Back in the ‘90s I’d gotten hold of some Iron Man comics. These were the ones that had the “Demon in a Bottle” storyline. And the sight of Tony Stark ending up as a Skid Row bum both intrigued and repelled me. This wasn’t supposed to happen to superheroes. As a child back in the late ‘50s superheroes were – both physically and mentally – at the top of their game. It was their enemies who were likely to end up in Alcoholics Anonymous. And for a sensitive and over-imaginative kid like me, the thought that my superheroes had mental issues would have been traumatic. But now I was older and wiser in the ways of the world. I was also a relatively successful writer in the world of comics. But one thing continued to piss me off. And still does. It’s the name Stan Lee gave his character. Iron Man. Forget any of the fancy cutting edge armour plating substances created by Stark Industries. Armour to keep Tony safe from harm. No, if you hadn’t read the stories you could be forgiven for thinking that his suit was made of iron. And that he fought his epic battles protected by a base metal that was prone to shatter and fell prey to rust. Not that I blame Stan Lee. It’s a catchy title. And we writers love catchy titles. They’re easy to remember and roll off the tongue. It’s just lucky Stan didn’t call him Pig Iron Man!
AKHENATEN: PAH! PREPARE TO MEET YOUR DOOM, PIG IRON MAN!
PIG IRON MAN: OINK! OINK!
Of course, by keeping it simply “Iron Man” Stan still ran the risk of meeting people like me. As a former gag writer his character throws up all sorts of great puns. What’s Iron Man’s favourite rock group? Metallica. Where does Iron Man like to hang out? In bars. What attracts Iron Man most of all? Magnets. And to me this threatens the very fabric of Stan Lee’s masterpiece. The serious stuff is forgotten and Iron Man becomes an easy target for anyone looking for a cheap gag. People like me who worship the great Robert Crumb would have gone with the iron suit. We’d have portrayed Tony Stark as a modern day Scrooge. Yes, this was a man who was dedicated to fighting crime and protecting democracy. Just like Superman, Batman and the rest of them. But, because he was so tight he could crack a Brazil nut between the cheeks of his ass, he’s decided to do it using the cheapest metal available. And you can forget your super-computer with its flashing lights and touch screen monitors. This penny pincher hooks his suit to a 3.5 Kilobyte Commodore VIC20 home computer!
Of course there’s a downside to our Stark’s frugal approach. A good solid blow will shatter his suit into several pieces. And, should he be unwise enough to go out in the rain or fall into any water, the damn thing will soon get rusty. Consequently, our Iron Man will never win a fight. And the humiliation of having his ass kicked each time he goes out will be good enough reason for him to hit the bottle. Of course, if this was Pig Iron Man, Tony would be quaffing his liqueur out of a swill bucket. (Sorry, I just couldn’t resist that one).
PS: I’m no better. Back in the late ’80s I created a character for the Victor comic based on a secret agent who’d had his entire skull replaced by titanium. Here was a superhero who literally used his head to defeat the baddies! But I called him “Steelhead Sam!” Calling in Titaniumhead Tom just didn’t have the same ring about it. On the other hand, it would have rendered him impervious to puns. After all, how many jokes can you think of about titanium?