Tales of Suspense #39

"Iron Man Is Born!"


CMRO#42
Tales of Suspense #39
March 1963

Written by Stan Lee & Larry Lieber
Pencils by Don Heck
Inks by Don Heck
Colours by Stan Goldberg 

Out with the old, in with the new. March 1963 saw the end of the premature Incredible Hulk series, and in turn envisioned a brand new character by the name of Iron Man. Of course by now in 2011, everyone and their grandmother know who Iron Man is, but as far as origin stories go, this one was a pretty solid beginning for Stark. There are some rough patches here and there (the usual Lieber and Lee shtick of the hero overcoming odds with cunning rather than pure brawn works at odds with a guy seemingly working inside an iron suit), most notably in Don Heck’s somewhat ambiguous, murky art, but generally Iron Man's beginnings here are a good read and leave a lot of room for interesting characterisation that may build upon the “tragic” side of Stark's empowerment.


WONG-CHU NO LIKEY ENGLISH GRAMMAR. WONG-CHU NO SEE IRON MAN BEFORE.

MY SCORE: 5.5 (out of 10) 

13.08.11

Tales of Suspense #40

"Iron Man Versus Gargantus!"


CMRO#49
Tales of Suspense #40
April 1963

Written by Stan Lee & Robert Bernstein
Pencils by Jack Kirby
Inks by Don Heck
Colours by Stan Goldberg

After a pretty exciting debut for Anthony Stark and his Iron Man persona last month, you’d expect Lee, Kirby and Bernstein to keep up the pace and deliver a follow up that would expel fears of Iron Man being just another Hulk, but unfortunately this sophomore effort begins with Tony battling… tigers. In a circus. Then he turns his costume gold, in a plight to become more accepted by the people he’s saving. Ah, Tony; ever one to please (himself.) and in turn ends up looking like an Oscar trophy. And all of this before we meet the villain; Gargantus, a oversized Neanderthal who hypnotises an entire state and puts a brick wall around it. Ho hum. But alas, after some magnet trickery (for the trillionth time), Gargantus is actually a ROBOT. But wait, there’s more! It’s controlled by ALIENS IN THE SKY that look like Kermit the Frog. Holy mother of… It reads like something from the Golden Age. Everyone, come see the Invincible Cliche Man! I really hope this one is an exception.



The first of many silly moments.

MY SCORE: 1.0 (out of 10) 

17.08.11

Tales of Suspense #41

"The Stronghold of Doctor Strange!"


CMRO#53
Tales of Suspense #41
May 1963

Written by Stan Lee & Robert Bernstein
Pencils by Jack Kirby
Inks by Dick Ayers

The insidious Doctor Strange makes his first appearance in this issue of Tales of Suspense and unfortunately it’s a bit of a bum note to start off on. Like a lot of villains thus far in the Marvel canon, motives are sketchy and powers are even more ambiguous. Far from what he would eventually become under the guise of Steve Ditko (though it’s popularly thought that this incarnation has nothing to do with the actual Dr. Strange created by Steve,) Lee and Kirby’s Strange is something of a mad scientist gone rogue who wants to give the world to his beloved daughter. Well, hey, at least he’s got some heart, right? And sure, it’s a decent enough story ostensibly speaking, but once again we get silly mind-control antics, Iron Man breathing in fumes from flash-light batteries and crushing canon balls like he was The Thing. Still, it’s an improvement over last month’s train wreck; so there’s that. Plus we have Kirby and Ayers on the art, which makes things a whole lot more tolerable—though we still have the whole Invincible Oscar Man thing going on.


For a nominal fee, of course.

MY SCORE: 3.0 (out of 10) 

19.08.11

Tales of Suspense #42

 

"Trapped by the Red Barbarian!"


CMRO#58
Tales of Suspense #42
June 1963

Written by Stan Lee & Robert Bernstein
Pencils by Don Heck
Inks by Don Heck

You know, I’ve been picking on R. Berns for a few issues now, and sure, his dialogue here is just as bad and stilted as ever but the central story here which deals with Yet Another Communist intelligence plot is actually pretty well told. While such plots served as mundane bores when used with characters such as Hulk and Thor, Iron Man and Tony Stark seem just right to tackle these nasty Red characters, given that there are enough twists and turns to make the story interesting. And with a guy with a rubber face posing as a threat this week—anything can happen!

The only drawback from this issue is that there isn’t an awful lot of character work going on for Stark here, after a solid couple of outings where things were developing his playboy persona. Nevertheless, it’s a strong, redeeming episode for Iron Man that has restored my faith in not only the character, but artist Don Heck (who strikes a great moody tone here) and to a lesser extent writer Robert Bernstein.

