Saturday, October 5, 2013

Tales of Suspense #51 (March, 1964)

"The Sinister Scarecrow"
Writer: Stan Lee
Artist: Don Heck
Synopsis: Iron Man is pursuing a thief through a vaudeville theatre when he's assisted by a contortionist called the Uncanny Umberto who figures helping Iron Man collar a crook would be goo publicity. Iron Man makes a remark that he's glad Umberto is on the side of the law with abilities like his, which of course immediately inspires Umberto to abandon his career as a vaudeville contortionist and become a criminal! Which was probably a good move since I can't imagine how he was making a living as a vaudeville performer in the 1960s.
Of course he can't become a criminal without a costume, and so he decides to be a scarecrow after seeing a scarecrow costume in the window of a costume store. Luckily it fits since he's as "flexible as a scarecrow anyway", but can you imagine if the first costume he saw was Sexy Nurse or something?
Then he steals some trained crows from one of the other acts (don't worry, he was retiring) and figures that since they're familiar to him they'll listen to him and act like accomplices like he was in a Disney cartoon or something. Then he decides his first target will be the New York penthouse apartment of Tony Stark (he'd been renting his mansion to the Avengers for a while by now) because Stark is always out with girls so he's an easy target.
Seriously this guy is the most slapdash crook I've ever seen.
Meanwhile a model named Veronica Vogue shows up at Stark Industries to pick up Tony but Pepper lies to her and tells her Tony is out of town. With no one to go out with, Tony has Happy drive him to the apartment, where they find the Scarecrow trying to rob Stark's wallsafe.
Happy starts to fight the Scarecrow, but is outmatched. However it gives Stark the opportunity to change into Iron Man, but Scarecrow stages a diversion and escapes, sending Iron Man on a wild chase by making him follow his trained crows while he slips away.
Scarecrow manages to steal some new weapons plans Stark is designing for the Defense Department, which he plans to ransom from Stark. 
Stark decides to meet Scarecrow at the pier with the money alone (so to best transform into Iron Man), against Happy's objections. However when the Scarecrow shows up he merely steals Stark's briefcase full of money and jumps on a boat headed for Cuba to sell the plans to the Reds as well!
Scarecrow rendezvous with a Cuban gunboat to turn over the plans, but Iron Man shows up, grabs the plans, knocks the Scarecrow and the Cubans into the water and sinks their boat. Scarecrow has his crows tow him on a line to Cuba, an escape that would only take about 40 hours to make, and yet Iron Man lets him go because his transistors are almost out of power. Uh-huh.
Back in the States, Tony needs to do something with two tickets to a Broadway show he was going to attend with Veronica, and Pepper is hoping he'll ask her but instead he gives them to her and Happy so they can go together!  Meanwhile, Scarecrow plots revenge on the Cuban shore.
My Thoughts: In the previous issue, Iron Man battled one of his greatest foes for the first time. In this issue, he fights a Batman villain. 
Well, to be fair, while the Scarecrow is best known today as a member of Batman's Rogues Gallery, that character hadn't appeared in a comic since 1943, and wouldn't appear again until 1967, so using the persona again wouldn't have confused any kids of te time, it just demonstrates Stan Lee scraping the bottom of the barrel for villain ideas. I mean, the comic tries it's best to justify that a guy wearing burlap and straw who can do gymnastics really well is a worthy adversary for a genius in powered armour, but it really never takes. 
The Art: Good stuff from Don Heck this issue, although at times the backgrounds get a little vague and stylized and Tony's penthouse suite seems to be made up of a lot of non-descript Kirbyesque machinery for no reason. Pepper's looking more and more glamourous with each appearance.
The Story: The Scarecrow is a lousy villain. His motivation to become a supercriminal seems to be simply because we need one this issue, and the whole adventure feels very perfunctory. Stealing Stark plans to sell to Cubans is a good idea and rings topical to when this comic was published, but it's also very similar to recent issues and Stan could've used a character like the Chameleon who's already established as a Soviet spy. On the whole the issue isn't bad, so much as it is ho-hum and utterly forgettable between last issue (first Mandarin) and next issue (first Black Widow).
Stark Science: We learn that the Mk II armour can stand up to small arms fire but would have a problem with machine guns, and that it's flight power is limited by the transistorized batteries such that flying to Cuba from New York is out of the question.
Honestly the most scientifically dubious thing in this issue is the Scarecrow's trained birds. Crows are very intelligent birds, but they are also stubborn and independant and are not easily trained at all. So the fact that our villain has taken crows someone else has trained to perform vaudeville tricks and is using them to commit crimes and steal precise things and do a whole bunch of exact stuff seemingly via telepathy from him (like flying him to Cuba), is kind've ridiculous.
Notes and Trivia: The first appearance of the Marvel Comics version of the Scarecrow, who will go on to menace other Marvel heroes but never will get that revenge on Iron Man he's contemplating. 
While fighting Iron Man, the Scarecrow mentions that it's widely known Stark employs the Golden Avenger as a bodyguard. While past villains have noticed that Iron Man is always around to protect Stark's stuff, I believe this is the first time the idea of him being explicitly employed as Stark's bodyguard has been mentioned.
This issue's story would be adapted into issues #2 and #3 of Enter the Mandarin.

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