Saturday, November 01, 2014

Marvels: Tales of Suspense #52

"The Crimson Dynamo Strikes Again!" by Stan Lee, Don Rico & Don Heck
(April 1964)

Back in Tales of Suspense #46, Iron Man convinced his Soviet counterpart, the Crimson Dynamo (Professor Anton Vanko) to defect to the United States and work at Stark Industries. In this issue, we see what Vanko's been working on this whole time: a laser ray. He's been working on it at night, when everyone is gone, so as not to put everyone else in danger--he's even been wearing the Crimson Dynamo armor to protect himself. As our story begins, however, Tony Stark just happens to be at the plant--and just narrowly saves Vanko's life before the laser overheats.

Meanwhile, back in the US, back in the US, back in the USSR, "a short, pudgy figure" (Nikita Khrushchev, unnamed) had decided it's time to pay Vanko back for his treason, and he has just the agent to do it with: the Black Widow.

This is indeed the Black Widow, the same on Scarlett Johansson plays in the movies. She began as a Soviet agent. And here, in her first appearance, she and her musclebound partner Boris are being sent to New York to capture Vanko and Tony Stark and, if necessary, eliminate Iron Man. They travel to America in a submarine and, of course, it's quite easy for Black Widow to turn Tony's head. Introducing herself as "Madame Natasha" and Boris as her brother, a Ukrainian science teacher, she goes out to dinner with Tony while Boris is allowed to tour the Stark plant.

Boris captures Vanko with a "jet-paralyzer" gun and takes him to the sub, then puts on the Crimson Dynamo armor and starts sabotaging things. Tony returns to the plant in full armor and, seeing Dynamo, assumes Vanko has had an accident and is trying to stop the destruction. His guard down, Boris uses an electrical charge to drain the power out of Iron Man's suit and capture him. Iron Man wakes up on the sub, but Tony just plugs himself into the power and recharges, rescuing Vanko and returning to his plant... where Boris does the exact same electrical charge trick.

Tony fights through it this time, but Black Widow distracts him at a crucial moment. His back turned, Boris short-circuits the Iron Man armor with a jet of water.

Now... this is a rather serious design flaw that should probably be addressed, right? Maybe when it's time to upgrade to the Mark IV, address this issue, because someday, somewhere, it's going to rain and Iron Man will be completely useless. Jeez, just last issue Iron Man was fighting the Scarecrow on a Cuban gunboat in the middle of the ocean! Apparently, all it would have taken to put Iron Man out of action was a well-timed shove.

Anyway, it's Professor Vanko who saves the day, aiming his laser at Boris and the Crimson Dynamo armor. The thing is, Vanko knows full well that the laser is still unstable and firing it will destroy both Boris and himself. It's a charged moment, and one that works surprisingly well. After avowing that he's not afraid to die for an ideal--freedom--Vanko fires the weapon, sacrificing his life to stop Boris in service to his adopted country. It's nowhere near as jingoistic as you might expect, and it's a credit to the writers that the death of a character who is really only making his second appearance stings as much as it does.

Black Widow escapes in the confusion, but cannot return to the Soviet Union, knowing the price for her failure. But apparently she's coming back next issue...

Stray observations:

:: This is the first issue in some time that was scripted by a different writer, as Stan Lee is credited here with the plot, but the script is credited to "N. Korok"--actually Don Rico, another veteran of the Atlas Comics Silver Age, where he created a number of "jungle girl" characters like Jann of the Jungle and Lorna the Jungle Girl. Rico started in comics during the Golden Age, working at Fox Publications and Lev Gleason before moving over to Timely, where he created the Secret Stamp as a backup in Captain America Comics. After that, he became one of the Captain America pencilers and one of the regular Human Torch writer/pencilers. He worked on nearly every one of Timely's Golden Age heroes: the Whizzer, the Destroyer, Blonde Phantom, Venus and the Young Allies.

Apparently, Rico was sort of a de facto ringleader in the Timely bullpen, even when 19 year-old Stan Lee was an editor, and did most of the hiring and firing. Publisher Martin Goodman considered him a troublemaker and called him "Rat Rico."

At this point in his career, Rico had worked in film and television and was making a living as a paperback novelist under several names. This is one of three Marvel stories he wrote under a pseudonym. In the 1970s, he would do storyboards for Hanna-Barbera before co-founding (with Mark Evanier and Sergio Aragones) CAPS, the Comic Art Professional Society. He also drew an Invaders story for Marvel. Then he taught at UCLA and Cal State, and passed away in 1985 at the age of 72.

Of all the non-Stan scripters we've seen so far, he's the one who's most been able to replicate Stan's voice.

:: Don Heck's art is great as always. I'm glad he's the one who got to introduce the Black Widow, because he's the one Marvel artist right now who really draws women with a lot of personality.

I have no idea if there were big plans in store for Madame Natasha at this point, or if she was just another in an endless series of villains, but this art is just gorgeous.

:: "Editor's note: the 'laser light' appears in parallel photon rays of equal force, not diffused like ordinary light! If a way could be found to handle such a dangerous light safely, it would be the perfect weapon... as it could burn through anything!" The first working laser had only been constructed four years before.

Next: Giant-Man continues to prove that being 12 feet tall is more or less useless.

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