Channel Awesome
Tales of Suspense #39

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November 12, 2012
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Tony Stark – Billionaire playboy genius philanthropist... who is obsessed with transistors.

Linkara: Hello, and welcome to Atop the Fourth Wall, where bad comics burn. And welcome back, my friends, to "Secret Origins Month 3"!

(Secret Origins Month title is shown)

Linkara: Today, we're looking at the origins of a character who was intentionally designed to be the guy that everybody hated: Iron Man!

(Shots of a comic are shown, where Spider-Man is a wanted man)

Linkara (v/o): The majority of my viewership tends to be pretty young people around my age, with outliers being teenagers or people in their 30s to 40s. Most of you grew up in the late '80s or early '90s, along with me. We live in a different age than our parents and grandparents: different methods of communications, different ideals, and frankly, an overall different way of life. I'm not a sociologist, but basically, I think these days we live in a post-9/11 society, focused around the threat of terrorism and the fears of freedom being curtailed in the hopes of security. Sure, we still have a large percentage of the population who protest or organize movements against the power corporations tend to wield, for good or for ill, but it's hard to call it a counterculture movement in the way the '60s had it and just how many friggin' young people were engaged in it and how many members who ascribed to many of those ideologies were comic book fans.

(Cut to a clip of a movie involving youth protests in the 1960s)

Linkara (v/o): Back then, corporations were one part of it, but the movement was against any power structures whatsoever, particularly the government or the military. To be part of them was to be "The Man", and not in the good "Dude, you're the man!" kind of way. You were a part of the system that was actively trying to oppress them, as far as they were concerned anyway. And when superheroes actively bucked at authority...

(Cut back to the Spider-Man comic)

Linkara (v/o): taking the law into their own hands or represented a demographic that was hated and feared, naturally, superheroes were identifiable to young people, especially if they felt they were being oppressed. That fear of oppression was not entirely unfounded when Hollywood actually possessed a literal list of people who were not allowed to work in the entertainment industry because of their political affiliations...

(Cut to a shot of the cover of "Seduction of the Innocent")

Linkara (v/o): ...or when Congress was holding hearings about concerns that Batman and Robin lived a sinful lifestyle that was destroying America's youth, forcing the comic book industry...

(Cut to a shot of an image of the Comics Code Authority)

Linkara (v/o): impose their own censorship group, the now-defunct Comics Code Authority.

Linkara: Where am I going with all of this? Well, in 1963, Stan Lee came up with the idea of creating a hero who represented everything that the young readership hated... and then make those readers sympathize with him. Stan Lee, the original troll!

(Cut to past comics Linkara reviewed involving women in central roles)

Linkara (v/o): It's admittedly a tricky idea to begin with, anyway. For example, you'll recall that we've looked at plenty of comics featuring characters that are supposed to be feminists – and missing the point entirely, primarily because the writers and artists are not feminists themselves, know nothing of feminist philosophy, and assume that feminism just means "women who hate men, but aren't necessarily lesbians", except when they are, because drawing lesbians is hot.

(Cut to a shot of Stan Lee)

Linkara (v/o): Stan Lee was not rich, was not an active member of the military, and was not an industrialist. And as we've mentioned before, he's written Spider-Man comics where Spidey was supportive of the counterculture movement, so chances are, he wasn't exactly sympathetic to this character's alignments to begin with. This could have easily created a character who was more caricature than real life.

(A shot of an early Iron Man comic is shown)

Linkara (v/o): Still, great writers can overcome these kinds of things and understand an opposing viewpoint, even if they disagree with it. I should also point out that although the initial idea was Lee...

(Cut to a shot of Stan's brother Larry Lieber)

Linkara (v/o): was developed along with his younger brother, Larry Lieber...

(Cut to shots of John Kirby and Don Heck)

Linkara (v/o): ...and artists Jack Kirby and Don Heck. Lee had intended to write the book himself, but deadlines and other works forced him to give it to Larry to handle.

Linkara: So let's dig into (holds up today's comic) "Tales of Suspense #39" and see how they pulled this off.

