Dennis O’Neil: Iron Man Is A What???
So there I am, about to do a column themed to last Sunday’s episode of The Good Wife, when the telephone rings. It’s my main DNA-sharer and in the course of the ensuing chat, I mention the column idea and while we talk he does a Google search and – egad! – the digital oracle indicates that my premise is wrong.
Thank whatever benevolence caused Larry to call when he did, even if that benevolence is, in this instance, blind coincidence, because I really dislike being ignorant in print.
What I was going to impart to you is that on the aforementioned television program, a quiet revolution occurred. The title character, who is admirable and capable and sympathetic, came out of the ecclesiastical closet and pronounced herself an atheist. My thesis: with non-Caucasian and gay characters pretty common on the tube these days, the last barrier is the religious one. Your hero can be black or gay or female, I might have written, but your hero can not be a non-believer. Same is true in politics (I might have asserted): though the battle is not yet over, and I’m certainly not claiming that it is, race and gender no longer automatically preclude election to high office. But I can’t think of a single poobah who proclaims his atheism the way Mike Huckabee and Paul Ryan, to name just two of many, proclaim their Christianity. There may be the odd office holder here and there willing to deny faith in the almighty, as the great Senator Barney Frank denied heterosexuality, but they are emphatically in the minority.
But, alas, the revolution I was about to claim for The Good Wife didn’t happen. Rather, it’s been happening for a while now. Larry’s Google search revealed that there are at least 17 atheist characters on series television and – here comes the shocker! – nine in comic books. Among them is a fella I thought I knew pretty well because, for three years or so,I was his chief biographer. Tony Stark’s the name, and Iron Man’s the game.
When I was writing Iron Man for Marvel, the question of Tony’s belief system never arose, just as than the question of his favorite breakfast cereal never arose. That may be because comics are a very compressed way of delivering stories, and anything not germane to the plot is generally omitted, or it may be because somewhere in the pit of my psyche I thought that characteristics like religion were off-limits. Nobody ever told me that they were, but religion was never, ever mentioned in comics – or in movies or television or radio, and very seldom in genre novels. The no-religion stricture was one of those taboos that I assumed without really giving them much thought. However, I don’t believe that the taboo didn’t exist. My guess would be that the dudes in the carpeted offices feared that identifying a character’s religion would alienate anyone of a different faith. Maybe they were right.
By the way…the Wayne family were probably Episcopalian and if their surviving member, Bruce, were ever asked about beliefs, he’d identify with the family tradition. But he doesn’t get to church very often. Too busy jumping off roofs.
FRIDAY: Martha Thomases, Howdy Doody, and Corinthians.