Tuesday, 20 August 2019



Although they're not everyone's cup of tea, I really like the early, more simple tales of the Mighty MARVEL superheroes, even with the loopy lapses in logic that they sometimes displayed.  That's probably because, having read them as a kid, I equate them with my childhood and can therefore never be too 'down' on them.  However, when one has a blog to feed, one can't let personal sentiment get in the way when choosing a subject to write about, hence this present post about TALES Of SUSPENSE #44 from way back in 1963.

Actually, I first read the main story when it was reprinted in FANTASTIC #8 in 1967, then again in CREEPY WORLDS #68, then MARVEL COLLECTORS' ITEM CLASSICS #7 (both of which predate Fantastic, but that's the sequence I remember reading them in back in the '60s - though it's possible I read MCIC before CW), and also a few years later ('74) in SPIDER-MAN COMICS WEEKLY #58. I've also got the tale in MASTERWORKS, OMNIBUS, and EPIC COLLECTION volumes, as well as its original printing in TOS #44, so it's only natural that, being so familiar with the story, if there were anything that didn't quite add up about it, I'd have noticed.  And I did.

Okay, so here's the plot.  TONY STARK/IRON MAN visits the past with a revived, 2,000 year old mummy called KING HATAP - known to history and friends and foes alike as The MAD PHARAOH (misspelt 'Pharoah' in its original presentation, and several subsequent reprints).  Hatap, while being besieged by CLEOPATRA's soldiers back in ancient Egypt, had consumed a serum which placed him in a state of suspended animation resembling death. Naturally, as he'd intended, his enemies assumed he'd taken poison to escape his comeuppance (they were only half right) and laid his body to rest. 

(Of course, if he'd been embalmed according to custom, his internal organs would've been removed and placed in jars to be interred alongside him, but there's a couple of preemptive allusions [for the benefit of any readers who know their stuff] as to why this process was sidestepped.  Just as well it was, because if he wasn't dead before, he certainly would've been after.)

Anyway, Hatap, having woken up in the present day, has a magic golden charm which enables him to travel through time, so he decides to go back to the past (along with Stark) and have another crack at attacking Cleopatra and her army, against whom he had rebelled back in the day.  Once there, the bold Tony escapes, changes to Iron Man (for, unlike his visit to KALA's Netherworld the previous issue, he's brought along his attache case this time), and eventually beats Hatap before the Pharaoh can escape to the future (our present).  Using Hatap's magic charm, Stark then returns to his own time before his transistor-powered chest plate which keeps his heart beating runs out of electrical energy.  Got all that?  Good!

But wait a minute.  If Hatap has a magic charm which allows him to travel through time, why didn't he use it to escape Cleopatra the first time, instead of putting himself into suspended animation?  H'mm, perhaps he could only travel to the future (our present, remember) because, having woken up there, he'd already been?  No, that doesn't wash, because if writer R. BERNS (ROBERT BERNSTEIN), had been aware of his lapse in logic, he'd surely have included a bit of expository dialogue to explain things.  (Something like:  I couldn't use the charm before, because I can't travel to a time where I've never existed.)  However, that wouldn't have prevented him from simply travelling a couple of days or so into the past (or even the future) and sidestepping Cleopatra that way.  Although, admittedly, then we'd have had an entirely different story - which wouldn't have included the Golden Avenger.

(Or maybe he couldn't jump a couple of days into the past as then there'd be two of him at the same moment in time?  That can't be it though, because when he travels back with Stark, he's also simultaneously lying in his tomb - in a state of suspended animation sure enough, but yet alive, so there are still two of him co-existing.)

It's not clear whether the incongruity is due to Bernstein's script or to STAN LEE's plot, but it looks like Stan may have tried to dilute the absurdities of the story once it had been drawn, particularly in regard to the magic charm.  When Tony Stark and Hatap are whisked back to the past in a horse-drawn chariot, Stark refers to it as a hypnotic spell, and the chariot as non-existent.  Sure, it's still magic, but the imagery is relegated to mere 'window-dressing', courtesy of Hatap for the sole purpose of impressing Stark.  Well, who'da thunk it - a bad guy with a sense of the dramatic! Incidentally, DON HECK's art is top-notch here, unlike his later, looser, 'floaty' style of the '70s and '80s.  

