Monday, July 23, 2018

Tales of Suspense #49


Superhero vs Superhero
Tales of Suspense #49
Iron Man vs. The Angel?




Another of the Great Ones is gone

“Meets the Angel!”
Writer – Stan Lee
Penciler – Steve Ditko
Inker – Paul Reinman
Letters – Sam Rosen
Colors – unknown
Editor – Stan Lee
January 1964


We lost Steve Ditko a couple of weeks back.

I don’t think I have to list his credits, but I feel like I should. If only to express the monumental impact he had on comics, a list of his accomplishments seems necessary.



Ditko created the visual look and style of Spider-Man in Amazing Fantasy number 15. His contributions to Stan Lee’s ideas about the character included covering Spider-Man’s face, the idea of webs coming out of his wrists, and the costume containing no hard boots to interrupt Peter’s clinging power. Ditko’s version of the character won Stan Lee over whereas Jack Kirby’s take on Spider-Man had failed to resonate.



While the name might have come from Lee, everything you know about how Spider-Man looks and moves probably came from Ditko or artists who built on the foundation Ditko provided.

I grew up on Ditko Spider-mans. Those pocket paperback editions recounting Spider-Man’s first few adventures were my introduction to the character and I can think of no better pieces of source material for Spider-Man and his rapidly growing group of rogues.



Ditko would go on to help create the supernatural hero Doctor Strange in Strange Tales number 110. Ditko really got to unwind his psychedelic art style in the subsequent issues of Strange Tales, which I also only know about due to those paperback reprints. Ditko’s supernatural universe was filled with dramatic visual elements and striking environments that made his Doc Strange tales overflow with mystery and wonder. While I loved his Spider-Man stuff, my soul would always resonate more with the mystical, magical acid trip that Ditko imbued his Strange Tales with. 



I had one other Ditko encounter as a child: a stray issue came to me by way of a Walgreens nickle-and-dime store, this time a Charlton/Modern reprint of Captain Atom number 85. “The Strings of Punch and Jewelee” reignited my love of Ditko’s heady visual style and it began an endearing affection for Captain Atom, Blue Beetle, and the girl called Nightshade. When DC would later bring all these people back to integrate them with their universe, it would push my nostalgia buttons like few things did.

The Crapbox has attracted many Ditko books: the ill-named Marvel character Speedball, a low numbered Tiger-Man from Atlas bears Ditko's name, some late issue ROM’s sit in there (as does an Avengers Annual) that have his mark on them. I’m sure there’s more, as even these were collected, for the most part, without my knowledge. Suddenly you open the title page and go “oh, it’s Steve Ditko” just by looking at his distinctive style of character stance and facial features. No one drew like him. A true original and a unique talent.

And so, so prolific. So much so that it took NO EFFORT to pull up my DVDs of the Marvel comics and find a story from the Iron Man set that contains a Superhero on Superhero conflict to add my testament to this icon of artistry and still remain in the keeping of my Summer theme. True, I could have gone for the more obvious Amazing Spider-Man #1 and recount that first meeting of the Fantastic Four and the bug boy. However, I went into great detail on that one in my ROM review for the Super Blog Team Up crew. It seemed like covered ground and I wanted to forge new territory.

What did take effort was finding time around my busy work schedule to sit down and finish this review. Hey, it happens.

What I wanted to do here was show you readers a Ditko story you probably haven’t seen and one I hadn’t either, truth be told. With that said, I’m going to throw us right into the splash page and start us moving through a review of this Iron Man – X-Men crossover tale that definitely features Ditko’s art and some superhero on superhero fisticuffs. Here we go…



I present our splash here to focus in on something that was part of Ditko’s style. Traditional comic artist who drew IM back in the day would accentuate the knight-in-armor stiffness to Tony’s alter-ego. From page one, Ditko shows us a bit more range of motion from our title character. Notice how that upper chest area seems to bend in such a way that Tony appears to be wearing something as flexible as a T-shirt and not an unyielding metal plate. Although Ditko didn’t repeat this look in the rest of the story, it made for an interesting juxtaposition against Don Heck, Adam Austin, or Gene Colan's take on drawing the man in armor.

