Tales of Suspense 43
"Iron Man Versus Kala, Queen of The Netherworld!"
July, 1963

Plot: STAN LEE
Script: R. BERNS
Art: JACK KIRBY
Inking: DON HECK
Lettering: ARTIE SIMEK

The golden avenger journeys to the center of the Earth, with the fate of the entire planet in the balance! An incredible duel will take place between two powerful figures... "Iron Man Versus Kala, Queen of The Netherworld!" On the splash page, the queen tells Shell-Head that he has made a mistake by entering her netherworld, for a bolt from their disintegrator cannon will soon vaporize him into nothingness! (Holy Shot In The Dark, Batman! And this is just their first date!) Iron Man assures Kala that she may be in for the shock of her life! (Holy You Light Up My Life, Batman! Will he attract her or repulse her?)

At Tony Stark's private laboratory, the wind velocity control panel for the wind tunnel has just exploded! WHHHRRRRR! The wind has gone berserk, generating tornado force gusts! RIPPP! CRRASHHH! A test missile has been ripped from its mountings! BRAMMMMMM! The signal goes out for Tony Stark at his private office, but the scientists don't know what even he can do about this situation!

The millionaire industrialist takes the emergency phone call and assures the guard that Iron Man will be right there! After opening his attache case, Tony Stark dons the collapsible armor costume! The golden avenger arrives near the damaged wind tunnel. He knows of one way to stop the giant fans from whipping up a hurricane! Shellhead begins to whirl and begins to blow up a storm of his own... by becoming a human fan! CRASH!

The wind tunnel is now scrap metal, but Iron Man tells the scientists that Tony Stark can afford to build another one. Back in his private office... the millionaire industrialist changes back and makes an appearance before the staff wonders why he didn't turn up during the emergency! Believing that another crisis isn't likely to occur, he leaves his costume behind! The guards tell their boss about Iron Man's sensational feat... when one of them begins to disappear! The guard has been disintegrated and all that is left is his gun! Tony Stark then sees a mysterious ray of light enveloping a scientist named Evans!

As the men wonder if they can trust their senses, the millionaire industrialist finds himself surrounded by a glass cage! Unable to break free, the cage begins to sink into the ground, while the guards and scientists can only watch his departure! Beneath the earth... Tony sees that he is descending as if he were in an elevator, and the glass cage is unimpeded by the rock! He soon sees a strange underground world below...

BZZZZ BZZZZTTTT The millionaire industrialist is released and is introduced to Kala, Queen of The Netherworld! He sees that Jim and Evans are being kept under guard. The queen tells Tony that her civilization is superior to that of the upperworld. She assures him that it was netherworld science and not magic which has brought him to them. The others were drawn in error as their electronic rays sought him! Kala tells him how the Netherworlders are descendants of the people of Atlantis! When the civilization was threatened by huge tidal waves and land-sea quakes, the scientific geniuses were prepared...

A huge unbreakable glass dome protected their civilization as it fell into the sea! Eventually, Atlantis sank deeper into the core of the earth, where it is now the Netherworld! Kala intends to invade the surface world, which her civilization had once inhabited! General Baxu is to show him some of their military forces! After bidding the puny surfaceman to follow him, Baxu explains that those of the Netherworld can speak all earthly languages since they've been monitoring the upper world with electronic TV probes. (Holy Nielsons, Batman!) This was how they learned that Tony Stark is America's greatest inventive genius! (Holy American Idol, Batman! I bet Reed Richards is green with envy!) As he shows the millionaire industrialist some of their super-artillery, Kala tells Baxu to demonstrate their weaponry, and Tony is satisfied to take their word for it. He wishes to learn how the Netherworlders plan to bring their weapons to the surface! Lacking the power to reach the surface, they need devices to blast a path upwards... transistor-powered machines such as only Tony Stark can create! He is to either invent such a method for transporting their invasion forces and weaponry, or Kala will have him and his two friends executed!

