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Nathan Summers

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Subj: Re: Was Tales of Suspense #40 the original Iron Man origin story?
Posted: Wed Feb 13, 2019 at 06:13:44 am EST (Viewed 84 times)
Reply Subj: Was Tales of Suspense #40 the original Iron Man origin story?
Posted: Wed Feb 13, 2019 at 03:43:54 am EST (Viewed 136 times)

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While some people insist that Jack Kirby's Iron Man stories were created after the Don Heck story published in TALES OF SUSPENSE #39, has anyone noted how the Kirby story in issue #40 serves as well as an origin or introduction?

Might this suggest the second Iron Man story was Kirby's original origin story (i.e. Tales of Suspense #40 instead of Heck's #39)?

The most compelling argument is how unusual it was for someone other than Kirby or Ditko to introduce a new character, particularly at such an early date.

Otherwise the gung-ho nonsense in the jungle origin paints Stark in a bad light, something Jack didn't tend to do to that level when introducing his heroes. But if the second story was supposed to be the origin, it paints Stark in more of a sympathetic light: the whole point of that origin is that he starts as a scary grey military unit, but by the end of the story decides to help mankind instead and is painted gold.

So was Tales of Suspense #40 actually the very first Iron Man story?

In Tales of Suspense #40, a LOT of time is spent on setting up Stark and the armour, beyond what one would expect for a simple recap of a new character making his second appearance. This issue also doesn't directly reference the exact events of the previous issue, and the armour seems more akin to a pacemaker than a device that somehow protects him from shrapnel near his heart.

However, what REALLY jumps out is that it's like two separate stories. That is, page 6 seems a natural break point, with the last 9 veering off in an entirely new direction.

Were these a 6 page presentation... or a maybe something akin to what happened with Amazing Fantasy #15, with Kirby beginning work on the story and Lee deciding... in this case temporarily... to go in a slightly different direction – not in this case because he and/ or Goodman were afraid of the highly litigious John L. Goldwater, but that he wanted a traditional origin story, Kirby pitched something close to his old Green Arrow plot (the jungle is the opposite of science, but it still has the science core) as he was too busy on other things to squeeze in drawing the completely new story in time (so it was given to Heck). The existing pages were then incorporated into the second story (which also meant Kirby only had to draw 9 new pages).

All the nonsense about people being afraid of the grey armour... which is decidedly NOT present in the art... seemed tacked on to loosely connect the two disparate halves.

And doubtless prompted... as with the Hulk... by Goodman and/or Lee deciding the colour was insufficiently eye-catching and something brighter and more distinctive would be more commercially promising.

A lot of guesswork above... but I am FIRMLY convinced that the first 6 pages if ToS #40 were produced before and independently of the final 9.

One further argument for this being the origin story is the science. The final published story was too magical, and that's why I never cared for Iron Man (until, that is, Michelinie and Layton took the title). You simply cannot make such an advanced device in a cave, but here we saw that Stark had the full resources of the military behind him.

I think the key image is panel 5, where Stark tosses a tiny item in his hand. It reminds me of This Island Earth: to introduce the idea of fantastically advanced technology, they spend a lengthy sequence experimenting with a "bead", a tiny component that can handle enormous voltages.

The mistake in the dialogue ("transistor powered") is consistent with Stan lacking Jack's science understanding to interpret the intended illustrated plot (it happened all the time in the Fantastic Four, Kirby's typical method was to read something in a science magazine, then create a story about how the technology might be in thirty years). In this instance, the story is about transistors, not power sources. Kirby had already created several stories about extreme power sources (usually atomic, sometimes just massive transformers using the regular power grid), so that is not the focus this time. We can take it for granted that the military has enormous power sources. Lee didn't have the frontline insight into the war machine Kirby had, so he made it sound like the transistors provide the energy (Kirby too might have said "powered by transistors" in the same way that my computer is based on the "power" of a silicon chip).

As for the scientific source material, I think it's notable how many of Kirby's stories come from material that was published circa 1958 (whenever you look for Kirby's source material this date keeps coming up). So I imagine him seeing more movies and reading more magazines around that time (give or take a couple of years, and allowing for re-runs of earlier movies). In 1963 he was far too busy to do more than minimal reading.

Note: 1958 source material is also consistent with Kirby's claim to have been pushing for superheroes since he arrived: the spark for the radiation heroes, the bomb monster and the transistor hero can all be traced to around 1958 (though of course Kirby would not work out the story details until he got the go-ahead in 1961). Just as he prepared New Gods in his mind and as sketches, but did not fill in the details until he got the deal he needed.