(AT4W title sequence plays, and title card has "Iron Man" by Black Sabbath playing in the background. Cut to a closeup of the comic's cover)

Linkara (v/o): Jack Kirby drew the cover of the book and thus also designed the original look for Iron Man, which kind of makes him look like he has a silver jack-o-lantern face.

Linkara: (trying to imitate the jack-o-lantern face) I am Iron Man!

Linkara (v/o): While Kirby was responsible for the initial look of the suit, because the book's interiors were drawn by Don Heck, he gets the credit for Tony Stark and the other characters. The cover itself is not exactly great in my mind. In theory, this could work for a comic's interiors, but the three panels on the side, with the various parts of the Iron Man suit being pulled off, don't exactly work for building suspense. The idea is to build wonder about what this thing is – except we have the finished look of the guy right there, where our eyes are drawn instantly to on the cover. As a result, we're looking at the order here backwards.

Text: Who? Or what, is the newest, most breath-taking [sic], most sensational super-hero [sic] of all...?

Linkara: (dramatically) Email this address (said email is: "") to cast your votes now!

Text: Who? WHO? WHO?

Linkara: I think this season of Doctor Who needs to be a bit more subtle about pushing the whole show title thing.

Text: He lives! He walks! He conquers!

Linkara (v/o): You know, he does kind of look like Lord Vyce, the old bucket-head.

(Cut briefly to a shot of the cover of "Marvel Firsts: The 1960s")

Linkara (v/o): Anyway, I should note that while I am reading this from the "Marvel First: The 1960s" trade paperback...

(Cut back to the original cover)

Linkara (v/o): ...the scans are from a DVD copy that Marvel released that featured pretty much every Iron Man story printed up to that point, much like the Star Trek DVD I've talked about before. I don't know how many of these there are, though I do know that there's also a Spider-Man set of DVDs that follows the same premise.

(The comic opens to the first page)

Linkara (v/o): We open on a splash page featuring Iron Man in his original, bulky, robotic form... parting the Red Sea, I guess. Or maybe he's working on his drapes; I can't really tell what these things are.

Narrator: Watch his awesome approach! Listen to his ponderous footsteps as he lumbers closer... closer...

Linkara: (as narrator) And closer... And... I really oversold this whole walking thing, didn't I? (sighs) He's really taking his sweet time getting here. Anyone want to order a pizza?

Narrator: ...for today you are destined to encounter-- the invincible Iron Man!!

Linkara: Oh, yeah, sure, they say he's invincible now, but wait until they try to offer you the extended warranty.

Linkara (v/o): We truly open in...

Narrator: ...a secluded area somewhere in the U.S. defense perimeter...

Linkara (v/o): Well, that's nice and specific.

Narrator: ...there stands a closely guarded building... the laboratory of Anthony Stark!

Linkara (v/o): Oh, yeah, I mean, look how well-guarded it is. We've got, like, one guy right there.

Guard 1: Boy! That guy Stark must really rate to get a twenty-four hour guard!

Linkara: Wait, that one guard has to stand there for 24 hours? When does he eat?

Guard 2: He rates alright! The Commies would give their eyeteeth to know what he's working on!

Linkara: Eyeteeth? What the hell are eyeteeth supposed to be?

(An image of the Corinthian, with teeth in his eyes, is shown)


Linkara (v/o): We cut inside, where Tony is giving a presentation. The last time we had Iron Man in a comic, people were wondering why I wasn't doing the drunk Tony Stark voice.

(Cut to an "Ulimates 3" comic)

Linkara (v/o): Well, the thing is that in the Ultimate Universe, Tony Stark is always drinking something, and being drunk was so a part of his character that even a robot duplicate was boozing it up.

(Cut to a shot of a mainstream Iron Man comic)

Linkara (v/o): Mainstream universe Tony Stark, however, actually has had frequent problems with his alcoholism, particularly the classic storyline, "Demon In a Bottle!" As such, it felt kind of insensitive to treat him as a lush in this universe.

Linkara: Buuuut since this is the first comic ever with him, and since it takes place before that storyline, (gives a thumbs-up) bring on drunk Tony Stark!

(Throughout the video, Stark/Iron Man is speaking in a drunken tone, with slurred speech and everything)

Stark: General, you will see my tiny transistor increase the power of this small magnet so tremendously, that it will open that locked vault!

