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Stranger History: America's First Iron Man

When I'm not injecting politics into your favorite entertainment news website, or working my way through my fifth year at the Jackson Pollock school of website design, I'm pestering the Bleeding Cool staff with forgotten little tidbits about comic book history.  I'm that guy who won't shut up about the stuff once I get going. You've seen me around your local conventions and shops I'm sure.

Finally one day, Rich Johnston says to me, "You know Mark, it's a shame you don't have a platform you could use to actually tell a few people about these things."  I suspect he's trying to get me out from under foot so that the staff can get their work done, but still, it's a point.  Here's something you may not know about:

America's first Iron Man, A.J.H. Duganne did not possess mechanized armor, though was sometimes drawn as if he did. In reality, he was a creator of widely varied skills — an author, poet, musician, and political activist.

Far as I can tell, he came by the Iron Man nickname for a lengthy and challenging musical performance he gave using a variety of instruments of his own design. The name stuck throughout his life and was widely used by the press across the country. He even briefly launched a weekly paper (as noted in the caption there) called The Iron Man.

Duganne was a founder of the Know-Nothing political party, and an associate of the far more famous Ned Buntline. Buntline was himself a promotional force of nature, sort of a prior-era Stan Lee Face Front True Believers type, whose claim to fame is fictionalizing the Buffalo Bill legend and turning Bill and many others into the icons we know today.

As for Duganne, in one of history's amusing little coincidences, his first dime novel work was critically reviewed in 1864 by none other than William Everett — who has a descendant who delivered a fictional smackdown to his own generation's Iron Man a century later.

If this little history stopped there, it'd be interesting enough, but then it gets stranger.  The Duganne Iron Man illustration above appears in the comic/satirical magazine Yankee Notions #2 from 1852.  In Yankee Notions #3, this full page sequential comic appeared:


Jeremiah Oldpot seeks out an inventor to prepare himself "for the most terrible adventures."  The inventor combines various of his materials and inventions to come up with what is essentially weaponized armor.  Because this is very clearly sequential comics, I think there's a good case to be made that Jeremiah Oldpot is the first comic super character published in America.

But take another look at that last panel.  It looks a little familiar, doesn't it?


The pose, the position of the legs and feet… even the shape of the helmet and boots, all look very similar to the now-famous Iron Man cover from his first appearance in Tales of Suspense #39, over a century after Jeremiah Oldpot donned his own armor in Yankee Notions #3 in 1852.

Even the cover blurb of Tales of Suspense #39 seems to have some direct parallels to the final and cringe-worthy text which accompanies the last panel of Jeremiah Oldpot.


Do I think that Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, and Don Heck swiped A.J.H. Duganne and Jeremiah Oldpot (creators unknown, though I think likely written by Yankee Notions publisher Thomas Strong).  I do not.

Do I think that these general notions drifted forward through the currents of time, combined with others, and were in the air that Lee, Kirby and co breathed in 1963?  Yep, I do. Just a little bit.

No matter how well you know your comics history, there's always another page to turn, I've found, and many volumes left to be written about how this all connects together.  What you think you know may not be wrong, exactly, but comics history is definitely stranger than you think.


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Mark SeifertAbout Mark Seifert

Co-founder and Creative director of Bleeding Cool parent company Avatar Press. Bleeding Cool Managing Editor, tech and data wrangler. Machine Learning hobbyist. Vintage paper addict.
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