In this case the key breakthrough may have been the TI and GE 2N33X transistors. This link gives a timeline of major transistor breakthroughs: This link gives the details for this particular transistor: Note the following:
>Its use in the cosmic ray detecting satellite in 1958 (this is exactly the kind of thing that would be in all the science magazines, and likely inspired Kirby's conception of the Fantastic Four).
>"These early silicon transistors were in great demand by the military and sold for very high prices" - the twin topics of this origin story: it takes place in military testing grounds, and the guy who sells the transistors is very rich.
>The transistors are usually bulbous and silver coated: that is represented by Iron Man's original suit. Note the wire sticking up from his suit on the cover of the published origin
>The key to the technology was basically a two-dimensional "planar" process: wafer thin silicone, covered with a thin layer of silicone oxide. Kirby illustrates this wafer thin nature with how the entire suit can fit into a secret compartment of an attache case (

Keep in mind too that Lee is not credited as the writer of any of the Kirby Iron Man stories. Larry Lieber is credited for the Don Heck issue #39. Rick Bernstein is credited as the writer on issues 40-41 by Kirby. And also issues 43-44 by Kirby. All are credited as Lee plots. Of course based on original art pages from various titles it looks like Lee was in the habit of doing significant text rewrites starting around late 1960 and through the early '60s

I don't know why Lee might have held back Kirby's origin/ introduction story and replaced it with one drawn by Don Heck. One thing is sure, Marvel never published another comic book where a character was introduced by someone other than Kirby only to have Kirby come along and do the second issue.

One of the most curious things about the first ten Iron Man stories is the plots. When Kirby is the credited penciller, we get robots, giant monsters, aliens, inner worlds, Dr. Strange, time travel. The other stories are far more Earth bound. Sort of like Feds v. Commies.

Kirby issues are also reflective of the considerable study of space, science and engineering for Sky Masters a little earlier so he clearly was up on the latest tech of that day as well as sci-fi ideas.

The tiny device Stark is tossing in his palm may be a silicon-wafer battery as seen in SKY MASTERS (see Ferran Delgado's book collection pg. 25).

Note too AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #1 begins with a brief recap of the AF #15 origin story but Kirby's introduction [the second Iron Man story] isn't presented as a recap and does not reference the tropical island scrap pile. Although the Heck story seems to be clearly sourced from Kirby's earlier Green Arrow story, the Kirby origin is more logical. The suit is both an extension of Stark's work for the military as well as a life-saving "iron lung" which Stark needs to stay alive.

It is said that Don Heck told people Stan Lee informed him that Heck would do the first Iron Man story and then Kirby would do the following one. I have not seen the comment by Heck but there is nothing about it which suggests that Kirby's story was not already done. All Heck would know is what Stan told him.

Okay more about Kirby's inspiration for Iron Man:)

What I am NOT saying:
In what follows I am not suggesting that Kirby had a precise idea of how each Iron Man technology worked. Kirby created a new story practically every day and had no time for such nerdy planning: he simply read a lot of science magazines and so he understood what worked.

Transistor power:
I did some research on the science in the story. How do transistors increase power? One example of this is Alternating Current (AC) versus Direct Current (DC). AC is easier to generate, and easier to transmit without loss, and so it leads to more power output for a given input (i.e. greater efficiency). Or the same power from a smaller device. But until the 1950s, electric motors generally had to run on DC, because of the difficulty in changing the input frequency to whatever output you wanted (most motors change speed as needed for efficiency). Inputting AC, then changing it a different frequency was just a bulky, expensive pain in the neck using valves. But the invention of transistors made it easy to use AC throughout, thus increasing power. So in the 1950 motors started to become transistorised and thus became smaller and more powerful, as Kirby describes. But DC to AC was only the first step. The same principle, efficient targeting of frequencies, has enormous potential at the microscopic scale. But that depends on ever smaller, ever more complex transistor circuits: that is, computers. Let's look at some examples.

Iron Man's power mainly comes from magnetism, controlled by electronic circuitry. That is, electromagnetism (EM). Let's look at breakthroughs in EM, up to 1963. First microwaves, as they illustrate how EM can better focus energy. 1953 saw the first home microwave oven. Previously we would heat food by heating the air, then waiting for this thin gas to slowly pass energy to the surface of the solid. But microwaves directly heat the solid itself, which is much faster and uses less energy. 1953 also saw the first maser: the technology to stimulate just the right kind of EM for any need. 1956 saw the first correlation interferometer: it scans the surface of an object to determine its properties, so we know what EM is needed. 1957 saw the theory of superconductivity: for much more powerful magnets (such as in MRI machines). 1960 saw the first laser: EM focused to such a precise degree that a beam of light can cut steel! In July the publication "Missiles and Rockets" reported work towards a repulsor beam. In 1961, Robert L. Forward showed that general relativity theory did allow for such a thing (tractor beams and repulsor beams were already common in fiction, e.g. in E.E. Smith's Skylark series). So Kirby's idea of using magnetism in wondrously exotic ways was good science, if enough money was poured in within Kirby's 30 year window.

