SPOTLIGHT ON
IRON MAN & CAPTAIN AMERICA IN
TALES OF SUSPENSE #88
(APRIL 1966)

 

 

Cover pencils & inks- Gil Kane
Cover Colours - NN (possibly Stan Goldberg)
Cover Lettering - Sam Rosen
Editor - Stan Lee

 

IRON MAN
"Beyond All Rescue!"
(12 pages)

Story - Stan Lee
Art - Ge
ne Colan
Inks -
Frank Giacoia
Colours - NN
Lettering - Artie Simek

CAPTAIN AMERICA
"If Bucky Lives...!"
(10 pages)

Story - Stan Lee
Art -
Gil Kane
Inks -
Gil Kane
Colours - NN
Lettering -
Sam Rosen

 

 

SYNOPSIS
! SPOILER ALERT !

IRON MAN

Continued from Tales of Suspense #87, where the Mole Man used a device to cause the ground beneath the Stark Industries factory to cave in and the building to sink into the ground, thus enabling him to capture an atomic powered "earth borer"...

Iron Man, who was in one of the now collapsed buildings, now discovers that Pepper Potts was also in the factory, and they both soon find themselves attacked by the Mole Man's Moloids.

As comic book villains are apt to do, the Mole Man explains his intentions at great length, giving Iron Man enough time and wiggle room to fight off the Moloids. However, the Mole Man then unleashes a fire breathing dragon and, while Iron Man fights off this beast, kidnaps Pepper and takes her back to the boring device.

When Iron Man (having defeated the creature) catches up with them again, the Mole Man orders him to show him how the boring device works in exchange for Peppers life. Iron Man uses a ruse and actually instructs the Mole Man how to cause the device to overload and explode, escaping with Pepper just before all is blown up, seemingly killing the Mole Man in the process.

SYNOPSIS
! SPOILER ALERT !

CAPTAIN AMERICA

At Avengers Mansion, Captain America receives a distress call from somebody who appears to be Bucky, telling him that he's been a prisoner for all these years on a remote island. Cap races off to the rescue of his trusted WWII sidekick, not knowing that he is being lured straight into a trap, with the Swordsman and Power Man having been recruited to face off against Captain America upon his arrival...

When Captain America arrives on the remote island he quickly realizes that in order to save Bucky's life he first has to battle it out with both costumed villains. He defeats both of them easily but then finds himself trapped in what seems to be an indestructible transparent bubble.

As Cap is struggling but essentially helpless, the villain who employed the Swordsman and Powerman reveals himself. The story continues on from this cliffhanger in the next issue, where readers will learn that it is the Red Skull who has trapped Captain America...

 

 
 

REVIEW & ANALYSIS

In 1966, Tales of Suspense was one of Marvel's so-called two-feature titles - a comic book essentially shared by two different starring characters in their own stories. They were a staple of Marvel Comics for several years throughout the 1960s, but the format wasn't the result of a voluntary decision.

 

  The need to split one comic book between two main characters actually had its roots back in 1957, when Martin Goodman's new choice of distributing company for his comics, American News Company, went out of business unexpectedly. The fallout for Goodman and his Atlas Comics was that they found themselves with no other choice than to switch to Independent News as distributor. The snag: unlike what the name suggested, Independent was in fact owned by National Periodical - who also happened to own Goodman's rivals DC Comics.

The well-known outcome of this was that Atlas and then Marvel Comics was limited by contract to a monthly publishing output of eight titles only (Cooke, 1998). As a result, Stan Lee juggled with a mix of bi-monthlies, cancelling Romance and Western titles, and turning Horror books into Superhero titles - all in order to get the distribution slots freed up for what was selling: Marvel Comics' brand new and different approach to the genre featuring "superheroes in the real world".

Once the old Atlas horror and mystery titles had been given over to Marvel's new superheroes (albeit retaining their original titles), yet another way of approaching the limited distribution problem was the two-feature title.

This formula had already been successfully tested since Strange Tales #110 (July 1963) when Doctor Strange joined the Human Torch (who would later be replaced with Nick Fury as of issue #135, August 1965). In late 1964 Tales to Astonish became a split book too, with issue #60 (October 1964) featuring the Hulk and the previous solo star character Giant-Man (replaced by Namor the Sub-Mariner as of issue #70) in separate stories. Iron Man followed suit and began to share his Tales of Suspense a month later with Captain America (issue #59, November 1964).

Marvel Comics finally broke free from the distribution constraints in 1967 when Independent was purchased by Kinney National Company and they got a new deal. The result was an explosion of new titles as established characters finally could be given their own comic book - Tales of Suspense, Tales to Astonish and Strange Tales alone split to become six titles instead of three.