The story is much better this time, but Bernstein’s robot dialogue is still in full effect.

MY SCORE: 5.0 (out of 10) 

21.08.11

Tales of Suspense #43

"Iron Man Versus Kala, Queen of the Netherworld!"


CMRO#62
Tales of Suspense #43
July 1963

Written by Stan Lee & Robert Bernstein
Pencils by Jack Kirby
Inks by Don Heck

Another decent Iron Man story this month where we see our hero get transported to The Centre of the Earth (you know, where half of Earth’s villains take up residence) to do the bidding of a “beautiful but vain creature” in the form of Kala: Ruler of the Netherworld. Fine, fine; we’ve kind of seen this all before in other series’ but I guess I found the whole centre of the Earth thing to be a little more believable this time around thanks to allusions to Atlantis and a foreshadowing of the tech detailed in Carl Sagan’s great “Contact.”—it’s kind of cool.

But then, just as I let the book away with silly sci-fi, it goes and opens up the comic book magic show again, leaving me to flick through pages of back-and-forth between Iron Man and Kala each dispensing their ridiculous tech in hopes of killing one another. It’s clear at this point in time that comic books were still trying to shed their Superman syndromes of being overpowered at the sake of individual powers to the point where each one becomes throwaway and tedious. Modern comics have learned from this and now allow our heroes to utilise their standard sets of powers in inventive ways rather than just inventing new gadgets to make up for a lack of imagination in what to do with the characters. Case in point: NUCLEAR. POWERED. CLIPPERS. Yup. Clippers, that he uses… to clip his way through the mass of the Earth. At which point Kala becomes old because of the difference in atmosphere or something, so Iron Man takes her back down to her civilisation and the atmosphere makes her young again. Oh, zing.

If you can ignore these final killer pages, the setup and middle act isn’t half bad; but nuclear powered clippers? Oh, man.

So much gloating, so little time.

MY SCORE: 3.0 (out of 10)  

23.08.11

Tales of Suspense #44

"Iron Man Faces the Menace of the Mad Pharaoh!"


CMRO#69
Tales of Suspense #44
August 1963

Written by Stan Lee & Robert Bernstein
Pencils by Don Heck
Inks by Don Heck

So you know how Tony Stark is a total playboy? Well, this month, why don’t we have him square off against the beauty of Cleopatra? Eh? Eh!

Well, it’s not as bad as it sounds. No, really; it’s not. Having a meagre fourteen pages to fill, the action flows nicely and the overall time-travel ancient Egypt storyline is quirky but definitely has a certain charm about it. That being said, this one seems like a step in the wrong direction not just for Marvel, but Iron Man too. Sure, we get reminded that Stark needs to plug himself into a mains every now and then, but anything in the way of characterisation is swiftly ignored here in favour of a broad fantasy action tale. Not bad, but not great either.

And learned English on the way.

MY SCORE: 3.0 (out of 10)  

27.08.11

Avengers #1

"The Coming of the Avengers!

CMRO#78
Avengers #1
September 1963

Written by Stan Lee
Pencils by Jack Kirby
Inks by Dick Ayers

You know I thought that maybe Stan and company might have gotten their supergroup fix when they introduced The X-Men earlier this month to mimic the success of The Fantastic Four, but apparently not it would seem. So they’d been teasing us with it for months, testing ideas out and trying a mixture of characters together, but it’s here with the arrival of The Avengers that Marvel truly goes all-out with their interconnected universe. Featuring a whole handful of characters so far inducted into the Marvel superhero pages thus far (all with the exception ofSpider-Man, Doctor Strange and The X-Men), Lee and company go ahead and offer readers what they’d be hoping for; the Marvel equivalent (or better) of DC’s Justice LeagueThor, Iron Man, Ant-Man, Wasp & eventually The Hulk unintentionally cross paths and team up to take down the mischievous God and brother of ThorLoki. If you’ve been reading the Journey into Mystery series so far, you know the score—Loki can pretty much do anything (with renders his physical escapes pretty much superfluous if he can just cause havoc from Asgard) and wants to spoil his brother’s day whilst having as much fun as he possibly can at the same time. So it’s probably little surprise that reading the issue is pretty much like reading either of the central character’s solo books in that it’s fairly mediocre in comparison toThe Fantastic Four or Spider-Man.

So yeah, ostensibly it’s a pretty lame plot yet taken as a whole with theHulk sideplot thing going on (but seriously, The Hulk joins the circus and we don’t get to see how that transpires? Come on!) and all this crossover madness, the issue distils some awe as you read it knowing that things would irrevocably be changed from here on in. So while it may not be as momentous on its own as, say, an origin issue, The Avengers is nevertheless just as significant in its boldness and change of direction for the company. Some will argue that it was a mistake, but most will agree that much of Marvel’s success comes directly from this very issue. In that regard the issue is worth a read, despite the fact that much of it (like many origin stories thus far) is plainly middling and standard-set whilst the writers really get a feel for all these new toys they get to play around with.