Linkara: (as Stark, holding a wrapped bottle in his hand) Of course a secret transistor could do that! I'm a scientist, you know! (pretends to take a swig)

Linkara (v/o): The General doesn't buy it, but indeed Stark turns on a tiny little magnet, and they see the vault door starting to budge.

Stark: My tiny transistors are so powerful that... they can increase force of any device... a thousandfold!

Linkara: (as Stark) And a thousandfold is like a million! But not as much.

Stark: Now do you believe that the transistors I've invented are capable of solving your problem in Vietnam?

NC: (as the General) Brilliant, Stark! We'll pull their belt buckles off and their pants will fall down, embarrassing them into submission!

General: Stark, after what I've just seen, I'm ready to believe anything!

Linkara: (as the General) I now believe in magic elves that come from the moon!

Linkara (v/o): A lengthy caption invites us to start learning more about Tony Stark himself.

Narrator: Anthony Stark... rich, handsome, known as a glamorous playboy, constantly in the company of beautiful, adoring women...

Linkara: (as narrator) Catching all sorts of venereal diseases from those women.

Narrator: Yes, Anthony Stark is both a sophisticate and a scientist!

Linkara: (as Peter Parker) Only a science major could go to this many high-class parties!

Narrator: A millionaire playboy*, as much at home in a laboratory as in high society!

  • NOTE: The narrator actually says "A millionaire bachelor," not "A millionaire playboy."

Linkara: (as narrator) Until he knocked over that beaker full of heavy water and then became the fastest man alive.

Narrator: Our tale really has its beginning halfway around the world, in a South Vietnam jungle, menaced by Wong-Chu, the red guerrilla tyrant.

Linkara: (laughs, then massages his forehead uncomfortably) Oh, geez, this is gonna get awkward.

Wong-Chu: Hah! I have brought another village to its knees! Now for the wrestling match!

(Cut to a clip of The Self-Destruction of the Ultimate Warrior)

Ultimate Warrior: (throwing his head up and down) YOU CAN FEEL IT, TOO! YOU CAN FEEL IT!

(Cut back to the comic)

Narrator: If any prisoner can defeat Wong-Chu, I free whole village!

Linkara: Yeah, little-known fact: the Vietnam War was actually waged in wrestling bouts. (nods, then shrugs in confusion)

Linkara (v/o): The villagers try to fight the dude, but they're too busy being flipped completely upside-down.

Wong-Chu: Ah, you are good! But Wong-Chu better!

Linkara: (as Wong-Chu) Wong-Chu only use predicates and pronouns when feel like it!

Linkara (v/o): You may noticed all the Vietnamese in this comic are partially tinted yellow, and in the background, we can see this bucktoothed fellow. Thanks, 1963. Just thanks. While Wong-Chu is basically pillaging, at the outskirts of the jungle, Tony Stark is with the military to provide technical support to their new weapons: mortars no larger than flashlights and as light as them, too. Oh! (scoffs) Yeah, I remember how we totally won the Vietnam War with those and stuff. Well, that, and Dr. Manhattan just vaporizing people for the hell of it, anyway. The weapons cause the guerrillas, who are all dressed in very obvious brown clothing to withdraw. However, Stark, in his drunken stupor, trips on a wire that activates a booby trap, which appears to be a cloud of gas. I guess whatever the hell it was killed the military personnel with Stark since he's found a few minutes later by the guerrillas.

Linkara: Ah, I see where this is going. He's gonna learn their ways and realize he's been fighting on the wrong side this whole time and join forces with the peaceful natives to fight off the invaders.

(Cut to the title card for this episode as we go to a commercial)

Linkara (v/o): We'll be right back after these commercials.

(The image fades out as we go to a commercial. After that, the title card returns as we resume the review)

Guerrilla: Yankee civilian still alive! Him maybe important official of government! I bring him to Wong-Chu! Maybe get reward!

Linkara (v/o): You know, I really don't get this kind of thing. Why would they be speaking broken English? I have to presume they're speaking Vietnamese to each other, and I hope would they could speak their own language with proper grammatical structure!

