Sunday, September 14, 2014

Cliffhangers Of Suspense


It wasn't exactly a vote of confidence for either Iron Man or Captain America, as far as carrying their own book--but once Cap joined Iron Man in the pages of Tales Of Suspense in late 1964, splitting the title between them, the book went on to enjoy a four-year run before finally coming to an end after forty quality issues:


Issue #99 left each character poised to launch their own title, which would appear on the racks shortly afterward. Tales Of Suspense, of course, would always carry the distinction of having introduced the character of Iron Man; yet it would be Captain America which would continue the issue numbering of Tales Of Suspense and begin with #100, while Iron Man would start its new run with #1.

It's anyone's guess why these choices were made--it might have been because an opportunity to feature a 100th issue couldn't be wasted, and a choice had to be made between the two. But to wildly speculate further, let's say it may have had something to do with the way the characters were featured on the cover in the last few issues. For some time, the covers had ceased splitting the cover space between Iron Man and Cap, instead alternating between each of them while featuring them both in the masthead. In the last few issues, though, even the masthead had been dedicated to one or the other--and in the final issue, Iron Man happened to be the one featured prominently. That made for a nice transition for Iron Man into his own mag--so what could be done for Cap to give his own new mag a boost? Numbering his first issue #100, while flagrantly inaccurate, would no doubt draw attention to it.

That took care of the cover of the final issue, which, looking at it, you can't help but think it would make a great looking issue of Iron Man. But the final stories of each character in their shared comic would also have to do the job of selling the reader on the new mags to follow. Whether or not they accomplished that is something for sales figures to indicate; but as far as the story quality for the final issue of Tales Of Suspense, both the Cap and Iron Man stories were entertaining and true to their characters, thanks to writers Archie Goodwin (on Iron Man) and Stan Lee (on Cap), with art by, respectively, Gene Colan and Jack Kirby. If you were a regular reader of Tales Of Suspense, you would have very little to complain about with that kind of talent pool, even with each story being limited to eleven pages.

So how did this final issue stack up for each?



If you're working your way backward to Iron Man's classic stories in Tales Of Suspense, the way the character was handled then might throw you a little. The contemporary Iron Man has long since overcome his heart problem, and his suit of armor has been modified over the years to solve its vulnerabilities (particularly its need to provide protection and power for Tony Stark's chest device which kept his heart beating). In Tales Of Suspense, it took some time for Stark to design a suit to double his power and thus wouldn't subject his heart to the strain of battle (Tales Of Suspense #85); but he was still vulnerable to power drains at this point in time, which seemed to happen frequently. So in an 11-page story, you'd often have to wade through much of it finding Iron Man trying to scrounge up the power to defeat his foe(s).

In this final story, Iron Man has been abducted by the criminal organization known as the Maggia (thanks to Tony Stark's unscrupulous cousin, Morgan), and faces their top enforcer, Whiplash, during just such a disadvantage of his power being at a low ebb. To stop Whiplash from destroying his armor, he's forced to divert power from the reserves that act as a safeguard for his heart, with predictable results:




Which unfortunately is the most we'll see of Iron Man in action for the remainder of the story. On the other hand, we again have the pleasure of seeing in action the resourceful Jasper Sitwell, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D., who's been looking for the missing Iron Man and whose diligence is beyond reproach:




Fury's lead pays off, and Sitwell is able to corner Morgan Stark and learn that Iron Man is aboard a Maggia ship docked beneath a gambling vessel. Sitwell's efforts take up four pages of the story--but Goodwin writes Sitwell in the same outrageously humorous style as Lee, and this enthusiastic agent has become by now an enjoyable presence in Iron Man's stories.

