Tales of Suspense #58 (October 1964)
"In Mortal Combat With Captain America!"
Stan Lee-Don Heck/Dick Ayers
Doug: So you may have heard there's a new Marvel flick opening this week... Karen and I thought it would be a hoot to journey back to those thrilling days of yesteryear when hero vs. hero clashes had a bit more novelty to them and served as the stuff of playground arguments. One might even say a story like this could be summed up by one of its supporting characters:
"Iron Man... and Captain America... acting like enemies!! It doesn't seem possible!!"Well it's possible alright, and a pretty good tussle it was!
Doug: Like many Silver Age stories, the plot revolves around a misunderstanding. Iron Man is basically duped by the Chameleon of all people. What I find most interesting about this book -- not the story, per se, but the book -- is that Tales of Suspense #58 was the third appearance of the Chameleon and the second appearance of his partner, Kraven the Hunter (each had appeared previously in Amazing Spider-Man #15, cover dated August 1964). Given that Marvel Comics as we know it was only in its fourth year of publication (and only second year for some of its key titles), this is really important. Stan Lee took villains from one magazine, where they were appropriately matched against a hero of a certain powerset, and transplanted them into a magazine where the protagonist far outclassed them. And what's more? Said original hero (Spider-Man) appears nowhere in this issue of Tales of Suspense -- not even in a flashback! That Marvel had become a shared universe would have been happening right in front of us, had we been buying these books from the spinner racks. I just find that significant.
Karen: I thought that was particularly interesting too. That kind of insight into how the Marvel Universe was being woven together in the early days is fun to run across. I don't know that I would have ever thought to have bad guys like Kraven and the Chameleon go up against Iron Man. But Lee and his cohorts obviously felt the freedom to try anything. And I felt it worked. Of course, the Chameleon was essential for this particular plot!
Doug: Really, the Chameleon could have been a major villain in the Marvel Universe. I would think that he could have been particularly useful as an opponent in the SHIELD book.
Doug: We open underwater, as Iron Man tests a new breathing device. I chuckled when he thought to himself that he'd managed to stay down for 15 minutes! I don't know what scuba tanks could do 50 years ago, but I found myself underwhelmed. He surfaces near one of Tony Stark's munitions plants and prepares to go inside to recharge. Meanwhile, we get a little sceneshift to a boat not too far away where a couple of unsavory types pay up for their apparently illegal transit. We then see them rowing their way to shore -- just below the Stark factory. The occupants of the rowboat are none other than the Chameleon and Kraven the Hunter. They head up the craggy shoreline, with Kraven spouting off about how he's in charge, they'll follow his plans, yadda yadda yadda... and wouldn't you know who gets caught and hauled away by Iron Man?
Karen: Yes, 15 minutes underwater didn't seem all that impressive for Stark Tech, did it? But then, neither did the decidedly small-fry shark he wrestled out to sea! Well, these were the days before the summer blockbuster, CGI, and wretched excess. I had to do a double take - Chameleon's outfit -the trenchcoat, fedora, scarf -reminded me of Rorschach. Kraven's quick beat-down by Iron Man was hilarious -and appropriate. I wonder what a regular reader of Spider-Man back then would have thought to see Spidey's opponent handled so easily?
Doug: That's a great question, and could be looked at both ways -- villains who were easy/hard for their main nemesis to defeat, but hard/easy to defeat when battling another opponent. In this case, the Chameleon was able to stay hidden -- no chance he was going to defend Kraven against the Golden Avenger. Instead he began to plot his proof that he was every bit the equal of Kraven. Let's see -- defeating Iron Man would be a solid way to accomplish that, ya think? And what better way than to set him up in a skirmish against his newest teammate, Captain America? So the Chameleon began his machinations by impersonating the Star-Spangled Avenger and crafting a story about how he was attacked by... the Chameleon. Allegedly the Chameleon stole Cap's thoughts and memories so that he could fool everyone. But "Cap" was able to get away and make his way to Iron Man for assistance. Sort of funny how "Cap" would show up at the Stark factory where Iron Man was, rather than any other place. Pretty convenient! The Chameleon sells his story pretty well, and you know Iron Man bites it hook, line, and sinker. I smell a superhero brouhaha coming!
