Friday, May 14, 2010

Early Iron Man

I've read over the early Iron Man comics from his origin to his red and gold armor. Most of these were plotted by Stan Lee and drawn by Jack Kirby.

There's no polite way to say this - the Lee/Kirby issues suck. They are formulaic and generic. Each started with Tony Stark introducing some new, impossible weapon - an automatic weapon that could demolish buildings or powered roller skates that can transport troops at 60 MPH. After that, Stark would move on to the real adventure. The stories ran around 14 pages so there wasn't much room for characterization or anything else.

The stories themselves were standard super-hero stories. There was nothing that made them Iron Man stories. It would take less than five minutes to rewrite any of the scripts for any other hero who was stronger than Daredevil. They would even work as Green Lantern or Flash stories.

Things got a lot better when Kirby left and Don Heck took over the art. While Kirby is remembered for his ground-breaking art from the late 1960s, in the early 1960s he could be boring. Heck's artwork was much more dynamic.

Not long after Heck took over the art, several elements were added to the character. Happy Hogan, an out-of-work boxer saved Stark from a race car crash (which was suggested in Iron Man 2) and Stark hired him as a driver and bodyguard. Stark showed Hogan around his plant in Flushing New York next to the site of the 1964 World's Fair (the inspiration for the 1974 Stark Expo in Iron Man 2) and introduced his secretary, Pepper Potts. From that point on, Happy, Pepper, and the plant figured prominently in most stories.

Once the plant was introduced, it became the target for saboteurs - some Communist, some rival munitions makers, and some scientists trying to steel Stark's inventions. Iron Man stopped being a friend of Stark's who happened to be hanging around and became the unofficial protector of the plant.

An unusual story element was Congress. Whenever someone disrupted Stark's plants, Congressmen and other government officials started talking about pulling contracts. This came to a head years later when a senator ordered Stark's plant closed until he testified before Congress (another element in Iron Man 2).

The final element was Iron Man's armor. In his first appearance it was gray. In his second appearance, he heard people react to the armor in fear. Stark's girlfriend at the time (in her only appearance) suggested that he color his armor gold which he immediately did. While this outfit did look like an "iron man", it was also bulky for a super hero. In a one-shot drawn by Steve Ditko, Iron Man decided that he needed a lighter suit.

The Iron Man story finally came into its own. No longer could you use an Iron Man plot for another character. By the time you subtracted all of the Iron Man-specific details you had lost at least half the story.

All of this was in the early 1960s. As the Viet Nam war progressed, readers became uncomfortable with Stark making munitions. Eventually he divested his company of weapons and started making unspecified civilian products.

Note - In an earlier post I mentioned Stark keeping his new armor in a briefcase. I forgot that he also kept his original armor in a briefcase. Somehow he was able to fold the bulky suit up like tinfoil.

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