Iron Man uses the most energy in short bursts. This suggests capacitors more than batteries. A capacitor builds up charge over a period of time (e.g. from a battery), then expends it all in a short time. The basic concept of a capacitor, like a transistor, is of a thin film, not a solid block. Again, it could (in theory) fold into the compartment of an attaché case. The most important capacitor, the super-capacitor (or double layer capacitor) was invented in 1957, and would be in the science magazines just as Kirby was thinking of his new superheroes.

Where was the battery? In ToS #40 (the issue in question) Stark plugs the power cord directly into his iron lung / pacemaker. Stark was not a body builder, and probably his heart would not take the strain, yet that torso suit is bulky enough to not look out of place when attached to the helmet and limbs. So there's a lot of spare space. Stark presumably had the device fitted in the 1950s when normal battery technology was bulky. And a pacemaker might want years of charge, just to be safe. So his doctor would say "Why such large batteries? Are you secretly Iron Man?" But Stark has the most advanced military tech. That space could be filled with the most advanced batteries imaginable, capable of a massive power surge for a few seconds at a time.

Just how much power?
Kirby fought in the war. He knew that the first casualty of war is truth. War is all about camouflage, propaganda, and making the other guy think you are even more powerful than you are. Iron Man might expend all his energy in ten seconds of flight, but that gives the enemy the impression of unlimited power. Sadly, later writers understood less about science, and showed Iron Man doing absurdly powerful things.

Flexible yet rigid armour:
Nitinol is the commercial name for a nickel-titanium alloy that can be folded up like a concertina, or become rigid, and is up to 30 times more flexible than ordinary metal. It was discovered by William Buehler when he was attempting to make a better missile nose cone, and demonstrated in 1961. Note that when Kirby first described Vibranium in 1965, he described its value in missile nose cones. Nitinol did not find any use until the 1980s, but this was simply due to its cost: there was no incentive to invest large sums. Had this been the atom bomb or the space race, it would have become very advanced well within Kirby's 30 year time frame. That is true of all this tech: if we don't have Kirby tech it is only because we chose to invest money elsewhere.

On the topic of armour, 1952 saw the first ceramic magnets, which are useful for absorbing energy (e.g. to make a stealth plane invisible to radar). So it was reasonable to think this armour was both rigid and coated with something able to absorb exotic energy blasts.

More evidence for this being the origin story:
Note that the suit gets painted gold in this story, and is seen by civilians for the first time. At the start of the story the Iron Man suit is a terrifying piece of military hardware, and at the end he is a hero. So this issue is where the hero is born.

More evidence for authorship:
While the dialogue in this story (Tales of Suspense #40) makes it a monster-of-the-month and not a classic, the underlying concept is surprisingly good, like something from the best Star Trek episodes: aliens visited earth long ago, and they assume we are all Neanderthals. So they create a Neanderthal alpha male to trigger our primeval need to follow a strong violent leader. But the story says that we have progressed beyond that – or at least we have the choice to do so. The person who plotted the story is clearly smart, yet the dialogue loses the nuance. How can the plotter and dialogue editor be the same person?

One final tangent: the science was ahead of its time. Was the politics as well? The big Neanderthal literally dazzled his followers. He was designed to feed into our primeval instincts for a strong male leader of the same race. He had orange hair. The first thing the big thug did was create a wall. And he was secretly controlled by aliens (aliens at the time were usually metaphors for Russia). Hmmm...

A further thought on Kirby's original Iron Man armour is that it is a pressure suit. It's made out of some sort of flexible iron. When all the pieces are connected it is filled with air and its appearance is that of a space suit or deep sea diving suit. Remember the first mechanical muscles, around Kirby's time, were pneumatic: inflate a rubber arm and it pushes.

My gut feeling is that the smooth shape was integral to its strength, and that the later smaller armour made it less believable. A smoother shape is stronger (e.g. a sphere is stronger than a cube). Then there is the science of aligning crystal structures using charge (and how charged particles repel each other to be on the outside of any surface). If I had unlimited time then I'd study crystal structure next.

I would not say that I am firmly convinced that Kirby's first Iron Man story, or some portion of it, preceded the Heck story but when you pour concrete it is a sort of liquid before it becomes firm.

In other words if the truth were known and written on a letter in a sealed envelope I would wager money that Kirby's story came first. And one of my guiding life principles is to never gamble;)

...Very compelling. Quite believable.

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