TSL Comic Book Convo: “Screw You, Tony Stark!”

    The iron hand is one that is cold and unyielding. Certainly analogous to what billionaire industrialist Tony Stark aka Iron Man represents in the Marvel Universe and how he has been cleverly co-opted to represent an ongoing comic book narrative of the dangers of the military industrial complex and the idea of a global police force. Indeed, once upon a time, the Invincible Iron Man was a favorite character for me going back to the days of Underoos. 

    Created by Stan Lee, Iron Man burst on to the scene in March of 1963 in “Tales of Suspense #39.” Appearing to take a cue from any number of popular characters of the day, he was immediately depicted as being ingenious, handsome and charismatic. A real suave type of dude, he appeared as if an amalgam of real life Playboys Hugh Hefner and James Bond. The theme song from the old Iron Man cartoon says it best:

    “Tony Stark makes you feel. Hes a cool exec with a heart of steel. As Iron Man, all jets ablaze, hes fighting and smiting with repulsor rays! Amazing armor! Thats Iron Man! A blazing power! Thats Iron Man!”

    Where Captain America had been depicted as everything right and pure about American idealism within the pages of the comic books, Tony Stark is the other side of the coin; for profit, for personal glory and and just cocky enough to believe that his way is always the right way-qualities that have been magnificently transferred to the big screen by Robert Downey, Jr. He is the consummate capitalist, industrialist American dream or nightmare, depending on your viewpoint.

    But aside from the catchy, Mad Men-style theme songs from the 60’s, Stark was a war profiteer from the very beginning as he was operating alongside the United States military during the early days of the Iron Man imprint, “terrorist” agents in the Vietnam War. It was all about national defense, modern advancements and technological wizardry overcoming all ills.

    Being big on urban appeal, Iron Man was a favorite among my friends and I. In fact, he had so much hood clout for his debonair persona, womanizing ways and vast fortune that Wu Tang Clan member Ghostface Killah chose Tony Stark as his alter ego on wax.

    He also had a cool homeboy with an Afro in James Rhodey Rhodes. Stark was so cool that he would eventually give his trusted friend Rhodes a chance to occupy an armor suit of his own in Iron Man #118, the first issue in which Rhodes would don the armor and title of War Machine.

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    Like many characters created decades ago, Iron Man was reflective of the days in which he was created. For example, one of Iron Mans greatest enemies is the Mandarin. While one cannot know for certain, it is likely Tony Starks first archenemy being of Asian descent was reflective of American society at the time. 

    Any wonder why he was named after a region in China? Yes, he was also a descendant of Genghis Khan, martial arts expert and a genius. How many racial stereotypes there? His very first mission is to steal missiles and spy planes built by Stark Industries. 

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    Even when the struggles of living a playboy/superhero lifestyle in the fast lane caught up to him, as was the case in Iron Man #128 when his battle with alcoholism finally came to a head, Tony Stark always seems to come out on top. Like many individuals who are locked in the throes of hubris, he never seems to learn any redemptive lessons because he keeps using his superhuman ingenuity to bail himself out, thus, adding to his level of hubris even more so. From a character perspective, that would make anyone harder to collaborate with.  

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    As  far as the Marvel Comics universe is concerned, there is no greater a-hole than Tony Stark and apparently that was the goal the entire time, according to Stan the Man himself: 

    I think I gave myself a dare. It was the height of the Cold War. The readers, the young readers, if there was one thing they hated, it was war, it was the military….So I got a hero who represented that to the hundredth degree. He was a weapons manufacturer, he was providing weapons for the Army, he was rich, he was an industrialist….I thought it would be fun to take the kind of character that nobody would like, none of our readers would like, and shove him down their throats and make them like him….And he became very popular.

    He not only became one of the most popular Marvel characters, but he also represents just about everything that is ugly in American characteristics.

    From the first Armor Wars story arc in 1987 through his betrayal by Obediah Stane, his brief stint with vagrancy during which time one-time bodyguard and Marine pilot James Rhodes briefly takes over the guise of Iron Man, to Stark becoming Director of SHIELD, then his failure to defend Earth as U.S. Secretary of Defense, his role in banishing the Hulk as a member of the Illuminati, his subsequent responsibility for the destruction of New York by said Hulk upon his return as the evermore ticked off World War Hulk, Iron Man is the Teflon Don.

