Hero Highlight: IRON MAN

Iron ManGuess what I found? A posting schedule! Yeah, funny things, those pesky schedules, they actually tell you what you’re supposed to post and when. Never been a schedule fan so bear with me.

If you remember back a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away, we were, for the first and probably the last time, I was doing the A to Z Blog Challenge and we were looking at some heroes and what their true villains were. We’d looked at the Avengers as a group (still my favorite movie right now…until Superman comes out), at Batman’s crazy ass, Captain America and his relationship with time, Don Draper’s mad mad world, ET and his retarded self, Foghorn Leghorn—the big ass chicken, Carl MF Grimes from The Walking Dead, and Hawkeye, the most useless archer ever. Then life got in the way.

Now we’re back and we’re looking at the man and the suit, Tony Stark AKA “I am Iron Man.”

I should start by saying I’m a big Iron Man fan—I have comics from the 80s when people thought it was both sexy and wholly heterosexual for buff men to run around in mesh half shirts. I’ve been with ‘ol Shellhead during his depression, his alcoholism and his Armor Wars. I thought the casting of Robert Downey Jr. as Tony Stark was genius. I own all the movies and have seen Iron Man 3 3 times (though I’m pissed about the Mandarin). Once I run the race, I’m gonna get an Iron Man tattoo (haven’t decided where). I’m an Iron Man fan.

But as a hero, the Iron Man suit (or prosthesis, as it formally called) is only as good as it’s pilot. And Tony? My man got problems.

In the comics, Tony Stark is plagued by a deep insecurity caused by his relationship with technology. In the movies and the comics, Tony is injured on a battlefield and depends on an electromagnet to keep a cluster of shrapnel from trying to burrow its way into his heart—the only thing that changes is the locale (in the comic, it’s Vietnam; in the movie, it’s Afghanistan). His very life depends on the reliability and efficacy of technology. After seeing the depravity of humanity and blah blah blah, Tony becomes something bigger than human—a technological superhuman.

Iron Man is different from other superheroes in that he’s manufactured. There’s no gamma radiation, no Super Soldier serum, no spider bite, no birth from an alien world with a red sun, no extensive martial arts training and seething revenge-based impetus to fight crime. Iron Man is a suit; Tony Stark is just a man. Anyone can wear the suit. James Rhodes can wear the suit and be Iron Man (and has). Pepper Potts wore the suit. Shit, even Happy wore the suit and he’s the chauffeur. Anyone can be Iron Man.

In The Avengers, Cap asks the most pertinent question of all: “Big man in a suit of armor. Take that off and what are you?” See, this is where the insecurity sets in. While the quippy response was great for laughs and elicited a nice head nod from Scarlett Johanssen’s sexy tail, there is a whole lot of truth to this. And it’s the whole point of Iron Man 3: there has to be more to the man than the ability to make a suit. Otherwise, you have another Doctor Doom on your hands.

What it comes down to is a moral center. Spidey has the whole “with great power comes great responsibility” thing couple with Uncle Ben’s death. Superman has his middle America earthly father to guide him. Batman has the senseless murder of his parents burned into his psyche. But Tony Stark? This is what he’s lacking. In the comic, he has an unfortunate injury in an unfortunate war and capitalizes on his escape to become something bigger, something greater. The movies pick up on this and use both his imprisonment and his relationship with Pepper to give him that moral compass but, the truth is, Tony Stark is and remains a shallow guy. And he knows it. In fact, Iron Man 3 was about this very idea.

Like I said, I’m an Iron Man fan and the truest statement the movies ever made was in Iron Man 2 when he told Congress, “I am Iron Man. The suit and I are one.” For Tony Stark, the challenge is making the man measure up to the hero and becoming someone worthy of wearing the suit.

That’s my word. See ya on Tuesday for another installment. Next we’re gonna be talking the Justice League.

Day 8: HAWKEYE #atozchallenge

hawkeye-5One of my favorite exchanges in the Avengers comes when Tony Stark is talking to Captain America and he says, “Following’s not really my style.” Cap responds with, “And you’re all about style?” And Tony says, “Of the people in this room, which one of us is a) wearing a spangly outfit and b) not of use?” Classic material. However, when considering the most useless Avenger, that distinction must go to Hawkeye.

