Monday, October 12, 2009

Iron Man Makes His Debut - Tales of Suspense #89

When Iron Man first debuted in Tales of Suspense #89, two things about the story were remarkable. One, Iron Man looks like a guy made out of Iron. Two, it was topical. Tony Stark finds himself kidnapped in Vietnam, the prisoner of a band of "Red guerrillas". Doubtless, if DC had done a story like this in 1963, the protagonist would have been the prisoner of purple gorillas. Also, the technology behind Iron Man's amazing suit of armor is based in the real world. Sort of. Seems that Stan Lee and his brother, Larry Lieber, are very excited about that new technological breakthrough, the transistor.

From Wikipedia:

In electronics, a transistor is a semiconductor device commonly used to amplify or switch electronic signals. A transistor is made of a solid piece of a semiconductor material, with at least three terminals for connection to an external circuit. A voltage or current applied to one pair of the transistor's terminals changes the current flowing through another pair of terminals. Because the controlled (output) power can be much more than the controlling (input) power, the transistor provides amplification of a signal.

The transistor is the fundamental building block of modern electronic devices, and is used in radio, telephone, computer and other electronic systems. The transistor is often cited as being one of the greatest achievements in the 20th century, and some consider it one of the most important technological breakthroughs in human history. Some transistors are packaged individually but most are found in integrated circuits.

In fact, they're so excited about transistors, that they mention them 12 times within the 12 pages of this story. Transistors were a revolutionary piece of technology at the time, replacing the much larger and more fragile vacuum tubes and making it possible for teenagers to irritate people at the beach with portable radios.

It should be noted, however, that attaching a transistor to a big horseshoe magnet will not make it fling peoples' rifles away.

The artwork by the much unappreciated Don Heck, is gorgeous.

Anyway, If you haven't already seen the movie, Tony Stark is a weapons manufacturer/inventor who goes to Vietnam to test out some new transistorized small arms he's developed for the U.S. Army. He's wounded and captured by Communist insurgents. The Commies want him to build them some weapons before he dies of the shrapnel he took in the chest.

With the aid of a captured scientist, Stark builds the Iron Man armor from scrap iron and transistors, including the chest piece which keeps the shrapnel from reaching his heart. Transforming himself into the cybernetic superhero Iron Man, Stark defeats the Reds and acquires a new mission in life.

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