Because Poor Literacy... Exists in All Languages.

Linkara (v/o): They bring Tony to their headquarters, where apparently Wong-Chu was smoking a paintbrush. I especially love how his pinkie finger is extended while he smokes it.

Wong-Chu: His papers reveal he is famous Yankee weapons inventor!

Linkara: (as Wong-Chu) What a very strange name for a man. Do you think the other kids picked on him?

Wong-Chu: How is he?

Guerrilla: Bad! Much shrapnel near his heart! Impossible to operate! Cannot live longer than one week!

Linkara: (as guerrilla) Apparently, we can't speak our own language very well, but we skilled doctors. Go figure.

Guerrilla: In a few days shrapnel will reach his heart-- then he will die! Nothing can save him!

Wong-Chu: Bah! We can use his genius! Wong-Chu will trick him into spending his last days on Earth working for us!

Linkara: (as Wong-Chu) Wong-Chu like to speak in third person! Wong-Chu like Tarzan!

Linkara (v/o): Wong-Chu lies to Tony and says that his surgeons can save his life, but he'll only order them to do it if he agrees to make weapons for them. Tony doesn't buy it, since he figures if they could save him, they'd do it right away to make sure he was alive long enough to finish the weapons.

Stark: (thinking) I know I've only days to live, but my last act will be to defeat this grinning, smirking Red terrorist! (speaking) All right, Wong-Chu, I'll do it!

Linkara: (as Stark) I'll need a constant supply of martinis dripping into (?) my veins.

Wong-Chu: Here room where you work! Plenty of scrap iron! Plenty tools!

Linkara: (as Wong-Chu) You build fast go-kart! Win race! Save community center!

Stark: This I promise you... I shall build the most fantastic weapon of all time!

Linkara: (as Stark) I'll give 'em (?) shops that'll knock you on your ass!

Stark: (thinking) I'll build it alright, but it will be mine... --made for only one purpose-- to keep me alive!

Linkara: (as Stark): I mean, for crying out loud, I didn't see a single distillery around here.

Linkara (v/o): Later, Wong-Chu tosses in a scientist named Professor Yinsen, another prisoner of his who refuses to help the "evil Red tyrants". (as Stark) Professor Yinsen, in college I read your books! You were the greatest physisi... physisis... science guy of all!!

Linkara: (as Stark) I was especially fond of your "Idiot's Guide to Physics" series!

Linkara (v/o): Stark reveals his plan to Yinsen.

Yinsen: An iron man! Fantastic! A mighty, electronic body, to keep your heart beating after the shrapnel reaches it!

Linkara: What a great idea! The heart will start pumping out copious amounts of blood into his chest because of all the holes the shrapnel caused! (beat) Wait, what?

Linkara (v/o): Naturally, Wong-Chu's men never bother watching the two to make sure they're not doing something like this.

Stark: I've done extensive work with transistors! I can design them in any size to perform any function!

Linkara: (as Yinsen) Can you make a transistor into a girlfriend? (as Stark) Well, okay, not any function. (as Yinsen) What about a transistor-powered potato salad? (as Stark) Look, shut up! You know what I meant!

Linkara (v/o): As the days pass, Tony feels things getting worse for him.

Stark: I can feel the pressure! My time is running out!

Linkara (v/o): Yes, I can tell the shrapnel is getting worse for you because of... uh, your headache. Maybe the cure for shrapnel in your heart is just Alka-Seltzer.

Yinsen: There! The self-lubrication system is completed!

Linkara (v/o): Yyyyeah, I'm not gonna touch that one. He does finish up the work on it, and as long as the iron suit is active, he should be able to keep on living. However, a warning light starts flashing.

Yinsen: The warning light we installed-- it flashes! Someone is approaching!

Linkara: (as Stark) Yeah, I was gonna ask about that. Did we really need to spend three days installing that? (as Yinsen) Oh, come on! It's not like we were on a time crunch or anything. (stops as he realizes they were on a time crunch) Oh, wait... (looks away)

Linkara (v/o): Realizing that it must be Wong-Chu, Yinsen decides to sacrifice himself to buy Tony enough time to get his body online. He runs out into the corridor and starts screaming...