Anyway, despite the plot not quite withstanding scrutiny, I actually consider this tale one of my favourites.  What about the rest of you?


Bonus material:  There was some last minute amendments to the lettering in a couple of places, which actually highlights the error they were meant to correct.  In one instance, Stark's archaeologist friend asks: Did you know that because of his uncanny knowledge of Black Arts and his ruthless crimes, he was called "The Mad Pharaoh" ?  The name was originally enclosed within quotation marks, but letterer SAM ROSEN placed the question mark within the quotes (unlike me), instead of outside them. Someone obviously spotted the error and had the closed quotes removed before publication, but not the opening ones.  Why not simply put the end quotes in the right place and move the question mark?  Who knows.

But what about the story's title some of you may well be wondering.  After all, the screamer (exclamation mark) is within the quotes.  Ah, yes, but the exclamation mark is meant to be part of the title to lend it emphasis, hence its inclusion within the quotes.  However, when a person is asking a question about a name, the question mark is outside the quotes as it's not part of the name.  For example, were I to ask you whether you liked this particular tale, I'd say:  Did you enjoy the Iron Man story, "The Mad Pharaoh!" ?  (Trust me, I'm a doctor.)

Also, Fantastic #8 spells 'Pharaoh' correctly in a banner on the (X-MEN featured) cover, but fails to correct the spelling inside.  MCIC #7 corrects the spelling, as did the first editions of the Masterworks volume containing the tale.  However, when Marvel decided to make the Masterworks more archival, the spelling mistake was restored.  Only thing is, they didn't have original uncorrected proofs to hand, so they merely relettered the misspelling.  The problem with that is they missed a couple of instances, and the 'restored' relettering was executed with less precision than the original corrections.

And finally (you'll be glad to hear), it looks like the upturned sword that Hatap falls onto at the story's end has been removed from the panel (it can be seen in the previous one, not shown here), with Iron Man describing (for the readers' benefit) what is happening.  This was no doubt due to objections from the COMICS CODE, but as Hatap was falling towards the sword and wasn't actually depicted being impaled on it, they were perhaps being a tad over-cautious on this occasion.    

Any thoughts, Criv-ites, let's hear 'em.


Terranova47 said...

So which came first, this Iron Man comic or Robot Archie?

Kid said...

Robot Archie first appeared in a strip called The Jungle Robot in Lion comic, cover-dated February 23rd 1952, so Archie precedes Tony, T47. The first several strips are on the blog.

Dave S said...

It's interesting to look at some of the early Marvel stories before Stan had figured out what kind of tone they wanted the different comics to have. For instance, Daredevil #2 has DD flying a space rocket, Dr Strange appears to be drawn as an oriental man in his first appearance, Spider-Man faces an alien in a flying saucer in the second issue of his own series before it settles down into a (mostly) street-level crime series with villains more like Dick Tracy baddies than word-conquering despots.

Even the Fantastic Four take a few issues to settle into their familiar appearances, and the early Avengers comics, to me, feel strangely directionless (although this may be explained by the the fact that the Avengers was apparently cobbled together at short-notice to cover for the delayed launch of Daredevil, according to this story https://www.cbr.com/avengers-owe-their-existence-to-a-missed-daredevil-deadline/).

Kid said...

The Terrible Tinkerer story was more likely to be Stan's idea, DS, as he had more input into the early Spidey tales before Steve took over. Aliens didn't fit with Steve's idea of what Spider-Man should be about, going by his later pronouncements.

I'd read a version of the Avengers genesis before, but I think the one I read said that the title was already planned, but merely rescheduled when Bill Everett fell behind on Daredevil. Not sure which version is more accurate.

Terranova47 said...

I thought Robot Archie would be first, which means the early Iron Man costume is nearly plagiarism.

Kid said...

Well, it's only (nearly) plagiarism if it's a deliberate imitation, T47, and Robot Archie looked a bit different in his early days to how he came to look later. And it's unlikely (though not impossible) that Jack Kirby, who designed Iron Man's costume, had ever seen Archie. Besides, the premise is different - one is a robot and one's a guy who wears an iron suit to keep him alive. If you put the first version of Archie next to the first version of Iron Man, any visual similarities aren't that pronounced.

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