iron man

“No. You move.”

Far back in the mists of time I named Marvel’s 2006 series Civil War as one of my all time favourite comics which was proof enough for many of you that I was a fool and a scoundrel whose opinion on comics wasn’t worth a soiled back issue of Youngblood. It’s a controversial story, no doubt, and while I probably wouldn’t keep it on my Top Ten list if I was to do another, I stand by what I said about it before. It was a new kind of comic event, one where right and wrong wasn’t clear cut and black and white and which had a real, lasting effect on the status quo. Comics are a very conservative medium. Sooner or later, everything goes back to how it was before. No one stays dead, the bad guys always lose, the good guys aways win. In a word, they’re safe. Mark Millar, who wrote Civil War, has been accused of many things over the course of his career…

…but being safe has never been one of them.

The story kicks off with a young superhero team called the New Warriors trying to catch a group of supervillains as part of their reality TV show (hey 2o06, how ya been?). Turns out one of the supervillains is a dude called Nitro whose power is that he explodes. Which he does, killing most of the Warriors as well as a nearby school. “The Stamford Massacre” causes a massive sea change in American public opinion and swift legislative action from the federal government in exactly the same way that real life school massacres don’t. The superhero community is given an ultimatum: Either give up their secret identities, submit to training and register and work as a paid employee of the US government or give up being a superhero. This splits the superhero community right down the middle. Iron Man supports registration, seeing as any alternative would likely be much more draconian. But Captain America sees it as massive government overreach, like if the only way you could intervene in a mugging was if you were a cop. So right there we have a conflict that’s really fascinating and multi-faceted. Both sides have perfectly valid concerns and points of view. Personal liberty versus the greater good. The desire for security versus the rights of the individual. Heady stuff. Aaaand then Mark Millar kinda turned Tony Stark into a Nazi because it was a Marvel event and SOMEBODY has to turn into a Nazi in these things.

It’s Squirrel Girl’s turn next.

I love Civil War…

Let me clarify that, I love Civil War the comic, but it’s got big problems, the most glaring being that it undermines its own unique premise by having the pro-reg side resort to increasingly extreme and amoral methods and making Iron Man and Mr Fantastic into outright villains. But there’s more good than bad and I think its reputation has risen quite a but in the years since it was published, not least because virtually all the events Marvel has done since form an elegant, unbroken chain of perfectly formed turds.

This was the WORST Civil War, and yes, I’m including all the ones that happened in real life.

In the MCU, the Captain America series was the natural home for a movie version of the Civil War story, especially since Winter Soldier had already touched on its themes of government overreach and the War on Terror’s intrusion on personal privacy and liberty. Winter Soldier was a high-watermark for Marvel critically, and with the Russo brothers back directing, the writing team of Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely (both previous Cap movies and Agent Carter) and Chris Evans returning to sling the shield you’d think that Cap 3 would be about a safe a bet as a movie could be. But it nearly all went terribly, terribly wrong thanks to Marvel’s other civil war which was just now coming to a head. The head of Marvel studios, Kevin Feige, had been butting heads since the start of the MCU with the CEO of Marvel comics, Ike Perlmutter.

File photo.

Perlmutter is, by all accounts, about as pleasant to deal with as a scorpion in your anal cavity. Miserly to a Scroogian degree and a rather nasty racist (if you ever wondered why Don Cheadle was chosen to replace Terrence Howard it’s because Perlmutter thought they looked exactly the same. Yeah.) He’s also an alleged war criminal and I say “alleged” because I don’t want him to sue me. And for no other reason. Things came to a head when Perlmutter told Feige that this Robert Downey Jnr kid was costing too much money and that they should fire him.

Feige went directly to Disney who re-organised Marvel studios so that Perlmutter was completely cut out of all decisions involving Marvel’s films. And so Perlmutter was defeated and left with nothing but his incredibly lucrative job, his billions of dollars and the immense power that comes with being part of Donald Trump’s inner circle (come one, you knew this guy was friends with Trump as soon as I described him). It’s probably just a coincidence that Marvel’s notoriously racist CEO was kicked off the film lot right before Marvel released “the blackest Marvel movie ever” but it’s pretty sweet nonetheless. But is the movie? Let’s take a look.

