Despite coming from Stan Lee and Steve Ditko, Tales of Suspense #49 is a mess. Like a lot of the early Marvel I’ve been rereading, it makes me feel the first couple of years were largely coasting on the quality of Spider-Man and Fantastic Four (Dr. Strange, while brilliant, was never one of their big-name draws).
The story opens with Angel flying over Tony Stark’s plant (though the story identifies him at one point as “Anthony Blake”), just as Tony detonates a “deadly atomic explosion,” which is a perfectly logical thing to do when you have a research lab close to urban areas. Bathed in radiation, Angel acquires the proportionate strength and speed of Stark Industries … no, wait … ah, he turns evil, that’s it!You thought Iron Man was tough? Buddy, against a teenage boy with big wings, he’s nothing! Angel flies rings around him, then goes back to the X-Men and informs them he’s cutting out to join the evil mutants (the story reads as if the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants were already a thing). The rest of the team try to stop him but what good are TK, optic blasts and ice against a teenager who can fly? His wings melt Iceman’s ice cage and he effortlessly evades Jean’s TK. And Professor X, whose brainpower crushes Vanisher and the Blob in X-Men #2 and 3 respectively, can’t do anything but telepath Angel to tell him he’s very naughty.
Angel flies around committing random acts of destruction to show the evil mutants he’s now a totally evil badass. A desperate Professor X contacts the Avengers because you need Earth’s mightiest team to take down someone like the Angel. The panels showing the Assemblers treat Hulk as still a member, which makes me wonder if that was still in the cards. Sure, he walked out on them at the end of their second issue, but Johnny Storm quit the FF, too; it would be typical Marvel for him to return. Or maybe Ditko didn’t get clear instructions from Lee.
Alas, all the Avengers are somewhere with lousy cell phone reception so the only one who picks up the call is Iron Man (who seems fully aware of who Professor X is). Can Tony Stark, the greatest tech genius of our age, equipped with the most sophisticated armor of any age, hold his own alone against the might of the Angel? As it turns out, no — but not to worry, Iron Man lets himself fall out of the sky in the middle of this Clash of Titans, shocking the Angel back to normal in time to save his life. It’s all good! Well, except the story.
Dreadful as it was, it’s part of a marked trend that month (October of ’63, cover-dated January ’64). Up to this point Marvel really hasn’t done any more than DC to create a coherent universe; if anything DC was ahead of the game, with things like the first team-up comic. This month, though, we have the FF guest-starring in Spider-Man, the Thing guest-starring in the Torch’s Strange Tales strip and the Avengers soliciting help from Spider-Man, the FF and the X-Men in Avengers #3.
I don’t think this was a deliberate creative choice. Okay, maybe Spidey picking a fight with the Torch was — Peter could be a jerk in those days — but the Angel’s appearance in TOS was obviously to promote the new X-Men book. The Thing appearing in Strange Tales was, I assume, to boost sales (he joined the strip soon after) and I agree with Brian Cronin that the Avengers issue uses the guest-stars mostly to pad the story. Nevertheless, it does create the feeling that the whole Marvel line is, in fact, a Marvel Universe, where characters know each other and bump into each other.
And, of course, punch each other. Three out of the four stories involve heroes fighting each other for one reason or another. Not that this is unique to Marvel — Flash and Green Lantern were fighting in their first team-up — but it foreshadows how “hero vs. hero” would become an annoying cliché. But that, of course, would be a ways down the road. For October of ’63, “The New Iron Man Meets the Angel” was annoying enough.
#SFWApro. Cover by Kirby, interior art by Ditko.