A long time ago, when I was in my salad days, I considered Marvel to be a bit of a lost cause. Apart from Spiderman, there seemed to be a bit of a dearth of cool characters.
I liked Spiderman for many reasons.
Don’t get me wrong, The Incredible Hulk was pretty badass, but I couldn’t get to grasp with the stories: it was all Betty this and Army that. The Fantastic Four? Scooby-Doo knockoffs patrolling the cosmos in their Mystery Machine spaceship. I mean, really: their enemies were Galactus, a big metal twat, and Doctor Doom, a small metal twat. Bo-oring.
So apart from Spiderman, there wasn’t much to attract me to Marvel, so naturally I gravitated towards DC. DC had cooler, iconic characters : Superman, Wonder Woman, Green Lantern, Martian Manhunter and The Flash.
This had nothing to do with it.
These characters were some of the best: the best, obviously, was Batman.
Batman was the boss, the absolute king – the emblem of everything good. A man who used his abilities selflessly, the ultimate altruist. A symbol of authority and righteousness. Plus, he had the best villains : The Joker, The Penguin, Catwoman. I read every Batman comic that came my way, and most of them were good. And I went to university still believing Batman was the best superhero. How wrong I was.
2008 was a shitty year for many reasons, but it stands out for two awesome reasons: it was the first time I read Ayn Rand’s The Fountainhead, and it was when the first Iron Man movie came out. And somehow these two became meshed together in my head into a new vision of what a superhero should be. I am starting to believe that Iron Man is the hero of the 21st Century, and more than that: Iron Man is better than Batman. Here’s why.
Iron Man’s Motives Are Better
That Iron Man and Batman are at their core human is a decisive point in their favour. Superman is the worst superhero because he isn’t human: he’s naturally good. For him, heroism and altruism are instinctive. He doesn’t have to try. Superheroes that are people are different: they have to be better than their basic nature. If they put themselves on the line to save strangers from danger, they’re fighting their most cowardly elements. That, in many ways, makes them stronger than extraterrestrial superheroes. Iron Man and Batman are the top of their respective fields, and they’re there not by virtue of abilities or powers, but by sheer balls, strength and determination.
But Batman’s motivation comes from a really dark place: it’s a quest for revenge. In a Freudian sense, Batman is fighting crime, the abstract entity, in order to express his rage at the death of his parents. His motivation is violent and vengeful. Batman is Bruce Wayne’s monster, the Mr Hyde to his Dr Jekyll.
Iron Man, by contrast, didn’t come out of Tony Stark’s loss. it came out of his shame: having realised Stark Industry weapons were being used by terrorists and despots, he endeavored to
fix a wrong. He is atoning for the actions of his company: his heroism stems from soulful penance, not impotent rage.
Tony Stark’s a Fuckup
This one is pretty obvious when it comes to the movies. Who did they get to play Iron Man in the movies? Robert Downey Jr, a man who is a reformed fuckup and has made a career since Less Than Zero playing fuckups. Remember Kiss Kiss Bang Bang? Played a fuckup. A Scanner Darkly? Played a fuckup. Sherlock Holmes? Played a genius fuckup. Case closed. He was the natural choice. Tony Stark has been an alcoholic, a drug addict, the host to a computer virus, a body-modifier (remember the Extremis arc?), a man hit by a land mine, hovering near death. Tony Stark loses his company twice, sides with the wrong people during Marvel’s Civil War, and beats the shit out of Captain America.
The guy’s a renegade.
By contrast, Bruce Wayne is whiter than white, and that shows in his storylines. Batman is always about fighting external forces that represent madness, rather than the internal forces that Iron Man faces. Remember a single storyline where Bruce Wayne got smashed? Nah. He’s too good, too prissy. Stark Industries builds smart-bombs. What does Wayne Industries do? Something pretty lame and noble, I’ll bet.
Iron Man beats Batman because Iron Man fucks up, and is the product of a fuckup, and that beats being a morally-invulnerable hero any day.
Iron Man is The Zeitgeist
Batman came from a time of hard-boiled detectives and Private Eyes. He was created as a sort of costumed Sam Spade, and his early storylines reflected a very Raymond Chandler world. He was and is symbolic of an earlier time, a time when gangsters ruled the streets with revolvers and illegal alcohol shipments. In a way, Batman doesn’t reflect our world any more than Sherlock Holmes does. He comes from the world of Humphrey Bogart, Gregory Peck and James Stewart, when men were men and women shut the hell up. Batman comes from a place where criminals could be defeated with a punch to the face. Bof! Thwak!
Iron Man represents Century 21 in a unique way. He’s one of the youngest of Marvel’s creations, being developed at a time when massive multinationals were in the news, when wars were fought with state-of-the-art weapons, when technology and technology’s integration into people’s lives was very much at the fore in the public consciousness. Thirty or so years on, these things are still relevant. We worry daily about man’s ever greater involvement with technology. We’re still concerned with multinationals. This is an age where robots fire missiles at terrorists in the mountains of Pakistan. In a way, we’re living in Iron Man’s world. We’re living in a world where every aspect of our lives has a touch screen and wifi.
Iron Man is a hero fully conversant with technology, and that’s an understatement. Batman’s gadgets are all auxiliary to his function: at his core, you know that Batman will beat the bad guy just with brains and brute strength. Iron Man won’t use a rocket launcher: he is a rocket launcher. And a machine gun. And a Breville sandwich toaster. Iron Man is the spirit of the age, in an age where your fridge talks to you and your phone takes dictation.
Iron Man Can Fly
Well, duh. Game, set, and match.
[I mean, obviously there’s wiggle room here. Amalgam’s Iron Lantern, that mooshed Green Lantern and Iron Man together, was sort of a winner over both.
And The Iron Knight might just edge past him.