Sunday, May 4, 2008

Iron Man, Hero for the Middle Aged Geek

I don't like comic books so much as I like hero origin stories. To date, Spiderman has had my favorite origin. Superman was born with superpowers and was a do-gooder simply because he was raised right. Batman trained for his powers but did so to avenge his parents, who were murdered in front of him as a child. Spiderman, on the other hand, fights evil out of a sense of guilt--as a teen, he could have done the right thing and used his newly conferred powers to stop the criminal who ended up killing his father-figure, Uncle Ben. Now he has a lifetime of atonement to work out.

However, I think Iron Man is my new favorite. I have never read the comic and frankly, I always thought Iron Man was kinda boring--it's a guy in a suit, woo hoo. But after the kick-ass trailer for the movie came out, I started my obsessive Googling.

In the original comic book, Tony Stark, an industrialist playboy genius CEO modeled after Howard Hughes, was captured by the Viet Cong while observing the his company's technology in use during the Vietnam War. He escapes by creating a suit of armor, and thus, Iron Man is born. Stark was originally conceived as a right-leaning, corporate, anti-communist hero, the ultimate capitalist and technologist. Apparently, this theme was tamped down as the Vietnam War became less popular in the U.S., but even so, Stark would definitely still be a donor to the GOP.

In the movie, Stark has gone over 40 years without thinking about the impact of the weapons his company produces. He's a flip philanderer who loves his toys and women who thinks nothing of how his genius is applied. When captured by an Afghani warlord who has gotten a hold of Stark's weapons, he's directly confronted by the products of his own making and he has a change of heart.

Stark's transformation into Iron Man combines elements of the origin myths of Superman, Spiderman and Batman. Like Superman, he was born with certain advantages, in his case not strength, but intellect and wealth. Like Spiderman, his transformation came after realizing that bad men had benefited from his prior actions. Like Batman, who trained in martial arts for years to hone his skills, Stark's transformation was an act of will--he didn't just land on another planet or get bitten by a radioactive spider--his powers come from months of work perfecting his suit.

But even more powerfully, Stark's transformation doesn't happen to him as a boy, as it does for nearly every other hero. He's over 40. And it wasn't just the inaction of youth that enables bad men to hurt people as it was for Spiderman--it is the actions of his own company, Stark Industries, that he must confront. This movie speaks to the idea that a person can change at anytime and face their own responsibilities, even the middle aged.

I don't think the movie is anti-technology or anti-capitalist, so much as it is about the application of brain power to things that matter. If anything, it is more of shout out to all the geeks of the world to use their massive noggins for good, much like Bill Gates' new evangelism for creative capitalism.

Too deep? OK, here's a little levity:

I'm a Marvel and I'm DC: Iron Man and Batma

"Iron Man" Trailer To Be Made Into Feature Film

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