Iron Man

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I grew up on comic books, both Marvel and DC. I also suffered mightily with every attempt to convert colored panels of action to various TV series. "Wonder Woman," "Incredible Hulk," "Spiderman" (with an awful pasty-white web)... even the old George Reeve's "Superman." Well-intentioned all, but they didn't compare with the imagination.

Then came special effects (thank you, Star Wars). Not that it helped the Christopher Reeves version of Superman. Ugh.

Skipping forward 25 plus years, computer generated graphics now rule both theaters and television. When casting and plot work out, you get triumphs like the Spiderman and X-Men series. When they do not, you get Hulk, Daredevil, and most of the Batmans. But the special effects can more than capably fill in the gaps between panels showing a fist connecting to a villain's face ("POW!") and the same villain crashing through a wall due to the force ("ARGH").

Which brings us to the first entry
of this year's Summer movie fest, "Iron Man." This was a second tier comic book series, which is obvious as the favorites have all had their turns.

Marvel comic-book series were set apart from their DC counterparts in two ways - a darker and more dramatic graphical look, both in characters and backgrounds, due to artists such as Jack Kirby, and soap opera lives interwoven with the heroics in each issue. Basically, DC was clean; Marvel was dirty. There was room for both.

Iron Man is a different type of super-hero for Marvel. He does the usual things we've come to expect... He has an "origin," his powers (or smarts, in this case) are framed by some event that casts a moral accountability, and, of course, good triumphs over evil.

The difference is that, in this case, he (Tony Starke, a gifted inventor of military weaponry) is unapologetically selfish, and rather than facing personal demons that might threaten the remaining cast of Marvel heroes, he flaunts them. It also makes for great entertainment when the lead is perfectly suited for the task (Robert Downey, who is probably thanking his lucky stars for this role) and when amongst all the possible angst that could be portrayed, someone finally remembered the comedy potential in a comic.

In a comparative sense, Superman is boring. We love "good" in real life. But, when it comes to our fiction, the imagination isn't fulfilled by good, it's stirred by evil. Follow the thread through current art, movies, television, books. It takes increasingly deeper shades of "evil" to shock us as we pass each benchmark of the previously forbidden or taboo. From "Equus" to "Silence of the Lambs," the crimes become more heinous, and the only challenge is to imagine how such things can be psychologically explained. And it's true in movies, where there are no longer technical boundaries to visually present the worst things imaginable.

This movie doesn't seek to blend the lines between good and evil, thankfully. Both are painted clearly in their respective corners. But even following an implausible crucible of morality change, Iron Man is a flawed hero, and in most things, unrepentant. Do we settle now for heroes that revel in their imperfections? If "too err is human," must we accept the same in our fictional heroes? Conversely, as artistic boundaries expand further into immorality, do we settle for lesser degrees of "good" in real life? Do we excuse more?

Well, we find heroes as we're able. In "Iron Man," we can relate to wanting to do better today than we did yesterday, and that's a good thing.

My final thoughts on the movie were further influenced a week after I watched it, when my daughter returned from her (dreaded, by me) first date. Despite the imagined horrors that could be revealed, it would be improper not to ask, "So, how was your date?"

Her eyes opened wide with excitement... (uh oh, she really likes the snot-nosed brat teenager)... smiled wide (dagger in my side!)... "Dad, Iron Man was amazing!" Good answer, kiddo. A heroic performance, indeed, Tony Starke. Thank you.

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