Linkara (v/o): And despite the fact that that's all Yinsen has been talking about since he got here, Wong-Chu decides that Yinsen has gone nuts and has him shot down.

Stark: (thinking) You will not have died in vain, my friend! I swear it! The Iron Man swears it!

Linkara: (as Stark, lying on the floor, raising his finger in the air) The Iron Man swears it! (reaches both hands up) Now, how the hell do I lift this thing up?

Linkara (v/o): And thus, Iron Man rises and starts walking around in the suit.

Iron Man: (thinking) And the transistor-powered circuits are coordinated with my brain waves, just as any living human's brain controls his own body! (speaking) B-But I'm losing my balance!

Linkara: (as Iron Man, pretending to stumble) Oh, no! The suit is as drunk as I am! (falls over)

Linkara (v/o): He quickly learns how to start walking around while Wong-Chu and his men try to bust down the locked door. Wait, the door locks from the inside? Wong-Chu, you didn't have anybody watching them, you put them in a room where they could lock themselves in... Are you good for anything aside from wrestling people? Also, his men suck at breaking down doors, since Tony Stark has time to go into the melancholy phase of his drunkenness.

Iron Man: (thinking) My brain still thinks! My heart still beats! But, in order to remain alive, I must spend the rest of my life in this iron prison!!

Linkara (v/o): This was the idea that Stan Lee had: a guy who represented everything that the young readers hated, but you sympathize with him because he was teetering on the edge of death if he ever removed his chest plate. Now, eventually, they did cure him of the need to wear the outfit, but by that point, readers just liked the guy in general. But enough pathos; it's time for silliness!

Iron Man: (thinking) They'll soon be thru [sic] the door... I must conceal myself until I can plan my next move!

Linkara: (as Iron Man) Good thing I installed that cloaking device! Oh, wait, that was just an hallucination after the third bottle of vodka.

Iron Man: (thinking) Fortunately, Yinsen and I equipped my iron body with many attachments, such as these!

Linkara: (as Iron Man) I can open beer cans and I have a tiny screwdriver. Oh, (holds out hand) and a spring-loaded missile launcher.

Iron Man: (thinking) I'll fasten these suction cups to my palms and turn on my transistor-powered air-pressure jets! (speaking) They work! They give me the power to soar into the air!

(As we cut back to Linkara, the sound of a roaring rocket engine is heard)

Linkara: (as Iron Man, loudly) AND THEY'RE QUIET, TOO!

Linkara (v/o): So Iron Man uses the suction cups to attach himself to the ceiling and... pretend he's just the ceiling fan, I guess.

Iron Man: (thinking) They don't dream of looking up here in the shadows!

Linkara (v/o); Oh, yeah, I mean, look at just how poorly lit this room is. I'm seeing lots of shadows that can fit a GIANT, ARMORED SUIT!!

Wong-Chu: The Yankee is gone! He has built us no weapons!

Linkara: (as Wong-Chu) I wonder if I should tilt my head up slightly. (beat, then waves dismissively) Nah, not worth the effort.

Wong-Chu: (to the guerrillas) While you hunt down Yankee, I shall amuse at favorite sport.

Linkara: (as a guerrilla, holding a machine gun) But, sir, cheerleading is not a sport. (as Wong-Chu) Well, it should be, damn it! With such complex moves and the potential for injury, it needs protection as sport!

Linkara (v/o): After the idiots leave, Tony comes across a lab coat, which conveniently fits him, and a hat, planning his next move. Outside, Wong-Chu finishes wrestling another guy, but someone comes up, challenging him. And just like in Ninja Turtles, a big coat and hat completely conceal your identity.

Wong-Chu: Show yourself! Let me see the face of the one I am about to destroy!

Iron Man: (wearing the disguise) As you wish, tyrant! First, I shall remove my clothes...

(Cut to JewWario, Phelous and Benzaie looking at a book by George Takei)

JewWario: Oh, my!

(Back to the comic again)

Linkara (v/o): Wong-Chu is naturally shocked by the appearance.

Wong-Chu: You--You are not human! You are machine!!

Linkara: (in his "I AM A MAN" pose) I AM AN IRON MAN!

