I finished off the December Bento box pile with one I had some minor mixed feelings for: a Marvel Masterworks volume of old 1960s Iron Man adventures.
The mixed feelings were because while I actually get a kick out of Silver Age screwiness, I’m not much of a fan of Iron Man when he’s not also Robert Downey Jr.
Review and maybe some mild SPOILERS after the cut.
Truth be told, I did enjoy this volume very much. I couldn’t tell you why I don’t care much for Iron Man in his comic book adventures. The character just never grabbed me. The one exception was his original run, when Stan Lee and Don Heck were doing the character. I read a few of the old Marvel Essentials, the black and white reprints of their old stuff, and found Iron Man fun in those. Other than that, unless he’s hanging out with the Avengers, I never much cared what Tony Stark was up to.
So, what happened in this book?
Mostly, it was a collection of Iron Man adventures from the old Tales of Suspense comic he used to appear in before the title was changed to his name. Captain America got billing in second adventures after a while, until he graduated to his own book himself.
One of the fun things about these old reprints is seeing where characters came from. This volume actually had the first appearances of both Hawkeye and the Black Widow. And while Hawkeye was more or less the recognizable character he was from the beginning, Black Widow started off as a dark-haired woman spy who, well, just used her feminine wiles to get what she needed for her Soviet masters.
In fact, Hawkeye started off as a bad guy only because when he tried being a hero, he got mistaken for a jewel thief until he ran into Black Widow and was so smitten with her, he was willing to work with her to bring down Iron Man, all while hating her Soviet bosses. She wasn’t fond of them either in her third and final appearance in this volume when she donned a costume for the first time, and only helped them out when Nikita Khrushchev personally threatened to have her elderly parents killed.
Yes, we saw her parents. They looked like a pair of stereotypical Russian peasants.
Here’s the thing: Silver Age comics can be downright painful if you don’t approach them in the right frame of mind. Stan Lee wrote some incredibly melodramatic dialogue here, and attitudes towards race and gender were squarely products of their time and place that would get a person in trouble today.
For example, when the Wasp is holding the Avengers up before a charity event in this book, one character comments, “That’s the trouble with girls–they all act like females!”
Who was this shining example of male thought? Captain America.
And that’s not even getting into the Mandarin’s teeth.
Still, these old adventures have a certain charm. The sheer creativity that went into them may not have been what we today would recognize as, say, accurate science, but Stan, Don, and the rest knew they had to create a full Iron Man adventure within 12-18 pages month after month, and as much as foes like the Scarecrow or the Unicorn don’t seem particularly impressive or dangerous to a guy like Iron Man, that doesn’t mean we can’t enjoy the ride while it lasts.
As such, I’m going to give this volume eight supercharged transistors out of ten. These books should be approached with the right frame of mind, but can be a ton of fun.
On a final note, the volume ends with some of Heck’s work uncolored. I actually thought his uncolored work looked a heck of a lot better than the colored work did. I chalk that up to 1960s coloring techniques. There’s probably a reason I prefer to read these stories in black and white.
NEXT BOX: I have to wait for the January Bento Box to show up, but the theme is supposed to be “GRAY,” where heroes become villains and vice versa.