more liberal Soviet leaders, instituting reforms and trying to thaw relations with the West, but by this point in 1964 the Communist party leaders were actively plotting to get rid of him and replace him with a more hardline leader -- not that Lee would know that, of course.
Stark Science: Gravity is one of the four fundamental forces of nature, but we don't really know a lot about it,  because of the limitations of reconciling general relativity and quantum mechanics. It is theorized that the attractive force of gravity results from the exchange of gravitons between atoms, similar to the way electromagnetic forces result from the exchange of photons. Presumably anti-gravity could be generated by anti-gravitons, but this is all highly theoretical and would probably take an absurd amount of energy. Luckily Stan lampshades all that by having Stark create the anti-gravity device by accident and then making it impossible to replicate so he doesn't have to deal with any repurcussions of Stark inventing it. 
As for the "photon electric charge" Iron Man uses to short circuit the box, heck your guess is as good as mine. I mean, those are all words, all science-y sounding words, but Stan's operating on the Star Trek technobabble means of basically having this stuff be all so advanced that it just needs to sound technical because no one can really call him on it. 
Stan's biggest science flub in this issue is Fort Knox. There are no mountains there! The bullion depository is not buried under a mountain! It's Kentucky, Stan. And then, of course, there's the old problem of how three Soviet spies, even with an anti-gravity device, were going to remove the largest gold reserve in the United States. As James Bond once said, "15 billion dollars in gold bullion weighs 10,500 tons. Sixty men would take twelve days to load it onto 200 trucks."
In other words, the Fort Knox thing is the stupidest part of a story about a Russian femme fatale stealing an anti-gravity machine from a billionaire in a flying metal suit.
Notes and Trivia:  After this, Iron Man would next appear in The Fantastic Four #25-26, leading right into The Avengers #5-6, in which the Hulk battles the Fantastic Four and the Avengers, then teams up with the Avengers against the Lava Men, before the Avengers battle Baron Zemo and the Masters of Evil, which includes Iron Man's old nemesis The Melter. It is in The Avengers #6 that Iron Man begins wearing the new helmet which will properly debut in his own series next issue.