Friday, March 14, 2014

Marvels: Tales of Suspense #44

"Iron Man Faces the Menace of the Mad Pharaoh!" by Stan Lee, Robert Bernstein & Don Heck
(August 1963)

Well, it's another Robert Bernstein-scripted Iron Man story, so let's just put our heads down and get through this.

Tony Stark heads to Egypt to help out an archaeologist friend at a dig site for some reason. (Seriously, Tony, you make weapons, what are you even doing there?) As Iron Man, he uses a transistor-powered fluoroscope to locate King Hatap's Tomb inside a pyramid, and then uses diamond drills to bore through the pyramid to the tomb, casually destroying an archaeological treasure in mere minutes instead of painstakingly over several months. Inside, Iron Man discovers the mummy of Hatap, "the Mad Pharaoh."

After changing back into civilian clothes, Tony is kidnapped by Hatap himself, who was only sleeping. See, Hatap is a sorcerer, and 2000 years ago while fighting Cleopatra's army, he drank a serum that placed him in suspended animation for two millennia. Hatap, having somehow discovered that Tony Stark is a brilliant scientist (dude, plots are hard and space is limited, alright?), plans to take Tony back in time to Ancient Egypt in order to help him defeat Cleopatra.

Tony is game to go--he's downright giddy about it--but as soon as he arrives he ditches Hatap and changes into his Iron Man suit. Hatap's status as some kind of mad genius immediately drops when he sees Iron Man, decides he's some kind of flying bird monster that has killed Stark, and runs away from it as fast as he can.

Iron Man's next stop is Alexandria, where he crushes the attacking Roman armies, possibly changing history significantly, but we're not going to stop and look at the ramifications of our actions now, because that would mean caring about how Thor nuked China and no one said or did anything. (No, I'm not going to stop bringing that up yet.) He saves Cleopatra, meets her, is smitten, agrees to stop Hatap, and then does so. Hatap accidentally slips and falls on his own sword. Then Iron Man returns to the present, despite the fact that Cleopatra has fallen in love with him, as Queen Kala did last issue, because all the girls love a man covered in garish yellow armor from head to foot.

Stray observations:

:: "Iron Man is friend of mine, and luckily he happens to be in Egypt on a secret mission!" Oh, come on. Not a fan of the secret identity thing for this guy. Makes sense for Spider-Man, makes zero sense for Iron Man. I realize that part of that is the clumsy writing in these stories, but sheesh. Tony keeps thinking, in an almost fetishistic way, how shocked the world would be to find out that jetsetting playboy Tony Stark is Iron Man, but I have to say, I don't think anyone would really care. Neither Tony's nor Iron Man's notoriety have been well established in the limited space of an Iron Man story.

:: Every time Tony thinks something is BS in this story, he yells "Bunk!" It just makes him seem really square. He's such a conservative. I read the other day that Stan Lee made Tony a conservative capitalist to piss off their hippie readers, but I have no idea if that's true.

:: Iron Man's big move when fighting Hatap is to attach casters to his back and use a jet engine to roll smoothly across the sandy desert (?), and it is kind of charmingly dorky.

Next issue--which is a little bit of a retool--sees Iron Man start using boot skates, which are also dorky, but not as dorky.


Quiet, smuggo.

:: I'm really digging Don Heck's artwork on this title. I think his Iron Man is better than Kirby's. Kirby draws his too boxy and heavy-looking; you look at that suit and wonder how it can even move. The stories have established that Iron Man's armor is powerful but also light and malleable before the transistors powering it harden it; I mean, he keeps the suit in collapsed pieces in a briefcase. Heck is very good at making the suit look more like a second skin and less like a shell, particularly in this story. Seriously, if you're going to have women falling in love with Iron Man left and right, you really need to make him look more dashing and less like he's made by Tomy.

:: I assume this was partly inspired by exhaustion and by the release of the Elizabeth Taylor version of Cleopatra, which had plenty of publicity around it and was about to hit theaters as this issue hit the stand. In the last panel, Tony even goes to a premiere of "a movie about Cleopatra." (It gets a lot of flack, but I actually love that big, sprawling movie.)

Be here for the next issue, which gives Tony a supporting cast! But first, next time: Ant-Man and the Wasp face the Cyclops of Greek legend in the first comic that boldly declares that we are in THE MARVEL AGE OF COMICS!

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