Is Iron Man Mike Hammer? by Dennis O’Neil
So where we at? For the past month or so, we have, in a scattershot and disorganized way, been discussing the various elements involved in the evolution of superheroes. I don’t think we’ve come to any conclusions worthy of being preserved for the ages, nor should we: things change, darnit. But maybe a little tentative upsumming would not be inappropriate.
Haberdashery: There is currently a trend away from putting superdoers in costumes, though the big bucks movie heroes are still wearing the suits and, judging from the films I know about that are in development, this will not change in the foreseeable future. But most entertainment consumers — I’m excepting comics fans here — get their heroism, super and otherwise, from television and maybe because of tv production hassles, costumes aren’t common.
Powers: We’ve agreed (haven’t we?) that for a long time the superbeings of mythology and folklore got their powers from some supernatural agency: they were gods, or demi-gods, or friends of ol’ Olympus, or something. Or they were agencies of darkness — black magicians of one kind or another. Then science became the rationale, most famously with Jerry Siegel’s extraterrestrial origin of Superman. Last, and decidedly least, there was technology allowing the good guy to do his stuff. And now…well, it’s anything goes time. Look at the current television offerings: we have a superhero private eye whose abilities are due to his vampirism, which we can call magic; a technology-enabled superhero(ine); and a whole bunch of peripatetic whose gifts have “scientific” explanations, or so it currently seems.
Which brings us to a comment on last week’s column posted by Alan Coil. It’s in reply to this from me, and refers to Marvel’s Iron Man: “…what qualifies Tony as a hero? Anything beyond the armor? I would tentatively say yes. Tony protects and serves the common good, and that’s how everyone since the ancient Greeks has defined heroism.” Now Mr. Coil: “Tony protects and serves the common good…In the past, I would have no argument with this. The 18 months, Stark/Iron Man has been acting quite the judge, jury, and executioner. He decides.”
Okay, I confess that I haven’t been reading Iron Man lately. (I also have no idea where my Merry Marvel Marching Society card is.) Mr. Coil’s comment indicates that Tony’s become a hardass, Mike Hammer-style judge, jury, and executioner. He’s not the first pop culture icon to go that route. There’s the aforementioned Mike Hammer (whose roots are in comics–a story for another time) and The Shadow and James Bond, who was a deeply guilty pleasure for me when I was involved, a bit, in the peace movement. (I mean, here’s this uber-consumer sexist with a daddy problem who unhesitantly obeys orders from a crypto-fascist father figure, murders, makes bad jokes as he’s doing it…Not exactly March-on-Washington material.)
More next week.
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Dennis O’Neil is an award-winning editor and writer of comic books like Batman, The Question, Iron Man, Green Lantern and/or Green Arrow, and The Shadow, as well as all kinds of novels, stories and articles. The Question: Zen and Violence is on sale right now in trade paperback.