Iron Man – Marvel’s Man Of Steel

Although a huge fan of the Marvel Pantheon, Anthony Edward “Tony” Stark, aka Iron Man, was never my favorite superhero. A creation first conceived by writer-editor Stan Lee and Larry Lieber in Tales Of Suspense #39 (March 1963), his wealthy industrialist background was too similar to Batman’s. The Vietnam war became the backdrop for his creation as he is gravely injured and forced to build a devastating weapon, while being held captive by the enemy. Instead, the anti-communist hero creates a suit of armor that saves his mortally wounded body and provides an avenue of escape, ultimately using his acquired powers via his “power armor” to protect a defenseless world with “truth, justice and the American way,” while joining the Avengers along the way.

According to Lee, Stark was patterned after Howard Hughes, “one of the most colorful men of our time. He was an inventor, an adventurer, a multi-billionaire, a ladies’ man and finally a nutcase.” As the character development evolved, Tony Stark became a more complex and vulnerable character with multiple flaws and addictions, specially to alcohol. How appropriate that Robert Downey Jr. should play a character who mirrors his own Hollywood “Bad Boy” image! Perhaps his own history with addiction will add the depth needed to make Iron Man more believable in the movie adaptation coming to a theater near you on May 2, 2008.

ironman74.jpgHe was born on Long Island, a boy genius, entering MIT at 15, the son of rich industrialists Howard and Maria Stark who died suddenly in a car accident leaving him their vast fortune and Stark Industries. According to Wikipedia, “while observing the effects of his experimental technologies on the American war effort, Stark is injured by a booby trap and captured by the enemy, who then orders him to design weapons for them. However, Stark’s injuries are dire and shrapnel in his chest threatens to pierce his heart. His fellow prisoner, Yin Sen, helps him use the workshop to secretly design and construct a suit of powered armor that saves Stark’s life by keeping his heart beating. Stark uses the armor to escape, although Yin Sen dies during the attempt. Stark takes revenge on his kidnappers then heads back to rejoin the American forces. Along the way, he meets a wounded American Air Force helicopter pilot, James ‘Rhodey’ Rhodes.”

Back home, Stark discovers the shrapnel lodged in his chest cannot be removed without killing him and he is forced to wear the armor’s chest plate beneath his clothes to act as a regulator for his heart. “He must also recharge the chest plate every day or else risk the shrapnel killing him.” The supporting cast includes such colorful characters as Harold “Happy” Hogan and Stark’s secretary Virginia “Pepper” Potts.

It’s obvious with all the transformations of the characters through the years that Stan Lee was not “happy” with the way Iron Man progressed. His suit was initially grey and bulky, then red, until finally settling on red and gold. The Vietnam War, not popular, ultimately led to Stark’s reinvention in the Gulf War, while his attitude often reflected arrogance and “the ends justify the means,” proved problematic and controversial.

The heart of Marvel’s characters lie within the inner battles of morality and judgment we all face, the strength to change and redeem the flaws which transform becoming the basis for identification. Although self reflection is represented, Iron Man doesn’t portray this as well as other superheroes of Marvel Universe. Let’s hope the film adaptation brings something new to this character.

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