On Wednesdays We Wear Ink: Iron Man Is A Nobhead, and We Are All In The Wrong Universe
Posted on July 1, 2015
July 1, 2015 | by Andy Waterfield
One of the greatest notions in all of science fiction is that of alternate timelines, and/or alternate realities. All kinds of stories can use the idea for all kinds of purposes; Sliders, Back To The Future, The Man In The High Castle, Backwards, Black Science. The list goes on.
The sweetest stories of this type, for me anyway, are those where the protagonists find themselves in an alternate timeline, and they either don’t realise it, or don’t realise the full nature of it. They’re hanging out in New York thinking everything is fine, when one of them looks up, and there’s a 300 foot statue of Charlton Heston where the Statue of Liberty should be.
Or our common or garden white dude has found himself in a world with the same blinding, vile inequalities and oppressive structures as ours, but a whole other demographic than white men is arbitrarily favoured based on the ideological and economic power they wield.
But wait, in another universe Scottish people are watching and enjoying cricket! The French have built a serviceable sewer system! The film works of Rob Schneider are enjoyed by people who are neither stoned or 13!
The possibilities are endless, literally. Bubbling away like bubbly reality thingamies forever and ever.
As a trope, it’s super entertaining, but I’m here to tell you that as a reality, it’s fucking terrifying. Because this week, dear reader, I realised that I am in the wrong universe. And so are you.
We are in a universe where *dramatic pause* Iron Man is one of the most popular superheroes on the planet.
We are in a universe where Iron Man is Marvel’s most popular superhero.
We are in a universe where Marvel’s entire movie business was built on the back of a hugely successful Iron Man movie.
Iron Man. Tony Stark. Popular. Not just with us nerds, but with actual people who go outdoors, and get enough vitamin D as well. On lunchboxes, in costume shops, on billboards, looking all heroic and stuff.
This is wrong. It makes no sense. We are in a hellish alternate world.
How do I know this? Because, simply put, Iron Man is a complete fucking tool.
Oh, I know what you’re going to say:
“But Andy, he’s so funny, and witty, and clever, and he used to design, manufacture, and sell weapons, but then he got stuck in a cave for a bit, and that taught him that war isn’t very nice really, so now he’s a superhero.”
Think about high-end ballistic missiles. They’re very carefully designed pieces of precision engineering. Some are designed for maximum immediate damage, some for long-term damage, and some to royally fuck up a person or persons over a fairly small area. What they have in common is that they are weapons built to kill and maim human beings, and that the process of designing and manufacturing them to do this well takes a ton of time and effort.
Now, the guy working on the assembly line in one of Stark’s manufacturing plants has a bit of ethical wiggle room here. The Stark plant might be the only legal gig in town. Maybe his disabled daughter needs specialist care the state won’t pay for. He’s still building weapons, but his options are limited.
Tony Stark, by contrast, owns and operates a weapons manufacturer. He designs machines engineered for the efficient extinction of human lives. He is a genius-level intellect, with a vast array of resources at his disposal, and he plays an active part in selling these weapons in active war zones too, which is how he ends up getting captured.
You can’t look at me with a straight face and tell me the guy didn’t know what he was doing the entire time. Sure, maybe his little stint in the cave made him realise more fully the absolute horror of war, but it’s not rocket science to figure out that needless human death and suffering is something to be avoided. It’s not a difficult concept to grasp, so a fucking rocket scientist should be able to grasp it without having his heart plugged full of shrapnel.
That’s my first point. I have more, each more spurious and grasping than the last. Watch me now!
Point the second: Tony Stark is a boorish tosser who flaunts his wealth. He rocks up at parties, and throws his money around. He forgets the names of the women he’s with, makes a tit of himself, and then pisses off in his sports car while ordinary people clear up the mess.
Simply put, Tony Stark is the unbearable playboy Bruce Wayne pretends to be. Except Bruce is doing it because he has to, because he has to keep up the pretence that he’s a complete tool so nobody thinks he might be Batman. Tony is just into it.
