This is Foggy Ruins of Time, a feature that provides the cultural context behind certain comic book characters/behaviors. You know, the sort of then-topical references that have faded into the "foggy ruins of time." To wit, twenty years from now, a college senior watching episodes of Seinfeld will likely miss a lot of the then-topical pop culture humor (like the very specific references in "The Understudy" to the Nancy Kerrigan/Tonya Harding scandal).
Today, based on a suggestion from my pal, Fraser, we take a look at the time that Iron Man took on a very familiar team of espionage agents.
In late 1970's "Iron Man" #33 (by Allyn Brodsky, Don Heck and Mike Esposito), Iron Man faced off against the Spymaster for the first time. In that first appearance, though, the Spymaster came along with him a team called the Espionage Elite.
As you can see, they are very much patterned after the Impossible Missions Force (IMF) from the then-popular TV series, "Mission: Impossible," which was in its fifth season at the time.
Here is the fifth season cast of "Mission: Impossible"...
Here, the strong man and the genius roles are switched between two characters and Jim Phelps is not a gymnastics expert. The most clear riff is the master of disguise "London," who is clearly based on Leonard Nimoy's master of disguise from the show, who was named Paris.
Talk about a reference that goes way over the heads of everyone now, but was surely quite obvious to readers of the book at the time!
Thanks to Fraser for the suggestion! If anyone else has any other suggestions for obscure pop culture reference in old comic books, drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org!