(He reaches out and punches off-screen, as always. He then pulls in what it is he had punched: Iron Man's helmet. He is amused)

Linkara: Huh. You know, I was gonna expect something a lot worse after the last time I–

(Suddenly, a bright, blinding flash of light explodes out of the helmet, briefly blinding Linkara)

Linkara: (looking away with his eyes covered) OH, SON OF A BITCH!!

Linkara (v/o): With the enhanced strength of the armor, Tony manages to lift up Wong-Chu and then cartoonishly spin him around before tossing him away. Wong-Chu is naturally pissed, possibly because he's not wearing any shoes in the jungle, and orders his men to fire on him without any success. He then orders them to get grenades and bazookas, but Iron Man uses "reverse magnetism" to send all of their weapons away. The guerrillas panic and run off, Wong-Chu heading for a tower to yell his orders over a loudspeaker. However, one of the many other things they apparently decided to install in the armor is an antenna that allows him to create electrical interference and drown out Wong-Chu's speaker with static. He then somehow manipulates his own voice to sound like Wong-Chu's and orders all his men to flee into the jungle. He charges after Wong-Chu, who throws down a file cabinet filled with rocks down a flight of stairs at him. Okay, either he had a bunch of rocks just sitting inside the tower or that file cabinet was already filled with rocks. Why? And Wong-Chu runs off to execute all the prisoners that he now has, I guess.

Iron Man: But no drawers filled with rocks can hold back iron limbs powered by electronic transistors!

Linkara: (exasperated) Okay, Tony, we get it! Transistors are awesome! I will give all my money to companies that make them! Geez!

Linkara (v/o): Getting the file cabinet filled with rocks off of him apparently took up most of his remaining power, and he can't pursue Wong-Chu. However, seeing Wong-Chu is running near an ammo dump, he shoots out a stream of oil near it and lights up the trail, blowing up... uh, I guess the entire camp, since seconds later, we see the entire place is in ruins.

Iron Man: I have set the prisoners free...

Linkara: (as Iron Man) Free from their petty, insignificant lives! (cackles)

Iron Man: It's all over! Now, Professor Yinsen, rest easy! You, who sacrificed your life to save mine, have been avenged!

Linkara: (as Iron Man) I'm sure your family would've wanted your body for burial, but... (shrugs) eh, whatever.

Linkara (v/o): And so, our story ends with Iron Man apparently finding some pants and the trenchcoat and hat again, walking off into the jungle to seek help, because he is completely inconspicuous in that white outfit in a green jungle.

Linkara: This is actually a pretty good origin for Tony Stark, aside from a few hiccups.

Linkara (v/o): There's some silliness, like the overuse of the word "transistor" for being able to do all the crap they do here, and the portrayal of the villains is a bit racist when you get right down to it. The one big problem with the origin is its timeframe, since it's set explicitly in the Vietnam War. As time has moved on, they've tended to transplant the origin to the next nearest war.

(Cut to a clip of the Iron Man movie was Robert Downey, Jr., as Stark)

Linkara (v/o): For example, I think they've also moved it to the first Gulf War, and as demonstrated in the Iron Man movie, to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

(Cut back to the comic)

Linkara (v/o): Tony Stark was modeled as kind of being like Howard Hughes, only less, you know, insane, and he does come across as a complete genius with all the stuff they've shoved into the suit in such a limited amount of time. There's nothing explicitly evil about Tony, though, which helps make him a likable figure, especially contrasted with the cartoonish villainy of Wong-Chu.

Linkara: Next time, we'll be getting into another team origin, though one that's a bit different than what we've looked at before, since we'll be dealing with characters who were already established in other books. Why them, in this instance? (smiles suggestively) Well...

Background singers: Teen Titans, go!

(End credits roll)

You guys do know that the Black Sabbath song actually has nothing to do with the comics character, right?

You know, come to think of it, Iron Man COULD have made for an awesome WWF wrestler!

(Stinger: The panel showing Iron Man blowing up the camp is shown)

Linkara (v/o): (as Iron Man) Yep, I totally freed those prisoners. I certainly didn't just get drunk or anything and forget all about them.