You don’t sell weapons for as long as he did without knowing a thing or two about geopolitics, particularly the dynamics of wealth, resources, and power around the globe. Stark knows the world is full of people who are dirt poor, who would benefit from a bit of a leg-up, fiscally speaking. He just really likes flash parties and sports cars though.
He’s basically a free-market capitalist’s wet dream. It makes a lot of sense, when you think about it. That suit is basically high-tech fetish-wear. I bet you could do all sorts of interesting stuff wi… *ahem* I digress… Onward!
Point the third: Tony Stark has a goatee beard. No human being of any merit has ever had a goatee beard. In fact, in the Star Trek universe, a goatee beard is a clear indication of evil. I posit that the same principle holds in our universe, or if not evil, it is a clear market of a tool.
Think back to the days of your youth, when your experiences were few, and your spots were many. As you lumbered through the hallways of your high school or college, what did you find on the faces of all the worst dudes? The dudes who were into Hatebreed, enjoyed watching Top Gear, and were just complete fucking tools?
That’s right. They all had goatee beards.
Of course, it’s not Tony Stark’s fault he’s the flagship character of the Marvel universe. Were it not for Marvel selling off the X-men, Spider-man, and Fantastic Four movie rights in the late ‘90s, then dear old Tony wouldn’t have had a look until about now. All those raised eyebrows over Ant-Man? Those would be raised for Iron Man, if there was any justice in this cold, unfeeling universe.
Seriously, though. Marvel have been under fire over the past few years for the homogeneity of their heroes, for not just a perceived, but an easily demonstrable lack of diversity in their film and comics output. I put it to you, dear reader, than in our home universe, the better one we were in before we wound up in this one, Marvel kept hold of the X-men rights, and, after a scrabble around for some of that Hollywood cash, built their colossal multi-film franchise on the mighty mutants, far and away their most popular characters during the ’90s and early 2000s.
Imagine a world where the biggest movie franchise on the planet is the story of a persecuted minority, one made up of myriad nationalities, races, backgrounds, sexualities, and worldviews, who come together to educate the young, teach the nominally pacifist ideals of their mentor, but then kick the living fuck out of tyrants and bigots. Wolverine is still there, looking grumpy, but he’s not the main character by a long shot, which is probably for the best, because very few problems are optimally solved by stabbing people repeatedly.
In that world we have already had multiple female-led superhero solo movies, with the Storm films vying with DC’s Wonder Woman series for market dominance, and young people the world over reaping the benefits of seeing well-rounded, respected, and stone cold badass women on screen fighting to make their worlds better.
In that world, Marvel told Disney where to stick it, became more successful than ever, and poured huge mounds of cash into making sure the freelance comics creators who built their company were properly credited and cared for in their old age.
In that world, the Jack Kirby Grant Scheme, a charitable trust set up with a portion of the profits from Kirby’s innumerable Marvel creations, pays for kids from modest backgrounds to study for degrees in astrophysics, art, and philosophy. In this way, Jack’s extraordinary ideas find traction in the present, and support humanity’s continuing journey toward a better future.
We, however, are trapped in this world, with the iconic hero of our age, Tony Stark – billionaire white bloke, possible war criminal, wearer of dubious facial hair. Flanked by a few more white blokes, all fighting together to maintain the neoliberal, client-state-capitalist, American hegemony.
I weep for the future.
Andy Waterfield is writing this bio way quicker than usual because he’s got the new The Wicked + The Divine collection right next to him and he really wants to read that. Like now. He actually quite likes Tony Stark, as a character, partly because Stark is hugely flawed, just like the rest of us. If you couldn’t tell, this week’s column was written with tongue planted firmly in cheek. If you are offended by strangers mocking fictional white men on the internet, Andy strongly advises you take a short nap and see how you feel after. Go and argue with him on Twitter if you must: @andywritesstuff