Monday, July 18, 2016

Tony Stark: the Iron Man I Needed to Be

Boss, boss! So very boss.
My first exposure to Iron Man was two-fold, so close, I cannot tell which came first. I will guess my first exposure to Shellhead was in The Avengers #143, with him and Cap getting Patsy Walker to be the new Hellcat.

I was 11 or 12. The line "Well, this is another fine mess you've gotten us into" to me was comedy gold. I knew of Laurel and Hardy and seeing two superheroes act properly [a lady is undressing] while kvetching about the situation was beautiful to me. It was fun; it was noble; it was unavoidable.

Iron Man and Cap were cool guys. I've covered the coolness of Cap; I owe Shellhead his due.

Mildred Ferguson, Lutheran Lady of Cool gifts
So my next door neighbor, a widow with two grown children and my mother's best friend, gave me gifts a few Christmases in a row. Thinking back, she made a real bummer of a Christmas morning [Santa had not gotten me a bike nor an Evel Knievel figure with cycle] pretty cool. Millie--as mom called her--was like that. God sent grace through this woman.

She on this one fine Christmas, she gave me a K-Mart "Triple Pack" of comics, that had three issues of Iron Man for "...one low price!"

Kraken's Kirby Krackle Kills!
Those were dam' good issues. It was Iron Man 94-96 with Jack Kirby covers and George Tuska art [Kirby did the inside of 94 as well].

Dude, you have no idea. While I admit the cover to 95 is merely serviceable, the covers for 94 and 96 are epic, with every bit of goodness we want in good Master Scene shots.

Thus, Iron Man became one of my faves. I liked him. I followed him in the Avengers. I bought the Mego action figure. He was neat.

Fast forward three years. David Micheline, Bob Layton and John Romita, Jr. get busy crafting the armored avenger.

Oh yeah. One other thing: America is going through a tech explosion. My parents buy their first digital calculator, FM radio is picking up speed and surpassing AM in listeners, our school gets a photocopier and lastly, personal home computers begin to appear. I even learn to load cassette programs onto a TRS-80 at a local Radio Shack. The guys were very generous to me though I was an annoying boychild. [cringes at memory of same]

Has Tony Stark ever looked cooler?
Nay, dear reader. Nay.
Demon in a Bottle
This was the watershed book; Tony Stark has fallen into alcoholism while playing superhero - the pressures of running his company Stark Industries and  unintentionally killing a sweet ambassador [and ardent fan] have come down so hard he is self-medicating. The art on the splash page is necessarily glorious and Shakespearian, for we are watching a nobleman in grave despair.

It is considered one of the finest Iron Man story arcs ever done. You may know all that. What you do not know is what it meant to me.

I was being bullied. I was being humiliated. It was a bad time in my childhood development. I was learning how hard, painful, relentless, cruel and vicious the world can be.

While I did not know it, there was alcoholism in my family and that meant I had the same cast in my heart: the desire to escape by self-medication.

My blue collar father and artistic mother, after putting me into a Christian Prep School - Southern Baptist Educational Center for one year, allowed me to escape the [expletive, expletive, expletive] hole of sanctimonious hell and let me return to public school. Where I promptly enjoyed myself and stupidly made an enemy with some large, surly, quiet Hispanic kid who made sure he hunted me down to teach me some manners. I think I almost deserved it. I was a smart mouth.

But he? I suspect he's doing [or ended] sort a poorly. He did not have a forgiving or kind spirit.

I had to pick myself back up from that, go to a nearby friend's house and tell him I'd just been hit. In the face. Yeah - it was just one hit. What a crybaby, you know?

Fast forward four years. I am again getting my face beat in. Also for "mouthing off" to someone bigger than me. The fist that blackens my eye and bruises my cheekbone, leaving a full unhideable mark that takes two weeks to heal is caused by a family member with a cross tattooed on his fist.

I heal. I move forward. I learn my lesson about the power of my words and threat. Some men - very manly ones - will pound me. I am not a man to them. I am a boy. Worse, I am a faggot.

No, I am not gay. I am a Momma's Boy. I have to learn slowly from dedicated Christian men and women how to be a man. It will not happen for decades. On this, I learn slowly. You learn by taking on responsibilities wisely and doing what is in front of you.

You learn to leave well enough alone. You learn to trust God and not men. My dad simply was a man; the Marines edited his Kentucky boy wildness and he respected them for it.

Me? I was too pretty and too civilized. Too egalitarian and liberal in my thinking. I was not a man. I was a man-ling, due to my mother's emotional needs and my father's absence. Later, it was black men and a white female manager who "manned" me up. They said "You are responsible for this. We trust you to do it. Don't lie down and quit. Just do it." When I did what I was supposed to do, a healthy pride and confidence came to me. They respected me, too.

I say all that to share what Iron Man meant to me.

It meant that a civilized, smart, charming man could fail and fail hard. He could even get someone killed, or endanger others with neglect. But if he was a man, he dealt with the problem. He seriously apologized, wiped his face off, took his lumps and got back up. That's the entire point of the character: he has a damaged heart. He looks great but inside can be dying.

But he gets back up.

He faces murder charges. He is falsely accused. The government is about to take total control of his company. His girlfriend admits she has a husband and must leave him. He weeps. Surrounded by wealth and power, he weeps.

And he gets back up.

I think God used this story arc of Tony Stark at just the right time in just the right place to help me accept a great deal of pain and abuse - some self-inflicted by childishness, some unwarranted no matter how I try to justify my perpetrators.

This verse from the Bible shows the same concept, though it was written roughly 3,000 years ago:

Proverbs 24:16
"For a righteous man falls seven times, and rises again, But the wicked stumble in time of calamity."

God picked me up. I saw graces in many friends even as I was hurt. I saw sympathy and compassion.

I pray I too will grant the same--or at least inspire another to do what Tony Stark did --get back up to fight evil one more time.