Howdy Interwebbers. I’m Matt Cohen and I dig Iron Man again.
Growing up, comic books were a huge part of my life. From a very early age I can remember being obsessed with comics, particularly (let’s be honest… exclusively) Marvel. And even that was a shortlist of books. Pretty much, my childhood consisted solely of Wolverine, Venom, Ghost Rider and Punisher. That was it. Spider-Man made fleeting appearances, as did Hulk, but for the most part I had stuck to those four characters. What can I say; I was a brooding little kid. So yes, I was emo before emo was emo. My comic book reading consisted of dark and dangerous characters, all anti-heroes, and all pretty much insane. That is what my comic world was made up of. Except that is, for one man.
I don’t know what it was about the character that first drew me in, but Iron Man was the only “Straight-forward” hero book I read, and I loved it. The suits, the baddies, the attitude; I was hooked the moment I discovered old Shell-Head. Iron Man was never popular with my group of friends, most of them sticking to X titles only (This was the early nineties, after all) and for the life of me I can’t remember what first got me reading Iron Man. I know that my mom of all people was a fan of the character when she was a kid, so that may have steered me a bit, or possibly she bought me unsolicited Iron books that I read without choosing.
Regardless, I was an Iron Man fan: And a big one. I remember doodling designs for new suits in my schoolbooks, meticulously bagging and boarding Iron Man comics. It was a big part of my childhood. And then, at about age 12, I stopped reading comic books. Full out. One day I put them down and didn’t pick them up again for about five years. I don’t know if it was me attempting to “grow up”, or if newer hobbies took precedent in my mind, but I had stopped reading and collecting comic books completely. The characters I once knew and loved pretty much fell off of my radar. Sure, I’d read the occasional book when it was around me, but I stopped going out of my way to follow the stories that I had once obsessed over so much. I was suddenly more interested in hanging out with friends and getting into typical teenage “trouble” then I was reading the ongoing adventures of caped superheroes (What had happened to me?).
Jump to a few years later, some mellowing out time, and a now seventeen year old me. I was in my senior year of High School on suburban Long Island. My “fan” tastes had shifted from all things comic and “geek” related to all things in the comedy genre. Long story short, I saw the Hellboy T-shirt in Dogma, went out and bought a Hellboy comic and things sort of just developed from there. Within about three months I was reading 30 plus titles a week, ranging from indies to Super books. I began revisiting childhood favorites that had long lapsed from my memory. And yet one thing had changed. In those years in between my comic reading, one of my favorite characters had strayed to the dark side. And not necessarily to the side of evil - rather to becoming someone I had zero interest in reading about. That man, friends and neighbors, was Tony Stark.
I don’t know what it was that had changed so much about the character to immediately make me dislike him upon my return to the comic fold, but I can guess at some reasons. The smugness that I loved so much when I was young seemed to be gone. This new Tony, and by association, Iron Man, was pretty boring and conventional. Apparently, when Tony battled his demons and shed his vices, he also shed all character traits that I once found endearing. His quirky “Playboy” behavior that once drew me to the book was now gone without a trace. In the fast paced world of X books and mature Crisis titles, Iron Man was now veering into Captain America territory, a once great character that unfortunately had become stale over the decades (or decade, in my case). And with as many books as I read its hard to avoid a characters as prominent as Tony, especially in the company wide events which I rarely ever miss. In recent years, the Tony I had once idolized had now very much become the “Enemy” in my eyes (Due in a large part to his role in the Super-Hero Registration act, seen in the series Civil War).
My newly found dislike of Tony bled into all parts of my comic reading behavior. I stopped buying all Iron Man titles full stop. I cringed whenever I would see the character in another title. Tony had gone from being one of my favorites to my absolute least favorite characters in comic books. And that upset me, having to betray my childhood memories, but I really did not like the character anymore. That is, until, some genius somewhere decided to make an Iron Man film. With that simple act, my interest in all things Iron Man was quickly reignited. It wasn’t a blind “faith” sort of situation either. The teaser trailer for the film was so great in my opinion, that it really made me do some heavy thinking about my history with the character. It reminded me “Hey, you used to really enjoy Iron Man, and look, an Iron Man movie that looks pretty damn good!” Something about that forty odd second trailer not only made me excited for the Iron Man film, but it lead me to do some thinking about what the character really meant to me. This was a few months before the film’s release, so I had some time to really take a look at where the character has come from and where he is now. And I realized something.
I still liked Iron Man.
Yes, the character had become somewhat of an “a-hole” in recent years, but should that cancel out all the years of entertainment he’d provided for me before? I started seeing Tony different in the comics I read each week, really trying to understand his motivations as opposed to instantly disliking him. I reread the Civil War series and the books leading up to it to try and take a fresh view on Tony actions and more so, reactions to the events that unfurled. I found myself empathizing with Tony, feeling genuine remorse and pity as to what he’s unfortunately been forced to become. I no longer had him on the top of the Enemy list in the M-U, rather I saw him as a misguided but well-intentioned man that had fallen from grace. Then the movie came out, and as I stated in a previous column, completely reignited my passion for all things Iron.
Robert Downey Jr. is the walking manifestation of silver age Tony Stark, and just seeing that brash, fun and funny powerhouse again brought an ear to ear smile to my face. It also made me realize that when a character in comic books changes over the years it is a positive, avoiding the curse of stagnation. And though I found Iron Man boring until recently, It wasn’t due to the writing - rather, it was, but not because the writing was boring. The character became too straight-laced and “goody goody” for my liking, and until recently I think THAT was the aspect of the books that I shied away from. I am glad to once again be excited for all things Tony Stark related. The film franchise promises to be a great one. In the comic universe, Tony is edging closer and closer to the man we all knew and loved not so long ago. I will definitely be picking up the next Iron Man series and will most likely enjoy it whole-heartedly. It is a great time to be an Iron Man fan, and I am happy to be back on Shell-Heads bandwagon.
Tis all for now kiddos, but check back next week for some DVD reviews including the hilarious TV Funhouse Complete Series. It’ll be fun. You know it will.
And, as always,”Keep em’ bagged and boarded”
-Matt Cohen forgot to write something for his sign-off.
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