Tales Of Suspense #50 (Iron Man)
Issue(s): Tales Of Suspense #50 (Iron Man story only)
Iron Man's rogue gallery started off a little weak (although both the evil Doctor Strange and Kala had potential), but it's been picking up steam recently with the Crimson Dynamo and the Melter and, to a lesser degree, Jack Frost and Mr. Doll. But Iron Man needed a Dr. Doom/Octopus level enemy, and this issue delivers.
In many ways the Mandarin is a flawed character. First, obviously, his charactertured Asian stereotype face is an embarrassment. The costume is at least in part a symptom of that. He's wearing a martial arts gi covered with a giant bulky robe and a face mask which seems awful but maybe that's just because of the contorted face. The costume is a problem that will plague him for his entire career; he never really settles into an iconic uniform and i think these are the reasons why the Mandarin never quite makes it into Marvel's top tier of villains, despite otherwise deserving it.
But if you can get past all that, you have a pretty incredible character. He's awesomely powerful, with 10 rings, each of which has its own unique power, only some of which are revealed in this first appearance.
On top of that, he claims to be the world's greatest karate master.
Iron Man also thinks that he's got super-strength. This wasn't my first issue with the Mandarin, and you'll find in another entry me being shocked and bemused that the Mandarin was emphasizing his martial arts prowess at all and, more importantly, the fact that the obviously Chinese Mandarin would be a practitioner of karate and not kung fu. Obviously in 1964 Asian martial arts were just beginning to permeate into western pop culture, so i'm chalking that up to understandable ignorance on Stan Lee's part and not anything revelatory about the Mandarin's character.
The Mandarin is also incredibly smart. In addition to his rings he's got technological traps around his castle. And genius inventor Tony Stark thinks to himself that Mandarin is "the brainiest enemy I've ever faced".
Iron Man only survives his encounter with the Mandarin because he does something so outlandish - pulling out his arm calculator to determine the precise angle to hold his arm to deflect the Mandarin's karate chop - that the Mandarin is too bewildered and amused to react properly.
There's also the fact that the Mandarin lives in communist China but is definitely not a part of it. The Communists send a group of military emissaries to beg the Mandarin to share his knowledge of atomic energy. He refuses and sends them running.
This aspect of his character will be developed further in later issues. Generally speaking, aside from the art, there's nothing offensive about the depiction of the Mandarin. He's a credible, deadly threat.
While the character introduced is very cool, the plot of this issue is poor. The US military tells Iron Man about the Mandarin and they say they'd like to learn more, so Iron Man decides to invade China and take him out. The Mandarin wasn't scheming to do anything to Stark or America. He was minding his own business in his castle, refusing even to help the Chinese government, and he gets attacked by Iron Man. And Iron Man barely manages to survive and is soon sent packing. Incredibly, you could read it as a criticism of US foreign policy circa 1964, but that surely wasn't Stan Lee's intent.
There's also this scene where, if you just look at the pictures you assume that Pepper is scolding the men for their macho behavior but when you read the dialogue it turns out that Pepper is self-absorbedly angry that no one is complimenting her hairstyle while the fist-fight is going on.
Not one of Stan's prouder moments, but then his scenes involving women rarely are.
We don't learn the Mandarin's origin in this issue, but the opening splash speculates that he may be inhuman or immortal.
It also asks us to make sure we have time to sit and fully absorb the story before we start reading, which is actually good advice. Say what you will about the issue's imperfections, it's an interesting one.
There was an Enter the Mandarin series published in 2007 by Joe Casey. I don't have it, and don't really want it, but from what i can tell it expands on the story here and even seemingly makes it so that the Scarecrow's appearance next issue is related to the Mandarin in some way.
I do have to admit that while in Tales of Suspense #42 Iron Man was shown to be immune to magnetism, he seems to be affected by it here.
For my No Prize i would say that either Stark hasn't yet had time to apply the anti-magnetic principles to his new suit, or the Mandarin is actually using some other force that Stark just assumes is magnetism.
Quality Rating: C
Chronological Placement Considerations:
Continuity Insert? N
My Reprint: Marvel Masterworks: The Invincible Iron Man vol. 1
Actually, the MCP got that placement from Olshevsky's Official Marvel Index to the Avengers 1. Olshevsky assmumed that Tales of Suspense 50 took place after the first two panels of page 2 of Avengers 4 but before the Avengers find Cap.
Posted by: Michael | November 22, 2012 11:31 PM
Thanks Michael. I see now it only affects the flashback at the beginning of A #4.
Posted by: fnord12 | November 23, 2012 11:53 AM
The Mandarin is a pretty good character here. A bit of a spy story. His costume is pretty good, except for the "M" on the chest. Silly. The other bad thing about this issue is the way Iron Man defeats him - using his calculator to figure out exactly which way to turn his body to ensure that the Mandarin's karate chop would strike at the wrong angle? Huh? Also, the Mandarin apparently has superhuman strength. Not being a big Iron Man fan, I hadn't realized that. Iron Man says his armor is useless against the Mandarin, which must be an exagggeration. 3/5.
Posted by: Dave B | January 17, 2013 9:41 AM
A slide-rule "calculater" lmao
Posted by: James Holt | August 12, 2016 1:04 AM
I have this one placed between Avengers#3 and 4.
Posted by: Bobby Sisemore | October 28, 2016 4:32 PM
So Pepper is yet another Marvel woman who didn't start out with her iconic hair color? And as silly as that scene was she DID look very different from her previous "frumpy" appearances. Of course she'll get even more Gwynth Paltrow-ized later down the road.
Posted by: Jon Dubya | February 25, 2017 11:12 AM
I agree that this was probably the first pretty good Iron Man story to date, and a fair amount better than most of the earlier ones. I've always liked Mandy, although he never really did get to rise to the level of a Dr. Doom or Magneto.
Mandy's apparent super-strength here makes me thing of the Kingpin's early depictions, where he seemed at least as strong as Spider-Man. Both would later get drastic reductions in strength with no explanation.
I also loved Happy Hogan's line to Pepper-- "I kinda liked you the other way!" That one made me laugh out loud when I first read it.
Posted by: intp | September 21, 2017 7:01 PM
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