In the last few weeks, endless rivers of words have been written about the Avengers and Iron Man who is really Tony Stark, in particular. What can I add now?
Longevity. I’ve been involved with Stark for decades.
When living abroad in the early 1970s, I spent my time outside of school reading about the Revolutionary War, constructing WWI airplane models, and spending my small allowance on comic books.
One of the series I always bought was The Invincible Iron Man.
I fell hard for Iron Man‘s billionaire eccentric Tony Stark as only a teenage girl could, skipping over his numerous personal flaws, and wishing that the comic books had less about fighting bad guys in an iron suit, and more about the man.
Little did I know that 30+ years later, I’d get my wish.
The flamboyant intelligent playboy who’d captured my interest was brought to life by Robert Downey Jr, an actor with his own complicated past. While there was a lot of jetting around in a suit, the story centered around the fictional man.
Over the 22 movies of the Marvel Comics Universe (MCU) that stretched from 2008 to 2019, Stark evolved into a much more interesting man than in the comics. Starting as a practical, but narcissistic man who is summed up in a classified Avengers file as “volatile,” “self-obsessed” and “doesn’t play well with others,” he ages into a man whose brilliance is intent on protecting his family and friends even if his plans are very risky.
In the beginning in 2008, Stark thought he was an Iron Man, invulnerable and arrogant.
The creators of the movie Stark used so many of the distinctive touches from the comics. The handsome, rich playboy was also an alcoholic in one of the most powerful series, Demon in the Bottle, which came out in 1979 when I was a page clean-up girl at Marvel. His drinking problem was part of Iron Man 2.
By the end in 2019, he was a man who just desperately wanted to keep what little he’d managed to salvage after an universal war.
In 2008, our newswire sent reporters and photographers to cover the Afghanistan war. Iron Man‘s opening scene is an attack on a U.S. patrol over there. As I ate popcorn and watched the backdrop and dangers seemed familiar.
While covering the upcoming Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skulls for our newswire, Iron Man infiltrated my interviews. Talking to the head of the University of Chicago’s Asian Institute about Jones, we ended up talking about the then-upcoming Iron Man movie. He complemented me on seeing my hero come to life. I laughed.
Reflections of him kept popping up in my life. Who hasn’t worked with someone like Stark in their office? Handsome, self-absorbed, arrogant… I can say from personal experience that it’s exciting to be around someone like that but he’s extremely high maintenance. After the first decade or so, he’s irritating rather than attractive.
In Avengers: Infinity War, Stark goes to fight the evil Thanos on Titan… and fails. His protege, Peter Parker/Spider-Man is turned to dust as are 50% of life forms in the universe when Thanos snaps his gloved hand. Stark is devastated. He failed to protect anyone, and is stranded on an alien planet.
After being returned to Earth by Captain Marvel in Avengers: Endgame, he retires, hiding until the remaining Avengers ask for his help. Despite turning them down initially, he ends up finding the solution and joins in the quest for the Infinity Stones that will reverse the snap.
The Stark of the first movie would have done it for the ultimate challenge, or because he wanted to prove that he was the most powerful of the Avengers. 22 movies later, the practical engineer has nothing to prove to anyone. All he wants to do is try to keep his family alive… and save the universe.
That’s what he does with a snap of his fingers encased in a gauntlet embedded with the Infinity Stones. Stark saves them all. The dead of the first snap return, Thanos and his minions are turned to dust. A happy ending.
But, as the incredible power of the Stones chars his body, Tony Stark dies.
That teenager reader of The Invincible Iron Man in me was confused – he lost again? The woman I am now saw it as a bittersweet, but appropriate end for a flawed hero.
Stark’s memorial brings together all the people and heroes he touched. His original mechanical heart is set adrift on a funeral wreath on the lake outside his retreat. Avengers: Endgame winds up the stories of the original Avengers and show the way for the younger ones. (Hello, Spider-Man: Far From Home.)
The survivors mourn their dead and move on with life.
Stark’s death nagged at me though. Even an adult, I was confused at my lingering sadness. It was just a comic book character from long ago who I’d enjoyed reading along with X-Men and Spider-Man. Why should it matter?
It mattered because the MCU and Downey brought to life a far more complicated character than the inked drawings on now-brittle yellow paper. The films concentrated on the human elements that I looked for all those decades ago. It was right to mourn someone that had I’d spent a long time with even if he was only a piece of fiction that ensnared a teenager’s imagination, and later brought to life by a talented actor on the movie screen.
So, I toast you with a non-alcoholic glass of Seltzer water and strawberry shrub.
“Goodbye, Tony. Rest in peace. It’s been a good run for us both.”