By the time Tales of Suspense #88 hit the newsagent stands the Iron Man and Captain America double-bill was well established, and the two superheroes took turns for cover appearances (after the two-feature titles dropped the initial "split-cover formula" as seen above with Tales of Suspense #66.

 
This would last until Tales of Suspense #99 (March 1968), as the two heroes got their own titles after that - Iron Man went on to feature in Iron Man & Sub-Mariner #1 and then a month later in Iron Man #1, whereas Cap took the numbering with him and started out in Captain America #100.

Iron Man would always come first (Tales of Suspense was, after all, "his" original title), and in this issue his story starts out with a classic Gene Colan splashpage, highlighting the underlying vulnerability of Marvel's superheroes. The unfolding events (still plotted by Stan Lee himself at the time) feature more of Colan's breathtakingly dynamic and cinematographic artwork, which worked well with Frank Giacoia's inks. Two masters at work.

 


Eugene "Gene" Colan
(1926 - 2011)

 
 
The following Captain America story, again scripted by Stan Lee, was pencilled by another industry great: Gil Kane. Born Eli Katz in 1926 in Riga, Latvia, he emigrated to the US with his family in 1929 and grew up in Brooklyn, where he developed an early interest in comic books and landed his first job with MLJ (later Archie) Comics in 1942. At the age of only 16, he left school in order to be able to continue what had started out as a summer job (Groth, 1996). He used the name "Gil Kane" to sign his first inking work in MLJ's Zip Comics #14 (May 1941) and subsequently stuck with it.
 


Gil Kane
(1926 - 2000)

  His first work for what would later become Marvel Comics featured in Young Allies #11 (March 1944), followed by uncredited ghost artist work for Jack Kirby in DC's Adventure Comics #91 (May 1944).

Following highly influential work for DC in the Silver Age superhero revival (e.g. Green Lantern), Kane also worked on a number of Marvel titles in the 1960s. He would eventually not only become the regular penciller for The Amazing Spider-Man in the early 1970s, but also Marvel's preeminent cover artist throughout that decade.

 
 
Gil Kane is especially remembered for his gripping rendering of the story arc depicting the deaths of both Gwen Stacy and the Green Goblin (Amazing Spider-Man #121–122, June–July 1973). At that time, sacrificing two high profile characters without a back door to bring them back to life was highly unusual (comparable really to Hitchcock shocking moviegoers in 1960 with the violent death of his female leading actress Janet Leigh after only 47 minutes into Psycho), and Kane's pencils suited the dramatic events well. His artwork can truly be labelled classic mid-1960s to late 1970s and embodies what most comic book fans of that era would describe as the kind of artwork that typifies what they liked about comic book art: a dynamic approch to the action of the story and a clear focus on the characters involved (which could sometimes result in simple or no backgrounds at all, as illustrated by the panels from Tales of Suspense #88 shown here).
 


House of Mystery #180 (June 1969)

  Gerry Conway (who scripted the famous Amazing Spider-Man #121–122 issues) described Kane as "a marvelous draftsman and an idiosyncratic storyteller" while also noting that unless given a tighter plot (which Kane himself preferred) his work "could sometimes result in lopsided storytelling; the first two-thirds of a story would be leisurely paced, and the last third would be hellbent-for-leather as Gil tried to make up for loose storytelling". (Conway in Buchanan, 2009).

It just goes to show that comic books are always a team effort. With writer Roy Thomas, Kane helped revise Marvel's Captain, revamped a preexisting character as Adam Warlock, and co-created martial arts superhero Iron Fist as well as Morbius the Living Vampire.

Gil Kane is also remembered for one of the most extraordinary cameos in comic book history, being made the lead character in writer Mike Friedrich's story "His Name Is... Kane" in DC's' House of Mystery #180 (June 1969). In this six-and-a-half-page tale, pencilled by Kane himself, frustrated comic-book artist Gil Kane kills his House of Mystery editor, Joe Orlando - but Orlando, himself an artist, then goes on to enact revenge by drawing Kane into artwork that is then framed and mounted in the house, thus trapping him there.

Kane remained active as an artist, also illustrating paperback novel and record album covers, until his death in January 2000.

 
 

LIFE'S A SWINGIN' SYMPHONY - 'NUFF SAID!

 
An absolutely integral part of being a Marvel Comics reader and fan in the 1960s and 1970s were the letters pages (aptly titled "Mails of Suspense" in this case) and the monthly Bullpen Bulletin.
 
