Tales of Suspense (Vol. 1) 1964 Year In Review

Original Don Heck artwork from Tales of Suspense #60 

How Many Issues?

Twelve: Tales of Suspense #49-60. Iron Man stars as the main feature in these issues. Captain America gets a backup feature, beginning in #59.

Creative Team:

Iron Man stories:

Plotters: Stan Lee (#49-60), Steve Ditko (#49), Don Heck (#50-60)

Scripter: Stan Lee (#49-51, 54-60), Don Rico (#52-53)

Pencillers: Steve Ditko (#49), Don Heck (#50-60)

Inkers: Paul Reinman (#49), Don Heck (#50-57), Dick Ayers (#58, 60), Chic Stone (#59)

 

Captain America stories:

Plotters: Stan Lee (#59-60), Jack Kirby (#59-60)

Scripter: Stan Lee (#59-60)

Penciller: Jack Kirby (#59-60)

Inker: Chic Stone (#5960)

Was It Good?

Nope! Well, it wasn’t as bad as Tales to Astonish, but we’re still looking at some bad comics here. The main problem with this title is that Tony Stark is an unsympathetic dick. When he complains about not being able to show his chest plate to anyone, he never explains why he can’t. Is it because they’ll discover that he’s Iron Man? That seems like something he could lie his way out of. Is it because he can’t handle pity? Or is he just vain? We don’t know, and that’s a problem when trying to identify with him.

Worse than that stupid subplot was the love triangle with Tony, Pepper, and Happy. At first, this was played for laughs, with Tony obviously being petty and manipulative with Pepper’s emotions, Pepper trying her best to make Tony feel jealous, and Happy just being a clueless victim of their machinations. But then, the subplot took a turn for the dramatic, as Tony decided that maybe he loved Pepper (!) —- but then the triangle was completely dropped when Tony “disappeared” and had to wear the Iron Man armor full-time. It was just SO BAD.

The villains in 1964 were a step up from ‘63, but not always great. The Angel (from the X-Men, but evil due to plot contrivance), Black Knight, Chameleon, Scarecrow, and Unicorn were not good matchups, and those stories suffered for it. The Mandarin was featured in three issues, and he was definitely portrayed as more powerful and dangerous than Iron Man; that was a pleasant change, even if the Mandarin’s portrayal is racist as hell. The Black Widow appeared in four issues, and she was pretty good; she was introduced as a spy that seduces men initially, but she quickly proves to be one of the stronger Marvel women to date (a low bar, certainly). Hawkeye also made two appearances as a love slave/lackey for Black Widow, and I like him; Iron Man should absolutely destroy the archer, but aside from that, I enjoy the silliness of those stories.

Captain America took over the backup feature with Tales of Suspense #59. So far, the stories have been mediocre, but they have had Jack Kirby art, so at least they look cool.

What About the Sub-Plots and Continuity?

It can be fun to track the minor story points throughout a year’s worth of comics to see what ideas were developed and which were quietly dropped.

In the Iron Man stories:

  • Despite improving his armor last year, Iron Man still needs to stop and charge his armor fairly frequently. He does so five times in 1964 (three in this title, twice in the pages of Avengers), and that doesn’t count the fact that he is forced to wear his Iron Man armor 24/7, beginning in Tales of Suspense #59.
  • As far as the general public is concerned, Tony Stark went missing in Tales of Suspense #59. In reality, his health took a turn for the worse, and he needs to wear his Iron Man armor at all times to stay alive. Despite the misgivings of Happy, Pepper, and the police, they currently believe Iron Man’s claim that Tony is safe, in an undisclosed location.
  • Pepper Potts gets a makeover that transforms her character from freckle-faces and “cute,” to a glamorous bombshell.
  • The Tony-Pepper-Happy love triangle continues. Happy winds up on a few dates with Pepper, but she does this mostly to try and make Tony jealous. Meanwhile, Tony seems to enjoy being tender to Pepper, and then brushing her off. By the end of the year, Tony has quietly fallen in love with Pepper, even as she strives to make him jealous. That is status quo when Tony is forced to wear his Iron Man armor full-time, which puts a damper on his interpersonal relationships.
  • Last year, Tony had to physically swap out parts on his armor mid-battle to access certain powers. The newer Iron Man armor appears to have most of the weapons built-in.
  • While it didn’t have a flashy introduction, Tony did change his armor in 1964. This model, the fourth iteration of Iron Man, has a rounded helmet and (eventually) a back-up generator to keep him from running out of power. It doesn’t work very well in that regard.
  • Iron Man is seen working for the government in a semi-professional capacity for the first time in Tales of Suspense #50, when the US government sends him to deal with the Mandarin.
  • Iron Man is referred to as Tony Stark’s bodyguard for the first time in Tales of Suspense #54. This will be the status quo for a long time.
  • Anton Vanko, the former Crimson Dynamo, completes his redemption arc by sacrificing his life to save Iron Man.
  • Hawkeye is still being developed as a character, and it appears that he is not a mechanical genius. In Tales of Suspense #57, he was confident that he could reverse-engineer some of Iron Man’s armor to learn its secrets, which would have been impressive. In Tales of Suspense #60, he complains that he doesn’t understand machines well enough to profit by stealing them, which is…less impressive.
  • The Black Widow is also changing from appearance to appearance. She is initially described as a Mata Hari type; she seduces men to steal their secrets. She was smart enough to quickly master some experimental Stark weaponry, but then seems to settle into simply manipulating Hawkeye into doing her bidding, because he is in love with her. So maybe she hasn’t gotten very far away from the Mata Hari idea as I thought, huh?
  • Tony Stark’s factories continue to be a common target of super-villains, which is odd because they all know that Iron Man is a guard for Stark.
  • Tales of Suspense and Avengers take the time to stress some cross-title continuity in 1964. When Tony ignores a phone call from the Avengers in Tales of Suspense #56, he faces repercussions in Avengers #7.
  • That continuity doesn’t always work smoothly, though. Avengers #9 references Tony Stark’s “disappearance” (he now has to wear his Iron Man armor all the time), even though that comic was released a month before Tales of Suspense #59, where Tony “disappeared.”
  • Cross-title continuity doesn’t always remember things very well, either. When Tony ignores the Avengers’ call in Tales of Suspense #56, neither Tony nor the other Avengers treat it like a big deal. In Avengers #7, though, Iron Man is put on trial for ignoring the call!

In the Captain America stories:

  • Rick Jones is acting as Cap’s sidekick, and has received some battle training from Captain America.
  • Baron Zemo appears to have become the leader of an unidentified organization.  He has several lackeys that dress in a uniform and are willing to die in the service of Zemo.  This is significantly different from Zemo relying on natives for labor, as he was originally shown doing.

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