Bread and Circuses: The Stark Truth

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So, in honor of Iron Man 3 coming out in a week, I have been completely geeking out after work and rewatching the entire Phase I: Avengers Assemble saga in chronological order. Let me warn you now, I’m like a little kid with a sugar rush in my enthusiasm for Marvel’s Cinematic Universe. These movies never get old for me, even though it’s getting to the point that I can quote them. The stories are classic stories, not just in the realm of comics, where Marvel took their granddaddy story lines and turned them into blockbusters, but classic good vs. evil showdowns with all the complexities of human nature on top to keep it interesting. In honor of the Phase II kick off, I’ll be running a series of reflections and analyses on the movies, characters and cultural impact as I go through and watch them, then start adding in the new movies as they come out (T-7.5 months until Thor: The Dark World!)

Iron Man is not my favorite Avenger (that’s Captain America), but he’s in a dead heat for second with Thor. The entirety of the Phase I saga is origin stories and the early character development of each Avenger. At the heart of their origin stories are their choices between right and wrong, how it seems easy to make those decisions until suddenly it’s not and what it is to be a hero. Tony Stark’s worst enemy is often himself: his ego and his self-destructive tendencies make it hard for him to act like a hero (something which Cap calls him on in Avengers). His hubris is his fatal flaw and something he wrestles with, first as a weapons dealer and head of Stark Industries, then as Iron Man. He has a sharp learning curve in going from being an almost amoral individual to a superhero. In Iron Man, that learning curve includes terrorists, double dealing and betrayal and one shining example: Yinsen. Yinsen is the one who helps construct the first Arc Reactor, and the Mark I armor and then sacrifices himself so Tony can escape and to keep powerful weapons technology out of the hands of the Ten Rings terrorist organization. He’s an ordinary guy, not a superhero, and he makes an extraordinary choice. From him, Tony gets the inspiration to perfect the Iron Man technology and use it for good. I also give a nod to Pepper Potts, since she routinely gets drawn into Iron Man conflicts and stands up to do her part as well (she gets a bigger part in Iron Man 2 so I’ll revisit her when I get to that one).

I get snickered at when I mention how much I like superhero movies, but for once the box office is on my side. These movies routinely earn top dollar their opening weekends, sometimes for longer. For one thing, right off the top, these movies are entertaining. I don’t have to explain that. On top of entertainment, I think it also comes down that these stories appeal to our better natures, the heroes we all admire and want to be. We crave heroes today, in spite of moral relativist/multiculturalist indoctrination. Just recently, as an example of what I’m talking about when I say indoctrination, a story hit the airwaves about a text book in a Tennessee high school labeling terrorist groups like the PLO, Hamas, and Hezbollah as simply “political parties,” and justifying civilian deaths in suicide bombings as “wartime retaliation.” Kids aren’t being given an accurate picture of what is going in the Middle East nor of our enemies, for sake of political correctness. It implies legitimacy and even moral superiority for people who are neither. That is just one example of how we’ve been told over and over that right and wrong are relative, that it’s not that simple, and that understanding trumps conviction.

I think secretly we all want to tell the writers of that text book that they’re full of it, that they’re wrong (sympathizers certainly take every opportunity to promote themselves as righteous, so clearly we’re the only ones playing by these rules), but the waters have been muddied so badly that our instincts go to war with our intellect. So, we search for heroes. The Ten Rings is not called a political party. Yinsen and Tony don’t make any pretenses of multicultural sensitivity when they agree the Ten Rings will likely kill them, regardless of their word. Tony bypasses politics entirely when he liberates Yinsen’s village in Afghanistan, doing what the military wasn’t allowed to do. The vacuum in our society left by morality, honor and courage is not filled by our cowardly politicians, our criminal sports stars, and our hypocritical entertainment stars. Heroes make the hard choices between right and wrong and I like that for the Marvel heroes, like for everyone else, it’s not particularly easy. They sacrifice their fame, their wealth, their identities, et cetera to do the right the thing and often risk their lives. But, they do it anyway. Take away the fancy suits, the super soldier serums, the “green rage monsters” and the intergalactic Viking royalty and are the choices really all that different for the rest of us? We can’t all be Tony Stark, but maybe a few us are Yinsen.

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