Celebrating the Unpopular Arts

Surprisingly grim for 1965

Tales of Suspense #73 has Gene Colan take over the art/plotting on Iron Man from Don Heck and it’s an immediate improvement. Heck was never comfortable with doing the plotting in addition to the art; Colan, using his Adam Austin pseudonym (which inspired an Earth-616 character years later), seems to feel more at home with the “Marvel method.”

The story has the long-awaited return of the Black Knight — okay, nobody really cared — kidnapping Happy to lure Shellhead into a trap. Happy is already on the critical list, having stepped on a landmine while helping Iron Man against the Titanium Man. Blaming himself, Iron Man’s not going to stop fight for his friend, even when his transistors run low. Worse, one of the Black Knight’s weapons overloads the armor’s circuits, so Tony has to shut them down for a few seconds despite the strain that puts on his heart.

With Happy’s life on the line, it’s not surprising Tony gets drastic, but even though I’ve read it before, I’m a little shocked how drastic it got.Iron Man, as you can see, yanks the Black Knight off his horse for a fatal fall. No “well, we’re over water so he’ll probably survive” rationalizations, no “I thought I could grab him before he fell,” just a desperate decision that killing him is the only way to save Happy. That said, it looks later in the story like the trees may have broken the Black Knight’s fall. As we’d learn later, they did but his injuries were still fatal.

I don’t feel this raises any massive ethical quandaries — dragging a dying man from a hospital bed purely for bait doesn’t entitle the Black Knight to much sympathy — but it’s still striking for the time (or even now, after Civil War turned Tony into a complete shit). I also like the last few panels, below. If I’d read this as a kid, ‘d have been totally pumped for the next issue

#SFWApro. All art by Gene Colan.


  1. Edo Bosnar

    What strikes me the most is the storytelling crutch that seemed to be used constantly in Iron Man stories in the 1960s: the fact that his armor’s ‘low battery’ light was always flashing, so he was always saying things like “I — I’m done for…”

    1. It doesn’t bother me most of the time as it was baked into the character from the beginning but yes, Heck/Lee did rely on that an awful lot. Archie Goodwin replacing Tony’s damaged heart with an artificial one was, I think, a good call.

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