    Problem after problem after problem that rears its head in the Marvel Universe in relation to the Avengers can inexorably be traced back to Tony Stark more often than not. Matter of fact, we learn that Stark is actually responsible for Bruce Banner’s Gamma experiment going awry because he secretly made some tweaks to it without telling anyone. 

    But, like the high school jock who’s horrible to everyone, Marvels quest to make him a lovable heel has made comic book fans everywhere so much more aware of his selfishness. 

    Yes, Iron Man is a founding member of Earths Mightiest Heroes, but that doesnt necessarily make him a good guy.

    For someone who is as intelligent as he is, Tony Stark solves most of his problems with his fist. He has fought each of his most powerful teammates at one time or another; Hulk (several times), Captain America (ongoing), Thor (several times), Sentry and even trusted friend James Rhodey Rhodes. We won’t even list the other heroes who Stark has found himself in conflict with from time to time. 

    That’s not even to mention how his hubris infused, control freak persona was the cause of Marvel’s Civil War- a year long conflict pitting him against Captain America and others whose value system ran counter to the National Superhuman Registration Act that Stark and his allies believed in. Stark made it a “with us or against us” ultimatum from the start, causing hostilities to escalate needlessly. 

    As one who has studied the egomaniacal ways of such top-shelf athletes as Kobe Bryant and Michael Jordan, the temperament of certain types of geniuses may not be conducive to harmony, but may be conducive to winning.

    Longtime friend Pepper Potts is often depicted as the perfect woman as far as a comic book is concerned. She is beautiful, she is industrious, she is feisty, she is always one of the four brightest business minds in whatever corporate setting she’s in and she has outwitted Tony on more than a few occasions.

    At one time, in the very  beginning, Tony Stark had quite the eye for his one-time secretary turned corporate executive. However, consumed by his Iron Man duties and the guilt that he had about having the hots for a woman that friend Happy Hogan also had feelings for, Tony Stark bows out as a suitor. However, it is implied that Stark still pines for her as recently as the Rings of the Mandarin story arc in 2012.  

    So it appears he denies himself a perfect mate in Potts to continue sowing his wild oats of superhero-dom. He may have believed it to be the heroic deed, but it is easy to perceive it as a selfish deed as well.

    Now, with his Superior Iron Man guise, Tony Stark has become a giant chrome phallus of hubris, and thats not just a joke about his appearance but his increasingly abrasive personality as well. After battling a super-charged version of the Red Skull during Marvels “Axis” event featuring the Avengers and the X-Men, each hero is affected negatively by the infinitely evil psychic vibes that are dispersed upon Skulls defeat-causing the amassed heroes to behave increasingly out of character. Eventually, the heroes are restored. All agree that theyre better off being good guys rather than the inverted versions of themselves that they had chosen to become.

    That is, all but Tony Stark. 

    He manages to avoid the incantation that returns everyone else to normal and is now the most super-egotistical, ultra-capitalist, self-aggrandizing S.O.B you ever did see. In the first issue of Superior Iron Man, Stark uses the extremis nanites, the very same extremis nanites whose proliferation he had been fighting for the last 10 years, to develop an app that genetically re-engineers the customers body into a perfect version of itself. And, to top it all off, Tony Stark is drinking in excess once again.

    After only a day online, class warfare breaks out between those who have the app and those who did not. But this was exactly what Tony had planned on. He knew that people would be so self-centered and caught up in themselves and their new looks that they would allow superficiality to shape their actions. At that very moment, right in the middle of a Tony Stark soiree whose guest list included some of the most beautiful folks in San Francisco, people revert back to their normal, imperfect selves. Horrified, they begin screaming, begging Stark to return their beauty.

    Abhorred by the situation, Pepper Potts, picks up a cell phone of one of the affected party goers. It reads Extremis 3.0 trial has expired. Service is $99.99 a day to resume. Now, if thats not the biggest a-hole move in the history of comic books then we dont know comic books as well as we think we do.