Karen: Looking at the Comic Book Database, this issue would have hit the stands at the same time as Avengers #9, which featured Wonder Man. So as you mention, Cap had only been an Avenger for a few issues. Heck, the Avengers had only been around 9 issues! Everything was still so fresh at this point, no heavy chains of continuity to weight things down. I have to admit, I thought it was a neat bit of maneuvering that Chameleon showed up at Stark's plant as Cap and made up the whole story about the machine with the thought transference. And yes, Iron Man just buys it, no questions asked. I suppose we could say at this point, he really doesn't know Cap that well.
Doug: I agree with you about the relative newness of the Marvel Universe. This is like a front row seat to its development. It is somewhat liberating to have no real backstory at this point, but I found myself wanting to relate to the characters and certain aspects of the story with all the other history that I know. I cannot imagine what it might have been like to be on the ground floor as this whole MU was being built. And where does a baddie on the run find an authentic Captain America costume? I'll add that it was a nice touch that when the fake Captain was in the presence of Iron Man he did not have a shield. That would have forced me to suspend my disbelief beyond normal.
Karen: The next thing we know, Iron Man is apparently bursting through the walls of Avengers Mansion (there's bricks flying at least). Hey, he owns it, if he wants to wreck it, that's his right. Shellhead starts accusing Cap of being the Chameleon, and Cap is utterly dumbfounded, but tries to talk to his pal. But when the Golden Avenger grabs him, it's game on! Cap backhands Shellhead with his shield, sending him flying. Oddly enough, by the next page the scene has somehow shifted to the rooftops; it seems like Lee tries to salvage this a bit with some dialog from Iron Man about how Cap couldn't hide from him on a rooftop, but it still comes across a bit awkward. At this point, Cap is still trying to talk sense with his team-mate but it's not going well. Finally he gives into the ol' fisticuffs.
Doug: I had to laugh at IM just crushing the wall. Great entrance, though -- good thing Cap was actually in that room or Stark would have felt like a real dope. I, too, noticed the abrupt shift in scenery and also thought it odd. I need to pull out my Official Handbook and check Iron Man's weight when in armor. Cap's pretty strong, isn't he? He gave Stark a few pretty good jolts. And... what would the early Marvel Universe be without running out of web fluid, low charge on the armor, or suddenly changing into Ben Grimm? The DC Universe just didn't have anything going like that (well, with the exception of the occasional yellow-whatever foiling Green Lantern).
Karen: Yes, of course, with everything going on, Iron Man forgot to charge his armor! Nearly out of power, Stark has to run off and seek a place to rest while he can power up, leaving Cap wondering if the whole thing was a gag. He must have thought people really became jerks while he was frozen all those years.
Doug: Wasn't that a weird scene of Iron Man sulking away with his tail tucked between his legs? I'm sure Cap was incredulous... "What just happened??" One of the issues we have whenever we discuss what "holds up" means is the pop culture reference anchored in time. But I cracked up when Cap muttered to himself, "I'll probably see this later on Candid Camera!" Don Heck should have drawn Allen Funt on the sidelines in one of the battle scenes!
Doug: In regard to Cap being frozen, what a difference these books were timewise as compared to the Marvel Cinematic Universe. At this point in Marvel time, Cap had been frozen for 18-19 years. In the Marvel movies it's closer to 70 years. From my perspective, I don't know how different society would have been through the 1950s and into the early 1960s, but the changes that Chris Evans's Cap has had to deal with... wowza. I crack up every time I watch Marvel's The Avengers and see the scene where Cap and Iron Man are trying to repair the helicarrier. Iron Man asks him to pull out a control panel and tell him what he sees. Cap says that it definitely looks like it runs on electricity. Priceless.
Karen: It's kind of funny when you realize that WWII was not even 20 years in the rearview mirror when these stories were coming out. Yes, it's a huge difference from a Cap who awoke in the 2000s. We get a page of Tony Stark's friends/employees, Happy Hogan and Pepper Potts, trying to figure out where Iron Man has gone. They use one of their boss's cars that has a special Iron Man scanner in it to track him. I have to say, I didn't find either of them appealing. Happy's not the sharpest tool in the shed and Pepper seems rather harsh.