The millionaire industrialist is confident that Iron Man would be able to defeat Kala's forces single-handedly. The golden avenger could sink a battleship by ripping out its bottom... render a supersonic-speed bomber inoperative with one punch... and tear a large space-age missile in two with his bare hands! Baxu knows that Tony is telling the truth from many monitored reports of Shell-Head's deeds, and suggests a delay of their invasion plans... The Queen of the Netherworld regards his words as those of a traitor and repeats her threat... She will activate a device which will cause Earth's axis to reverse, destroying all life on the upper world! Evans believes that Kala is lying and believes that their three lives are unimportant in comparison with the toll on mankind if the Netherworlders reach the surface! The millionaire industrialist disagrees with the scientist and plans to help her all he can! He only requires a laboratory, absolute privacy, specific materials, and no interference. The queen tells her general to give Tony all he needs for their cause...

Evans curses the millionaire industrialist for caring about his own skin and not about mankind! Tony confirms this and heads away with Baxu. He asks the general if he approves of the invasion, and Baxu tells him that he is unsure they can win... plus he hates taking orders from a woman! The millionaire industrialist wonders aloud why Baxu doesn't take over himself, plus the general may have feelings for Kala, himself! Even so, he refuses to buckle under any beautiful woman, and leads Tony to the laboratory! At night, the millionaire industrialist is at work in his lab... he pities Jim and Evans for thinking he actually surrendered to the queen. The real reason why he asked for the lab and solitude was so that he could build another copy of his Iron Man costume! The following morning... Kala's voice is heard over the loudspeaker, and a smiling Tony Stark assures her that she'll soon see the fruits of his labors! (Holy Fruit of the Loom, Batman! Is this a Comic Code approved statement?) Baxu sees the golden avenger smashing through the wall, and hearing from Iron Man that Stark returned to the upper world! The general sees that his ray pistol has been crumbled to powder...

It is now Iron Man's turn to demonstrate what would happen if the Netherworld army met him face-to-face. When Baxu asks if he will be slain, Shell-Head assures him that this is not the reason why he's here. The general learns that Stark regarded him as a courageous and intelligent man. Shell-Head believes that Baxu should be the ruler instead of the beautiful but vain... Kala! The general tells Iron Man that the Queen of The Netherworld has some terrifying weapons of her own, which may destroy the golden avenger in spite of his incredible strength! (Holy Viagra, Batman!) Fortunately for Shell-Head, in addition to brute strength, he also has electronic powers at his disposal! A guard tells Kala that the millionaire industrialist has returned to the surface and Iron Man has already dealt with Baxu! She orders the use of the disintegrator cannon! Kala watches as the weapon is aimed and is certain that the golden avenger will be vaporized! Unfortunately for her, Shell-Head uses an electronic reverse-energy beam at the bolt! WHOOM! The two beams collide...

It is the disintegrator which has been disintegrated, and the golden avenger wonders what else the Queen of The Netherworld has next! The imper-sonic flame-thrower, which can reduce Iron Man's costume to molten metal! Shell-Head calmly tosses a pellet of concentrated chemical crystals at the flame which is about to reach him... and the crystals have chemically transformed the flames into a block of ice! The ice shatters against his body, just as Kala orders the magnetically-directed-machine-gun which fires atomic bullets to fire at will! BRACKA BRACKA BRACKA Iron Man simply hurls some of his transistor-powered magnets into the air... and the atomic bullets begin to head upwards! PWINNGG! PWHNNGG! PWINNG! So far, the golden avenger has used only defensive measures against the Netherworld weapons, but...

Iron Man now multiplies himself electronically with countless images! The tiny mirrors he has distributed... have created multiple illusions of himself... like the many visions seen in a trick mirror! Kala must decide which image is not a reflection... Detaching himself from the multiple images, Shell-Head seizes Kala, who shrieks in dismay... (Holy Golden Goose, Batman! I wonder what Pal Hoy would think of this!) They are to take a little trip... through the glass dome, which yields to the speed generated by his attachments and the transistor-powered clippers in his hand! (Holy Double-Entendre, Batman! Has Shell-Head been to barber college?) They pass through the glass as if it were butter! (Holy Fabio, Batman! I can't believe it!) The layers between them and the surface are gouged by the nuclear-powered clippers, creating a nice, wide shaft... (Holy Richard Roundtree, Batman! What a round-about way to travel!)