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“You want to protect the world. But you don’t want it to change.”

The Marvel comics universe is overflowing with some of the greatest villains created in any medium, from the regal majesty of Doctor Doom to the saturnine, brooding splendour of Galactus to the cackling, twitching megalomania of Annihilus. And amongst these villains, one of the greatest is, without question…not Ultron.

Just my opinion, mind.

The character was first created in 1968 and introduced in the pages of The Avengers as the creation of Hank Pym, whose long storied history of fucking up we will touch upon at a later point in these chronicles. But make no mistake, Hank Pym fucks up in the same way that Michaelangelo painted. He fucks up like it’s what God put him on this earth to do. Created by Pym as an artificial intelligence based on his own brainwaves, Ultron decided pretty quickly that it hated Hank Pym like the Sharks hate the Jets and tried to kill him. Which, considering that Pym based it on his own mind, should tell you everything you need to know about the state of Pym’s self-esteem (dude needs a hug).  Ultron later expanded his to do list to wiping out all human life and returned to bedevil the Avengers and threaten the world again, and again, and again. My problem with Ultron is that there’s just not much “there” there. He’s an angry shouty robot who wants to kill everyone. Have there been good stories with the character? Sure. Have there been writers who found interesting things to do with him? No doubt. But Ultron’s basic default setting has just never grabbed me as particularly compelling. Nevertheless, Ultron is generally regarded as the Avengers’ ultimate arch-enemy, the Moriarty to their Holmes if Sherlock Holmes was a conglomeration of brightly coloured WW2 era adventurers, Norse gods, billionaire tech-messiahs and former circus performers (and who wouldn’t read that?). But even that’s kinda by default. Loki is a Thor villain who sometimes fights the Avengers. Red Skull is a Captain America villain who sometimes fights the Avengers. Ultron would technically be a Hank Pym villain, but since Hank has never been popular enough to headline an ongoing series of his own Ultron just kinda became an arch-enemy for the whole team, like how the rest of the family adopts your little brother’s hamster once it becomes clear he can’t look after it himself. So when it came time for Marvel to follow up The Avengers with a sequel, choosing Ultron to be the villain was about as obvious as having the Joker be the bad guy of The Dark Knight. Who else was it going to be?

Shaddup.

Now, let’s get this out of the way. For all you people who ask why I don’t, for example, review Moana the very second it comes out? This is why. To do a review justice takes time, preparation, fasting and prayerful contemplation. The review/tongue bath I gave Age of Ultron the day after it came out back in 2015 was written while I was still basking in the afterglow of explosions and Whedonisms falling on my ears like confetti and I did not see the plotholes and padding and questionable charecterisations and clear signs of executives sticking their grubby oars in. Honestly if I had it all to do again, I imagine I’d be a lot more critical. Oh hey, look at that. I have it all to do again.

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“Like all guilty men, you try to rewrite your history…”

I’m still feeling my way around reviewing these Marvel movies. I was thinking that, when I review the first movie featuring a hero I’ll give you some history and overview of that specific character, and when the time comes to review the sequel I might take a look at their rogues gallery and what their villains say about that particular hero. Problem: Iron Man has quite possibly the worst rogues gallery of any major superhero. Notoriously so. Legendarily so. If you were to make a chart of superheroes by the quality of their rogues’ gallery it would be Batman at the top, closely followed by Spider-man and the Fantastic Four, then respectable mid-carders like Captain America and Superman and then waaaaaaaaaaaay way down at the bottom Iron Man and Wonder Woman are hanging out and getting sloshed on Ouzo. Yeah, yeah, no such thing as bad characters, only bad writers. True as far as it goes. Any villain, no matter how lame, can be made compelling with the right scribe working on them.
Some, however, take more heavy lifting than others.

Some, admittedly, take more heavy lifting than others.

But Iron Man’s villains probably require more heavy lifting than probably any other hero’s. Even Tony’s arch-nemesis, The Mandarin, while certainly a cool villain, doesn’t really have that much that sets him apart from similar bad guys like Doctor Doom or Baron Mordo other than the fact that in his early days he looked like Mickey Rooney in Breakfast at Tiffany’s.

