Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Mysteriously Yours... The Melter!

It's no surprise that a villain who calls himself the Melter would mainly spend his time going up against Iron Man--which, unless he was being groomed to be a villain on the scale of the Mandarin, could only take him so far as a viable character. There were only so many times when Iron Man could believably exclaim, "It's the mysterious Melter! The one foe I'm helpless against!" before that sort of thing grew tiresome; after all, Tony Stark is a brilliant engineer who you'd think would eventually upgrade his armor to be able to ward off the Melter's powerful melting beam, rather than be "helpless" every time the Melter showed up at Stark's factory. There was also the fact that, initially, the Melter's source of power, his chest beam, was also his main weakness, a bullseye which an engineer of Stark's caliber (or anyone with 20/20 vision) would be able to pick up on--one repulsor blast to that chest hardware and the Melter's threat is over.

What the Melter (a/k/a Bruno Horgan) did have going for him was his ruthlessness, which played out well on the comic book page and made it apparent that he had no problem with causing serious injury or even death to achieve his goals. In the beginning, his main goal was ruining Tony Stark, his business competitor who was siphoning away lucrative army contracts from Horgan's factory because of Stark's assessment that Horgan was using substandard materials. In designing his melting apparatus, Horgan, like many villains of the time, developed delusions of grandeur that his new abilities... er, ability could not only help him strike back at his enemies but make him all-powerful. It's a preposterous notion, of course, since Horgan has no defense against, say, a sniper, or explosives, or gas fumes, or any number of methods the authorities could use to bring him down. (Though more on that in a minute.)

One feather in the Melter's cap (or whatever that is on his head) is that he was a charter member of the Masters of Evil, along with the Black Knight, the Radioactive Man, and their leader, Baron Zemo, who upgraded the Melter's beam so that it wouldn't be limited to melting just iron (another factor that would no doubt have impacted on Horgan's ambitious plans for himself). Aside from his activities in Tales Of Suspense in battling Iron Man, his status in the Masters served to give him continued exposure in The Avengers, as well, not only in Zemo's group but also in other Masters lineups. Even so, the Melter would probably be appalled to discover that, in the long run, he would never amount to the kind of threat that he'd hoped to become. For what it's worth, he had a decent run, no argument there; but three costume changes and still no reputation to show for it made it apparent that this villain had perhaps run his course.

All of that said, it's interesting to note that the Melter's history encompasses over twenty years of Marvel stories. His final fate was a virtual slap in the face that befell a number of Marvel characters who were deemed to be, as Trek lore would put it, "dunsels"--but you can of course judge that for yourself.

The Melter's first appearance in full costume--November, 1963

The Melter's initial costuming is as good a place to start as any as far as marking down points against him. Given artist Don Heck's superb job at rendering the costume of Sunfire, it's unfortunate that Heck, who inked Steve Ditko's work for this premiere story on the Melter, couldn't have submitted a design for the villain's look. The character I'm reminded of when I see him in these earlier stories is the X-Men villain, the Ogre, who didn't exactly set the comics world on fire.

To his credit, the Melter does quite a number on both Iron Man and Stark's factory before Iron Man is able to turn the tables on him (albeit through trickery). He manages to escape, and for whatever reason is inducted by Stan Lee into the Masters of Evil.

Alliteration aside, repeatedly calling this character "the mysterious Melter" does him no favors. Not only is there nothing mysterious about him--he's a card-carrying villain, through and through--but it also dampens his threat potential. For my villains, I'd pick deadly over mysterious any day.  Why not "the merciless Melter, instead?

The Melter makes another appearance with the Masters before he's carted off to prison. Eventually, he has enough spare parts smuggled to his cell to create a hand-held melting weapon, and he escapes. Adopting a new costume for himself (thanks to Gene Colan--we owe you for that one, pal), he makes his way to Stark's factory where he tangles once more with Iron Man. And we see his new helmet is not only more interesting than the cowl he'd been wearing, but functional, as well.

Iron Man, again having no defense against the Melter's beam, is forced to retreat; but the Melter locates Stark and forces him to design and build a more compact firing mechanism to replace his cobbled-together and oversized gun.

By the time Stark has finished and handed the modified weapon over, the police have shown up and surrounded the area--a fact which delights the Melter, whose arrogance is such that he feels his power can deal with all of them without even breaking a sweat. Incredibly enough, despite being just one man with a hand-held weapon, outnumbered by armed officers at about 10-1, he's right.