Yes, friends and foes, heroes and villains, there is actually one relatively worthless hero in our supersquad. I loved the Avengers movie (surprise surprise) and I like Jeremy Renner. I even like the Hawkeye character, though I think his costume could use a little work. In the movie, they call him a master assassin but I see him as a bow-wielding, there-are-twelve-enemies? I-only-brought-eleven-arrows jackass with no sleeves.

That’s probably harsh, huh? Okay, I’ll give him his due.

In the comics, Clint Barton AKA Hawkeye is a little better than the bit part they gave him in the movie. He is an assassin of sorts, a superior marksman, and a former carny (for real). He starts out as a villain, crossing both the Black Widow and Iron Man before turning to the straight and narrow (because he got the cowboy shit kicked out of him). He gets sponsored to be an Avenger and becomes an integral part of the team.

Until his bow breaks.

Seriously, my man had his bow break in battle and adopted a whole new identity. Took somebody else’s powers and everything. And then he started going blind. Did I mention that he was deaf? What are you going to do with a deaf and blind archer? That’s like giving Helen Keller a weapon and a costume and calling her a superhero.  In the movie, they give him a little more: he shoots Sam Jackson and manages to take down the ENTIRE Floating Fortress with 2 arrows. He also sets up the best part of the movie: his exploding arrow tosses Loki into the hands of the Hulk.

In the movie, it’s worse. He ain’t deaf, just pointless. He was the first to switch teams when Loki arrived, got his ass handed to him by Scarlett Johannsen, and, rather than follow the fucking plan, got his plane shot out the sky while carrying the half of the Avengers that CAN’T FLY. I’m not a tactician but if a flying, bulletproof dude with a hammer forged in the heart of star is fighting another dude in a cape with a spear, perhaps you should let then do their thing and turn your air support on the invading aliens!

For all his snazzy arrowheads, my man has a limited supply of arrows. He’s forever going to be running out of ammo, sitting on the sidelines like he got hit first in dodgeball, leaving the heavy lifting to everybody else. In the end, there ain’t much use for Hawkeye (though he leads a couple iterations of the Avengers in the comics) and that’s his biggest villain: uselessness.

And if you’re wondering, I did the Hulk in last year’s A to Z Challenge. He was the villain.

Next up, Iron Man! Yeeaaaahhhh!

Assemble Your Avengers

Guess what?! I’m BAAAAACCKKK! Did you miss me? Don’t be coy; you know you did. I know I said I was gonna take a day off: well, after being laid out by a pretty nasty sinus infection and then moving my house AROUND THE CORNER, here I am 6 days later. Good as new. Well…kinda. Let’s just say I’m 10% better than last week.

And I get to talk about the Avengers.

You knew this was coming, right? For all my discussion about villains, I’ve spent plenty of words and pages on comic books and comic book heroes. Talking about the Avengers was inevitable.

Now if you’ve missed the Avengers’ $200M US opening this past weekend (which is the largest opening in history) or the total $641M the film has taken in over the last 2 weeks or the commercials and trailers that dominate every television program on the planet, the Avengers is the explosive, rip-roaring production featuring 6 Marvel superheroes—Captain America, Iron Man, Hulk, Thor, Black Widow and Hawkeye—battling for the salvation of Earth against, Loki, the Asgardian God of Mischief (and Thor’s brother) and his otherworldly army. I should have written copy, huh?

This post is less a review about the movie (which is SPECTACULAR! Seriously, just drop your shit and go see it!) than it is a review of the idea. Nick Fury, played by the masterfully angry Samuel L. Jackson, says “There was an idea to bring together a group of remarkable people, so when we needed them, they could fight the battles that we never could. It’s called the Avengers Initiative.” This could be said for Marvel’s approach the entire Avengers franchise, starting back in 2008 with Iron Man (and later Iron Man 2), then a new and improved Incredible Hulk, Thor and finally Captain America. 5 films. 6 heroes. More than $2B (that’s B for Billion) in ticket sales worldwide—half of what Disney paid for Marvel.

But, in the beginning, there was an idea.

Call it a gamble, call it hubris, call it balls—Marvel waged 4 years and nearly $800M on an idea of introduce the principal characters in individual movies, cast them masterfully (seriously, who else could have played Tony Stark?) tie them together with 2 minute long snippets after the credits, and culminate with a tremendous production that would be thrilling entertainment for everyone. An idea. An idea no more or less powerful than making us care about a kid from the desert pulled into a galactic war to save a princess. No more or less powerful than having us emotionally invest in an orphaned child with unimaginable power and even greater enemies. No more or less powerful than the most forbidden of love stories—a bloodsucking killer and a virginal high school student.

