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He Fights and Smites with Repulsor Rays!

By Bert Ehrmann
April 18, 2008

Iron ManBe forewarned  – this may be my “nerdiest” column to date. Let me start by saying that I have nothin’ but love for the characters of Batman or Superman and mean no disrespect to them in what follows. (That sentence alone had a nerd factor of +20.)

I’ve taken a bit of flak in conversations with friends in my opinion that Iron Man will be the movie to beat this summer. Most people I know think the top movie will be The Dark Knight or are looking forward more to Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull than any other movie next summer. I say that if I had to pick just one movie to see this summer, that movie would be Iron Man.

I think I’m most excited about the Iron Man movie because, when compared to the likes of Superman or Batman, Tony Stark and his alter ego Iron Man is unexplored territory. With Batman, there was a campy TV series in the 1960s, four movies between 1989 and 1995 and a franchise reboot movie in 2005. Superman has been explored in movies and TV even more, with a long running TV series in the 1950s, four movies between 1978 and 1987, another long running TV series in the mid-1990s, a franchise reboot movie in 2006 and yet another TV series that is currently in its seventh season of production. 

Iron manAnd that’s not counting the Superman and Batman movie serials of the 1940s or the TV cartoons series of each character from (essentially) the 1960s to present day. Is there any ground left to explore with these two characters?

On the other hand with Iron Man, other than a shorted lived TV cartoon in the late 1960s (with deliciously campy lyrics like “He fights and smites with repulsor rays!”) and a single season cartoon in the mid-1990s, the character hasn’t been explored in any medium other than the comics. And even though I’ve been collecting comics the last (gasp!) 25 years, I found I only had a basic understanding of who Iron Man is and what he does. So I decided to do a bit of digging and find out more.

Iron ManAccording to the book “Marvel: Five fabulous decades of the world’s greatest comics” (1991), the character of Tony Stark/Iron Man was created in 1963 by Stan Lee, Jack Kirby and Don Heck. Originally, Tony Stark was a “millionaire inventor and arms manufacturer” who, while testing experimental weapons in the jungles of Vietnam, was “injured by a piece of shrapnel that was working its way to his heart,” taken captive and ordered to invent new weapons for the Communists.  “Instead, he constructs a suit of armor that also serves as a pacemaker to keep his heart beating.” Stark manages to escape with his suit and uses this armor to become a superhero in the vein of Batman, a mortal who uses his great wealth to disguise his true passion for fighting crime.

Stark’s backstory was updated a bit in the early 2000’s where he was presented as a billionaire industrialist with an inoperable brain tumor who’s told that he has between six months and five years to live. In the second issue of the comic book series The Ultimates, Stark says, “I guess I just hit a point in my life where I wondered what things would be like if all billionaires and government spooks tried to save the world instead of bleeding it dry.”

Iron ManIt appears as if the 2008 theatrical version of the character uses a modified version of the first origin story. In the film, Stark is wounded and kidnapped by terrorists in the Middle East and, like The Ultimates version of the character, is a billionaire rather than a millionaire.

Whereas I believe the movie-going public has a firm grasp on the characters of Superman and or Batman, knowing who they are, their motivations and what they believe in, I’m not sure anyone really knows what to expect from Iron Man in the upcoming movie. The only way to know for sure is to see the movie and find out.

Iron Man premiers in theaters Friday, May 2.