Oh sixties.

Oh sixties.

As for the rest, they were mostly just an interchangeable series of commies in robot armour and rival industrialists. I mean hell, when the time came to find a villain for Iron Man 2, they actually just slapped two of them together. Ivan Vanko is a mishmash of Whiplash and the Crimson Dynamo. And nobody even cared. Think about that for a minute. Can you imagine if they did a Batman movie and they just merged the characters of Joker and the Penguin into one guy and called him the Penker? My God, the fans would skin them alive and hang their carcasses in the online forums as a warning to others. That’s how lame Iron Man’s rogues gallery is. Not even Iron Man fans care enough to get mad about changes to the source material.  But, did it work? Were they able to reverse Iron Man’s traditionally awful luck with villains? Will our hero triumph over the Penker? Let’s find out! Right after these messages.

AD

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“That’s how Dad did it. That’s how America does it. And it’s worked out pretty well so far.”

Iron Man is one of the five most recognisable superheroes in the world today and that is goddamn insane.
From pretty much the early forties to the turn of the millennium there were only two comic book characters that everyone knew, even if they’d never picked up a comic in their lives and that was the two DC icons; Batman and Superman. And despite the fact that Marvel’s actual comics had consistently outsold DC’s for most of their history, no one Marvel character had ever managed to achieve that kind of cultural purchase with maybe the possible exception of Spider-man. And if you were to pick a character that would upend that status quo and be the first Marvel hero to achieve that kind of instant, iconic, worldwide recognition…you probably wouldn’t pick Iron Man.
Here’s the thing, for most of its existence, the Avengers was not the cool kids’ table at Marvel. The Avengers comic book was a support network for characters who needed exposure and whose solo titles weren’t doing so hot (if they even had their own books). Know why Spider-man and Wolverine didn’t join the Avengers until 2005? Because their books were selling just fine thank you very much. So the fact that Iron Man is a founding member of the Avengers and has been with the team for almost its entire history should tell you a lot. This guy was kind of a B-lister, with more than his fair share of knocks from the bad story stick.
We do not speak of teen Tony.

We do not speak of teen Tony.

So how did this character go from perennial also-ran to the most recognised face of the Marvel Cinematic Universe? Sit down and I’ll learn ya.
The initial idea for Iron Man was Stan Lee’s because he is a massive, massive troll and we love him for it.
See, it was the sixties and Stan knew that most of his readers were college kids who hated the military and capitalism and bathing so he thought it would be an interesting challenge to sell them on a character that embodied all those traits.
iron man 160 b

He’s a capitalist arms-dealer in the shower. Can you handle that, hippies?

I don’t think this was really a political thing (Stan seems to be a fairly middle of the road Democrat) but simply came from Stan’s unwavering ability to find niches that hadn’t been filled yet. The great Jack Kirby did the cover and so created the character’s first visual design, and then the actual first issue that Iron Man appeared in was written by Stan’s brother Larry Lieber and drawn by Don Heck. Iron Man therefore had four daddies, which probably explains why he’s trying to form a gay polyamorous harem with Steve Rogers, Rhodey and Sam Wilson in every second piece of fan fiction featuring the character.
So why was this character chosen to launch Marvel’s massively ambitious experiment in inter-movie continuity porn? Basically, he got it by default.
By the mid 2000s Marvel had sold the movie rights to most of their major properties and were starting to feel like they were getting screwed. Sony had the rights to Spider-man, Fox had X-Men, Daredevil and Fantastic Four which combined represented a huge swathe of some of Marvels’ most iconic heroes, villains and supporting characters. When the time came for Marvel to set up their own movie studio they realised they were basically left with the Avengers who, at the time at least, were very much second stringers. It was deemed that the time was not right for another Captain America movie (too soon, we needed time to heal) and the corpse of Ang Lee’s Hulk was still warm. That left…Thor? Well, Thor’s great and all but…
Thor
Yeah, so they went with Iron Man. How did it turn out? Weeeelllllll it was one of the most critically acclaimed movies of the year, completed Robert Downey Junior’s journey from washed up recovering drug addict to A-list superstar and created the future in which we now live. But does it hold up as a movie? Let’s take a look.

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