Every character seems to have their moment in history. It is a moment where their personality, the themes of their story, and significant details all seem to click into place. That moment doesn’t just come once for superheroes as their stories extend across decades, allowing them to evolve and click into place more than once. When Iron Man was first created by Stan Lee, Don Heck, Jack Kirby, and Larry Lieber, he was the right sort of character for the moment, like many of the founding superheroes of Marvel Comics. Tony Stark was a man connected to the expanding conflict in Vietnam, a new world of weapons, and rising corporate structures in American life. When reflecting on how well made he was for the moment, it’s no surprise to find many older Iron Man stories are underrated and that he would go on to become the foundation of Marvel Studios many years later.
It looks as if Iron Man’s time in comics has come again. After years of great superhero adventures in the Bendis era and some oddball tales of inversion, Iron Man is preparing for a run with all the makings of something significant. Writer Dan Slott and artist Valerio Schiti have promised that the new series Tony Stark: Iron Man, which premieres this week, will have everything great about the character with elements of Black Mirror and Rick & Morty. Those references are more than an attractive elevator pitch; they get to the heart of why this is the right moment for Iron Man to return, and why we expect this comics relaunch to succeed in 2018.
A Technological Horizon
When Iron Man was created, the world of technology seemed to be advancing at an incredible rate. Early computers were quickly being developed, while weapons of war far outpaced advancements made during either World War. Yet when you compare the technological questions and concerns of 2018 to the 1960s, it feels centuries apart. The Black Mirror connection made by Slott feels particularly apt, not because of the television series’ dark tone or ironic sensibilities, but because it attempts to address how the impossible becomes possible on an almost daily basis.
Picking a science fiction concept with roots in the real world can be as easy as throwing darts at a newspaper. The story possibilities surrounding DNA patents, drone warfare, virtual reality, and hundreds of other issues are truly immense. There is no superhero better prepared to address these topics than Iron Man. His high tech suit of armor is only a superficial connection too. Over the years Tony Stark has been developed as a futurist, someone who looks for the technologies that will reimagine the world. He is invested in discovering what comes next and has the resources to do just that. It provides an obvious bridge to tell any sort of modern story that comics creators might imagine. Even more importantly, it brings Tony’s unique moral compass to the table. That superheroic sensibility may prove to be the ultimate divide between the morose endings of Black Mirror and a slightly more optimistic path forward in Tony Stark: Iron Man.
An Uncertain World
One important parallel between 2018 and the first decade of Iron Man’s existence is uncertainty, both within the United States and abroad. Between 1963 and 1973, the United States experienced assassinations of many of its great leaders, the Vietnam War, the Watergate scandal, and so much more. It was a great moment of social upheaval and changing norms that has called forth many comparisons over the past several years. In the midst of everything happening in the 1960s, Iron Man was a character who had no choice but to confront the madness of the modern news, even through veiled references. Many of his earliest villains reflected the Cold War, while industrial sabotage and politics played key roles as well. Tony Stark was just as important as Iron Man, too. As a wealthy philanthropist he was positioned to reflect on what was occurring in society and act accordingly.
While claiming that the era we live in now runs parallel to the origins of Iron Man lacks the perspective of history, it’s impossible to say that the tensions and concerns don’t hold some similarities. The post World War II power structure, the foundation of the Cold War, has crumbled as international agreements and long held alliances become shaky. Russia holds a prominent place in the international news cycle once again. These are the elements of uncertainty that made Iron Man so potent in his earliest comics. While the world seemed a scary and unpredictable place, Tony Stark could assert some order from the role of an individual. Given his strong leadership stance within Marvel Comics, that is almost certainly part of his place in the new Tony Stark: Iron Man.
A Man With All The Power0comments
The truest reason why Tony Stark: Iron Man is needed in 2018 is the man at the start of that title. While Iron Man is a role held by many people over the years, there is only one Tony Stark. His role in Marvel Comics and its version of our world makes him an indispensible character right now. While being a superhero provides power, especially in the current form of his armor, Tony Stark is hardly defined by his shellhead alter-ego. Even if he never fired a repulsor beam again, Stark could change the world like a superhero event cycle based on his access to technology and wealth.
These are the elements that allowed Tony Stark to invent a world shaking superhero identity, and they can do a lot more than help The Avengers fight the Lethal Legion. Tony Stark’s interest in advancing technology can reshape society or potentially destroy. His wealth can fund great superhero adventures or exacerbate existing problems. There is no one in Marvel Comics more powerful than Tony Stark and that corresponds with power in 2018. Those who control new technologies and wealth are capable of doing the most good or harm in the United States. That dynamic poses Iron Man as the perfect hero to examine morality plays and difficult decisions. Tony Stark may not be the hero we need in 2018, but he’s certainly the hero we deserve.