The Iron Man origin story is my favourite of all time. So why does Marvel choose to ignore it?
Because I am f*cking awesome at dadding, I never gave my daughter bedtime stories. I gave her Superhero Origin Stories instead.
Here’s the story I told her about Iron Man.
Once upon a time, there was a boy who lived by the beach.
This is as far as I get before she interrupts me. She knows my sense of humour, and asks me if I’m going to waste time telling her that he’s a surf lifesaver who enters triathlons.
(If you’re not Australian, trust me that’s F*CKING HILARIOUS. If you are Australian, please don’t tell the rest of the world that it’s not actually that funny.)
I start again, and she settles in, because she knows I’m going to tell her the actual story this time…
The Story Of The Little Boy Who Couldn’t But Then One Day He Could And Also His Dad Is Kind Of A Jerk
Once upon a time there was a young boy who was very very rich, but he couldn’t enjoy any of his cool toys. He couldn’t enjoy them because he was very sick, so he spent all his time reading books, because this was before the internet.
His favourite books were written by some lady called Mallory (just one name, you know, like ‘Madonna’). Mallory mainly wrote about Knights, which the young boy became obsessed with. He also learnt about a thing called ‘chivalry’, which is where some rich dudes thought that women can’t be mechanics or whatever because of physics or something, even though physics hadn’t even been invented yet. There was also something about treating peasants nicely, but nobody ever mentions that, so I won’t either.
He promised himself that he would try become a modern knight, and help people who needed help. Even the peasants. WHAT A NERD!
One day, when he was a little older, he wasn’t so sick anymore. So he went outside and sat by a tree, and then – well, he read a book.
You thought he might do something a little more exciting, didn’t you?
Well, so did his dad.
His dad went to him and was all like “When I was your age I was playing football every day!” or whatever, and then the boy was all like “I am trying to work out how to be a knight!” and then his dad was like “You suck, I can’t believe you’re my son!” because parenting was VERY different back then.
The boy grew up, and he eventually invented a cool red-and-yellow coloured suit of armour like a knight, but it was even better than knight armour because it had laser fingers and could fly. Also the internet existed by now, so he could fight villains while listening to self-motivation clips on YouTube, or whatever it is that rich people do, I don’t know these things.
Because his armour was made from hard metals and not soft metals (like aluminium), and because he had great taste in music and therefore liked Black Sabbath, he called himself Iron Man.
Hey, I only said I was great at dadding – not storytelling.
Who defines the origin story – the creator or the reader?
Having finished, my daughter then questioned me – that didn’t sound anything like the version she’d heard. She asked me why I forgot the part about his robot heart.
That blew my tiny little mind! Since when did ‘making that first suit’ become Iron Man’s origin story?
I wondered: Had I gotten some of it wrong?
Was I mixing him up with someone else, like Steel or War Machine?
Nope, I got the story right.
Why does nobody ever mention these very important parts of the Iron Man origin story?
We have, in one comic (Iron Man Vol 1 287):
- The very reason why Iron Man is a hero – because he self-identifies as a modern knight.
- Why he’s a womaniser – because the idea of chivalry is actually very problematic.
- Why he never stops inventing – because he’s looking for fatherly approval that he’ll never ever get.
He doesn’t honour his father’s death, like Superman and Batman – he just feels robbed, because now he can never get the approval he so desperately needs or tell his father that he doesn’t need his approval.
So, my question is: Why is this the first time you’ve heard of this, just like my daughter when I told her?
And my answer is: It’s because modern so-called ‘comic creators’ don’t even consider it as being important.
That’s why ‘making that first suit’ is now his origin. Because it’s easier to read and write. That’s the reason. Not because it’s good for the character, or because it contains inherent problems for a modern audience. Indeed, imagine the social commentary that would arise from Tony trying to live a chivalrous life, and being confused that it doesn’t work in modern times. No, it’s because it’s easier.
They don’t care about the actual origins of the character. They just think it’s cool that he has power armour AND a goatee, or whatever.
Just like I don’t care about explaining who Sir Thomas Mallory is for a one-off gag told to a 9-year-old a few years ago, or specifying that Tony Stark clearly has a stylised ‘Van Dyke beard’ and not ‘a goatee’.
Seriously, look it up.
Iron Man’s facial hair is kind of like a pizza, because I said so dammit. No but seriously, hear me out.
If you have a moustache and ‘chin hair’, then you do not have ‘a goatee’. You have ‘a Van Dyke beard’.
That’s like having ‘a pizza’ but saying you only have ‘half a pizza’.
I mean, unless you live in a share house, of course – then you only have the box, and also a half-arsed potpourri of various meats, even though you paid for the whole damn pizza. Yes, that is a very specific example for me to use, thanks for noticing. Moving on.
(Jeff from HR – if you’re reading this, your punk ass still owes me $6.75 AUD)
I mean, as writers, they’re not supposed to confuse us with unimportant crap.
You know, like I did to you just now – probably so much so that you probably had to go back to an earlier point in this article to remind yourself what the actual topic was.
That’s ostensibly why they ignore all of this stuff – so it’s easier for new readers to catch up on decades of comics history, which is actually a reasonable – uh – reason.
But if the very DNA of the character, if the actual reason for the character existing, is just considered ‘fluff’ by literally every single writer since god damned 1992, well – then what’s the actual point of Iron Man comics?
I get that it’s hard to know what each reader individually thinks of each character. But that’s no excuse to change the core traits (i.e. wanting to be a knight etc) of the character. If you’re going to change things about a franchise, you should have a very good reason for doing so. And Marvel NEVER do.
To me, the real Iron Man is a scared little boy who doesn’t want to let anyone down. That’s why he’s so arrogant – because he has to believe that he’s the best there is at what he does (sorry Wolverine).
That guy in the modern comics is interesting, but he’s not the real Iron Man.
That guy on the movies is great (and perfectly cast, might I add), but he’s not the real Iron Man.
Not to me, anyway.
The worst thing about all of this.
But the worst thing about all of this is that every single time they reboot the universe, they get further and further away from the true origins of the character.
And that’s why I have literally no time at all for modern comics.
A big thing happens? It won’t have lasting effects.
A crossover happens? In 2 years it’ll be non-canon, so don’t bother with it.
Kill someone off? They’ll be back.
We used to joke that Jean Grey is the only person in comics to stay dead, but she’s been back, what, like three times in the last 10 years or something?
To me, Marvel and DC aren’t supposed to be ‘comics companies’, they’re supposed to be ‘keepers of the archetypes’, because comic characters are the modern version of gods – they represent natural forces, they’re somehow bigger than life itself, and they can’t stop f*cking with humanity just by existing.
When I was a boy (“oh here we go” – quote, my daughter) companies would at least pretend that they cared about things that mattered to the people who give them money. Or maybe they were just better at hiding it, pre-internet.
Point is, the main comic-book companies just don’t even care about any of that stuff anymore.
So, you know – why should I?