Iron Man comes through once more (again, by outsmarting the Melter rather than overpowering him)--and we next find the Melter having rejoined the Masters of Evil, this time under "the Crimson Cowl" (who would turn out to be Ultron), with a different lineup.

(It seems the Melter remains a "mystery" even to the Avengers.)

With the model of weapon that Stark designed for him sabotaged, we see that the Melter is once again using his makeshift gun to fire his melting beam. (We can only assume that his last prison stay alerted the authorities to keep a close eye on him and not allow him access to so much as a transistor radio.)

The Melter would appear with most of his Masters buddies at a later date, when the group ambushed the Avengers and was then forced to battle the informally named Lady Liberators.

It would be awhile before the Melter would return to the pages of The Avengers. After being smacked down by the Wasp, he made several appearances in Invincible Iron Man--first, joining forces with Whiplash and the Man-Bull to hold up (I kid you not) a comic book convention:

Afterward, he receives his third costume makeover, while returning to his roots and once again having his melting beam harnessed to his chest. This time, Iron Man knows exactly what he needs to aim for to take his foe out of commission.

By the time of their next meeting, which takes place in Atlantic City, Iron Man has introduced refractory coating to his armor, which allows him to have greater resistance to the Melter. This time, the Man-Bull is out, and Blizzard takes his place, with Whiplash once again part of this threesome of terror.

But when it finally comes time for Iron Man to face the Melter one-on-one, it hardly takes a few seconds for Iron Man to lower the boom on him.

Nor does the Melter fare any better when he teams with the Blizzard, during a free-for-all against Iron Man at the hands of the best villains Justin Hammer can buy.

In the final meeting between the two, the Melter believes he's compensated for Iron Man's defense--but again, trickery saves the day for Shellhead, and again he knows where his punch needs to land.

The Melter would also appear in an issue of Marvel Two-In-One, as part of a mass assembly of villains out to attack the Thing while he's recuperating in a hospital. The Melter mostly gets lost in the shuffle--but the issue is such a clever take on the events of Fantastic Four Annual #3 that it deserves its own profile in the PPC, coming up one of these days.

Finally, however, the Melter's luck runs out, just as he's planning an attack on Avengers Mansion. But the plan dies a'borning, and, thanks to the truly mysterious Scourge, the Melter shares its fate.

If memory serves, one or two of Scourge's victims survived his assault, so it's possible the Melter is hunkered down in a lab somewhere, working on a new delivery method for that beam of his and convinced that he can still be a heavy hitter. But in reality, when it came to playing in the big leagues, this is one villain who couldn't stand the heat.


George Chambers said...

I liked the way the Melter's power worked. It didn't melt the target through heat, but by changing iron into an allotropic form that was liquid at room temperature - which explained how he could melt the suit off Tony without it crippling him. Sadly, later writers treated his ray as just a heat beam.

Comicsfan said...

George, yes, even the Melter described his power as "dissolving" the substance it was trained on. Maybe he should have been called the Dissolver? Then he could have probably transitioned to his own infomercial. :)

Anonymous said...

I'd never heard of the "obstreperous Ogre" before...which isn't surprising, I guess.


Anonymous said...

I have an inordinate fondness for many of the early Silver Age villains scripted by Stan Lee that never achieved real iconic status, especially those who joined the original Masters of Evil or were in the Frightful Four.

I think many of them had potential that a later writer could have easily redeemed. Frank Miller made the Kingpin more than just a fat gangster. Roger Stern slowly rebuilt Mr Hyde's reputation throughout several series he wrote. You just need to take some care and show the villain some respect.

So I think the Melter was a completely salvageable character. He has a useful enough power, noted intelligence, and business acumen. He just needs a better costume and more inventive use of his powers.

I understand why a lot of writers didn't utilize him well. They're hacks. But I was disappointed that Michelenie and Layton wrote him as a joke because they were such a great time on Iron Man. Unfortunately they mostly seemed to like to utilize their own invented villains and did not make serious use of many of Iron Man's old rogues gallery (with some exceptions like Titanium Man, Madame Masque and Spymaster). They treated him like a real goof. I think if they had used their talents to give us just 1 good Melter story, then the villain's reputation could have revived.