As for Iron Man, the Maggia has curtailed the now-conscious Whiplash's desire to destroy the helpless Avenger, and is hard at work on unlocking the secrets of his armor:




Luckily for Iron Man, the Maggia has its own enemies--one of them being the organization known as Advanced Idea Mechanics (A.I.M.), which has a beef with the Maggia and doesn't hesitate to exploit their advantage while the Maggia is otherwise occupied with Iron Man:





And the story ends, with the Maggia scrambling to escape disaster, and Iron Man unable to scramble anywhere due to being magnetized to his captors' table. That's a heck of a picture to present in one's brand-new comic title: What, one wonders in this story, is so invincible about Iron Man?

In contrast, Captain America, while also having his hands full while facing armed soldiers, has lost none of his ability to battle--and his story not only has the added excitement of the Black Panther fighting at his side, but also features the startling return of Baron Zemo, whom Cap had left for dead in an earlier Avengers story but who now is making ready to utilize an orbiting weapon which can obliterate land and air targets on a massive scale. Even surrounded, outgunned and outnumbered, we can count on the heroes in this story to be anything but helpless:




However, Zemo is a resourceful foe, as well as an inventive genius--and he's able to nullify the prowess of both Cap and the Panther by use of a "hypno-missile" which effectively removes their will to resist:



It's then we learn the specifics of Zemo's ultimate weapon, which is only awaiting the arrival of his agent, Irma Kruhl, who will supply a list of nuclear targets. The horrifying plan spurs Cap and the Panther to attack once more--but, sluggish as they are from Zemo's hypno device, they're now far more easy for Zemo's soldiers to deal with:




Unknown to Zemo, however, Kruhl has been replaced by SHIELD agent Sharon Carter, who has infiltrated Zemo's base but must now make a fateful choice:



Now, be honest: whose next issue are you more psyched to pick up? Captain America, or Iron Man? I can at least meet you halfway, and let you know how things turn out for Cap. As for Iron Man, we'd probably better have faith in Jasper to save the day--and something tells me he'd have it no other way.

Tales Of Suspense #99

Scripts: Archie Goodwin / Stan Lee
Pencils: Gene Colan / Jack Kirby
Inks: Johnny Craig / Syd Shores
Letterer: Artie Simek

3 comments:

Kid said...

Y'know, Jack sometimes got his perspectives wrong, but I'm hoping the midget Captain America on the cover of Tales of Suspense #59 was caused by Cap's figure being moved down to accommodate the blurb above his head, and not because Jack drew him that way. Cap's right foot is actually in front of Iron Man's, but is still smaller. Bad, bad, bad.

Anonymous said...

My introduction to all things dealing with Marvel in the 60s was all the reprints happening in the seventies. I was an avid reader of Marvel Double Feature covering the Iron Man/Captain America run of Tales Of Suspense. Yet, at the time, zero interest in their current books. Why? To quote Mr Herman: I Don't Know!!!

My Giant Size Captain America had all five Cap stories from Tales Of Suspense 59-63. They went something like this: A group of thugs decide to break into Avengers Mansion to steal all their secrets. It should be easy since Cap's the only there. Cap rolls with a couple of blows, tenses his body and then STRIKES.

And like you were saying for Iron Man, every situation called for Tony to make the hard choice between life and defeating a bad guy. I like how in the Maggie story, when his power is at his lowest ebb and his no good cousin comes to pick him up (Ah, Tony said I was to come by and pick up Iron Man) he, Iron Man, plugs into the cigarette lighter in the back to a get at least a little charge while they're riding to the drop off point.

Ahh, good times, good times, aint' we lucky we got 'em, good times.


The Prowler (was once reprinted in the Harvard Guide to Matrimony).

Comicsfan said...

That's a fair observation, Kid. Iron Man's pose is obviously "presenting" Cap, and such poses as a rule have the one being presented coming up from behind--but Kirby has the difficult task of keeping Cap in perspective while still having him prominent on the issue's cover. All things considered, I think he balances the two reasonably well.

Haha, Prowler--you have to admire Iron Man for resourcefulness. Plugging into a cigarette lighter may be somewhat humiliating for a guy whose armor is the stuff of legend, but it'll do in a pinch. There are times I wish I had a "universal recharger-wire," myself!

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