Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Why I Hate Iron Man

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.

18 comments:

Pj Perez said...

Oh Sean ... while you have valid points, I guess it's a point not needing to be made. That IS the whole point of Iron Man -- that the armor is nothing but a shell and the character is all who is under it -- whether Tony or Rhodey or what have you. I guess I'm biased, as I was an avid IM collector from the mid-80s to early-90s, but I don't think the book would have initially sold as well had it been called "Tony Stark." But that's really what it is. So do you not like the concept at all, or just the Iron Man non-identity? Because it seems like you dig the Stark aspect, which, really, IS the whole character/series/storyline.

Though I venture the proposition that part of IM's appeal is the same as Batman's -- with enough smarts and money, you too could be Iron Man. I know I'm more likely to build a kick-ass armor than to spend 7 years getting my ass kicked by ancient masters. :)

Matt K said...

I think you've got an interesting point here, Sean... what strikes me is that, while there is some explanation (even if a bit wacky) for why most of Marvel's other iconic superheroes and adventurers do what they do...

Why does Stark gear up as Iron Man and go out bashing heads?

Obviously, one can infer various explanations (need for adventure, control-freak inability to delegate his company's enforcer-needs to someone else, whatever). Still, nothing seems really fundamental or convincing, to the degree that it is with other characters; Stark's personality seems more suited to being the mastermind/coordinator guy that he has become more and more of in recent years.

Originally, of course, Stark wore the Iron Man armor to stay alive. Logically, that's still quite a leap from "needs to wear a life-support system" to "wears armored suit to battle evil..." But, that still seems like more of a match to IM's peer heroes' origins. It's kind of surprising to me, come to think of it, that this original concept hasn't been revived more often.

All that said, though... I just find Iron Man kind of an uninteresting cypher. (And a fascist jerk, but that's more of a recent development and a response to Stark rather than IM, anyway.)

I don't see why you outright hate him. Seems easy enough to just ignore him (recent movie-hype aside, I guess). Now, hating, say, the stupid Hulk is a whole other issue. :)

Cole Moore Odell said...

Part of Iron man's blankness is inherent in his costume design--an immovable mask that hides his facial expressions. Right there he's unknowable, anonymous. As with Spider-man, artists have always cheated this, letting his metal mask furrow its brow, etc., but for the most part it's like watching the adventures of a plastic action figure.

I've never liked Iron Man better than his treatment in Jeff Parker's issues of Marvel Adventures Avengers--basically, he's a genial idiot. A genius engineer, but an idiot nonetheless, mildly dimwitted at everything other than building miraculous machines. It's not revolutionary, but it's at least a recognizable personality.

Anonymous said...

"Why would the Fantastic Four contact Iron Man for anything?"

How about: Dr. Doom, safe in Latveria has begun moving his technology from robots to powered armor. The FF can't intervene due to an international treaty, and they are concerned that Doom is planning an attack with scores of armored warriors. Stark Industries has a supply contract in Latveria and that would allow Iron Man the clearance to go and investigate. Then, stuff happens. And Iron Man drops a whale on Namor. The end.

thekamisama said...

I have been in the same boat. I have hated Iron Man since I could pretty much read. It worth noting that I have largely avoided comic book based movies featuring characters I enjoy, for fear of the letdown. It is with a large dose of humble irony that I have to admit that the trailers to Iron Man realy make me want to see it though!

David Gallaher said...

Peter Parker is a selfish, good-for-nothing, disappointing human being. He fails at life.

John M Osborne said...

That IS the thing about Iron Man. Imagine Howard Hughes suddenly doing good for the world, and who would believe it. His reason for the secret identity? Scared shareholders would likely NOT enjoy that their favorite President or CEO is triapsing around in a dangerous suit.

Actually it's funny, Iron Man was one of the first comics I've picked up, and I'd only read it inconsitently. Tony Stark is fascinating, this is true. He's extremely interesting. Iron Man is a robot, on purpose. He strays the line between corporate-sponsored superhero and security force. Now that Tony Stark is out of the closet again, he's extremely defined as a character. He doesn't care about maintaining any alternate identity. I doubt he ever really cared before, anyway.

