Iron Man's been in the news a lot lately, largely thanks Jon Favreau and Robert Downey, Jr. And it's been bugging the piss out of me because, simply, I hate Iron Man.
Granted, I'm not a big fan of any of the marvel pantheon these days, but I've never liked Iron Man. I remember reading various Avengers comics I picked up from the library when I was a kid, and not liking way back then. It took me a few years to figure out why, though: he's a non-character.
The curious thing about super heroes is that one character can actually be believably portrayed with two identities. Batman is not the same character as Bruce Wayne. Bruce Banner is not the same character as the Hulk. It's not a rule that any superhero with a secret identity has to be portrayed with two identities (Captain America is pretty much the same character as Steve Rogers) but it's an acceptable conceit of the superhero genre.
I've seen this turn people off to given characters. My buddy Dave, for example, hates Spider-Man. Not because he's an arachnophobe or doesn't like the costume or whatever, but because Peter Parker is just a big whiner. The wise-cracking, self-confident Spider-Man is discarded because he's part and parcel to the neurotic, self-absorbed Peter Parker. Dave can't stand that and it doesn't take much for him to get him off on a rant about how annoying Peter Parker is.
But my problem with Iron Man is that there's no character there at all. Tony Stark, yes. Definitely some interesting things going on with him as a character. He's got the constant struggle of doing what's right versus doing what's going to make him some money. He's a recovering alcoholic. The whole origin of the Living Laser is a great concept, because it speaks to how Tony Stark runs his business and has any number of real-world parallels.
But Iron Man? Nothing.
When Stark dons the Iron Man armor, he generally (depending on whether or not his identity is publicly known this week) drops his Stark persona so people won't be able to figure out his secret identity, but he doesn't replace it with anything. He just goes out superheroing with no real impetus, and no real style. He's a walking ray gun, but without the Buck Rogers or Flash Gordon for readers to relate to.
A few years back, a poster left a story springboard on a message board to see what kind of ideas people would come up with. His springboard was simply a one page splash of Iron Man flying toward the Baxter Building thinking, "I wonder why the Fantastic Four have requested the services of Iron Man?" I thought about that for a bit, and it started to really bother me. Why would the Fantastic Four contact Iron Man for anything? I could see Mr. Fantastic calling up Tony Stark to bounce technical ideas and theories off him, but Iron Man...? The only things Iron Man brings to the table are repulsor rays and rocket skates. There's absolutely no reason the FF would need Iron Man for anything.
Go back through the history of Iron Man stories. There are indeed some great stories in the Iron Man mythos, but look closely at them. They're great stories, in part, because they focus on Tony Stark, not Iron Man. Even Iron Man's origin is more about Stark finding a way to outwit his captors than it is about Iron Man blowing up some Commies (or whatever they've been ret-conned into these days). Iron Man is a non-entity. A bunch of transistor-powered (wink wink nudge nudge) circuitry encased in a red and gold shell. The interest factor is in Tony Stark, and Iron Man is just his two-dimensional "heavy." I think you'd come up with an infinite array of better stories if you simply began having Tony Stark carry a gun.
Which oddly means that Iron Man is ideally suited to be the star of a major motion picture. There's plenty of room for loads of special effects without having to be burdened by troublesome character traits like, say, character. I really can't imagine why Hollywood didn't jump on this sooner.