When people ask if the Marvel superheroes movies really get people to read comics, and the resounding answer seems to be “no”, I am one of those people obliged to protest. As keen observers have occasionally noticed, the movies did manage to nab people who were at one time comic readers and get them back into the game, or in my case, back into reading, and writing, about superheroes. It worked particularly well on me because I was already writing about heroes in film as part of my academic explorations, and seeing IRON MAN when it came out in 2008 was a major turning point for me. Here I saw mythology running wild, new-born and full of energy, and I couldn’t help but want to write about what I saw in classic motifs popping up again with so much direct relevance to 21st century life.
As luck would have it, when I wrote this paper on IRON MAN, and presented it, this was also the actual moment when I met a bunch of comic scholars and became one myself, but it would take more than a year before I had the confidence to actually start writing about comics. I felt I had a lot of catching up to do, so I took on reading the complete works of Alan Moore and Neil Gaiman and that set me on my path. But the paper I wrote fell by the wayside, until the second IRON MAN film came out, and I was intrigued by its developments on the first film’s mythology. I felt I could see a pattern there- a similar development that occurs in long-running hero myths, of a movement from a “social hero” who helps people to a “culture hero” who could potentially change the world. So I stepped out of comics for a short time and returned to writing about hero films just to see where the idea would take me.
Then I got caught up in comics again, and though I had presented my second paper on IRON MAN, I still hadn’t published either. What’s wrong with me? I was just doing a million things at once, and tackling other comicsy writing. Then the New York Review of Science Fiction got wind of the abstract I had sent them once, for an article combining those two original papers into one, and wrote to me. It really was like finding a 20 dollar bill in your pocket you had forgotten about. I jumped on it, updated the article, and they were kind enough to feature the new article in their “Special Mythology and Movies Issue”, #297, out in June 2013. The NYRSF, a venerable Sci-Fi journal, is digital these days, and remarkably affordable, so I’ll plug this issue for a download of only 2.99 which you can find here. The films ARGO and JOHN CARTER also feature in this issue.
Here’s my abstract for the article, as originally submitted to the journal:
“Deweaponizing Stark: Powering the Culture Hero in Jon Favreau’s Iron Man 1 and 2”
This study investigates the manner in which Jon Favreau’s films Iron Man 1 and 2 encompass the development of the social hero and the culture hero. Criteria for the classification of social hero and culture hero are drawn from the theoretical framework of psychoanalysts Carl Jung and Erich Neumann. The arc of development present in Iron Man 1 and 2, and the presentation of the culture hero in the Irish Mythological Cycle, in the person of Lugh Lamfada, are compared to demonstrate consistency in the development of the western concept of culture hero and its modern relevance.
What you have here is, in updated form, essentially my earliest writings about superheroes, so I’ll remain sentimental about it. In that time, IRON MAN 3 has been released, a film I also enjoyed immensely and may some time write about, but I was thrilled to review it in real-time at The Beat as a comics journalist, too. You can find my review of IRON MAN 3 here, if you’re interested. My take on IRON MAN 3 is that we really get to meet “the Mechanic” Tony Stark, and that this has a particularly part to play in Iron Man mythology.
IRON MAN will always be one of my favorite heroes because I think he really does encapsulate so much about our anxieties and aspirations in an immediate way. I’m glad my writings on him finally found a home and hope you enjoy my mythological perambulations on the subject.