They are now on the surface, and Iron Man sees that Kala hasn't taken the trip too well! Since the atmosphere is different from the Netherworld... some hideous changes have occurred! She sees her reflection in a pool of water... that of an old hag! She now knows that the instant her Netherworld army reaches the surface, they would grow old and weak! Kala begs him to return... where she can be young and beautiful once more... even if she must remain in the Netherworld forever! Even Shell-Head must admit that she has made a wise decision. She may be cruel and ambitious, but Kala is not stupid! Back in the Netherworld... The queen is once again herself and thanks Iron Man for not destroying her beauty! She permits Tony's friends to be free! Evans and Joe are surprised to see the golden avenger, just as he is surprised by Kala's offer to rule the Netherworld by her side! Flattered by the invitation, he suggests that there are others more suitable to become king... such as... Baxu! He urges the queen to marry the general and rule wisely! She can tells Baxu why an invasion of the upper world would be such folly! The general thanks Iron Man for teaching Kala a valuable lesson, and assures him that he is welcome anytime! The following day, at a cocktail party... the millionaire industrialist is seen chatting with a group of young ladies! One nightclubber comments that Stark's underground adventure has kept him away from the girls for a while!! Tony smiles and then straightens his bow-tie... knowing that this wasn't so!

Stan plotted this one, R. Berns (Richard Bernstein?) scripted this one, Jack Kirby drew the art, Don Heck inked this one, and Artie Simek lettered this one.

In Fantastic Four #1, several bases were also under attack from underground!

The special sound effects by Artie Simek made this story fun to read, as he has done on many others as the letterer.

It's a Journey To The Center of The Earth which Jules Verne would envy.

Kala's people are descendants of Atlantis. I wonder how her people tie in with Namor's, not to mention the Deviants and the Lemurians.

Interesting that Tony Stark was sought out for his transistor-powered inventions... especially since transistors do not power anything at all!

Iron Man's arsenal in this story included: an electronic reverse-energy beam, concentrated chemical crystals (Holy mountain-groan, Batman!), tiny-transistor-powered magnets (Holy tongue-twister, Batman!), tiny mirrors which cast electronic images, and transistor-powered clippers (Holy close shave, Batman! I guess Shell-Head has to "hedge" his bets on this device), in addition to his other "attachments." (Holy anatomy lesson, Batman! Let's hope that Geoff Johns doesn't get his hands on Iron Man!)

Kala, Queen of The Netherworld next appeared in Fantastic Four #127 - #128, where she teamed up with The Mole Man, then betrayed him for Tyrannus, who then thanked Kala by betraying her himself! It was in this storyline that we learn Baxu soon died of a heart attack after ruling alongside the Queen of the Netherworld.

The Mole Man showed her kindness and she ruled by his side, as seen in a 1970's Fantastic Four Annual by Bill Mantlo, Sal Buscema, and Joe Sinnott.

She was still with Moley when Avalanche and Landslide fought the Hulk in the 1980's, as well as for the 1980 Olympics when Green-Skin met The Amazing Spider-Man in a Marvel Treasury Edition.

In a 1990's Iron Man annual, Kala returned to visit the millionaire industrialist at his factory, and sought both his and Iron Man's help against those who threatened the Netherworld.

What I've always admired about the characters of Iron Man and Tony Stark is how well the character did when faced with adversity from super-villains, his personal life, and ailing health.

As the millionaire industrialist, Tony managed to find a way to prolong his life until a cure could be found for his damaged heart, while working on modifications of his Iron Man armor to overcome an ever-increasing array of characters such as Titanium Man, Crimson Dynamo, Midas, The Unicorn, and The Mandarin.

He is a self-made man, who uses his playboy image and inventive skill to his advantage.

When we see the smiling millionaire industrialist at the cocktail party, it's thanks to the creative team of Lee, Berns, Kirby, Heck, and Simek, who played a large part in establishing the character. Indeed, whenever I visualize Tony Stark and Shell-Head, I see the likenesses done by Don Heck and Gene Colan in my mind's eye.

This story was reprinted in Marvel Collector's Item Classics #6.

This Review Is Dedicated To Kevin Grady

Steve Chung
"Iron Man Versus Kala, Queen Of The Review!"