Here’s an interesting origin story, one you might think you know with Tales of Suspense 39, the first appearance of Iron Man, or do you? This origin story is altogether different from most other superheroes. Then again, Tony Stark, similar to Batman, isn't your ordinary superhero as he doesn’t possess any physical super-powers. He uses gadgets and his brain to beat the bad guys. Also similar to Bruce Wayne’s alter ego Batman, Tony Stark is a billionaire playboy. It’s said, Kirby came up with this character based off the larger than life Howard Hughes, who at the time had similar attributes, a genius and a billionaire playboy.
With the creation of Iron Man you have two co-creator artists, both Don Heck credited for the first appearance story art from Tales of Suspense #39, and as usual of the era, we have Jack Kirby who did the cover art as well as the suit design. What's unusual in the case of Iron Man, at the dawn of the Marvel Age of comics, Jack Kirby generally does the first appearance origins, such as Hulk, Thor, and shortly after reintroduces Captain America, etc. The only other large character we don't see Kirby handle the origin is Spider-Man, though if you read our "Beginnings of Spider-Man" article, that's debatable. Similarly to Spider-Man, and already mentioned above, Kirby does the cover art to Iron Man's first appearance, but not the interior art. So what gives?
We all know the story to issue #39, which was retold similarly in the MCU; But in the original story it’s not focused on current events of today with a Middle East terrorist group, but instead a Viet-Cong dictator. The rest of the story is closely similar… Stark is kidnapped, he builds the suit with Dr. Yinsen in a cave, who is later murdered by the dictator, Stark finishes the suit, becoming Iron Man, escapes the cave and avenges Yonsen’s death, brutally killing the dictator Wong-Chu. Sounds about right?
Well what if I was to tell you there may be more to the story? Except it’s not this story at all I’m referring to. It’s actually a different story that begins in the following issue #40 by Jack Kirby.
This time, in a 6 page story it begins with a new introduction to Tony Stark, seen as a brilliant scientist, a “ladies man” and Iron Man. This time Stark right away mentions his iron chest and the need to charge it to keep his heart ticking, but oddly enough there’s no origin recap, no mention of being kidnapped, or the cave, or avenging Yinsen, seeming like an altogether different story. Was this Kirby’s initial origin story of Iron Man made to fit in issue #40? Was this story too scientific and not enough pizazz for Stan Lee to run with as Iron Man’s first origin story? Here’s what may have taken place at the time…
Kirby, Lee, and possibly with Heck present, pitch the layout and plot we see in issue #40 as #39. Lee doesn’t feel it’s a “Big” enough story, so he has Kirby do another layout, this time the more heroic over the top version with Stark kidnapped and trapped in a cave by a Viet-Cong dictator. Heck takes Kirby’s layouts and does the art for issue #39, While Kirby does the cover, which sounds similar to what may have happened with Spider-man and Ditko with Lee, but that’s for another story. Then Lee goes with the grandiose story with Heck interior art for issue #39, and tells Kirby he can still incorporate his story in #40 without contradicting #39 to seem cohesive.
Kirby being Kirby ends up laying out an additional 13 page story to follow, and Lee goes with Kirby again for #41. Thinking about this more, what if Iron Man like Hulk or Spider-Man at this time was going to get his own dedicated series? This would also make sense that #41, though a separate full length story, does not have a job # on the title page. Furthermore, instead of the standard 24 pages, this would then be 26 pages, possibly adding a 2-3 page blurb again in the beginning of issue #41 about Stark's many hats he holds. It could also be the addition of the opening splash page that inflated the page count.
Similarly, like The Amazing Fantasy series had the follow-up Spider-Man stories were slated for future issues in the same title, the series was canceled, and Spider-Man at the same cover date of 3/1963 is given his own title, where we see these stories again. Keep in mind, March 1963 by far was the highest number of titles with 9 instead of the usual 7. Was Iron Man then pushed to the Tales of Suspense series rather than his own full length title that same month 3/1963? Again, this theory is something we'll never be able to 100% confirm above, but it does make a lot of sense and why the gap between Heck's first and second Iron Man stories.