These were the gathering points for all "true believers", where opinions amongst readers as well as informations from the House of Ideas as well as directly by Stan the Man himself were handed out, and they made you feel that you were a part of something special - and sometimes fans would check out these pages even before reading the actual story material in the comic book they were holding.

"As a mad Marvelite, you're more than just a reader - you're a friend! So drop me a line soon as you can, I'll be waiting, hear?" (Lee, 1972)

It was, of course, all by design, and one of the major elements which so successfully set Marvel apart from DC.

"What I always tried to do with Marvel was to make it seem like a club, like an inner group that we knew about and the outside world wasn't even aware of. If you read Marvel you were on the inside, you were hip, and it was sort of an exclusive thing, limited just to Marvel readers. And I tried to talk to the readers as if they were friends, not readers, so that not only - hopefully - did they enjoy the stories, but they enjoyed being part of the Marvel mystique if you might say, and I'm probably making it sound much more profound than it really was, but that's the way I looked at it.

 
 

I wanted people to be aware of Marvel, and I wanted people to know about the mysticism and the magic and marvelness of Marvel, and they say that if you build a better mousetrap the world will beat a path to your door, but the world will only do that if it knows the mousetrap exists, and I didn't want us to be doing these books in a vacuum, because you know comic books had no advertising budget, no promotion. There were no ads on television, on the radio, in newspapers - you just printed your comic book and it was out there, and I was sort of like Joan of Arc, I was on a crusade, a mission, to let the world know about the marvelous world of Marvel. So in that sense, I guess I was a little bit of a huckster." (NN, 2003)

The "mysticism and magic and marvelness" of Marvel was of course echoed (as always somewhat tongue-in-cheek) by the famous alliterations Stan came up with as titles for the monthly Bullpen Bulletins. These initially started out as part of the two-page letters section of Fantastic Four, which often concluded with a "Special Announcements Section" where Stan Lee responded to more general letters and promoted other Marvel titles. A vital element - "The Mighty Marvel Checklist" - appeared for the first time in this Special Announcements Section in Fantastic Four #33 (December 1964). A separate "Merry Marvel Bullpen Page" appeared in comics cover-dated July and August 1965 (with the checklist and special announcements still on the letters pages), and the first stand-alone "Marvel Bullpen Bulletins" page, complete with checklist and special announcements, finally made its debut in the issues cover-dated December 1965.

 
The Bullpen Bulletin was thus still a fairly new concept to readers of Tales of Suspense #88, and "Stan's Soapbox" - another pivotal element of Marvel's editorial page - was still more than a year out, first appearing in the June 1967 issues. In the April 1966 Bullpen Bulletin, Stan touched on Marvel's TV shows going international, Gene Colan's mishaps with his new motorcycle as well as medical problems suffered by Larry Lieber and Bill Everett (after all you want to know what's going on with your friends), complete with a little sting directed at Brand Echh (i.e. DC Comics) suggesting they were into voodoo to hamper Marvel's bullpen of creators, and more personal news concerning the hiring of John Verpoorten, Roy Thomas forsaking University for Marvel Comics, and Jack Kirby being fellow artists' choice for best artist (or, as Lee would put it in his self-caricaturing way, "pencil pusher"). Stan Lee wrapped it all up with one of his typically upbeat and avuncular messages to readers:

"We're plumb outta room, so hang loose and face front! Life's a swingin' symphony, and we don't wantcha to miss a note of it! 'Nuff said!"

 
 

FACTS & TRIVIA

 
Tales Of Suspense #88 went on sale in the US on 1 October 1966 and was also made available roughly three months later to the UK market with a pence price variant cover.
 
 

The Captain America story was reprinted in Marvel Double Feature #12 (October 1975), a Marvel reprint title focussed on Tales Of Suspense, together with the Gil Kane cover. Typical for Marvel's mid-1970s reprint titels, the Cap story lost 2 pages and the cover received some alterations to the colouring (actually making it more consistent with the colouring of Power Man's suit in the actual story). Somewhat confusingly, however, the Iron Man story had already been reprinted (again leaving out two pages) in Marvel Double Feature #5 (August 1974); the Iron Man story featured in Marvel Double Feature #12 was taken from Tales of Suspense #95 (November 1967).

While the cover has been reprinted multiple times in Marvel's various collected editions (Essentials, Masterworks, Omnibus editions), it was also used by international publishers.

Italian Editore Corno did so no less than twice, for their Capitan America #11 (1973) and Capitan America Gigante #5 (1980). Mexican publishers La Prensa adorned their Capitán América #3 (1968) with Kane's wonderful cover, as did Panini España for their Marvel Gold: Capitán América #1 (2011).

