Tuesday, September 30, 2008

I am Iron Man. You are Iron Man. We're ALL Iron Man! -- Iron Man DVD Release

After I saw Jon Faverau's teaser for Iron Man at the 2007 Comic Con, I told anyone that would listen to brace themselves for the next big superhero trend, the likes of which we hadn't seen since the first Spider-man film, despite the numerous superhero movies that have been released since. Something about the sheer spirit of that trailer, which managed to capture the glamor of Tony Stark's wealth, the horror of his capture and escape, then the raw recklessness and fun that comes with a brand new toy, seemed so transcendent from its comic book origins that I knew even the cool kids would clamor for an Iron Man backpack in August, an Iron Man costume for Halloween, and an Iron Man action figure for Christmas. So distracted was I by the minutia of that moment that I failed to recognize the bigger picture: Iron Man was poised to kick off one of the most fulfilling summers in geek history.

Today, Iron Man is poised again to launch a similarly fulfilling season of DVD releases -- and, post-Dark Knight fervor, is ready to reclaim its mantle as the best superhero movie ever made. Yes. I'm going on the record. Batman is by far my favorite superhero character, but Iron Man made for a much more enjoyable film. Consider the following accomplishments.

Firstly, and perhaps most importantly, Jon Favereau and Robert Downey, Jr. made Iron Man a household name. Prior to the movie's release in May, Iron Man was at best a B-list superhero, just a supporting fixture in the Marvel Universe. Hear me out, here: like Obama, I'm talking about Main Street -- Mr. and Mrs. Joe Blow. Prior to May, ask the average American to name five superheroes, and chances are you'll get the same five answers: Superman, Batman, Robin, Wonder Woman, and Spider-man. The Hulk and Aquaman are possible runners-up, as all seven of these characters have appeared in various broadcast incarnations. (Remember, Aquaman was a headliner in Super Friends, and I think his name has a certain mainstream resonance people fondly remember.) But Iron Man? No, that shortlived '90s cartoon doesn't count, not in the shadow of the more tenacious X-Men series. The Armored Avenger was little more than a hood ornament in the grand scheme of America's general consensus about superheroes.

Now? Well, I'm no Nostradamus, but kids are wearing Iron Man backpacks. Kids are buying Iron Man Halloween costumes. And I reckon come Christmas those Iron Man action figures are going to fly off of Target toy aisles all over again. If the film's appeal was just its special effects, I wouldn't deem it worth much further analysis -- besides, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull cornered the market for special effects for special effects' sake this summer. No, on a much more challenging level, Tony Stark gave America a Bruce Wayne it can believe in. Christian Bale's Bruce Wayne is Paris Hilton, definitely a compelling creature, but a celebrity by blood and wealth only. Without his training and "wonderful toys," Wayne is dismissive TMZ fodder. On the other hand, Robert Downey, Jr.'s Tony Stark has earned his arrogance and fame through his brilliance and ingenuity. True, the son of a successful corporate mongul, but Favereau gives us Ultimate Bill Gates in Stark, or Richard Branson sans the creepy grin. Stark is all business, but we'd love to play at being him.

Also, unlike DC's conscious disconnect from the real world, the Marvel mentality has attempted to convince its audience that their world is ours, too. Spider-man swings through the widely recognized New York skyline, in contrast to the ambiguous (and ambitious) Metropolis or Gotham City. Is any awkward teenager just a radioactive spider bite away from saving the day? On a much more grim level, is any billionaire industrialist just a tragic trip to Afghanistan away from creating the most interactive weapon ever invented? Yes, while Spidey gave us New York, and Daredevil Hell's Kitchen, Iron Man briefly but poignantly gives us the Middle freakin' East, for once making the audience subconsciously wish that the terrors of the superhero world weren't so much like ours. Now, Heath Ledger's Joker was truly frightening . . . but how far are we from the the Clown Prince of Crime compared to the Mandarin's Ten Rings terrorist circle?

Finally, Iron Man has begun to build an entire universe, effectively offering the first beloved crossover between his movie and the almost-as-awesome Incredible Hulk a month later. "The Avengers Initiative?" Please. You'd think Samuel L. Jackson as Nick Fury was working an erotic phone service, the way the audience geek-gasmed during that post-credits scene at the first midnight showing, then again when Stark joins Colonel Ross at the end of Hulk. Now, some superhero flicks have dared to reference their broader contexts before; Val Kilmer's Bruce Wayne mentions Metropolis in Batman Forever, and J. Jonah Jameson discounts Dr. Strange as a possible alias for Doc Ock because it's "already taken," but this . . . An Avengers film has been promoted from the stuff of Internet rumor to now eagerly anticipated reality. Remember when Marvel's properties were so widespread among film distributors that such a crossover was deemed impossible? DC's stable has always been under the Warner Brothers umbrella, and the best they've given us in a defunct Batman vs. Superman billboard in I Am Legend. But I digress.

(To be fair, DC has certainly cornered the TV market, from Batman: The Animated Series to Smallville. Still, who doesn't take our now weekly offerings of a young Superman for granted, particularly in the shadow of feature film hype? How many fans prefer that live action Justice League to the unlimited animated incarnation of yesteryear? That's another entry altogether!)

From a B-list cartoon character to a movie franchise's founding father, Iron Man certainly has come a long way this year. The question is, will he take the relatively shorter trip from the sales rack to your DVD collection? Heck, some special editions come with an Iron Man mask, asserting that devilish maxim applicable to all men's men like Tony Stark: the guys want to be him, and the girls want to be with him. Like the origin of Iron Man itself, I guess this DVD set proves that anything is possible if you put your mind to it.

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