Heck on the other hand draws #39 and his second story, which thinks it will be either for issue #40 or #41, but gets pushed to issue #42! Yes, a little confusing, but I think you got it. Thus, Heck does Iron Man’s first story art with issue #39, presumably does his second story art for the next issue, only to find out Kirby gets the next 2 issues #40 and #41, and Heck’s story goes to #42, our subject art, which we'll discuss shortly.
Since I love the math behind all the early Marvel art, I looked for any additional clues I could find to piece this theory all together. So I went back to the job numbers, which gets fairly interesting. Keep in mind Tales of Suspense is a monthly publication, not bi-monthly at this time like Spider-man and Hulk, which by the way Hulk ends this same month, cover date March 1963. Issue #39 is job X-31 or X-51, it’s hard to make out, which is earlier than the other March 1963 cover dates. Marvel’s other 3/63 cover dates all seemed to be in the X-100’s. Fantastic Four #12 (first crossover with Hulk) is X-101, Hulk #6 is X-116, Tales to Astonish #41 doesn’t seem to have a job number on title, perhaps inventoried, Journey into Mystery #90 has the next earliest X-70. I’m not including Amazing Spider-Man #1 since the story looks like it was turned in and was paid right after Amazing Fantasy #15 with a V-816 job number. Before we draw any conclusions let’s now look at the job numbers for Tales of Suspense #40-42…
Issue #40 is X-131 (Kirby), #41 (Kirby) no job number, and our story #42 is X-187 (Heck). What’s odd here is you have a pretty sizable gap from #39 being an early X designation from #40, 100 numbers in between but published one month apart. But the more interesting thing I found was #40-42, 3 issues were only 56 numbers apart! This was intriguing, so I had to dig more, so let’s look at the Comics Code Authority or “CCA” stamps on the back of the art.
Since the art for issues #40 and #41 have never surfaced, at least publicly, issue #40 was catalogued by Vartinoff from the Marvel wearhouse starting in the mid 1970’s. As for #40 being out in the wild somewhere, it certainly can be in a “deep collection”, or it was stolen in between and lost after all these years, seeing not one page has surfaced. So unfortunately we can’t tell you the CCA stamp on the back of those issues, but based on the above job numbers I’m fairly certain it would be close to issue #42. That being said, our subject Art stamp reads December 18, 1962. We were able to get the stamp from #39, which was October 2, 1962. So our art is a little over 2 months off from Iron Man’s first appearance, which is pretty close considering it was published as his 4th appearance.
When I pulled our subject art to get the stamp and just admire the art itself, I noticed the headline “Suspense 42”, except it looked like there was a line through the “2”. I looked closer and it clearly had a “1” previously there. I remembered Heritage had auctioned off the entire 13 page story to #42 back in 2002, they had multiple scans still viewable and there it was… Some pages had a similar “2” over the “1” and others still said “Suspense 41”. Reading the first few stories over again, it’s clear our art was intended to be the third Iron Man story. So here’s my theory of what happened…
It’s hard to say which came first Kirby’s #40 or Heck’s #39 and unfortunately we’ll never know seeing that all parties are no longer with us. Heck in one interview said he discussed the plot with Lee and did the art for #39 on his own, and in another interview recanted the statement saying he did the art based on Kirby layouts. Whether #39 or #40 came first, we’ll truly never know, but when reading them over again, #40 isn’t a recap of sorts, it’s another origin story, just not a grandiose one like in #39. But it’s clear #40 went with the suit change and had a clear story behind this change of the suit to yellow. Interestingly, the suit was changed because the gray armor was too menacing to the public, especially women!
So therefore it reads correctly, #39 all gray MK1, to #40 gray in the beginning to yellow MKIII by the end. Issue #42 started out as a yellow suit and no origin recap or anything, so this art based on the above title clearly stating “suspense 41” with some pages crossed out, the date stamp, close job number, we can conclude this was meant to be Iron Man’s third story, but Kirby more than likely submitted art for #40 and #41 around the same time, which is why there’s no job number for #41.
