Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Marvels: Tales of Suspense #45

"The Icy Fingers of Jack Frost!" by Stan Lee, Robert Bernstein & Don Heck
(September 1963)

Tales of Suspense gives Iron Man five extra pages this month, giving the creators an opportunity to expand Tony Stark's world a little. Up until now, we've mostly marveled at his technology as he's fought off rival scientists, aliens, communists, and wizards. But this is the first time we'll see him (outside of his tangle with the Hulk in Avengers #1) fight a menace with super powers. Which makes Jack Frost Iron Man's first real supervillain.

This issue also introduces us to members of Iron Man's supporting cast: Harry "Happy" Hogan and Tony's secretary Pepper Potts. Happy is a former and unsuccessful boxer who saves Tony after he's pinned while crashing his race car; Tony actually has a fatal heart attack but averts it when he's able to get to a hospital and plug his chest plate into the wall. This being a Marvel book in 1964, Pepper is mainly just in love with Tony from afar and kind of bitchy about it. Happy is enchanted by her, but she rebuffs him, and the two of them not get along and trading barbs is basically their dynamic. Sort of a Howard Hawks thing going on. I like it a lot more than watching the Wasp flirt with everyone, or Jane Foster pining over her weird Thor fantasies.

The story mostly just settles in and establishes a new dynamic, and it moves at a comfortable pace instead of whipping through the story. That said, the villain isn't much of a threat and the big face-off is actually the least interesting part of the whole thing.

Jack Frost is actually scientist Gregor Shapanka, who works at Stark Industries. Iron Man walks in on him trying to steal the formula for Stark's tiny transistors, so the police come and take him away. Tony drops the charges, though, because of the brilliant work Shapanka has done in the past. Shapanka then goes on to develop cryogenics, basically, although the story doesn't use that word. Shapanka knows he can freeze something and stop its aging process indefinitely, then just thaw it out later. Extrapolating from there, he creates himself a freeze suit than can turn him into what you see above, which will make him indestructible somehow, because things like bullets just freeze before they touch the suit. He does what most Marvel villains are doing; creating amazing technology with applications that would benefit humankind and would make you rich just through patents and licensing deals alone, and using it to rob banks.

Shapanka is defeated when he tries to get revenge on Tony Stark, but find himself fighting Iron Man. Iron Man uses some of the parts in his belt to turn his searchlight monobeam (that round circle on his chest) into a heat ray, which holds Jack Frost back until Iron Man can use more parts to whip up what's essentially a transistor-powered miniature furnace. It melts Shapanka's ice and allows the police to grab him.

Good thing Iron Man just happened to be here and all that stuff.

Stray notes:

:: This issue establishes that Stark Industries' main plant is next to "the new baseball stadium" and the site of the then-upcoming 1964 World's Fair. Next Tuesday will be the 50th anniversary of the opening of the 1964 World's Fair, an event that I find especially fascinating in recent American history and which you should read a bit about. There's also a great episode of Disneyland that you should track down if you can, called "Disneyland Goes to the World's Fair," which is all about the many great animatronic exhibits Disney and his Imagineers built for various sponsors, including "It's a Small World," the animatronic Abraham Lincoln, the Carousel of Progress, and those wonderful dinosaurs that are my favorite part. PJ Lifestyle has an interesting five-part series about it.

Man, we should really still be participating in World's Fairs. The next one will be next year in Milan. They still have these expos, America just doesn't take part in them anymore; Congress stopped allocating funds for it and the Bureau of International Expositions withdrew our membership in 2001.

This all makes the "new baseball stadium" Shea Stadium, which would be celebrating the 50th anniversary of its opening day on Thursday of this week, except it was demolished in 2008.

This puts Stark Industries in Flushing Meadows, Queens, New York. I love all of this stuff together, the mention of the World's Fair being constructed, etc. Not only does it put the Marvel Universe in a specific time and place that relates the the real world of the reader, but now, fifty years later, it puts it in a historical era that is very exciting and relevant to me personally. The World's Fair was a symbol of innovation; it's absolutely fitting to have Iron Man be that close to it. It feels vital and appropriate. Not only does Iron Man celebrate (though fictionalized) human ingenuity and technology, but Marvel itself is innovating comic books.

:: Tony, seriously.

You just had a near-fatal heart attack this morning. Could you please at least wait a day or two to light up the pipe?

:: Pepper pines.

It would help if he learned your name, toots. The first time we see her, Tony calls her "Kitty" instead of Pepper. I'm sure it's a mistake, but I just like to take it as another indicator of Tony's casual arrogance. Or maybe he's too busy making up ridiculous alibis for why Iron Man is always hanging around.

:: The way Don Heck draws women reminds me a little of romance comics, but he never did really draw romance comics, did he? Did you know he designed model airplanes after he got laid off for a year and a half from Atlas in the late fifties? I just read that today.

:: I still think it's hilarious how Iron Man is always attaching pieces to himself and slamming components together like Legos while fighting villains at the same time. It's just awkward and kind of silly. I mean, I know this is sort of cutting edge and up-to-date science fiction, but I'm from a later time and watching this now it's just kind of funny to see the powerful Iron Man scrambling to put pieces from his utility belt together and stopping to recharge himself. He's like a less-efficient version of Batman.

This is also the first time he uses his jet-skates, as seen in the top picture.

This issue is the first indication that Iron Man would benefit from a larger page count. Next issue, we'll be back to 13 pages, but eventually we'll get there. I've not ever actually read much of Iron Man past the first 10 or so issues, so I'll be interested to see what that looks like.

Next Marvels: Ant-Man vs. jazz music.

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