As a set of images, the twelve page Iron Man stories of Tales of Suspense- in particular, the ones with America versus Russian intrigue simplified as “Iron Man versus the Titanium Man”-are mostly rock’em, sock’em fisticuffs and ray beams, wreaking more destruction upon one another than their surroundings.
Their return bout had resembled the first, though it was a surprise attack rather than a world-televised match. Adoring, hopeful fans of ol’ Shellhead, as nicknamed by writer Stan Lee, gaze on in panels between, faces full of fear, wonder, anxiety, speculation. As they recur among the pages of fighting, they resemble a very involved audience of sports fans. Tales of Suspense #82-84 feature a duel above the Capitol Building in Washington, D.C., with mayhem a plenty but little carnage. Except for the oft-scene moment, represented by Tony Stark’s secretary and near-paramour Pepper Potts here, where a bystander becomes a temporary hostage who fuels the hero’s angry perseverance, there’s little more danger than in Titanium Man’s first appearance a year before in T.O.S. #69-71. Titanic struggle to be sure...but by image alone, little consequence. After all...it’s got to be all right for the kids.
But in the script for this simplistic, child-like confrontation, the characters inject the danger, the melodramatic level of threat. Speaking more to the actual theme, there’s a symbolic depiction where hero and villain- almost indistinguishable for pages at a time, save perhaps for Iron Man’s smaller size by comparison-represent what was thought of, in 1966, as entirely conflicting ways of life. Presciently, they evoke the futuristic championship of combat through technology- a melding of warriors, weaponry, and advanced engineering. War was already transforming into a mechanized, computerized affair more than fifty years ago- though the men put in harm’s way, who they were and the purpose of that danger, would become the crux of a transformation in how culture reflected patriotism, loyalty, and the very values of not only heroism, but those by which the veneer of civilization might continue.
By the time Titanium Man returns for his annual gladiatorial combat with the titular hero, 1967 will be a year where protests about our nation’s military draft storm the coasts. Young readers of Iron Man, and Marvel in general, are becoming increasingly older, more literate- more opinionated. While much of rural America continues under the values of the post-Depression era tradition, the alignment of good versus evil will require increasing nuance in popular culture- generally an apolitical affair up til this time. Stan Lee’s way of writing in these shades of differentiation, while still requiring clear villains and heroes, is fairly inventive, maybe more sophisticated than was expected, however out of touch aspects of it seemed in the wash of ideals of conversation, critical thinking, and peace (ever rejected by further parties).
What’s interesting is the oft-cited faith in technology and reason to pave a way into the uncertain future that marked our space race years. Technology and reason have continued afoot, but what’s depressingly clear is that warfare has also taken claim of both to invent new ways of sabotage and chaos, typified closely by the election computer hacking and counter-hacking engagement. I realize the very existence of that body of facts is under fundamental, culturally-divided debate in today’s society. Bear with my level of imagination as I work with the documentation of events in a way I consider reputable and try to piece together a discussion that will touch upon visions from conflicting sides of the divide, as relating to a run of old comic books.
In our next post, we’ll center our look on Tales Of Suspense #92-94 in 1967, where Stan humanizes the nation caught in the middle of our Cold War, with some industrious storytelling for its time. Military-organized and affiliated heroes will come into fashion in the 90’s, but independent operator Iron Man’s very clearly trusted by American soldiers scripted with loyalty and support by their New York-born writer. We’ll also branch out to plots in the couple of years before and afterwards, and touch upon how that era of Iron Man reflects opinions of the American Military-Industrial Complex, and its confederate intelligence agents, refracted more strongly- and strangely- than that time’s contemporary comics, in great controversies of today, when the Russo-American rivalry seems revived in a manner that finally connects with widespread conversation again, as it did in the 1960’s.
Evolution of a Bogey Man
Thirty, forty years ago, some commentators in fandom, particularly those schooled in counter-culture, might have viewed the jingoistic propaganda related to the millionaire protagonist of Iron Man and his milieu, apologetically, with bemusement. The era of Glasnost and the collapse of the Soviet Union threatened to make these stories passe period pieces. Yet, the Russian government has been- American government, also, has been- involved in affecting elections across the world, through psychological operations, military intervention, funding, sanctions, and alliances. Sometime in the 1990s, Russian mobsters began appearing in America’s economy and crime fiction, even as top Mafia families began to unravel due to F.B.I. efforts to flip witnesses and gather data.
Stabilizing and de-stabilizing governments is a deadly game that’s continued on, with grave consequences for nations like Syria, where Russia has established a no-fly zone excluding NATO. And now, as summer begins in the United States, the news reveals irregularities assessed regarding specific targets, such as Dallas County in Texas, where suspicious IP’s, warned about previously in a list of 600, appeared amid voter record databases. At the time of this writing, we’ve learned of the Obama-authorized cyber bomb contingency. This plan? AS per the Washington Post: Deploying implants developed by the NSA which can be detonated within the Russian infrastructure, in an emergency, which has yet to be determined by the present administration.
The Washington Post today (6/23) reported an uptick in visas applied for from Russian tech experts to work temporarily in Russian facilities, noticed by the F.B.I. and delayed by the State Department until after the last election. Wired magazine’s July cover story depicts Ukraine’s cyber invasion- a national test lab for Russia to hone cyber weapons, discredit their institutions and show them as a failed state, while testing red lines- hacking and seeing how far they can push, and where they’re stopped- pushing more!
Suddenly our subject matter is both of its time- yet, seems in touch with this strange era of Russo-American intrigue.
Be informed: it’s an age of digital warfare. The Titanium Man of today’s a wave of computer experts- a real life show of technological strength and superiority, done not with a giant armored super villain, but subtle taps of keyboards that shake world governments to the core.
Coming soon: 1967, Iron Man in Viet Nam