Odin looks pretty cool, but you can tell he’s getting on in the memory department.

MY SCORE: 4.0 (out of 10)

02.09.11

Tales of Suspense #45

"The Icy Fingers of Jack Frost"


CMRO#79
Tales of Suspense #45
September 1963

Written by Stan Lee & Robert Bernstein
Pencils by Don Heck
Inks by Don Heck

By far the most exciting and well told story in the Iron Man fiction to date, this month we see Stark at odds with a disgruntled employee with delusions of grandeur and megalomania who harnesses the power of ice and cryogenics to pose perhaps his biggest threat yet. I’m not sure what exactly happened between the months prior and this one but Bernstein has all of a sudden pulled two cats out the bag this month that have redeemed two series’ that he had otherwise driven into the ground. Perhaps Stan had a word, or had greater influence on the scripting, but whatever the case is Iron Man's tale this time around (much like Thor’s from this month also) is actually a lot of fun. Not only do we get a great villain that doesn’t chew scenery and blow everything out of proportion (Shapanka actually has conceivable motives for his crimes and hatred), but we also get the inductions of supporting characters Pepper Potts and Happy Hogan. All in all, a very concise, well balanced and progressive issue for Oscar Man.

Love at first sight.

MY SCORE: 6.5 (out of 10)  

03.09.11

Tales of Suspense #46

"The Crimson Dynamo"


CMRO#84
Tales of Suspense #46
October 1963

Written by Stan Lee & Robert Bernstein
Pencils by Don Heck
Inks by Don Heck

More Red Under The Bed this month as Tony Stark and Iron Man go head to head with the Iron Curtain’s best bet, The Crimson Dynamo. Coming off the heels of a genuinely exciting and revelatory issue, the follow up here is decidedly dull. Instead of creating strife from within, we once again get some terrorist plot or something where some spy uses electricity to Fuck Shit Up. And that he does—only, it’s pretty lame and by the time Iron Man cunningly tricks the villain into joining the great Red White and Blue, nobody really cares because we’ve read it all before. Sub-standard and completely unnecessary. Which is kind of fitting, because it’s the last time we’ll see writer Robert Bernstein.

Iron Man takes a leaf from Thor's book of powers.

MY SCORE: 2.0 (out of 10)  

13.09.11

Tales of Suspense #47

"Iron Man Battles the Mysterious Melter!"


CMRO#91
Tales of Suspense #47
November 1963

Written by Stan Lee
Pencils by Steve Ditko
Inks by Don Heck

It’s a superstar showdown this month as we get three Marvel titans teaming up to breathe life into the tin-can gladiator Iron Man. While the pairing of Ditko and Heck gives Suspense a familiar but notably more striking look, the same cannot be said unfortunately for the writing from Lee which essentially boils down to the same someone is attacking Tony Stark’s weapons plot that we’ve read ad infinitum. The result is an inoffensive outing for Iron Man which pits him against the forgettable Melter who has the great power of being able to melt iron. Great. Of course, it makes sense considering our hero’s predicament and all, but the final showdown itself is lacklustre and anti-climactic. All in all; sub-standard, but not for the Tales of Suspense series. 

MY SCORE: 3.0 (out of 10)  

17.09.11

Avengers #2

"The Avengers Battle the Space Phantom

CMRO#93
Avengers #2
November 1963

Written by Stan Lee
Pencils by Jack Kirby
Inks by Paul Reinman

You know, it’s a comic book cliché, but I’m a sucker for these doppelgänger stories that pit the heroes of our books against each other. I guess it forces the true dynamics of a team and their relationships with each other into play—much like it did when Dr. Doom managed to take the form of Mr. Fantastic a while back now. This latest example is something of a guilty pleasure of mines in that it’s ridiculous and just as surreal as Doom's exploits, but does so with a whole cast of characters and uses them efficiently enough to make the story flow rather than trudge along. And how about that ending? Talk about bleak. The Space Phantom as he is known, is given his just desserts as he is banished to the “limbo” that his victims are trapped within when he assumes their form. An eternity in limbo. Harsh!

