[00:00:00] As always, intro and outro music, as well as all audio production, done by my fabulous team at Podcast FastTrack.
[00:01:04] Types of literary conflict
Hello and welcome to Invincible Iron Pod, the unofficial and not remotely connected to Marvel in any capacity podcast. My name is Megan, and in each episode of this show I will be reading and commenting on at least one of the over 2000 comic book appearances made by one Tony Stark, also known as Iron Man.
This episode we’ll be talking about Tales of Suspense #65. Its cover date is May 10, 1965. Its cover image is somewhat of a study in opposites. While Captain America faces off against perhaps his most famous enemy—the Red Skull—Iron Man is facing off against…himself? Honestly, that feels sort of like an encapsulation of their dynamic in a nutshell, and reminds me of how we are often taught about literary conflict in high school. You know, man versus nature, man versus machine, dinosaur eats man woman inherits the Earth…oh no wait, that last one isn’t a conflict, it’s just my dream for the Jurassic Park franchise being beautifully articulated by Laura Dern. Anyway, here we have two of the most popular forms of literary conflict on display: man versus man, and (metaphorically) man versus himself. Because of course we know that someone else is inside one of the two suits of armour, but the idea that Tony is at war with himself in this issue is…not exactly subtle, no?
We’re going to come back to this later, but especially since I was ragging on the shared Cap/Iron Man covers only a couple of issue ago, it seems worth pointing out how well this works, and how much it manages to convey about both of these men. Captain Americas conflicts, at least to my understanding (again, I am a comics newbie with relatively few exceptions) are primarily external. In other words, he’s fighting people and forces outside himself. Iron Man of course has external enemies too. But for a lot of reasons, one could argue that his primary antagonist thus far has been himself. Put differently, his conflict is internal.
Again, we’ll come back to that, but I don’t want to overload us too quickly before we’ve even made it past the cover. (What can I say, I took a lot of flu medication this week to survive the bug my kid gave me and apparently I’m raring to go!) So when we get to the splash page, we again see our two Iron Men in battle. Since we’ve had more than two versions of the suit by this point, I should be more specific: we’re seeing the second version of the suit, the solid gold one which was massive and clunky but also super strong, facing off against the most recent version of the armour. In this scene, the figure in gold appears to have the advantage, having just successfully sent the red and gold version flying backward with a “whoom.” But of course, we don’t know yet which version of Iron Man is the ‘good’ one! This image is great. It does an awesome job creating tension, making the viewer unsure who to root for by putting two familiar and beloved images in front of us and having them battle it out. Loving this so far, now let’s find out how we got here, shall we?
Well, apparently I am doomed to be tormented, because we basically pick up right where we left off last issue: with the love triangle that refuses to die. Tony is watching Happy and Pepper, worrying that the latter will never allow herself to truly fall for anyone as long as Tony is around. (Have we forgotten the fictitious fiancé? Like, is this going to be like my equally made-up boyfriend from junior high where one day I just realized no one believed me and stopped mentioning him?) Apparently that might be the case, because Tony is now trying to croblock—yes I said croc, this is still a clean show and I am taking my cues from that ridiculous line in Iron Man 2–himself via work. Specifically, he tells Pepper that he’s going out of town to visit one of their factories in the mid-west. And he will not be requiring her company—or Happy’s. Poor Happy makes the mistake of offering to drive, you see, which is not an unreasonable offer for a chauffeur to make to the guy who pays them. This does not stop Tony from nearly biting the guy’s head off.
He arrives at the factory a short time later, just in time for a test containing a rocket powered by transistors Tony has designed himself. He talks everyone present through the specifics of the device, which is basically a mini-rocket that can be used to guide a larger ‘mangler’ missile to its target. I tried to look up the ‘mangler missile,’ by the way, but as the only references I came across were to this comic itself and to a banned weapon in the Halo videogame series, I’m going to go right ahead and assume it effectively means ‘really big, dangerous thing that goes boom.’ See, I don’t have two and a half degrees in literature for nothing!
More important than the name, the big takeaway here is that the mini rocket can attach itself to an enemy missile and redirect its target. But then, in a super clever piece of visual irony, we transition back to the Stark Industries plant in New York, where a thief has managed to sneak inside by hanging onto the underside of a delivery truck and taking advantage of the driver and the security guard being a bit too friendly to notice his presence. Our pal, wearing a green suit and an orange and white hat, makes his way inside in search of war plans. He makes it all the way into the executive offices, and happens upon a briefcase. Yes, that briefcase. Turns out Tony is so heartbroken over Pepper that he both left behind his Iron Man attaché case, and neglected to turn on the defensive measures that would usually prevent unauthorized access to its contents.
