Tales of Suspense (Vol. 1) #39

Credits:

“Iron Man is Born!”

Cover Date: March 1963

Plotter: Stan Lee

Scripter: Larry Lieber

Penciller: Don Heck

Inker: Don Heck

Cover Artists: Jack Kirby, Don Heck

What’s Going On?

Millionaire playboy Tony Stark is in Vietnam to demonstrate how his new invention will aid US troops in the Vietnam War, when he is seriously injured by a booby trap. The “Red guerilla” forces captured the wounded Stark and brig him to their leader. Wong-Chu gives Stark an ultimatum: create a new weapon for them, or else Stark will not receive the medical attention he needs to live. However, Wong-Chu has been told by his surgeon that Stark’s wounds are inoperable and fatal; he is lying to Stark.

Stark is clever enough to understand this, and opts to build himself a device that will save his life and defeat Wong-Chu —- the Iron Man armor!

Is It Good?

It’s okay, I guess. It’s certainly not great. The art is pretty dull, and the plot’s background makes zero sense, but the core idea is a very good one. Here we have someone living the dream —- men want to be him, women want to be with him, etc. —- and, with all his money and brilliance, he still cannot cure his condition.

Sub-Plots:

  • Tony Stark is an arms manufacturer with extensive dealings with the US military.
  • Wong-Chu has another prisoner, the famous physicist Professor Ho Yinsen, assist Stark in building Stark’s weapon.

  • Professor Yinsen sacrifices his life to give Stark enough time to get the Iron Man armor fully charged.
  • Iron Man destroys Wong Chu’s weapons cache, presumably killing Wong Chu in the explosion. He then frees the prisoners and frightens away Chu’s forces before wandering alone into the jungle.

Continuity:

  • This is the first appearance of Tony Stark and the Iron Man armor.
  • The “classic” status quo isn’t in place yet. Instead of Tony having an arc reactor in his chest that powers the Iron Man armor and saves his life, the armor is powered by transistors. The armor (or at least the chest plate) now powers his heartbeats.
  • This is the first appearance of both Wong Chu and Professor Yinsen. Both appear to be dead by the end of the issue.
  • Judging by the shoes, this panel indicates that Tony was the one who triggered the booby trap that wounded him.

  • The Iron Man armor is equipped with gadgets like suction cups, saws, and magnets.

  • The gadgets in Iron Man’s armor are not built-in; they require some assembly to work.

Comics Are Goofy:

  • “Most tragic figure on Earth” is laying it on a bit thick.

  • Why is Tony wearing a trench coat and hat in a jungle combat zone?

  • Wong-Chu happened to have a captive celebrity physicist? Sure, why not? The Communists love to capture scientists, have them perform manual labor, and then let them build weapons unsupervised with other genius prisoners.
  • Professor Yinsen sacrificed himself because his “life is of no consequence.” Is he already dying? Does he need to redeem himself? Is Tony special and deserving of protection? No explanation is given.

  • Why did Iron Man wear a trench coat over his armor in this fight scene?  

Well, That Aged Poorly:

  • Yes, I think history has shown us that transistors were the solution to that conflict in Southeast Asia. That is why it is now referred to as the “Vietnam Problem.”

  • Rock Hudson: heterosexual icon

  • Are the portrayals of Wong Chu and his men racist? I say yes —- Lieber’s script leans slightly into racist syntax, and the art shows an exaggerated slant to the eyes and buck teeth. However, this comic doesn’t make the racism super obvious; Wong-Chu’s men aren’t monstrous, and they don’t speak with an exaggerated accent. So, the good news is that I had to question whether or not this was racist. The bad news is that it is, indeed, racist.

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