Now let’s check out the original art splash to #42 reads Feb ‘63, which generally is the estimated month for the publication release date, especially with a CCA stamp of approval in mid December ‘62 on the back of the art. According to Grand Comics Database also referred to as “GCD”, issue #39 was released “on sale date” of 12/10/62, roughly 2 months after the CCA date stamp this issue art of 10/2/62. Without seeing issue #40 art we could then estimate the date stamp to be 11/62 and a release date according to GCD of 1/10/63. Considering #42 date stamp of 12/62 and the splash header stating Feb ‘63, it again would align as the third Iron Man story, but once again was pushed to #42.
It's also likely Heck didn’t know what was going on behind the scenes with Lee and Kirby, which is why he may have thought his origin was the only one, and Kirby didn’t have another version in #40. It would also make sense behind the scenes based on the chronology of the stories and the yellow suit appearing first in #40, that Heck thought his second story would be for #41, which is why the art originally read “Suspense 41” at the top crossed out with a “2” over it.
Another interesting fact, looking closely at Heck’s original art in #39 and next in #42, the suit is nearly the same, except that the briefs are now covered by the upper armor over the shorts. Interestingly enough, Kirby’s version in the beginning of issue #40 still with the gray armor, also has this same piece covering the briefs. Can we conclude then #40 is a later version to #39? Or was this Kirby’s first version and Heck follows suit in #42? Or another thought is did Heck even know about the yellow suit change at this point? In looking at the pencils and inks by Heck and seeing Kirby drew the same version in a gray suit in #40, presuming Heck did his story art around the same time, perhaps he wasn’t aware of the color change this early on.
What we can take from all this is the first 4 issues were done fairly close in time. Especially seeing you had two different artists doing two issues each after their own origin story, this subject art being Heck’s story number two, though again, published as his 4th appearance.
Now that we’ve gotten all the math and chronology of Iron Man early on out of the way, let’s look specifically at our subject art-
The page itself is significant for a number of reasons, as mentioned above the Comics Code Authority stamp is dated December 1962, which means this page was created around the same time or before Iron Man's first appearance hit the newsstands in December 1962! If you look at the top header, this story was originally slated for Tales of Suspense #41, but changed to "42", and based on the above research we can conclude this was intended as Iron Man’s 3rd appearance by Heck, though was later pushed to #42 over Kirby’s follow up story to #40-41.
This page is also one of the earliest original art “Battle” pages to surface for Iron Man. In this story Iron Man “Trapped by The Red Barbarian”, page 1 splash sets up the storyline with Iron Man looking on at the Red Barbarian, and page 2 the last panel sets up the battle page seen here on Page 3. This page features Great shots of Iron Man in his classic, bulky Model 1 Mark III Golden Armor suit (seen only in a eight issue run from #40-47) in 5 of the 6 large panels using his gadgets and his brains to defeat the "Commie Spy Ring" instead of raw physical force. Side note: The other interesting thing in reading this story over again, outside of the splash page, this being one of only 6 panel pages with Iron Man in suit in the entire issue!
We also love Tony Stark borrowing a bit from the Amazing Spider-Man playbook with that swinging away exit! Now seeing how early this original art story of Iron Man is, and being in Heck the co-creator’s hand as his second Iron Man story, perhaps they were still figuring out his attributes. Though we should add, swinging entrances and exits are something we don’t see from Iron Man moving forward. Another side note: (Amazing Spider-Man #2 (Spidey's 3rd appearance) had just come out when this issue hit the newsstand).
One of the earliest Iron Man original art pages to have surfaced in recent years from the beginnings of the Marvel Universe.
Details of the Art-
Don Heck rendered in ink over graphite on twice-up scale (Large Art) Bristol board with an image area of 12.75" x 18.5". Lightly toned with whiteout text corrections in several places. Signed by Co-Creator Stan Lee in the lower center of art board. Art is In Excellent condition.