Tales of Suspense #39 featuring the first appearance of Iron Man is one of my favorite Silver Age Marvel comic book keys based on the fascinating way it reflects its moment in time. Everyone knows that Tony Stark is based on real-life Billionaire industrialist Howard Hughes — even the USAF mentioned it when they discussed their involvement in the development of the first Iron Man movie. Part of the reason that Iron Man is more popular than ever is that inside that sophisticated armor shell, the character is grounded in some fascinating real-world dynamics and history. A comic book key that has exploded in popularity and price over the past decade, you can get a solid mid-grade copy of Tales of Suspense #39 (Marvel, 1963) CGC VG+ 4.5 Off-white to white pages in this week's 2021 September 19-20 Sunday & Monday Comic Books Select Auction #122138 from Heritage Auctions.
The fundamental elements of the Iron Man mythos which are grounded in Howard Hughes' and other real history go significantly beyond Tony Stark. To name one example, the character Happy Hogan, a washed-up boxer with a heart of gold who became Tony Stark's closest assistant and friend after a chance meeting at a hotel, is pretty obviously based on Gordon Margulis, a washed-up boxer with a heart of gold who became Howard Hughes' closest assistant and friend after a chance meeting at a hotel. Though it's from a later era, perhaps my favorite example is Howard Hughes's rival with connections in Russia, Armand Hammer's inspiration on Tony Stark rival with connections in Russia (in the MCU, at least), Justin… Hammer. Even Tony's absence to the world at large while he had been captured and forced to create weapons at the behest of a powerful warlord has a sliver of reality to it. Hughes, one of the most famous men in the world, and the wealthiest — had dropped off the face of the Earth for awhile, at just the time Iron Man's first appearance and origin in Tales of Suspense #39 was being developed. Of course, Hughes did not reemerge with cybernetic armor, although rumors abounded over the years as to what exactly he was up to inside a secretive facility in Long Beach, California during this period.
Even the notion of the technology itself was a concept that had entered the public zeitgeist. Cybernetics pioneer Norbert Wiener's research and theories were making their way into the mainstream. Just a few months prior to the release of Tales of Suspense #39, the head of a CIA task force on the development of Soviet Cybernetics had given a presentation on the matter to Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy, Secretary of Defense Robert S. McNamara. The CIA was trying to sound the alarm about what they saw as "Soviet commitment to a fundamental cybernetic strategy". Such concerns have obvious parallels in the path that the Tales of Suspense storyline would subsequently take. A debut based in history that arguably resonates more today than it did in 1963, you can get a solid mid-grade copy of Tales of Suspense #39 (Marvel, 1963) CGC VG+ 4.5 Off-white to white pages in this week's 2021 September 19-20 Sunday & Monday Comic Books Select Auction #122138 from Heritage Auctions.
Tales of Suspense #39 (Marvel, 1963) CGC VG+ 4.5 Off-white to white pages. The origin and first appearance of Tony Stark/Iron Man, and the first appearance of Wong Chu. First appearance and death of Professor Yinsen. Jack Kirby and Don Heck cover. Heck, Steve Ditko, and Gene Colan art. Currently tied for #9 on Overstreet's list of Top 50 Silver Age Comics. Overstreet 2021 VG 4.0 value = $4,100. CGC census 9/21: 159 in 4.5, 705 higher.