Hank McCoy (Before the Fur)

Hi-tech, Politics, and Fast Women: Given the frequency that Tony Stark has been appearing in Marvel comics lately and the success of the movie this summer, a retelling of the character’s origins may seem a little unnecessary. Still, there might be a few things about the man who has become Marvel’s most controversial hero that you didn’t know. The movie was true to form- weapons design, shrapnel in the heart, an improvised battle suit…Tony has been dependent on the suit for survival to varying degrees throughout his career. Originally it just served as a king of makeshift pacemaker/ magnetic-thingy that kept that big hunk of metal from getting closer to his heart. But even after Stark got a heart transplant, the cybernetic interface he uses has worn on his nervous system. In a lot of ways, the suit is almost like a second body for the man. Attacking it is kind of is like attacking him- for example, when the Skrulls uploaded that virus into it (for those of you reading along at home, these days)? It isn’t really that different that uploading a virus into Tony’s brain itself. Hence the freaking out and the illness in the pages of Secret Invasion. And don’t let the whole playboy-James Bond act fool you: most of the time, Stark is more comfortable in the suit than out of it. I mean sure, he sleeps around with incredibly hot super-heroines (and hell, sometimes supervillians) because he’s incredibly rich and has the means to maintain said-decadent lifestyle. But more than one woman who’s fallen for the guy has pointed out that letting people get close to him isn’t exactly his strong suit (no pun intended). Death Wish?: What most people don’t realize is that Stark feels like he’s living on borrowed time. He might seem confident and carefree, but a gargantuan amount of survivor’s guilt is what’s really driving him most of the time. The original suit’s co-designer, Ho Yinsen in the comics (in the movie they changed his name, can’t remember what to), traded his life for Stark’s. The weight of a debt that he could never really pay off, no matter how much good in the world he did, has always weighed on the man. Given that Tony basically needs the suit to survive on top of this, you really can take a step back and see Mr. Charismatic Womanizing Big Business guy in a new light. It’s almost like Tony already died, years ago, but through some cosmic fluke he got to live (metaphorically, of course). He’s been trying to do something worthwhile with his life ever since. This, of course, is part of why Stark is so controversial. It isn’t just that he has big ideas- it’s that he pursues them. He wants to change the whole world. Nothing less will make the time Yinsen bought him worth anything. Of course the pressure to perform at such a level and the subsequent feeling of being “entombed” to some extent in his armor has almost broken Stark a couple of times. Not to get all cheesy and allegorical, but the guy’s got another suit of armor that helps him numb out- drinking. Part of Iron Man’s popularity over the years is the fact that he has always struggled with a very real, very common problem: Alcoholism. His perfectionism and his difficulty facing what he feels kind of go hand in hand with his drinking problem too. Trying to figure out when he’s asking too much of himself and when he should expect more from himself- well, that’s something most of us have trouble with. The Right Wing Republican Super-Hero: Okay, this might be a bit of an exaggeration. Superheroes tend to be apolitical by nature, not wholly embracing one political agenda over moderation in many areas. Still, Stark would be the closest thing the Marvel Universe has. And the thing is? You’re never sure if you want the guy to fail or to succeed. Take it from a guy who’s pretty liberal: so many of his ideas seem dangerous, like they’ll help America transition into a police state. But sometimes, you can’t help but wonder if he’s got the right idea all along. When Stark seemingly pulls off the impossible, part of you feels a tug to get behind the guy, make it work, and change the world. IS the super-hero registration act and the Initiative such a bad idea? Well, it’s kind of like the Patriot Act. In theory, I think it’s totally unconstitutional and frightening piece of legislature. But then again, in practice, I don’t really like the idea of terrorists blowing up buildings and airplanes. Stark has done some things in the last two to three years that were shocking, even infuriating. But from his point of view, he’s a martyr who’s making the hard choices that no one else wants to make for the greater good. Once in a while he’ll make you wonder if that really IS the case. Suggested Reading: Stark is in so many comics lately, it’s hard to make a good reading list. Almost any Marvel comic will do these days. Still, here’s a few highlights. Iron Man: The Armor Wars (AWESOME classic story in which a bunch of hi-tech thieves steal a host of Tony’s prototype battle suits. Stark pushes himself to the limit tracking each one down and fighting them himself. The rough equivalent of Batman: Knightfall for Iron Man fans) Avengers: Operation Galactic Storm (Cap and Shellhead have butted heads before. In this case, Iron Man leads half of the Avengers on a crusade to kill the Kree Supreme Intelligence. Great story for the hardcore Avengers fans- very morally ambigious). Iron Man: The Mask in the Iron Man (Great story in which Tony’s suit becomes sentient and “decides” it wants to be with Tony. Forever. Really, great depiction of Stark here.) Avengers: Disassembled (I love this story and I find Stark’s nightmare-come-true particularly chilling and disturbing) Civil War (Goes without saying) New Avengers: Illuminati (Stark gets the most influential players in the Marvel Universe together in order to change the world) World War Hulk (One of Stark’s best laid plans to rid the world of the Green menace blows up in his, and everyone else’s, face)