Examining the Campy Propagandist Beginning of Iron Man

Journey Into Marvel – Part 78

There he is...

There he is…

Have you never seen an Iron Man before?! 

Extremites, with the loss of one hero, the Hulk, we gain another in Iron Man. Tony Stark is by no means the most important part of the Marvel Universe, nor is he even the most popular; he has been on the forefront of big changes at Marvel. His debut comes as the larger interconnected creative universe was designed. Iron Man, like all things comic, begins as propaganda.

Tony Stark is Marvel’s answer to Bruce Wayne — some would say he’s more of an answer to Oliver Queen, but since that character is a thinly veiled Batman, the original statement stands. He’s a swinging bachelor, with an endless supply of cash and genius IQ. All things technological fall to his will. Tony is drawn to resemble Errol Flynn with his devil may care quaff and a goatee (Yes, Extremites, a hero has facial hair at Marvel; a real changing moment.)  This issue shows a very different Tony Stark then those of us, myself, are familiar with. This Tony is an empty two-dimensional creation of Stan Lee; drawn in his debut by Don Heck.

Tony is advising the army in Vietnam when he is captured by a Communist warlord named Wong Chu. In 1962/63 the Vietnam issue was still minor in American perspective. The French had washed their hands of the whole zone and the Communist sympathizers under Ho Chi Minh were beginning to rumble in the jungles. The Chinese and the Soviets were funding them and this had the Red mad United States up in arms. Capitalists doing their duty were encouraged to stick their beaks into the jungles and see if they could help. Stan Lee places Tony Stark in this world and it is a snap shot of American period understanding of Vietnam.

Wong-Chu and the wit of Iron Man

Wong-Chu and the wit of Iron Man

The racism is extreme. Wong Chu, the antagonist, looks like a Charlie Chan knockoff. He speaks like Mickey Rooney’s character from Breakfast at Tiffany’s. This is not the first time Yellow Face has appeared in the Marvel Universe and will not be the last. Still, Wong Chu is offensive even though it is zeitgeist. What’s most startling about the racism in this issue is that it is not absolute. After Tony Stark is injured by a bomb and suffers shrapnel, ever encroaching, on his heart; he meats Professor Yinsen. Yinsen is  Chinese physicist Wong Chu has captured to make “many bomb.” Yinsen speaks perfect English.  Yinsen is a friend of the United States so he is more westernized. My mind boils at these things.  Sometimes the vision of the world presented in these comics is so narrow it is tough to look at the story.

Anyway, as Julian has an aneurysm dealing with the zeitgeist, there is a lot positive about Iron Man’s debut. When Tony slaps on the chest dohicky designed by Yinsen all hell breaks loose in the best way. Wong Chu is a sumo wrestler. Iron Man challenges Wong Chu to rumble tumble with hilarious results. Wong Chu throws his entire arsenal which includes a filing cabinet full of rocks— thrown down the stairs — at Iron Man. It’s all hilarious and campy. ‘Yinsen’s dohicky,’ as I’ll call it right now because Stan Lee hasn’t named it yet, is quite logical. Have piece of shrapnel moving to your heart? Here’s a big magnet you must wear at all times.

Until next time, Extremites, I remain: Julian Munds.

Story I Read:Iron Man is Born!” (Tales of Suspense #39 Mar. 1963)

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Pros: Tony Stark is a charming character, the battle between Wong Chu and Iron Man’s gimmicks is so campy that it is genius. Don Heck has a neat artistic style that is both gritty and sensational.

Cons: Oh My God THE RACISM! Tony Stark is not developed beyond the words “millionaire playboy,” Yinsen dies off panel and it is a passing mention. Doesn’t feel all that powerful.

Next Review:Prisoner of the Slave World!” (Tales to Astonish #41 Mar. 1963)

Last Review:The Metal Master” (The Incredible Hulk #6 Mar. 1963)


About Julian Munds

I possess a degree in Theatre and Drama from the University of Toronto. I own my own theatre company called Snobbish Theatre. We focus our work on new versions of classics.

Posted on May 14, 2015, in Iron Man, Marvel, Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.

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