I don’t know many of you remember the Vietnam war? (I almost typed “war” with a capital “W,” but caught myself just in time. No way am I gonna glamorize that ugly word!) During those days, most everyone was anti-war, anti-military/industrial complex, and anti-anything that had to do with the establishment!
At this point, you’re probably muttering to yourself, “What’s Lightheaded Lee getting at? If I want a history lesson I’ll go to the library!” But hang in there, ye of little faith. There’s light at the end of the tunnel!
During those high-flyin’, hazy, crazy, hippie days, I thought, “Wouldn’t it be fun to try to create a super hero who’d start out as the type of guy our readers hate?” Not only would he be a card-carrying member of the establishment, but he’d actually own a munitions factory that made armaments! That’s right! He’d a fat-cat industrialist, one of the greatest supporters of the war effort!
Wow, I figured, if we could carry that off it would be outrageous! Well, you probably guessed the rest. I got together with one of our most-awesome artist, the ever-delightful Donny Heck, and lo, IRON MAN was born!
Since all this happened in the early sixties, I guess it’s safe to say that ol’ Shell-Head (meaning Tony Stark – not Dazzlin’ Donny, of course!) was probably the first of comicdom’s mechanized, high-tech heroes. It seems awfully old-fashioned now, but I remember how clever I thought we were by referring to Iron Man’s armor as being powered by a multitude of mini transistors! Transistors! Today, that’s tantamount to talking about a horse and buggy or mustache wax! But hey, in those days we felt like we were on the cutting edge of technology!
As luck would have it, our sly little scheme seemed to work. The Iron Man mag took its place right up there with the rest of might Marvel’s bombastic best-seller and the nickname “Shell-Head” became a rallying cry for turned-on transistor-lovers from coast to coast.
One thing that frustrates me is the fact that we didn’t have home computers at the time we created Iron Man. If only I had known about such things, just think of all the additional gadgets and gizmos we could have concealed inside of Tony’s armor! Imagine the extra miniaturized weaponry and defensive devices we could have dreamed-up, as well as the startling computerized images we could have depicted in our artwork!
But let’s face it, we didn’t do so badly! We still had Shell-Head flying all over the place by means of repulser rockets (or whatever it was called then!) at the bottom of his size-twenty booties! And I always got a kick out of all the complex gadgetry which he could drag out at a moment’s notice from his metal chest compartment. In fact, I seem to remember that we used to refer to that same metal compartment as Iron Man’s medicine chest – that’s what it looked like to me! It wouldn’t have surprised me if some artist one day drew him opening up that nutty metal door and we’d see a whole kaboodle of aspirin, band-aids and mouthwash on little glass shelves inside!
But let’s get savagely serious for a moment! The thing I always like the most about the super-sophisticated Mr. Stark is the fact that, despite the over-the-top angle of his incredible armored flying suit, his stories were as down to Earth and realistic as any in comics! Tony Stark was a real, flesh-and-blood hero, a guy who lived and loved and had both towering triumphs and dismal defeats.
Remember the series of stories some time back in which Tony fell victim to the agony of alcoholism? Remember when he was down and out, when he had lost his factory, his money, the girl he loved, everything? Remember when things were so out of control for him that his pal Rhodie had to actually replace him as Iron Man? Few heroes in the history of comics have had the amazing ups and downs that Tony Stark has weathered in his three decades as one of Marvel’s charismatic coterie of top-selling and consistently popular comic book stars!
So here’s to ol’ Shell Head! In good times or bad he’s never let us down, nor has he ever failed to answer the rousing call of “Avengers Assemble!”
May his armor never tarnish,
Nor his repulsers fail!
May his luster ne’er diminish!
May his glory never pale!
Or, in the hallowed words of Honest Irving Forbush, “Fronti nulla fides!”