This is a hallmark of Ditko characters, this “ultimate gymnast” feel to his character stances. It was something that really shone through in his Spider-Man panels. He did similar things with Captain Atom, which I felt were also much more acrobatic in their execution than a metal skinned hero could muster. And while it might have felt a bit out of place with him, his Blue Beetle work was astonishing. No one did a better job at handling "quick on their feet" heroes than Steve Ditko.

This isn’t what Iron Man is known for, however, and through most of the remainder of this issue, Ditko keeps that instinct as tamped down as he can. But this opening panels is something else.

It is also interesting to note that here in 1964, Marvel is trying to play at these heroes visiting each other’s magazines is something of an oddball occurrence. Note the language about the X-Men’s and Avenger’s appearances are made by “special arrangement.”

Yes, I’m certain writer of Iron Man Stan Lee had to have a long sit-down chat with writer of the X-Men Stan Lee, writer of the Avengers Stan Lee and Marvel Editor-in-Chief Stan Lee before he was granted permission to use said characters in this story.

And the story is kind of a doozy, with a major plot point being so cringe-worthy that it goes from bad to laughably bad to good. I’ll show you in just a moment.

But first a little scene setting. Angel of the X-Men happens to be flying over the Stark factory one day. You know, just checking out the sights, when he notices Iron Man waving at him from in front of an odd-looking device.



And Iron Man is waving at him because the poor young fool is flying right over an atomic bomb test site. Which I’m just going to assume we did a lot of back in early 1960’s. How am I to know? I’m not THAT old!





Anyway, it blows and well, let’s see how this turns out for our two heroes…



Iron Man is mostly protected by his armor, but the Angel takes the brunt of all that radioactivity. Probably he’s gonna get cancer is what all of us are thinking, right? Well, what we didn’t know was that radioactivity might also do OTHER things to a person instead of giving them cancer. 



Like turn them EVIL. And prone to exposition.

That sounds a lot better than cancer, I must admit, but still definitely an unwanted side effect. Iron Man doesn’t KNOW this has happened, but he tries to snag the teenager anyway, just to ascertain if he needs help. Angel, however, thinks this is a game and keeps flying until Iron Man’s boots give out mere inches from nabbing Angel’s foot.



And being evil now, Angel just flies off leaving Iron Man to plummet to his doom. Or at least to the doom of the roof of some random building at Stark Enterprises, as Iron Man uses his Magnetic Repeller to slow his fall to something more manageable (yet still hit with enough force to pop a hole in the building’s metal roof.)



And it appears he hit chest-first or something because he notices some damage to his protective chest plate. Which needs immediate attention, of course. Ditko throws in some oddities here. For one, IM working on his suit while wearing it makes it appear almost flat or like he is some kind of cyborg. Also that picture of Pepper showing on the viewscreen is…uniquely unattractive. I dig the stylized way he has depicted her facial features, but she is certainly no Gwyneth Paltrow. 



In the meantime, Angel tells his teammates that he’s decided to quit the X-Men and turn evil. This is met with exactly the response you’d expect.



Since we need a story and that story needs an Angel free to menace Iron Man, the winged mutant handily defeats his friends. Note the boots that Iceman was shown wearing in the early days and the depiction of Marvel Girl’s “mental beams”. Pretty sure those were only visible via plot contrivance, because the author needed Angel to be able to dodge out of the way.



And in the time all this takes, we switch back to see Stark has finished his repairs and is putting away his armor. Not certain if the colorist messed up on his hands or if they are supposed to appear ungloved. Typically the red-and-gold armor would spring down the arm from glove, but here it looks like IM has some odd giant cuffs that the gloves would fit into. I think that’s a mistake, but I won’t count off for it.



Meanwhile, the Angel has finished trashing the X-Men and takes off on his own, even going so far as to diss Professor X’s summons for him to return. Why Xavier doesn’t just force him to comply is kind of odd, but we have to assume that he’s operating under the assumption that Angel’s change of heart isn’t radioactivity-based. I know that I lose more girlfriends to evil from radioactivity than I can count, so I can't really be too hard on the mind-mutant.


