My Misspent Youth: Iron Man #39 by Gerry Conway and Herb Trimpe

I read a lot of comic books as a kid. This series of posts is about the comics I read, and, occasionally, the comics that I should have read.

As I’ve acknowledged previously, my youthful commitment to Marvel Comics included a zestful excitement about researching the publisher’s comics from before I became a reader, which happened nearly twenty years into their history, giving me a lot to catch up on. I wanted to know the full scope of the continuity of the fictional tales, but I was also fascinated by the bevy of behind the scenes tales. Unlike their distinguished competition, which preferred elevating the characters to the near anonymity of the creators, Marvel cultivated a sense of boisterous community driving the creative process, bestowing upon those who toiled in the company bullpen a level of heroism and celebrity meant to rival that of the costumed do-gooders. I loved the stories about the actual making of the comics. As it turned out, though, I was largely getting the most sterling tales filtered to me. It wasn’t until many, many years later that I became exposed to the messier processes, which were, of course, even more fun.

It was well past my early years as a reader, for example, when I finally heard the fable of Iron Man #39. Published in 1971, it contained a fairly standard tale for Tony Stark and his armored alter ego, back in the days when Iron Man was a B-List hero, at best. Gerry Conway’s art didn’t make it distinctive. It was Herb Trimpe’s art that achieved that. The legend maintained that Trimpe drew the entire book in a roughly twenty-four-hour period, a ludicrously short amount of time for a full comic book story. When asked about it later, Trimpe acknowledged it was a rush job and figured he spent a couple days on it. The precise amount of time isn’t really the point. What resulted is on the page, and it looks spectacularly amateurish, miles from the expected quality level of a book from a major comics publisher.

iron man 39 1

Just look at that array of hastily sketched in faces and globby Iron Man armor, the holes in the faceplate reduced to jabbed on lines. Then there’s the villain of the issue, the unfortunate White Dragon.

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Usually one has to seek out the artwork of a toddler reeling from cold medicine to find facial hair so inexpertly rendered. It’s like someone spoke a real whopper into a polygraph machine to be sure it was operational.

Trimpe wasn’t the regular artist on Iron Man. Examining the credits of issues surrounding this one, it appears George Tuska had recently taken over that role from Don Heck. I seem to recall a version of the story that maintained the editors found out very close to the deadline that Tuska wasn’t going to turn in his art for the month and Trimpe was handy, hanging out in the Marvel offices. Rather than resort to the slapdash reprint that was the usual default when a title fell to the dreaded deadline doom, the powers that be asked Trimpe for a rapid rescue. No matter how rough the pages Trimpe delivered, they were evidently deemed preferable to plucking an adventure from an old issue of Tales of Suspense. If Iron Man occasionally resembled an ill-proportioned balloon animal, so be it.

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At times, it almost seems as if the story has been cooked up as an escalating dare to Trimpe. “So you think you can draw a whole issue in a day or two? What if, say, all the Avengers show up?”

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“Now what, buddy?”

If I’d have encountered this comic book when I was a kid, I surely would have viewed it with pure disdain, my snobbery over reading only mature, erudite, exemplary material (or so I thought it to be) at a peak when I was scuffling through my high school years. An issue like this, which was clearly a mess, would have stirred up the shame in me, the embarrassment over reading trashy kids’ stuff. Now I love it more than any number of those supposed pop art masterworks I was prepared to tediously expound upon back then. I don’t think Iron Man #39 is good, but I am overjoyed with the specific ways in which it is bad.

iron man 39 5


Fantastic Four by Stan Lee and John Buscema
Contest of Champions by Bill Mantlo and John Romita, Jr.
Daredevil by Frank Miller
Marvel Fanfare by Chris Claremont, Dave Cockrum and Paul Smith
Marvel Two-in-One by Tom DeFalco and Ron Wilson
Fantaco’s “Chronicles” series
Fantastic Four #200 by Marv Wolfman and Keith Pollard
The Incredible Hulk #142 by Roy Thomas and Herb Trimpe
Uncanny X-Men by Chris Claremont and Dave Cockrum
Godzilla by Doug Moench and Herb Trimpe
Giant-Size Avengers #3 by Steve Englehart, Roy Thomas and Dave Cockrum
Alpha Flight by John Byrne
Hawkeye by Mark Gruenwald
Avengers by David Michelinie and George Perez
Justice League by Keith Giffen, J.M. DeMatteis and Kevin Maguire
The Thing by Dan Slott and Andrea DiVito
Nexus by Mike Baron and Steve Rude
Marvel Premiere by David Kraft and George Perez
Marvel Super-Heroes Secret Wars by Jim Shooter and Mike Zeck
Micronauts by Bill Mantlo and Butch Guice
Batman: The Killing Joke by Alan Moore and Brian Bolland
What If? by Mike W. Barr, Herb Trimpe and Mike Esposito
Thor by Walt Simonson
Eightball by Dan Clowes
Cerebus: Jaka’s Story by Dave Sim and Gerhard
Iron Man #150 by by David Michelinie, John Romita, Jr. and Bob Layton
Bone by Jeff Smith
The Man of Steel by John Byrne
Fantastic Four by Doug Moench and Bill Sienkiewicz
“Allien and How to Watch It” by John Severin
Fantastic Four Roast by Fred Hembeck and friends
The Amazing Spider-Man #25 by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko
Marvel Two-in-One #7 by Steve Gerber and Sal Buscema
The New Mutants by Chris Claremont and Bob McLeod
Dark Horse Presents
Bizarre Adventures #27
Marvel Team-Up #48 by Bill Mantlo and Sal Buscema
Metal Men #20 by Robert Kanigher and Ross Andru
The Avengers by Roy Thomas and John Buscema
Fantastic Four by Marv Wolfman and John Byrne
Y: The Last Man by Brian K. Vaughan and Pia Guerra
American Flagg by Howard Chaykin
Marvel and DC Present by Chris Claremont and Walter Simonson
Batman by Frank Miller and David Mazzucchelli
Marvel Two-in-One Annual #5 by Alan Kupperberg and Pablo Marcos
Web of Spider-Man by Louise Simonson and Greg LaRocque
Super-Villain Team-Up #12 by Bill Mantlo and Bob Hall
What If? #31 by Rich Margopoulos and Bob Budiansky
Fantastic Four by Scott Lobdell and Alan Davis
Magik by Chris Claremont and John Buscema, Sal Buscema, and Ron Frenz
Marvel Two-in-One Annual #7 by Tom DeFalco and Ron Wilson
Green Arrow: The Longbow Hunters by Mike Grell
Avengers #202 by Jim Shooter, David Michelinie and George Pérez
Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. by Jim Steranko
Captain Victory and the Galactic Rangers by Jack Kirby by Roy Thomas, Jim Craig, and Rick Hoberg

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