 
Although many readers at the time probably had little to no interest in the small print Statement of Ownership, Management, and Circulation which appeared once every 12 months in the pages of their comic books, they provide us with some interesting statistics regarding print runs, actual sales, and subscription numbers. Tales Of Suspense #88 contains such a Statement. These had been required of publishers who shipped their printed matters Second Class since the 19th Century, but as of 1960 they were also required to list their average paid circulation for the past twelve months.
 
  Printed sideways (so that if you wanted to read it you had to turn your comic book around 90 degrees) and in the smallest possible of fonts, the Statement contained in Tales Of Suspense #88 tells us that the title had an average print run of 405,137 copies during the preceding 12 months (although the issue nearest to the filing date had a print run of 501,306 copies).

Of this average print run of 405,137 copies during the preceding 12 months, 251,239 copies had been sold through dealers, carriers, street vendors and counter sales; 1,000 copies had been sold through subscriptions. This averaged a total paid circulation of 252,299 copies (up to 279,060 copies for the issue nearest to the filing date) - which left an average of 152,838 copies counted as "left over, unaccounted, spoiled after printing". That's a whopping 38% of the entire print run not generating revenue, but actually still a lot better in comparison to later years when this figure could even go up and above 50%. The traditional distribution channels for comic books were increasingly fraught with problems and would ultimately prove to become untenable, leading into the so-called direct market.

My personal copy of Tales Of Suspense #88 also illustrates another aspect of comic books at the time: the care taken to produce this cheap product at the printers could sometimes be lacking, and in this case the stapling is way off the centre line of the folded pagesheet. Such copies would later on not grade highly and would become popular items to have an artist involved sign at conventions (witness Gil Kane's signature on this specific copy) in order to raise its value.

 
 
No 1960's (and 1970s) Marvel comic book was, of course, without third party advertising, some of which was "okay" (mostly if it featured Marvel characters) and some of which was, well, something else (such as the infamous flea market ads promising anything and everything). Tales Of Suspense #88 really featured it all. Very noticeable is the amount of ads promising "from home training" in all kinds of trades, along with a full page ad offering a "second chance for High School dropouts to get diplomas". Are we therefore to assume that the Academy of Home Study assumed that a substantial number of their target customer base was to be found amongst comic book readers? Not really, since their advertising campaigns in the late 1960s and early 1970s could be found up and down in newspaper ads and even on matchboxes.

Somewhat more interesting, at least to younger and teenage readers, were those sellers pushing items with outrageous promises. Those of us who had their doubts even back then will find Kirk Demarais' 2011 book Mail Order Mysteries - Real Stuff from Old Comic Book Ads! highly amusing. Listing and illustrating more than 150 "extraordinary, peculiar and downright fraudulent collectibles whose promises have haunted comic book fans for decades", the actual items offered in these fabled ads were a let down every time.

 

 

 
A classic example are the "200 soldiers sets" (also advertised in Tales Of Suspense #88): the box turned out to be the cheapest cardboard you could imagine, and the soldiers were absolutely flat (i.e. almost two dimensional) and all in the same pose (as described and illustrated by Demarais). Still, there are some ads of interest, such as the Electronic Computer Brain - remember, the year is 1966. On the whole, however, readers considered ads a nuisance unless they were in-house plugs for other titles (merchandising was gradually taking off, but still in its infancy).
 

 
 

 
BIBLIOGRAPHY

BUCHANAN Bruce (2009) "Morbius the Living Vampire", in Back Issue! #36 (October 2009)

COOKE Jon B. (1998) "Stan the Man & Roy the Boy: A Conversation Between Stan Lee and Roy Thomas", in Comic Book Artist #2, Summer 1998

DEMARAIS Kirk (2011) Mail Order Mysteries - Real Stuff from Old Comic Book Ads!, Insight Editions

GRATH Gary (1996) "Interview with Gil Kane, Part I", in Comics Journal #186 (April 1996)

LEE Stan (1972) "A special message from Stan Lee", editorial published in UK Mighty World of Marvel #1 (30 September 1972)

NN (2003) "Stan Lee Interview", contained as extra feature on the double disk DVD release of the movie Daredevil (personal transcript)

 
 

The illustrations presented here are copyright material.
Their reproduction for the review and research purposes of this website is considered fair use
as set out by the Copyright Act of 1976, 17 U.S.C. par. 107.


(c) 20
21

 

uploaded to the web 28 January 2021