Why Sidekicks Make or Break Iron Man
Story I Read: “The Icy Fingers of Jack Frost!” (Tales of Suspense #45 Sept 1963)
As each featured character in Marvel begins to find their legs, Iron Man has largely been left behind. Most of his Silver Age stories are small-minded, sloppy, and empty. This one is a change of pace and a glorious one at that.
Iron Man is not a solo publication, no matter what anyone claims. His is a publication with a brilliant cast of characters that make up a dynamic that is unmatched anywhere in the Marvel Universe. This issue introduces both Happy Hogan and Pepper Potts. It’s amazing how their presence changes Tony’s character.
Happy Hogan’s introduction turns the tables on Tony. Up until now, Tony has been largely indestructible. This indestructibility is surprising considering he has the terrible heart malady that could, and should, kill him were it not for the ‘inter magneto device.‘ Tony, at the top, is traveling, from capturing spies, to Indianapolis to join in a speed race. When he arrives at the track and hops into his racecar he has forgotten one very important piece of preparation: to recharge his chest. Tony goes into cardiac arrest and totals his car. Trapped under all that metal (ironic, I know), only a behemoth could save him. Luckily, Happy Hogan, a literal human behemoth, strolls by and ably lifts the car off the swiftly dying Stark. All works out, Tony is recharged and Hogan is hired as a bodyguard. What makes Happy so charming is that he is so self deprecating. He does not want special recognition for his gesture, for he turns down a $100,000 cheque, he just wants a stable job. Humility is tough to come by in Silver Age Marvel, especially in Iron Man stories, and his presence adds a much needed balance to the egotistical often unpleasant Tony Stark. Hogan humanizes Stark. This is essentially a rehash of the Rick Jones model from Incredible Hulk, but executed far more gracefully, as there is nothing desperate about Hogan.
Pepper Potts’ introduction is much less powerful. When we first meet her it’s in passing. She is a light, not overly beautiful, freckled waif, placed behind a desk at Tony’s beck and call. She then espouses that classic Marvel female modicum: “I wish Tony Stark loved me.” Oh come on. Every woman in the universe seems to be secretly in love with the protagonist, but crippled by either propriety or shyness and can’t share this love with him. This is a tired caricature and it is beginning to grate at me.
I’m just about to throw in the towel, when Happy Hogan makes a pass at her. Pepper responds with a sardonic quip and strictly puts the ex-boxer in his place. Wonderful. No woman has done this yet. Clearly, there is something special about her even though she is still stuck in the zeitgeist writing of Stan Lee.
With two great character introductions, surely the villain at hand must be terrible, right?
Professor Shapanka is the perfect mirror opposite of Tony Stark. He is a down on his luck scientist who uses his new found cold process to create eternal youth. Shapanka also uses it to rob vaults. One of these vaults just happens to be Stark Industry’s and Iron Man happens to arrive upon the plot totally by accident. After the Iron-Man throws the Professor, who is on Stark’s payroll, out on the street, Shapanka, assumes the secret identity of the ice clad skinned Jack Frost and exacts revenge on his former place of employment. When Iron-Man’s fire goes up against Jack Frost’s ice, the battle is fantastic. Jack manages to freeze all Stark’s entourage and a massive amount of heat is required to melt them. This is the first time, thus far, that Stark actually shows worry for his friends, mind you, this is the first time Stark has any friends beyond one off starlets. It’s marvelous to see humanity in Tony and that the iron he wears doesn’t flow throughout his veins
After all that’s what the Iron Man storyline is all about: humanity. Iron Man, unlike all of his contemporaries (possibly Hank Pymn), is a superhero by ingenuity. He creates all the skills he uses and this is why he’s special. As time goes on, his team of human partners, is what the story is about. When you think of it, Tony, is just the leader of a group of like minded humans with a certain set of skills. This is what makes him special and what makes his sidekicks so important.
A truly fantastic story.
Rating: 4 1/2 out of 5.
Pros: Happy Hogan, Pepper Potts, Jack Frost and Don Heck’s gourgeously detailed contoured art.
Cons: Stan Lee’s Zeitgeist Writing.
- Robert Downey Jr pushed me out of Iron Man, says Terrence Howard (theguardian.com)
- Here’s the only Iron Man 3 Poster Gallery You’ll Need (capesonfilm.com)
- Film Review: Iron Man (martinmuserichmond.wordpress.com)
- Big man in a suit of armor (lancemannion.typepad.com)