By: Julian Munds
Many said after the end of World War II that there will never be another war, or more properly said, their should never be another war. Sadly, as that conflict ended, a much more threatening standoff began called the Cold War. Essentially, it was a nuclear standoff between the two major nuclear powers: the Soviet Union and the United States, and it would be behind most major conflicts for the next 45 years. As the two super powers staged an international pissing match, on the home front in both countries, a much more sinister evil was taking root. That evil was paranoia.
Nowadays, many will refer to it as ‘Red Paranoia’ as if this was a fear unique to Soviets individually or the fear of them internationally, but this is not accurate. It was shared by many Americans who often turned it inward. Unfortunately, this paranoia gave credence to the free persecution of intellectuals. If these intellectuals were Russian, then surely they were attempting to sublant the ruling government. If they were American, then they were brandished Soviet spies and therefore traitors. The Cold War is an extraordinarily absurd and convoluted moment in world history because its goals were unclear and I doubt anyone, who was involved in it, could explain its aims beyond topping the other guy. This period stirred a lot of critical thought and critical thought is dangerous to any government that wishes to remain infallible; as both the American and Soviet governments did.
Paranoia made its way into the Marvel Universe. Tony Stark and Anton Vanko are introduced in this issue as two of the greatest minds the world has ever seen. Tony, as we all know, is behind some of the greatest strides in science that Earth-616 (main Marvel continuity) sees. The invention of the first iron suit is its own little Kitty Hawk moment.
A fascinating aspect of Tony is while being such a prolific inventor he is also the head of the most important arms maker in the United States. This means he holds an extraordinary amount of power and clout. What he says, and does, would have far reaching impact in that country.
In the USSR, Anton Vanko is considered the greatest scientist behind the Iron Curtain. Nikita Krushchev calls him “the most brilliant mind,” but he also distrusts him.
Why is this?
Anton has developed a suit he calls The Crimson Dynamo, which controls electrical energy, in an effort to defeat Iron Man. He has created an important technological stride for the USSR, yet, Krushchev immediately calls into question his loyalty. Nikita claims that Vanko poses a threat to his rule. He hatches a plan to execute Vanko after he and his suit destroy the Iron Man. Krushchev has no reason to do this beyond the fact that Anton is clearly more intelligent and innovative then him.
It was an American stereotype that Soviets distrusted their populace. One, that probably stems from stories of the Stalinist secret police. If this was so or was not so is not a debate I wish to wade into, but what I will say is, this is a highly sensationalist aspect of the story. This fear of the masses was also present across the Pacific in the highest echelons of Washington.
When Vanko, as the Crimson Dynamo, arrives in the US, his mission is to use his electric manipulation to sabotage the work of Stark Industries. After the destruction of many plants across the nation, Washington begins to wonder why Stark Industries is the only target. They arrive at the conclusion that Tony must be a spy because he is the only person able to sabotage his own work. This doesn’t make any logical sense. Why would Stark, who has proven himself, thus far, an ultimate patriot, want to destroy his own work. By Occam’s Razor, it should make sense that Stark is the victim of sabotage, not the perpetrator of it. However, Stark is a brilliant man and one who is free to make his own decisions. This makes him a loose cannon and a threat to the Government. Therefore, paranoia takes hold, making him a villain in the eyes of the military.
Vanko and Stark are both enemies through nothing but their abilities and the orders their governments place on them. It makes sense that Stark, in the guise of Iron Man, unknowingly to Vanko recruits the Russian to work for him. When Vanko defects to the US, he is not really defecting to the state, he’s defecting to Stark. Both men are warriors. Neither is evil or good, they are just on two separate sides of the same conflict. The real villainy here is persecution of critical thought. Both men are made outlaws because they are intelligent and this is a threat to a government that thrives economically on the Cold War.
Could this be another brilliant piece of political commentary from the increasingly satirical mind of Stan Lee?
Is the Silver Age Marvel Universe an exercise in Cold War trolling?
I am beginning to think so. Much like in later X-Mens, this issue is not a conflict of two people, but two ideologies.
The Story I Read: “The Crimson Dynamo” (Tales of Suspense #46 Oct. 1963)
Rating: 3 1/2 out of 5
Pros: The political commentary, the final battle with Vanko, the demonstration of the Crimson Dynamo suit to Krushchev and finally, the realism.
Cons: The hasty and unexplained reasoning in how Stark finds out that Krushchev betrayed Vanko. The lack of explanation for the next actions of the US government.
Upcoming Review: “The Stone Men From Saturn” (Journey Into Mystery #83 Aug 1962) Copyright Dec. 9, 2013 by Extremisreviews.com