That’s right, our burglar pal, who voluntarily refers to himself as Weasel Wills, now has his hands on the Iron Man armour, and he knows who it belongs to! And to Weasel’s credit, he does what I think anyone who was unexpectedly thrown into the Iron Man armour would do: he starts pressing a whole bunch of buttons. As soon as he has mastered the basics of the suit, Weasel decides to go on a bank robbing spree wearing the Iron Man armour.
I will say that even though I haven’t yet gone back and read the Avengers comics, this did feel like a moment where it seemed strange and borderline unrealistic that Iron Man seemingly has gone…I mean, not supervillain, but he’s still captured doing some pretty criminal and clearly uncharacteristic stuff, and no one from his team full of superheroes comes to investigate? The comic does give us a line about them being scattered across the country, but that didn’t feel Iike enough in this instance. Who wouldn’t come back when someone on their team had suddenly and inexplicably gone rogue like this? And Pepper and Happy, who were worried like three issues ago that Iron Man had murdered Tony, don’t have anything to say either? Like, it’s a cool idea, but I’m just finding the execution a little bit sloppy at the narrative level.
But eventually, when he can stop thinking about his yearning for Pepper long enough to check a paper, Tony does find out about the situation, and declares “It’s my fault…I’m to blame.” And look, we’ve been shown numerous times that Tony can be an unreliable narrator, especially when it comes to himself and the events that he does and does not choose to take responsibility for. But I think for once we can all agree: yes, Tony Stark, this is absolutely, 100% your fault.
So he rushes home, and digs out the old golden suit. We get some pretty clear foreshadowing of its limitations—it’s heavy, it puts pressure on Tony’s heart, and it’s slow. But it’s all he has, and so he sends a signal through a channel that only the other suit of armour will receive, instructing Wills to meet him at the Flushings plant for a showdown. Wills of course does, and the two proceed to engage in what is, to be honest, the world’s most boring fight.
Look, I know I’m not the most neutral arbiter of this kind of stuff, okay? I’ve been pretty upfront about the fact that fight scenes aren’t my favourite, and that I often read superhero comics despite them rather than because of them with very few exceptions. But it’s just. So. Clunky. They’re constantly explaining things to each other—Tony taunts Wills about how much stronger the older suit is, Wills reminds Tony that his suit is older and slower, Tony explains that he has the benefit of knowledge having built both the suits…on and on it goes, to the point where the explanations felt like they were overpowering the visuals of the fight, which were sometimes pretty cool? I’ll put a sample image in the show notes to give you a sense of what I mean. But anyway, our major fight beats are:
- Wills tries and fails to power blast Tony
- Tony twists some kind of metal cable around Wills, aiming to short circuit the transistors in his suit
- Wills gets free because the suit is too well-insulated, balls up the metal Tony had tried to use to trap him and gets Tony all wrapped up in it instead
Really, the only notable thing in terms of specifics is that the longer the fight goes on, the more grandiose Wills’ claims become. He starts saying that after defeating Tony he intends to take down all the Avengers, and it seems like he just might be one step closer when he drops a ten-ton lead casing on top of Tony. But, remember how the comic has told us about fifteen times that the advantage of the old armour is that it’s strong? It’s like, really strong, you guys? SO STRONG. So naturally, Tony is able to free himself, and he continues to taunt Wills about all the ways in which he will never be able to live up to Tony himself.
The trash talk is starting to get to Wills, who undergoes what I can only describe as an extremely rapid mental deterioration and starts believing that he is the real Iron Man. However, the old suit is starting to get to Tony—more specifically, his heart. He hunches over, and both Wills and us readers are left to wonder if perhaps he’s finally beaten. But then Wills’ own suit starts to falter! Turns out that his transistors are nearly out of power, and Tony spent his time playing possum while actually shutting off the power to the entire factory. It is therefore impossible for Wills to recharge. Tony is then able to finish the fight by…pressing a master output switch, which is for some unknown reason ON THE OUTSIDE OF THE NEW SUIT? Like…why? How? What even? There’s just an off switch on the outside of the armour, and no one has ever noticed this or tried to take advantage of it? My Iron Fam, I have questions. I have… a lot of questions.
So do the police, who show up having been called by SI security. They correctly put together that Wills could offer them Iron Man’s real identity, but like many of us who have gotten a bit too into our cosplay, Wills is fully committed to his ‘I am Iron Man’ bit and insists as he’s dragged away that he built the suit and has been the one inhabiting it all along. So Tony’s identity is safe for another week.
In our final panels, we see Pepper, Happy, and Tony debriefing the events of the issue in his office. Pepper informs us that Wills is still insisting he’s Iron Man, and Happy notes with relief that they’re all lucky that Iron Man hasn’t actually gone bad. He also calls Iron Man the ‘luckiest guy in the world,’ which naturally causes Tony to reflect that “a person can seem to possess all that anyone could ever want and still have…nothing.”
