13 May 2010
Profiles: Tony Stark - Visionary or Asshole?
After we've spent some time examining the nature of Iron Man 2 this week, today we're focusing in on one particular character, the most important character in the franchise really, Anthony Edward Stark. He's touted as a former boy genius, visionary and radical developer of technology both in the films and comics. His advances have aided both worlds in revolutionising almost everything we know about Defense, energy systems and health care. Is he really a great man with a few slight character defects and a drinking problem though? I think his assholery goes far beyond that. We'll start by comparing and contrasting both the film vs. comic incarnations.
To update any of you who have been away from Marvel Comics for a while, Tony Stark is basically a giant breathing douche. Starting around the Civil War Crossover in 2006 he's been an asshole for a number of reasons. Basically the war started over controversy concerning the Superhuman Registration Act, enacted after the effects of M-Day (Feel free to waste an afternoon on this shit). The purpose of the act was that all superpowered beings were forced to register as "human weapons of mass destruction," in doing so giving up their secret identities as well as becoming subservient to government interests instead of their own. As you can guess, about half the marvel universe vehemently opposed the act, while the other half (lead by Tony) vehemently attempted to enforce it.
So let's get into this: Iron Man is unique among heroes that his alter ego and true identity are synonymous. He says this to some extent in Iron Man 2 at the Senate Sub-Committee hearing, that the suit and he are one. Stark's personal life is not destroyed by the general public's knowledge of his crime-fighting. In fact, it's propagated by it. We could compare this to someone like Peter Parker, whose personal life falls apart when his secret identity is revealed and he is forced to register. Thus when we examine Stark's intensity it's important to incorporate the how easy it was for him to become this governmental weapon rather than go up in arms about it.
This is of course in contrast to the film in which the United States government demands control of the Iron Man Suit and Stark refuses in favour of "World Peace Privatization." Even with this, it's simple to see the governmental connections being made far easier than someone like Spider-Man or Ghost Rider. Yeah. At its core, Iron Man is an essentially conservative superhero.
The whole driving force behind Civil War was this freedom vs. security debate. Iron Man lead the Security charge, recognizing the necessity behind registration while simultaneously fueling his own ego and shifting Marvel's power base into his favour. Thus we can ask ourselves whether it was from selfishness or an ideology that caused his conservative stance? Captain America, embodying very liberal American ideals, personified the Freedom standpoint - this is anti-Patriot Act stuff, independence and choice over control and regulation.
It's possible to read this in an opposite way. Republicans favour small government, Democrats want government to supply everything. This is one reason why the Iron Man films read so conservatively. Stark is a fan of limited government that does not interfere with his business. As Landon Palmer mentions in this article, both films are basically War on Terror wish fulfillment (actual success through superior weaponry, actually being greeted as "liberator"). Stark is also highly individualistic and exceptional. There is no part of him that seeks economic (or even superhero) parity at all. As I mentioned in my Impressions, as well as io9 agrees, there's also the fact that Iron Man actually saves very little people. The relative scope of the films are very limited. The stakes are low, in both films the primary conflict boils down to a villain who has a personal grudge against Tony. Tony must save Tony. It's complete narcissism and ego.
Now let's talk comics. After Captain America was killed, Iron Man secured his victory in the Civil War and was able to tighten his grip on the Marvel World. You can see his desperation and conflict of interest in his Mighty Avengers, particularly the inclusion of Ares. In simplest terms, think of the Mighty Avengers as the remnants of Iron Man's Security-obsessed Conservative Patriot Act side of the Civil War, and the New Avengers (including Wolverine, Spider-Man and Luke Cage) lead by Dr. Strange as the remaining heroes hiding underground trying to honour the memory of Captain America and resist assimilation into the Iron Man's new rigid structure.
Back to Ares. Ares is literally the Olympian God of War, he's a total badass insane combination of Wolverine and Thor (literally according to Stark's rationale for recruitment). I struggle believing that the inclusion of Ares in the Mighty Avengers was a move that aided the aims of the United States Government. I believe it was a Machiavellian move that instead aided the aims of Tony Stark. It's Stark's quick answer to a team of Dr. Strange, Wolverine and Spider-Man, among others. He sells out. In fact, Ares later joined the Dark Avengers under Norman Osborn.
Speaking of that douchebag, let's compare Stark's career here with the Iron Patriot. Osborn at a point after the Secret Invasion (Stark was completely humiliated and dethroned after it was revealed that the Skrulls had secretly taken control of many of Earth's heroes, just so ya know, then Osborn stepped in and took over). Osborn, though clearly batshit insane, was able to play on American desires and nostalgia to create the Iron Patriot persona. You can seem him earlier in this post. Lookin' slick. At the same time though, this is what Stark needed. It's the line between government transparency and plain deviousness. How far are these businessmen willing to go in order to foster an image that will sustain the support of the American Public? It's entirely what Stark played up during the Civil War - using American fears of Superpowered Humans to support his own agenda. If there was any doubt to Stark's honourable intentions, just watch below how self-serving this guy is:
So at this point, from a film context, how do we possibly relate to this man? After thinking for a while I've come to the conclusion that it's basically Downey's charm and innate ability to somehow carry an entire film on his back (See also Surecock Holmes). Stark constantly fights hard for privatisation, non-governmental interference in citizen affairs and property and American defense specifically against Terrorist organisations. Stark's literary counterpart is similar in ideology in that he wishes to protect citizen affairs by issuing greater transparency by extending government control and inherent public ownership towards the Superhero world with a constant appeal towards the fears that Republicans have preyed on since Bush was elected to our nation's highest office.
This Iron Man is looking at some redemption after a few years now of being the biggest asshole in the Marvel Universe through both the upcoming Siege and Heroic Age storylines, the latter of which will see his reuniting with both Thor and Captain America. How they will assimilate their ideologies I have no fucking idea, but basically it seems like Stark's topple off the tower of power snapped some sense into him and he's stopped acting like as much of a jackass.