What I like best about this issue though is that all these superheroes who have suffered under some terrible stories in their respective series (who is to say who’s had it worse?) actually shine through here much better than they do on their own. Somehow their powers complement each other just as much as their personalities do; which renders Hulk's departure at story's end both exciting but also a bit of a let-down because of chemistry that was budding between these titans. So all in all, a much stronger issue of the Avengers that does justice to those within its ranks and provides each of the characters with reference points indicating that each of them has more potential than their respective series’ have somewhat dubiously denied them of. As a footnote it’s also worth mentioning that Kirby and Reinman do a much better job working together here than they did with the first two X-Men issues. Things POP.

Rick Jones doesn’t seem to know poor Bruce all that well. I guess he’s lucky that wasn’t the real Hulk. "DON BLAKE? DON F&#%ING BLAKE?! HULK SMASH RICK JONES AND HIS TEEN P*%#IES SOME SENSE!"

Where’s my No-Prize?

MY SCORE: 7.5 (out of 10)

18.09.11

Tales of Suspense #48

"The Mysterious Mr. Doll"


CMRO#98
Tales of Suspense #48
December 1963

Written by Stan Lee
Pencils by Steve Ditko
Inks by Dick Ayers

Having taken the reigns at least temporarily from Tales of Suspense's chief artist Don Heck, Steve Ditko in his second issue here redesigns Heck's original creation and gives him more spark, more punch and a greater ability to emote. It's the main reason that this issue (in which Ditko is seemingly given much greater control than his last) reads so well—it bounces off the page and yet seems to exist in its own fantastical, deranged and secluded world. Pitting Iron Man up against his toughest foe yet, Mr. Doll (a Puppet Master clone of sorts that blackmails millionaires into handing over their fortune with his clay voodoo doll), Lee and Ditko craft a classic tale that genuinely makes you wonder how Iron Man is going to get out alive. Of course the eventual dues ex machina is your typical less-than-inspired cop-out and serves as the issue’s biggest bum-note, but the build up and the reformation of Stark’s armour is worth the price of admission alone. Plus we get some great moments between Happy Hogan and Pepper Potts. One of the best Suspense issues yet.

 

MY SCORE: 6.0 (out of 10)  

20.09.11

Tales of Suspense #49

"The New Iron Man Meets The Angel!"


CMRO#102
Tales of Suspense #49
January 1964

Written by Stan Lee
Pencils by Steve Ditko
Inks by Paul Reinman

Iron Man goes sky-high this month as he finds himself at the mercy of The Angel who has been affected by a Nuclear Blast caused by Stark which—you guessed it—causes the X-Man to turn evil. I know, I know; I was rolling my eyes during the first few pages of setup too. I thought it was going to be one of those issues. Surprisingly (or not, if you look at the credits) however, Lee, Ditko and Reinman do a terrific job of selling the story itself which although having that terribly rough premise, actually comes crashing down to earth in a pretty exciting and dramatic manner.

Really though, much of the enjoyment of this issue comes down to Ditko and Reinman. Distilling Lee’s over-the-top writing with Ditko’s angular compositions and Reinman’s eye-popping inks, much of the issue is simply wonderful to look at, even when the narrative is a bit iffy. To be fair, Lee does a fair job everywhere outside of the setup; we get some great moments between Iron Man and The X-Men for a start, not to mention one of the best endings and action sequences seen to date. Plus, we get to see The X-Men and Avengers rendered in the most colourful and vibrant style yet as Ditko and Reinman get to work. So I guess, if there’s another drawback to this issue, it’s that we all wish every comic could look this good. No offence, Kirby.

MY SCORE: 6.5 (out of 10)  

22.09.11

Avengers #3

"The Avengers Meet Sub-Mariner!

CMRO#105
Avengers #3
January 1964

Written by Stan Lee
Pencils by Jack Kirby
Inks by Paul Reinman

In the spirit of the original Hulk series which we thankfully saw the last of near the start of 1963, this latest outing for Marvel’s supergroup The Avengers sees the heroes battle it out with yet another carnation of Hulk that transforms back and forth between monster and human almost uncontrollably—though without any apparent trigger. And as if that isn’t enough, we also get the re-appearance of Namor, this time outside of a Fantastic Four mag—the only time this has happened to date with the exception of Strange Tales 107.

The result is… underwhelming. Much like when the FF fought it out with the green titan in Fantastic Four #12 last year, the majority of this epic battle is simply too much with too little. Think of it like compensating for not knowing what to really capitalise on with all these heroes featuring in the same comic. I mean, not only this but even The Four, Spider-Man and The X-Men make brief appearances here too. In the end however, much of it is inconclusive and ineffective. Hulk is still on the loose, Namor returns to the sea as always and The Avengers go on being avengers. It’s action-packed, sure; but the action is mediocre and predictable at best.

A big disappointment considering how fun the previous issue was.

MY SCORE: 3.5 (out of 10)

25.09.11