Doug: Did you read Iron Man comics as a kid? I did not. I enjoyed him in the Avengers, of course, and as a guest star in Marvel Team-Up and Marvel Two-In-One. While I'd heard of Pepper Potts and Happy Hogan, my main experience with them was in the early Tales of Suspense "adaptations" that ran as reruns on The Marvel Super-Heroes television show. So I was surprised that Pepper was so Type-A, but also somewhat put off by how dopey Happy was depicted. I think his personality was altered for the better as time went on. But if I have a takeaway from these early stories, it's that Tony Stark has for the most part been written "in character" through the years. This headstrong, almost cocky, Tony Stark fits right in with the way in which Robert Downey, Jr. has portrayed him in the MCU.
Karen: I was an on-and -off reader of Iron Man, starting around issue #43 (cover-dated Jan. 1972!). It was never a favorite of mine though. I never liked Tony Stark much. While I would agree with your assessment that Stark has always been headstrong, I'd say that's about the only part of his original comics personality that they brought over when Downey started playing him! In the early days -at least, before the Michelinie/Layton years -Stark was certainly part of "The Establishment," and about as square as could be. He was a munitions manufacturer, for Pete's sake! Yeah, he had an eye for the ladies, but he was definitely a mainstream, by-the-book kind of guy. And boring. This is where I think the movies have made an improvement. Stark in the films basically is Downey, with his quick wit and wildness. This Stark is a product of the 80s and Silicon Valley instead of the Cold War. But I digress.
Doug: After Stark has recharged, he's quickly on patrol to look for Cap. It doesn't take long, as both heroes spot each other at about the same time. Cap quickly ducks into a "construction power station", whatever that is. Well, I'll tell you what it is -- it's a blank canvas for Don Heck. I almost got a little Dick Sprang vibe when I began to read this scene, but it never really panned out. I was just thinking of all the big props Sprang used to draw in his Batman stories. But the perils are what you might expect from a construction setting: gravel, various mixers, sand, and water. All of those elements come into play at some point, with Iron Man, Pepper, and Happy (newly arrived, thanks to the aforementioned Iron Man tracer beam) all falling victim to a potential catastrophe. It's funny, but as Iron Man "started it", it's Cap who finishes it. Once we get into Round Two, Cap is clearly in charge and is able to end this.
Karen: I had the same reaction -a "Construction power station"? But yeah, you just have to roll with it. Again, I am struck by how much smaller the scale is here. Our combatants deal with gravel pits, cement mixers, and steam shovels -just like the puny shark at the beginning, I think this would be underwhelming to readers used to battles on a much more massive scale. Nowadays you'd have to have the two of them battling on top of an exploding nuclear power plant or something. What's really odd here too is that the two heroes don't actually duke it out -Cap sets the plant machinery against Shellhead and he has to bash his way through it. I suppose that might have seemed more exciting to readers then.
Doug: But it doesn't truly end until Giant-Man shows up with the fake Cap in tow. The Chameleon was done in by... ants. Yep, although Giant-Man, Hank Pym still utilized his ants for "patrols" of the city. The Chameleon had positioned himself to watch the super-slugfest between Iron Man and the real Cap when he was found out by Hank's bugs. So after the explanations that always end these misunderstandings, Cap offers the olive branch first: "Well, partner, I'm glad it all came out in the wash! No hard feelings??" To which Iron Man sheepishly replied, "Of course not, Cap!" And then Iron Man slunk off again to sulk, about how easily he'd been duped by the Chameleon. But... in another time-anchored reference, Tony Stark draws inspiration from Lyndon Baines Johnson: "Let us reason together." And wouldn't that put off a lot of these superhero brouhahas?
Karen: I wonder if a first-time reader would be puzzled why a hero named Giant-Man was communicating with ants? The Avengers reunion at the end was a nice little surprise. I also enjoyed that last panel, with Iron Man doing his best "The Thinker" imitation, and the quote from then-President Johnson. Boy was it a different time, one when people actually respected at least the office of the President. This whole tale has a refreshing naivete. There's no big ideological argument here, no one taking sides, just two heroes having a misunderstanding, and at the end of the day -or story - everything is back to normal.
Doug: Today is the 8th Super Blog Team-Up and we were once again grateful to be asked to participate. After you leave your comment on today's post, please patronize the blogs of our fellows -- you won't be sorry that you did!
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