Because December 21st is the shortest day of the year, Balladeer’s Blog always runs articles about short films, short presidential administrations (Yes, William Henry Harrison) and similar topics. This year I’m pandering to the insatiable superhero audience with this look at a Marvel Comics title that was INTENTIONALLY published as a one-shot item, making it the shortest series run imaginable.
Previous articles here have dealt with the way that, for part of the 1960s, Marvel was limiting how many titles it had hitting newsstands. That meant publishing some of their heroes in one monthly publication, with each character getting a story covering half the issue. Iron Man and Captain America shared Tales of Suspense, Sub-Mariner and the Hulk shared Tales to Astonish.
Tales of Suspense underwent a title change to Captain America beginning with the 100th issue, while Iron Man was going to move to his own title. Tales to Astonish changed to The Incredible Hulk with its 102nd issue while Sub-Mariner moved to his own namesake monthly.
The trouble was, both Iron Man and Sub-Mariner had one more half-issue length story left and ready to be printed, but there were no more split comic book titles to accommodate them. So, Marvel Comics published one lone issue of a comic book titled Iron Man and Sub-Mariner.
Here is my review of the two stories in that “special once-in-a-lifetime issue” –
IRON MAN AND SUB-MARINER Vol 1 #1 (April 1968)
Iron Man Title: The Torrent Without – The Tumult Within
Villains: Whiplash, Madame Masque and A.I.M.
The story as picked up from Tales of Suspense #99 – Iron Man (believed back then to simply be “Tony Stark’s high-tech bodyguard”) had a sleazy cousin named Morgan Stark. Morgan ran up a huge gambling debt with the Maggia (Marvel Comics’ version of the Mafia) and, to save himself from harm at the hands of their thugs, betrayed Iron Man into their clutches.
At a huge, cruise-ship sized ocean vessel beyond the 12 mile limit (and therefore outside U.S. jurisdiction) Iron Man was delivered and turned over to be killed by Whiplash (Mark Scarlotti) for the entertainment of Madame Masque. She was the current head of the Maggia and watched the Iron Man vs Whiplash battle on a viewscreen from the safety of her nearby office.
When Iron Man’s armor ran completely out of power while fighting Whiplash, Madame Masque changed her mind about killing him and had the fallen hero placed on a magnetic table in a Maggia lab on board the ship. With our hero held immobile and helpless, Madame Masque had a laser ray open up on Iron Man’s armor, intent on analyzing it and duplicating it for Maggia use.
By this time, the competing villainous organization A.I.M. (Advanced Idea Mechanics) had gotten word that the Maggia was holding Iron Man on their illicit casino/ floating headquarters. A.I.M. also wanted to mass-produce Iron Man armor for their own operatives and launched an armed raid on the Maggia’s enormous ship.
Amid the chaos of the attack, the laser set to open up Iron Man’s armor with surgical precision was left unattended and was about to slice up our hero’s armor AND body, James Bond in Goldfinger style.
Synopsis for this issue: Iron Man struggles to move just enough to use his armor’s hip-pods to short circuit the laser AND the magnetic table holding him. Next, our hero plugged in and charged his armor for awhile as Madame Masque had Whiplash kill off the yellow-uniformed A.I.M. agents trying to abduct Iron Man.
NOTE: Madame Masque aka Giuleta Nefaria aka Whitney Frost is the daughter of the Avengers foe Count Nefaria. She is running the Maggia at this time as its “Big M” while her father is in prison. (At other times, supervillains like the Masked Marauder have served as the Big M. No word yet if Mitch Miller or Martin Milner ever served as the Big M.)
Eventually, Madame Masque and Whiplash withdraw into a vaulted room. Meanwhile, S.H.I.E.L.D. Agent Jasper Sitwell, who had boarded the Maggia’s ship undercover as a big-money gambler, was caught in between the fighting Maggia soldiers and the boarding A.I.M. agents.
The second wave of A.I.M.’s attack interrupts Iron Man’s recharging before he can fully power up his armor AND drives Whiplash from the vaulted hideaway of Madame Masque. Jasper Sitwell encounters Whiplash but Iron Man arrives to save Sitwell’s life by defeating Whiplash.
For the cliffhanger ending, the A.I.M. submarine uses a high-tech vortex device to forcibly remove Iron Man from the Maggia ship and into a cell on their sub.
IF YOU CARE HOW IT TURNED OUT: In Iron Man #1, A.I.M. managed to make three duplicates of our hero’s armor in their initial batch but Iron Man destroyed their replicating device and defeated all three A.I.M. Agents clad in suits of Iron Man armor.
Sub-Mariner Title: Call Him Destiny … Or Call Him Death
Villain: Destiny (Paul Destine)
The story as picked up from Tales to Astonish #101 – Prince Namor the Sub-Mariner, currently in exile as the monarch of Atlantis, is trying to piece together the events that took place when he was suffering from amnesia for a matter of years in between the 1950s and his discovery by the Fantastic Four in 1962.
NOTE: The Sub-Mariner, who PRE-DATED Aquaman, first appeared in 1939 and lasted into the 1950s back when Marvel Comics was called Timely Comics. (Captain America was another of their World War Two era superheroes who was revived under the Marvel Comics name.)
Tantalizing fragments of memories lure him to Antarctica where, using his incredible strength to punch through mountains of ice, he finds a long-abandoned city. An Antarctic monster has been using the city as shelter and attacks Sub-Mariner, who manages to defeat it.
With the fall of the creature, a crowned man enters the story, a man that our hero vaguely recognizes from his shards of memory. The villain identifies himself as Destiny and says that he telepathically lured Namor here in order to trick him into freeing him.
Synopsis for this issue: Sub-Mariner and Destiny close in battle. The crown that the villain wears on his head grants him extraordinary powers that enable him to go toe-to-toe with Prince Namor. Destiny taunts our hero that he defeated him once already, years ago, during the period Namor has no memories of.
Destiny calls his crown the Helmet of Power, though in truth it is the Serpent Crown of Lemuria (the legendary Pacific Ocean version of Atlantis.) That Serpent Crown is one of the many relics in Marvel Comics which bestow great powers on anyone who possesses them and after Destiny it will be temporarily used by a long series of other villains.
During a pause for breath in their battle, Destiny does a Villain Rant explaining that he was once an ordinary man named Paul Destine. Back in 1920 he killed Namor’s father Leonard McKenzie, the human sailor who impregnated Princess Fen of Atlantis with our hero.
After killing Leonard McKenzie, Paul Destine went on to find and plunder the Serpent Crown/ Helmet of Power. At that point he stops his rant/ flashback story and resumes his attack on the Sub-Mariner, causing an avalanche which buries the hero beneath tons of ice and snow.
IF YOU CARE HOW IT TURNED OUT: Naturally, Sub-Mariner survives the avalanche, regains all his lost memories and ultimately stops Destiny before he can conquer the United States and then the world.
NOTE: Sub-Mariner, played by Tenoch Huerta, is set to finally appear in Marvel movies in Wakanda Forever.