Ideas shape worlds, change cultures, and apparently destroy the city of Cleveland—they, and the stories they live in, are the basic form of human communication. They strike us, emotionally, psychically, physically; make us perceive our environment, and one another, in new and interesting ways; force us to re-examine ourselves. Ideas have power. They can be palpable, tangible, kinetic forces. They can fuel revolutions and quell rebellions. And ideas, in the hands of writers, change people. They can people. Become part of them, part of their lexicon, become a new prism on the lens through which they see the world.

So take your ideas and palm them like the gems they are. Hug them close like nuggets of gold, stroke them like magnificent beasts. Then hold them to the light and give them to the world.

And believe in them.

They might save the world.

Celebration of Wickedness Day 2: THE INCREDIBLE HULK #atozchallenge

Back for round 2 in the villains chair we have…wait, is this a typo? Jimmy, are you sure? This says today’s villain is…Bruce Banner, the Incredible Hulk?

That’s right, true believers, the Hulk is the villain of the day in our continuing Celebration of Wickedness. Yes, I know the Not-So-Jolly Green Giant has his own comic that’s been around since 1962. Yes, I am aware he has 2 major motion pictures in which he is the protagonist. Yes, I know he’s the best part of the upcoming Avengers movie (and, yes, I am planning on attending the midnight showing). Calm down, geek squad, let me explain myself.

The Hulk is the supercharged, atomic era version of the Jekyll and Hyde story, right? His entire mythos centers around Bruce Banner giving in to his baser emotions—anger, terror, grief—and transforming into a hulking behemoth with forearms that would put Popeye to shame and a penchant for raggedy purple pants. Dr. Banner is the mild-mannered atomic physicist; the Hulk is a being of pure emotion and limited intellect. You know the deal, the madder he gets, the stronger he gets. The problem is, there really isn’t a limit and you get stuck in this cycle of destruction. To me, and the United States army, the Hulk is awesome! To Banner, the Hulk is a curse.

And before I go into the philosophy behind my selection of the Hulk as the villain of the day, let’s get a couple things straight: the Hulk is not necessarily the BEST choice of folks to hang out with. For you comic book enthusiasts, it was because of the Hulk’s actions, threat to general society and constant collateral damage that the Illuminati sent his ass clear across the galaxy. And these same “heroes” were vindicated when the Hulk returned with a storyline titled World War Hulk. Even the Bill Bixby/Lou Ferrigno incarnation sent people routinely flying into trashcans, overturned cars and was hell on Wrangler jeans and cowboy boots.

(And with that, I earn my geek cred. HOLLA!)

But what this is really about is the internal struggle between Bruce Banner and his raging alter ego. Banner is the hero here, not the Hulk. And if the good doctor is the hero, the Hulk is the villain. Marvel has done a fantastic job of billing the Hulk as protagonist, as a tortured soul who really just wants to be left alone. That’s fine for general society. But for Banner, the Hulk destroyed his life. It turned him into something to be feared and exiled, chased and hunted, whether in his human form or not. He can’t trust himself, live his life, be who he wants to be. Not anymore. This cat was the pre-eminent nuclear scientist and one act of bravery (in the comic) or hubris (in the television show) turned his life into a freak show. It’s tragic, actually. And while the Bruce Banner/Incredible Hulk dichotomy makes for good entertainment, its theme is the age-old conflict of man vs himself. Yes, I used the word dichotomy; I went to college.

We’ve seen plenty anti-heroes already; that’s not what I’m getting at. Bruce Banner is a regular, ordinary guy, like you or me. He wants what we all want: nice home, good job, good woman/man, to excel in his chosen field. To be a good person. The Hulk destroys that image of Banner just as any other inner demon might. What makes the Hulk so compelling as a villain is, for all his destructiveness, it is as the Hulk that Banner realizes his truest self. It’s a part of him—sometimes for the better, sometimes the worst—and we get to see it play out in the most heroic and catastrophic manner.

And that, my friends, is why the Hulk is today’s villain: because Bruce Banner is his best self when he is his worst self. What did Harvey Dent say in The Dark Knight? “You either die a hero or you live long enough to see yourself become the villain.”

Tune in next time when we look at Cruella DeVille, hater of dalmatians. Excelsior!