The character I couldn't stand - Spawn. I mean really, outside of the cape, what's the deal?

mella said...

Good post!

Mickey said...

Tony Stark is a fascinating character. He annoys his friends and enemies alike because he thinks fast, talks fast, works fast, plus he's flippant, arrogant and self-absorbed. But he's a good guy! I am a big fan of Iron Man for a long time now, and the quirks and personality of Tony Stark make the book good stuff.

I feel like Sean's argument doesn't hold up as well now about Iron Man now that Tony Stark's identity is public and Tony is basically Director of All Good Super-Heroes. Now it's even more all about Tony and the armor, which is basically a system he thought up to compete in the world of super-heroics.

patrick said...

the recent movie version of Iron Man was practically flawless as a super hero flick; it drops pretty obvious hints that would indicate a sequel as well... i'm thinking the next one should be equally great

hulk2.0 said...

You're a dope iron man rules batman and superman couldn't beat iron man who picks out your clothes your mom

hulk2.0 said...

If you put marvel up against d.c marvel would win. Hulk could smash everyone, iron man can use his repulsors, thor is badass, spiderman would whoop everyone, wolverine would slice you, daredevil will send you back to the pages of a shitty d.c comic. I mean who's guna beat marvel superfag,batfag,robfag,aquafag,I dont think so.

Anonymous said...

Never followed the series much, but indirectly you make a good point; Tony Stark remains in the arms biz whilst being tantamount to the incarnation of virtue? Please.

Perhaps Favreau and Co. will, come part the 2nd, at least put some distance between the hero and his former vocation by having Stark become a multi-million dollar porn producer in the Valley, perhaps with many of those films featuring him in his Iron Man suit.

Anonymous said...

Hulk 2.0 if you knew the 1st thing about comics you would retract your VERY stupid post about "DC vs Marvel". Currently, in terms of comics, I can't really find many good stories with Marvel, Secret Invasion was lame, One More Day/Brand New Day RUINED Spiderman, and the Ultimate universe is plain stupid(save for a few OK series). The only thing I can give marvel currently is Old Man Logan, 1984 was cool but it was very unsatisfying at the end, the Master of Doom arc might be good if written right but that's about it. I'm not saying Marvel sucks, but it hardly 'DESTROYS" DC, and plus, if you want to play the "Marvel has stronger heroes than DC" routine, you don't even know what you're getting yourself into lol, I'm not a DC fanboy, I collect comics from both companies, but to state such a fact is utter ignorance.

Phew, now that that's over, Iron Man ESPECIALLY as of late has turned into a pretty crummy character, ever since Civil War I've had a HUGE distaste for the character. His whole "Pro-Establishment/Serve your Government" rhetoric is utter garbage, I respect Marvel for making the Dark Reign series to show the follow of what Iron Man did in terms of the Registration act, and I hope they are making a moral out Tony's mistake. If not, I don't like him for the same reason I don't like the Ultimates, it's semi-propaganda, all of this "Obey the state" crap becomes rather distasteful.

matt said...

iron man is a goon!i didnt mind him...then i read the majority of marvel civil war!if anyone has read that...they should have the same opinion!

matt said...

soz i made the same point as the guy above me lol didnt read that.but spiderman would pwn all in a fight and even more so if he was in his 'iron suit' which he got in the civil war.but wolverine vs spiderman in his normal suit would be the best fight of all time!they should just make a short film of that!:O

Byron Shelley Injeeli said...

Great article. Im not much of a comics reader but i know enough about literature, heroes, character-traits, ect. to understand your point and I agree. Iron Man as a hero is nothing but a huge piece of red shiny metal with nothing relatable whatsoever. The real superheroes are Bat Man, who have real relatabe emotions and character and depend on more than technology and high tech suits to fight the bad guys.
---- Byron Shelley Injeeli

João Constantino said...

Iron Man Sucks