Saturday, October 12, 2013

The Short Career of The Golden Avenger

Whatever else you may say about Iron Man's golden suit of armor, worn in his old Tales of Suspense stories (and the two earliest Avengers issues), it certainly made an impression--especially following that dull grey model that he wore out of south Vietnam, a suit which looked more lumbering than heroic. The original armor also didn't make much of an impression on a comics cover, which was of course the all-important lure which would entice a person browsing a comics rack to reach out and grab that issue for purchase. "Iron Man," whatever his hype, initially didn't make for a very exciting-looking character, much less a hero.

Iron Man's gold-colored suit was no real improvement over the original armor, technically speaking--and that may have been part of its problem, though to be fair that could only be seen in hindsight. The armor was changed to its new hue just after Iron Man's origin issue, and not enough water had yet gone under the bridge to make a change to the original design. "Iron Man," for all intents and purposes, was already a new concept, a new design which readers had never seen--so only time would tell whether it would sufficiently catch readers' interest. If it did in only a marginal sense, there would be time enough to make improvements at that point.

Since the golden color lasted just over eight issues before the armor underwent not only another color change but also a major redesign, we can assume that even Iron Man's additional exposure in The Avengers wasn't doing the trick for the character. To be honest, no matter what its color, I never saw the original Iron Man armor as giving its wearer any sort of advantage beyond that of life support (which really only required the chest plate). Bulky, ponderous, and, frankly, visually unexciting, it was difficult to root for Iron Man--while equally difficult to believe he could go the distance against the foes that Marvel was capable of sending against him. Nor did Tony Stark's world of factories and business hold much interest for younger readers who saw more to relate to in other Marvel mags.

But let's try to connect the dots on this. First, we have to backtrack and see just why Stan Lee (who didn't write but plotted most of the issues in question) made Iron Man's first cosmetic change so quickly after his launch. When you think about it, the change made perfect sense, given the conflict between Iron Man's appearance and his goals as a protector:

(It's easy to see certain parallels between Iron Man and the Hulk at this point. I wonder if that was intentional?)

Anyway, one of Stark's girlfriends comes up with a solution to his problem:

I don't think I can recall any knights who wore golden armor; in fact, I think they were all a hue of grey or silver, weren't they? Also, I don't think anyone would confuse Iron Man's rather unsensational appearance with that of a knight. But Stark obviously ignored Marion's lapses in logic, which is probably why he scored a lot more dates with jet-setters than I did.

Eight issues later, when Iron Man meets a nemesis named Mister Doll--who came on the scene a year later than the Puppet Master but who's basically a copy of him with slight variations--he realizes that his armor's bulk is putting him at a disadvantage, particularly where his injured heart is concerned:

And we see our first redesign of the Iron Man armor, which has allowed Stark to make some improvements along the way:

Stark forgets that, unless he plans on mastering a poker face under that mask, his enemies will also be able to see other expressions that he'd rather not let on, such as pain or doubt. That nose he later added didn't exactly help him inspire fear as expected, either.

But let's not spoil the unveiling:

No, I don't know why the new armor now has all that red in it, instead of staying entirely gold. Stark and Marvel's marketing department must have had their reasons, but chances are they're not going to make Marion very happy.

We'll have to excuse the rest of this story of Iron Man's remaining fight with Mister Doll (whose villain name has its own credibility problem in terms of inspiring fear, I think you'll agree). Because Iron Man's armor redesign isn't really relevant to his battle with this villain, since it affords Iron Man no significant counter to Doll's power of taking physical control of another's body. Even with new armor, the body inside it is the same, and is just as vulnerable. Later, Iron Man must even shut down his armor to continue the fight, which certainly doesn't inspire confidence in us of this suit's battle advantages:

In fact, what saves the day is a device which Iron Man constructs that has nothing to do with his armor:

At any rate, with this new armor operational, we're forced to bid adieu to the true "golden Avenger," though I don't think anyone will shed a tear for that particular Iron Man's departure from comics (yours truly included). But he may still pop up here occasionally, as he has in the pages of Iron Man when the need has arisen for his reappearance. Because it seems even Stark wonders about him from time to time:

Gee, I hope Stark isn't thinking of putting the blame on Marion.


Kid said...

Originally, Mr Doll was called Mr Pain, but apparently the Comics Code insisted on a change. I dunno, I kinda liked the original armour - it was...different.

Comicsfan said...

That it was, Kid. I think that armor's main problem in selling itself was probably its bulk, which just didn't come across as sleek enough for the kind of sustained flight that we were seeing in other characters like the Torch, Thor, the Angel, et al. That armor looked ridiculous in the air. And given its power drain, there was really no reason to expect its flight ability to go beyond the original design--that of short-range, limited lift due to its air jets. I still don't know how Iron Man went from air jets to rocketed flight--where's he carrying all that fuel?

The other side of the coin is that, if this Iron Man were limited to the ground--a sort of armored Thing--then he becomes even less exciting with limited mobility, though it would probably delight enemies like the Titanium Man and Ultimo.

Murray said...

I have to comment much too late because I've had this armour debate with chums several times. Mostly, I maintain the original armour looked like armour. The next 30 or so years, I could never suspend my disbelief enough to accept that a suit that allowed us to see Stark's muscles as clearly as we see Spider-Man's or Daredevil's thru their spandex body suits was armour. And then he'd constantly open hatches and pull out equipment and spare circuits from a material as thick as a fleece sweatshirt.

Only in recent years have they started drawing Iron Man with "chunkified" armour. Sleek, but no longer a shiny leotard.

Your criticisms of what the old armour could do is irrelevant. It's capabilities could be upgraded to whatever.