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When Did Howard Stark Debut in the Comics?

In "When We First Met", we spotlight the various characters, phrases, objects or events that eventually became notable parts of comic lore, like the first time someone said, "Avengers Assemble!" or the first appearance of Batman's giant penny or the first appearance of Alfred Pennyworth or the first time Spider-Man's face was shown half-Spidey/half-Peter. Stuff like that.

My pal Fraser wrote in to ask when Howard Stark first showed up in the comic books.

Here is the fascinating thing about Howard Stark. He means a lot more than just "Tony Stark's dad," because the whole concept of his character redefines Stark Industries in the Marvel Universe.

You see, when Tony Stark was introduced in Tales of Suspense #39, he surely was not a guy who inherited his company from his father. No, Tony was very much the definition of the "self-made" man...

Other early issues made it clear that Tony Stark's company was essentially built around Tony's genius. In other words, Tony had ideas and he then had a company that was based around making those ideas a reality and then selling said ideas to the world...

It was lot like Howard Hughes...Sr. While Howard Hughes Jr. is the more famous of the two Howard Hughes and it was the junior who took his small fortune and made it a gigantic fortune, he still started with a small fortune. It was his father, Howard Hughes Jr., that initially built up the Hughes Tool Company based on an invention that the elder Hughes developed to help drills. He would then lease the part to drilling companies while protecting his patent and that was the basis of he Hughes fortune. That is really how Tony Stark was depicted in the early Iron Man stories.

This also went to other areas, like how Tony Stark was depicted as one of the people behind the formation of SHIELD in Strange Tales #135...

Essentially, the agreed-upon depiction of Tony Stark in the 1960s was that of a self-made man, who built a company around his genius and then this serious-minded icon of industry also decided that he was going to be involved in national security, both in the military and also in the spy game, as well. It is fascinating, really, to see how much Tony embraced the military in those days. Marvel, obviously, was very much an Anti-Communist comic book company for most of the 1960s, but while the other superheroes merely dabbled in Anti-Communist stories, Iron Man LIVED in the world of Anti-Communism. That was, like, practically the hook of his series - "Capitalist fights the Communists."

As we have learned a number of times over the years, though, comic book writers are very prone to coming up with retcons that upend our understanding of characters.

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