And look, I try very hard not to talk about any MCU-related stuff on this show. There are a ton of podcasts out there that already deal with that content, and my entire goal here was to start familiarizing myself with Marvel beyond the film adaptations. But there’s a very clear echo here to a pretty important line in Iron Man 1, and I have a lot to say about how the context around this line versus in the film really impacts its meaning even though the wording is nearly identical.
Readers Like You
So that brings us to a Readers Like You segment, because I really want your thoughts here. My initial thought was to be pretty strict about not dealing with any of the MCU films until a distant point in the future when I actually caught up with them in terms of publication date—meaning not until we were discussing comics published after 2008. But another way to go might be to periodically stop as we go and compare particular arcs, storylines, characters, and relationships in each version. So for instance, I think we have enough to go on in terms of Iron Man’s origin story that we could conceivably do an Iron Man 1 versus comics episode pretty soon.
But I’m also conscious of the fact that some of you might really be enjoying the absence of the MCU. Or perhaps you’re even waiting to watch the films until we reach a certain point in our recaps. So I would really, really appreciate it if you let me know your thoughts! Do you want to start doing that kind of comparative work when it feels appropriate, and like it will further enrich our conversations? Or do we stick with the comics?
Okay, I know that was a bit of a divergence, so let’s jump back to the comic with a bit more focus for now while I await your feedback. I’m really conflicted about this particular issue. On one hand, I liked what it was trying to do. I think a lot of people who have read the comics for a long time probably have versions of the suit they loved best—sort of like having a favourite James Bond. So getting to see two of them go head-to-head was probably really fulfilling for the kind of fans who love comparing technical specifications and betting on which Iron Man would win in a face-off.
But it also felt like that fan service, if that’s what we want to call it, came at somewhat of a price. First, as I mentioned, there was a jarring disconnect between this issue and the previous ones, particularly the long arc we just finished where Iron Man was accused of Tony Stark’s murder. On one hand I absolutely get that for serialized fiction like a comic to work, readers have to be able to pick them up at virtually any point and understand enough to get invested. I really do get it. And after something like the intensity you a multiple-issue storyline, it makes sense that they went more with a villain of the week kind of scenario here. But there’s a difference between not making your story incomprehensible to people who haven’t read other issue and making it nearly incomprehensible to people who have. At times, this issue borders on that for me.
Thematically, I think it also felt a bit repetitive. I talked upfront about the cleverness of the contrast on the cover, and the ways that Tony I conflicted as a character who is almost always at war with himself. But since we did just spend so much time on a storyline rooted in “oh no, will Iron Man’s identity be revealed?”, I found that I didn’t have a lot of emotional energy to give to a narrative that was hitting so many of the same beats.
And of course, another source of my discontent with this issue: the bisexuality metre. Look, I’m going to say something harsh, and fellow Tony fans, please forgive me and know that this is coming from a place of love: Tony’s self-pity about not being able to hook up with Pepper reached near incel-territory for me in this issue. It is just so incredibly clear that this man feels entitled to women, and that this is his first experience with ever wanting someone he can’t have. I’m really running low on sympathy.
And I’m particularly struggling with this because the reasoning behind his supposed inability to be with her is feeling soooooo flimsy at this point. Pepper has shown herself to be endlessly, ridiculously loyal. Her position as Tony’s secretary as well as someone who works closely with Iron Man means she is already in pretty constant danger. And I’m just not seeing enough evidence that Tony’s relationship to his differently-abled body constitutes cause for his distancing himself from her. This woman so obviously would not care that he wears a metal chest plate. Like I guess Pepper has been shown to be appearance-focused enough that it might change their dynamics a little. Maybe she would lose some of the hero-worship she has for him if she knew he were in any way physically impacted by what happened in Vietnam. But I doubt it, really, and even if so, I’d be disappointed to feel like not being put up on a pedestal is enough to make Tony disavow the relationship altogether.
I don’t know, team. Overall, I’m super exhausted with this storyline at this point, and I’m missing the emotional and sexual complexity we got from Tony before the storyline with Pepper took over. I’m going to have to give him a 0/10 in this one.
If you want to come give me hope for Tony’s bisexual future, share your views on the Readers Like You prompt, or offer any other thoughts about the show, drop me a line on Twitter or Tumblr both @invinciblepod, or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org If you’re enjoying the show, please also make sure to subscribe, share, and/or review!
And join us next week where
-Iron Man battles Attuma!
Until next time, thanks for listening! This has been the Invincible Iron Pod!