As one of the richest men in the country and the head of a weapons manufacturer, there's maybe never been an alter-ego safer than Tony Stark. Yet, the two villains that helped Tony grow the most in his early days...by posing the worst threat possible were...the Melter and Mr. Doll.
I am (literally) Iron Man
So I didn't know this, but Iron Man's original armor? Actually made out of iron. I've tried to keep a cast iron pan in good condition and...I'm on my second one. Sure, it's power armor so it kind of moves itself...but only when Tony is wearing it. In the original version, it was in iron pieces that he carried around in a briefcase.
I know that we're talking about a billionaire secret superhero who wears rocket booties, but the carrying of an entire suit of iron armor around in a briefcase all day is a step too far when it comes to believability. That thing has to weight over two hundred pounds, and you can't have someone carry it for you. In this time Iron Man was believed to be Tony Stark's bodyguard.
Anyway, a literal iron suit you assemble piecemeal is one oversight. Calling yourself after the thing you're made out of is another. At least when it comes to the Melter.
Bruno Horgon was one of Stark Industries competitors when it came to making weapons for the government, because unlike MCU Tony Stark, comic book Tony was all about that military-industrial complex. Bruno Horgon also wanted to make guns for the government...but he didn't want to spend too much money doing it. Upon discovering that Bruno Horgon was cutting corners in his materials, the government gave all their death machine money to Tony Stark, leaving Bruno Horgon out in the cold.
Iron Man's original armor? Actually made out of iron.
Horgon had two options. Actually run his company...or take a prototype device he had built by accident, wear purple underwear on the outside of his striped pants, and go sabotage Stark Industries factories. Given that this is the story of the Melter and not...business owner who competes for lower-tier government contracts...you can probably guess which route he took.
And yeah. His device was one that instantly melted iron. And not even iron alloys. Just iron. How much pure iron is out there for the Melter to melt? Apparently a lot.
But it was only Iron Man's suit he was interested in, and he showed Iron Man his power by melting his iron arm.
All the Powers of a Fondue Pot
The Melter was only ever a risk for Iron Man and Stark Industries because, like I said, he only melted iron. People could stand dead center in his ray and come away completely unaffected. He didn't have any fighting skills. He was a 1960s business guy in a helmet and cape. It's like if the guys from Mad Men put down the cigarettes and whiskey long enough to do some sabotage. When Iron Man replaced his armor with aluminum, he quickly ended the Melter's reign of...not terror. Annoyance? Slightly fewer profits for Stark Industries?
Horgon found himself in jail. You know what's stereotypically in jail, though? Yeah. Iron bars. If Horgon had showed even a fraction of the ingenuity as a business owner as he did as inmate, he would have been fine. Using the prison black market, he assembled an iron melter behind bars and...then used it to get rid of those bars.
When free, he realized his problem was...what we've been talking about for the past few minutes. He only melted iron.
The melter managed to get the jump on Tony Stark and forced him to make a device that would melt not only iron, but flesh, wood, and stone. And, like, congrats, Melter. You just caught up to what lasers are. It's more effective and makes more sense than a gun that only melts iron...but...laser gun guys are a dime a dozen. Despite having a fundamentally silly premise, this was the point at which the Melter became a generic villain. Sure he joined the Masters of Evil and the Death Squad and any other villain team up...but he was only ever just another bad guy pew-pew-ing around with his little laser gun.
Combined with Mr. Doll, though, the Melter helped make the red and gold armor that Iron Man is known for today.
Pulling my Leg (off)
Africa is a large continent filled with dozens of countires, diverse people groups, cultures, and a history and current events all its own in the 1960s. Or, in the various comic book universes, it was a big jungle full of kryptonite gorillas, ancient Romans making people fight, and witch doctors with magic dolls.
That last one wasn't quite right, though, because Nathan Dolly befriended the witch doctor, killed them, and took the magic doll back to the US where he changed his name from Nathan Dolly to the...somehow less intimidating Mr. Doll, and used it to get old rich guys to sign over their stuff.
And he would have gotten away with it, too, if one of those rich guys wasn't a superhero with a heart condition.
Mr. Doll's only power was being able to very quickly sculpt a statue out of his magical witch doctor clay. And it worked. He made an Iron Man figurine and nearly killed Tony Stark, because fighting against Mr. Doll burned out his power armor. Power armor that he had to plug in at night like a Tesla.
Like a Tesla, Iron Man's armor almost killed him when it broke down, and he couldn't get out. Knowing he had to have something lighter, he moved on past his clunky cave design to a sleeker version with wrist rays and shimmering yellow metal pants. Very scary.
Most of the book was dedicated to the new suit, and he quickly dispatched Mr. Doll by using a lot of finely-tuned blasts from his wrist rays to shape the clay to make a crude form of Mr. Doll and gain control.
They're not Thanos or Ultron, but if Iron Man didn't have the Melter and Mr. Doll...he...probably would have upgraded eventually. Those guys weren't really that notable.
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