Either way, our treat in all of these pages is seeing the X-Men in action with Ditko behind the pen, a rare thing. Almost as rare as seeing him pull in the Avengers in cameos in their secret identities. Which is where we end up, right after seeing the Professor worry over Angel’s change of heart and what it means for his continued teaching efforts.


What this is all leading too is that only one person is available to take on the menace of Evil Angel…



…right after Happy Hogan and Pepper do some of that odd flirting they were known for, back in the day.

As for Evil Angel? He won’t be hard to find as he steals some dynamite sticks from a demolition company and starts tossing them around the city to attract the evil mutant enemies of the X-Men.


They all must be out to lunch or something, because the only people to notice are law enforcement and the incredible Iron Man. The officers are about to declare open season on Angel, but Iron Man convinces them to give him ten minutes to turn the youth around. 


As the officers reluctantly agree, Tony jets up to talk to the Angel, who does his best to cause Iron Man’s flight to be a one way trip to crashlandia.


Tony turns out to be craftier than that and uses Angel’s grip on his jet boots to nab the youth and fling him into an empty airplane hangar.


When Angel makes for the back entrance to the hanger, Iron man tosses out three powerful u-shaped transistor magnets, which quickly surpass Angel’s speed…


…momentarily locking him in. Then Angel turns the tables on Stark by swooping out a side door and locking Tony in a vault inside one of the hangers. Of course, it takes Iron Man seconds to shred the lock and be free again, where he finds Angel still trying to figure out why all the evil mutants are not flocking to his uproar.


Tony decides to try one more time to get through to Angel, sensing that there is no way the youth could so drastically have changed his moral compass. He nabs the Angel and soars up higher and higher in the air until…




…Tony’s boot jets run out of fuel again and he plummets once more to the Earth.


…this time with plenty of onlookers, one of whom appears to be having a crisis of conscience.


No, not the blonde girl. THIS guy…the Angel!


And of course this change of heart leads to the mutant attempting to catch Iron Man before he falls to Earth, however he’s got a long way to go to beat Tony to the ground. Can He Do It?


But of course. He’s one of the heroes and we don’t let heroes fail at this point in the early Marvel Universe. At least not at the end of a story arc. Within the arc maybe, but that just makes them come back and try harder.


Later on, after the death of a certain Gwen Stacy, Marvel would allow some failures to last…at least for a while.

Notice how oddly acrobatic Ditko makes this plunge. I daresay that no other artist would have posed Iron Man in such a fashion.

We even get a scene of Iron Man explaining why Angel was acting so oddly evil to the cops who were about to shoot him ten minutes ago. Again notice the odd look to IM’s face that Ditko put in. His eyes almost appear to float over his mask they are so expressive. Ditko was truly talented, but I don’ think Iron Man was one of his better characters. I really prefer is work on Spider-Man or Blue Beetle.


And to be certain we get a shot of all these characters together, we end with an X-Men reunion and Tony being thanked by Professor X himself. 


The things that come immediately to mind in this is that opening page scrawl about how the characters were on “loan” from the X-Men book. The way we perceive the Marvel comic universe these days has so many characters naturally occupying the same setting as many other books that it just feels like it was meant to be that way from the very beginning. As this book shows, that isn’t necessarily the case. The integration of all of these books was very much a marketing tool to sell as many titles as possible.

One book becomes a “hot” seller? Then plaster its characters all over the other books that aren’t selling so well. Do whatever it takes to keep titles in circulation. Most of them were on the chopping block each month it seems like. Once Stan found a character or two he liked, the tendency was to bolster their sales however he could. We owe Stan a lot for that. Without his clever marketing schemes many of these characters would have been lost to obscurity decades ago.

And we owe a huge debt to guys like Steve Ditko, who could take concepts beyond our imagination and turn them into visions that could astound us with their surprising tangibility borne from a mind that was as keen as it was brilliant.

We will miss you, Steve.

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