When Iron Man Was Still in Beta

I’ll admit it: after the release of the most recent IRON MAN 3 trailer, I’ve got a touch of the IRON MAN fever.

So much so, that in recent days, I’ve been making my way through the IRON MAN OMNIBUS, Marvel’s gorgeous 750-page hardcover collecting the first three or four years’ worth of IRON MAN comics.


And I’ve gotta say, and somewhat to my surprise: the first year or so of Iron Man?

Kinda shaky.

The origin story isn’t bad, aside from some slightly discomforting aspects of its Vietnam-era origin, which we discussed in some detail a few years back. But once Iron Man gets back to the States in the following issue, the series quickly falls into a fairly routine superheroish rut. When you think Iron Man, you think of the aspects that have made the book unique for years: the series’ focus on Tony Stark’s company and the existence of Iron Man as Stark Industries’ corporate symbol and spokesman (as well as the long-running but now abandoned conceit of Iron Man’s official role as Tony Stark’s bodyguard). Well, in the first few months of Iron Man’s feature in the pages of TALES OF SUSPENSE, none of that is in evidence. Instead, we get the kind of bizarre grab bag of one-time-only antagonists you might find in any other early ’60s comic. Don’t believe me? Take a look at the first issue following Iron Man’s debut, which found Iron Man facing off against a Neanderthal man come to life named “Gargantus.”


Gargantus, by the way, turned out to be a giant robot, sent by aliens (in a flying saucer, no less) as a prelude to the conquest of Earth.


Ah, the sixties.

The next issue was no less odd, featuring Iron Man’s battle with the sinister scientific genius Dr. Strange (no relation):


Doc Strange plots to destroy Iron Man by depriving him of his life-giving electricity. Unfortunately, he doesn’t count on his daughter tossing Iron Man a MagLite with a couple of Eveready “D” batteries:


Two issues later, we find Iron Man contending with “Kala, Queen of the Netherworld,” monarch of a mysterious subterranean kingdom that also has a mad posh for conquest.


And the issue after that, he headed back in time to ancient Egypt to rescue Cleopatra from Hatap, a.k.a. “The Mad Pharaoah”…


…where apparently, he defeated the Pharoah by turning himself into a Pinewood Racer:


I mean, really? That’s Iron Man’s big power move?


By the way, if this scene were in a movie, it would undoubtedly be accompanied by the “bowling ball hitting pins” sound effect…

It’s worth noting, by the way, that all of these stories were credited to Stan Lee on plot and Robert Bernstein on script, which certainly leads one to speculate that the series wasn’t really a priority for Stan at the time. Bernstein was still credited as scripter as of TALES OF SUSPENSE #45, which was where the series began to take shape into the book it would eventually become, with the introduction of Stark’s chauffeur Happy Hogan and secretary Pepper Potts, and the rollout of a series of technology-based villains with ties to either Stark’s business interests or government contracts, such as Jack Frost (later redubbed as the slightly tougher-sounding “Blizzard)”:


…the Melter…


…and the Crimson Dynamo, a Soviet Union analogue to Iron Man, who looks to be providing much of the inspiration for Mickey Rourke’s Whiplash character in the upcoming film.


Of course, Stan didn’t hit a homer every time he was at the plate. I mean, look who showed up the month after the Crimson Dynamo:


Wow. In the words of Stan the Man himself: ‘Nuff said.

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