Sunday, April 25, 2010

Hero of the Week 2010 #16: Iron Man

IRON MAN (Marvel) (2009) 
Real Name: Tony Stark
First Appearance: Tales of Suspense #39 (March, 1963)
Group Affiliation: Avengers (upcoming), SHIELD (former)
Gaming Credentials: Captain America & The Avengers (1991); Marvel Super Heroes (1995); Marvel Super Heroes: War of the Gems (1996); Iron Man & X-O Manowar in Heavy Metal (1996)Marvel vs Capcom 2 (2000); Invincible Iron Man (2002); Tony Hawk's Underground (2003); X-Men Legends II: Rise of Apocalypse (2005); Marvel Nemesis: Rise of the Imperfects (2005); Marvel Ultimate Alliance (2006); Iron Man (2008); Incredible Hulk (2008); Iron Man: Aerial Assault (2009); Marvel Ultimate Alliance 2 (2009); Marvel Super Hero Squad (2009); Iron Man 2 (2010); Marvel vs Capcom 3 (TBR/2010)
Infinite Wars Cumulative Ranking: #3

They really only reflect about twenty years worth of data, but video games are an interesting way to gauge the mainstream penetration of a comic book superhero. When compared to the pantheon of other DC and Marvel heroes, Iron Man has done reasonably well, reflecting not only his standing within the comic books, but success in cross-media projects like the moderately popular Marvel Action Hour cartoon of the mid-to-late nineties. Iron Man now sits at the very top of the Marvel heirarchy as he prepares to appear in the second feature film starring Robert Downey Jr.

Mickey Rourke, Don Cheadle, Scarlet Johansson and Sam Rockwell join the cast of returning originals, Robert Downey Jr, Gwyneth Paltrow, and Samuel L Jackson, to upgrade the ensemble to All-Star status on the back of the unanticipated success of the first movie. Iron Man 2 is set to challenge the dollarage of previous blockbusters helmed by Spider-man and X-Men, with the benefits trickling down more specifically to the Marvel Entertainment studio as they did with their previous outings with Iron Man and Incredible Hulk.

This mainstream movie-funded arrival is the feather in the cap of a character that took precedence as the dominant figure in Marvel's comic books back in 2006, having enjoyed a career as one of Marvel's many major icons since debuting in 1963 as the likeable playboy industrialist.

The reasons for making Iron Man our Hero of the Week are two-fold: 1) Iron Man 2 starts to hit cinemas in a bit over a week from now, and 2) Iron Man is among the three confirmed Marvel comics characters returning to the cast in Marvel vs Capcom 3! Yay!

It's a testament to the superhero construct that a character born of such garbled sixties war-time concepts as Iron Man can seemlessly transition from the politics of the decade of his creation, to the technarchy of the double-ohs, to a high concept video game about characters shooting each other with colourful liquid epilepsy. It's a texture all too often mistaken for a Marvel trademark, but for the naive making this mistake, forgiveness is easy. Afterall, Iron Man just happens to be a wonderful example of how imagination can transcend what we perceive as contemporary, giving birth to something iconic and diverse in ideals.

At his heart, Iron Man remains Stan Lee's playful attempt to test his own creative invincibility during an era where he'd successfully given the world Kirby co-creations like the Fantastic Four, Hulk, and X-Men. With a winning streak like that, why wouldn't "The Man" see if he could convince readers to like a supposedly unlikeable archetype -- the ultimate eventuality of his generation of 'heroes with headaches?'

Tony Stark was a smarmy moustachioed weapons dealer in a time of cultural disdain for America's preoccupation with war and imagined enemies during the Cold War. This uber-capitalist was out for numero uno with little regard for causality on distant shores -- that is, until he tasted the threat of war first-hand. With his heart broken, Tony Stark's deathbed revelation is an ironic epiphany of love and peace. Using the advanced technologies of the Iron Man tech that kept him alive, he would use his weapons to fight evils face-to-face as an armored avenger. in fifty years of publishing, he hasn't spent a lot of time away from the industrial manufacture of potentially lethal materials, but then, that's why we love him... usually.

In 2006's Civil War, Iron Man was reinvented with all the antagonistic intent of Stan Lee's original design. A cypher for post-9/11 Bush Jr politics, Iron Man became an oppressor of free superheroes, demanding they reveal themselves and succumb to his total power. It was a plot that lent itself to the philosophical friction between the intent of superhero archetypes, the hopes and dreams of what they represent, and the truth behind the America of today. I've often discussed the intriguing contrast of Captain America as the mythic ideals that America dreams of, versus Iron Man's self-made production-line versions of self-investment and charity donations.

I really love these qualities about the Iron Man character. I love that he exists as a parable of both the good and the bad, without any implicit requirement for malice or motivation behind those comments. I love that his demons are ones of the nation that champions him, of the industry he inherited and the weapons he created, of the evil men he created those weapons to fight, of the technological arms race we live in today, of mysticism and magic that undoes the constructs of technology, and of his own weaknesses as an alcoholic and playboy.

War Machine fills in for Iron Man in this gratuitous vista shot from Sega's Iron Man 2, opposite the SHIELD Helicarrier.

In Marvel vs Capcom 3; Iron Man will be challenged by alluring succubi, gun-toting zombie fighters, and legendary martial arts masters. In Iron Man 2, it might be a more karmic fate the armored hero faces when he teams with comic book favourite, War Machine, to battle against the classic Russian villainy of Whiplash and his American benefactor, Justin Hammer. It should be a very fun installment in the modern adventures of this Cold War hero!

In true Tony Stark capitalist style, you'll find a plethora of related merchandise from the movie.
Sega's Iron Man 2 strives to be better than it's utterly mediocre forerunner with dialogue coaching from Matt Fraction and a new team leader. I remain slightly unconvinced as discussed in a previous 5 Steps to Building a Better Iron Man article, but hope they pull it off. You'll also find a long checklist of comic book cash-ins from Marvel Comics themselves. Buyer be warned -- this is not typically the breeding ground for good, memorable comics.

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