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Let’s light an Iron Man/Captain America cigarette as we bask in the Avengers afterglow – Tales of Suspense #93

May 9, 2012

Have you seen The Avengers yet? If you did, it was pretty great, wasn’t it? YOU’RE DAMN RIGHT IT WAS. I’m still walking on air about it. (And I’m beginning to think that maybe I should have given it the full five out of five on my “toothy Hulk smile” metric.) The comic book movie that we always dreamed of was finally dropped into our laps, and it was as close to distilled perfection as we’re ever going to get. I live within a ten-minute walk of a multiplex, and it’s a constant struggle to not go over there every night and watch the damn thing. It’s the kind of movie that you make plans to see again as you’re walking out of a screening. It’s a miracle that I’m not on a first-name basis with every employee at that theater by now.

We’ve all been psychically high-fiving each other for days now, like fans of a team that just won a championship. The World Series. The Super Bowl. In that vein, I thought it might be nice to take a victory lap of sorts, a quick look at a random issue of Tales from Suspense featuring Iron Man and Captain America, whose clashes and eventual respect and teamwork provided some of the best drama in the film. I’ve talked about ToS comics here before, but it seems a fresh trip down memory lane is in order. And this comic drips with heavyweight talent. It’s great to see how much of the artistic work was eventually incorporated into our recent celluloid acid trip. It’s as if Jack Kirby and Gene Colan were doing storyboards in the production offices.

That said, many of the story elements are what we generously call, here on our evolved post-millennial moral perch, “products of their time.” There are racial and political angles to the Iron Man portion that at worst offend and at best give one pause, and Captain America patronizes Sharon Carter/Agent 13 to a stunning degree. There’s some Mad Men in this little comic — the only thing Cap doesn’t do is pinch his gal pal’s behind.

Still, this is quality 1960s sequential art myth-making. Neither of the stories here is a standalone, but they can stand alone, if you will. The Tony Stark half of the equation (scripted by Stan Lee, art by Colan and Frank Giacoia) has Iron Man battling that classic Cold War foe, the Titanium Man, who’s under control of the not-as-insulting-as-Egg-Fu Asian villain, Half-Face. (“Two-Face” was taken.)

What’s that? You have a sudden hankering for a full-page splash of Iron Man locked in mortal combat with Titanium Man? And to have it illustrated by Genial Gene, the man who could get blood from the Man from Atlantis stone? FEAST ON THIS:

There was a fluidity with Colan’s Iron Man. That was a quality in all of his work, but no one else has ever drawn Rivet-Head with such — there’s no other word for it — malleability.

This story, set in the bloody peak of the Vietnam War, the milieu so intricately wound up with Iron Man’s origin, has a healthy dose of anti-Commie propaganda. Half-Face is a man (literally) consumed by his work for the Viet-Cong, to the detriment of his family — as can be seen in this fluffy-bordered flashback:

And then he had his face blown off in a lab accident, one that offered a chance for the customary evil Asian buck-toothed caricature to be accentuated. Wonderful.

And our hero… While Stark was always the playboy, there was definitely a greater amount of Red, White and Blue patriotism in his classic portrayal, clearly seen in these last panels:

All for one and one for all. U S A. U S A. I have a hard time imagine Robert Downey Jr.’s Stark having such thoughts. Not that he should, mind you. I like Movie-Stark the way he is, with altruism woven in with irreverent prick. Just saying. (And if he did have them, there’d be some snappy pop culture references in those thoughts, surely.)

It’s been indicated that the next Captain America movie will have Steve Rogers closely associated with SHIELD. The CA story here is appropriate then, because it has him neck-deep in SHIELD vs. AIM hijinks (and the introduction — off-panel — of MODOK). And he’s also ensconced in a wonderfully silly Jack Kirby-designed SHIELD apparatus (script again by Lee, art by Kirby and Joe Sinnott):

Do not let any ladies see you in that, Cap. You’ll never again know the touch of a woman, perfect physique and blond good looks notwithstanding. It’s like Dukakis in the tank.

Here’s Cap going through his ass-kicking floor routine, with improbable contortions that I was grateful to see replicated in the Avengers stunt work:

Now for the bad.

Cap only breaks out the demeaning wordplay at a few points here, but the story feels weighed down with it, as if every other word of his mouth was “doll” and/or “toots.” That he refers to a resourceful female agent, Agent 13, as “little girl” is sure to send every hair-trigger feminist into a frothing rage:

“Little lady” seems enlightened by comparison. And “girl” wasn’t a one time slip of the tongue:

Pardon me, Mr. Rogers, but who’s the one flat on his back from a paralyzing ray? Hm?

Thankfully, movie-Cap sticks to a straight-laced “ma’am” when addressing the fairer sex. Then again, Rogers and Carter eventually became paramours. So maybe “little girl” is like Spanish Fly to her. Whatever.

There you have it. Vietnam. Titanium Man. Buck-Toothed Asian villains. Rolling bowling ball attacks. “Little lady.” A rich smorgasbord of its time, but one with influence — the good stuff — that has wafted down to the present. So pop your bottle of Cristal, sit back and enjoy the moment. It’s a fun time to be a devotee of this stuff.

One Comment leave one →
  1. March 22, 2014 10:01 pm

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