Celebrating the Unpopular Arts

One odd issue: Tales of Suspense #84

Coming late in 1966, Tales of Suspense #84 isn’t a bad issue but it’s a very odd one. The first story, “The Other Iron Man” (Stan Lee, Gene Colan) has Tony Stark finally. testify before Sen. Byrd’s committee. He’s running late because he spent one issue flying to Washington, then had to battle the Titanium Man. Having decided to reveal his secret identity, Tony’s stressed out, which coupled with exhaustion from the fight leads to him collapsing.The rest of the issue has Happy, who knows his boss’s double life, donning the Iron Man armor to quell suspicions Tony is secretly Iron Man (Tony having decided his collapse is a sign from above that he should stay mum). It’s quite fun watching Happy try to master the armor but what makes it odd is the scene above. Tony’s wearing a chestplate that’s not his Iron Man chestplate? Since when? It’s always been clear that while he carries the rest of his armor in a briefcase, the chestplate stays on; we saw him covering it up with a shirt right before he flew to Washington.

Once again I find myself wondering if the Marvel method is at fault. Did Colan intend it to be Iron Man’s chestplate and Lee decided that didn’t work so he had the color changed? Happy’s stunt would, after all, be a lot less convincing if there was that much evidence Tony was Iron Man.

Equally weird is Senator Byrd declaring that Tony “has always been a man of honor.” Say, what? Byrd, from the first, has made it clear he thinks Tony’s a worthless playboy taking credit for his staff’s inventions. He doesn’t trust Tony Stark and never showed any sign of respecting him as a man of honor. This is like J. Jonah Jameson testifying to Spider-Man being a good guy. It’s not even necessary for the plot — Byrd could just as easily insist Tony’s faking until the doctor says otherwise.

“The Super-Adaptoid” by Lee and Jack Kirby is more entertaining because it’s one of Kirby’s all-out action issues. Right before SHIELD broke up AIM, the crime cartel unleashed the shapeshifting Adaptoid to replace Captain America. Having failed last issue, the android lies inert while Cap shows it to the other Avengers. As the scene below shows, this did not work out well for Captain America.Captain America, of course, doesn’t back off but the fight goes against him.(The Adaptoid would refer to his ability to clone himself when he shows up in X-Men a couple of months later; it was completely forgotten after that and the Official Handbook writes it off as a delusion).

At the climax the android battles Cap on top of a bridge and hurls the star-spangled Avenger to his doom. What follows looks utterly ridiculous but Kirby almost makes me believe Cap can pull it off.The odd part is that the fight’s not even close: the Super-Adaptoid utterly crushes Cap. That’s unusual because Silver Age Cap embodies the idea that nothing can stop a man who won’t be stopped; it’s almost shocking to see him so thoroughly stopped. Perhaps Lee and Kirby noticed that too because the ending strains to give Cap the win.“He didn’t drown” is setting the bar rather low for “ultimate victory.” It would make sense if the battle resumed next issue but nope, we’re off on an unrelated adventure. Steve doesn’t spend even a second worrying that the Super-Adaptoid is running loose. We know the android has decided to hole up and hide, worried that the lack of orders from AIM (destroyed by SHIELD, remember?) means they want to destroy him (this doesn’t make sense either); Cap, however, doesn’t know that. Nor does he know that the X-Men will take the Super-Adaptoid down soon enough.

I still had fun reading this issue but it’s still a head-scratcher.



  1. Jeff Nettleton

    I think you are missing the broader context to this story and Kirby’s plot, vs what Stan is putting in dialouge and narration. Stan provided guys like Don Heck a written plot and they drew from there and Stan dialogued the finished art. With Kirby & Ditko, they were doing their own plots with minimal input, mostly just a suggestion of a villain or a conversation about what might go on. Observers have noted how, in conversation, Stan would talk about plot elements and Kirby would talk about different plot elements and neither seemed to really listen to what the other is saying. Jack then went off and drew his plot, complete with dialogue suggestions in the margins. Stan then dialogued and wrote narration based on his idea of the plot. The Jack Kirby Collector did a long piece on the variations in Kirby’s original art and the notes written on them vs the published comic.

    Here, Kirby tells a broader story from issue #82-84. In 82, Cap is looking at his scrapbook, living in the past and Jarvis serves him coffee. he then finds himself attacked by old enemies and fighting beside Bucky, seeing Sgt Duffy and more. It turns out that the Adaptoid has replaced and duplicated Jarvis and drugged Cap. he then copies him. Issue 83 has Adaptoid attacked by the Tumbler, who thinks it is Cap and Adaptoid, despite copying his abilities, cannot win the fight. He is knocked unconscious and the revived Cap beats Tumbler. Cap and Jarvis secure the Adaptoid. In 84, the Avengers take a look at the Adaptoid and it copies them and attacks Cap, thinking the overwhelming power will destroy him. it doesn’t, Cap keeps fighting and Adaptoid can’t beat him. he finally manages to pull him loose from a bridge and hurl him across the sky, but he survives the fall.

    I think Kirby’s plot is the Adaptoid is a blank slate, who is learning, by copying. however, he can only copy the external and the abilities, not the mind and the experience and the unique qualities that make the person who they are. In 82, we see soldiers locate the scientist who created the Adaptoid and a metal chamber, that is empty. the scientist says Adaptoid is loose. I don’t think Kirby intended it to be a destroyed AIM base, but a lab destroyed by the Adaptoid, in it’s escape or released by an earthquake or similar. It then learns as it encounters. i think, at the end of 84, it goes off to learn more about humans and their psychological underpinnings, rather than it is recalled by AIM and rebels. I think Stan didn’t have much input to the plot and is trying to retrofit Kirby’s story into what Stan has doing, with AIM.

    Kirby always looked forward and tended to leave concepts behind quicker than others. He also worked in broader strokes, dealing more in abstracts than Stan. I think Stan helped ground him more into details of the story and added more layered personalities to the characters; but, in focusing on the details, Stan missed the bigger picture, sometimes. famously, Kirby intended the Silver Surfer to be a construct created by Galactus, who then learns about humanity. Stan deviated from that when he started writing him, without Kirby, in the Surfer solo series, where he made him a human who sacrificed himself to save his world. Stan was more interested in the nobility of the character, while Kirby was more interested in exploring what makes us human and had Surfer explore that and learn. Stan wanted him to have human thoughts and emotions that he could write, because Kirby’s concepts were too grand for him. I think that is what Kirby was doing here. His Adaptoid is Pinnochio, learning to be a real boy. Stan just saw a weapon created to attack Cap and the Avengers and tried to shoehorn it into the AIM story.

  2. That’s an entirely plausible interpretation of where things fell apart.
    I quite like the Tumbler for being a crook inspired by Captain America’s heroism — if an ordinary, well-trained man can lead the Avengers, why couldn’t the Tumbler lead the underworld?

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