My Iron Man

After working on Astroboy and Wonder Woman, for many years I was “on the list” of writers consulted for every comic-book movie that came down the pike.

When the Iron Man people asked me for a take on their then-aborning project, I took a jaunt to my local comic-book store to look for source material. This was quite a few years ago now, and, as hard as it is to believe, there was almost no Iron Man material in the stores. The only readily-available collection was The Power of Iron Man, an important, ground-breaking story arc that dealt mainly with Tony Stark’s alcoholism.

And I thought “Huh. Alcoholic superhero. Well, okay.” It seemed unlikely to me that the whole point of the character was that he was an alcoholic, so I looked him up in my Marvel Superhero Dictionary, which was published near to the same time as the Power of Iron Man collection and, yeah, seemed pretty jazzed about the idea of Tony Stark being an alcoholic. It was all part of the mid-80s “Comics Aren’t For Kids Any More!” drive, to show that comics could be “grown up” and deal with issues like alcoholism and obsession and insanity and the darker aspects of human nature.But alcoholism still seemed like an odd hook upon which to hang a very expensive superhero movie, so I called up the producer and explained to him that I was having a hard time finding Iron Man source material. He responded by sending me, yes, The Power of Iron Man.

So I said “All right, whatever you say. Alcoholic superhero. Let’s go.” This is the pitch I came up with:

Tony Stark is an arms manufacturer. He’s a heel and a creep, but somewhere deep inside he’s still human. He brings death and destruction to the world, and it’s beginning to corrode his soul. He turns to alcohol to dull the pain. Caught in the jaws of the capitalist beast, he can only press forward and continue producing death. He has responsibilities to his corporation to keep moving forward, but he’s cracking under the strain and alcohol, he thinks, will hold him together.

His alcoholism progresses to the point where he starts having blackouts. What he doesn’t know is that, when he is blacked out, he becomes Iron Man. Iron Man is, essentially, Tony Stark’s conscience, fighting against the very machine that Tony operates in his non-blacked-out hours. Iron Man works as hard to dismantle Tony’s company as Tony does pressing its agenda. Tony even gets the idea to create War Machine, a “waking Tony” creation designed to fight Iron Man, never realizing that he is, himself, in fact, Iron Man.

So I thought “Well, an alcoholic superhero, I don’t think we can sell that to an audience, but a superhero who is his own supervillain, we haven’t seen that yet.” And I pitched my take to the producer who had sent me The Power of Iron Man and his instant reaction was “Are you crazy? We can’t make a movie about an alcoholic superhero!” And that was the end of that.

(The idea of an alcoholic superhero, of course, didn’t seem so outrageous to the producers of Hancock.)

So they went and made an Iron Man movie without me, and it turned out very well. Tony drinks a lot in the movie, but they never point to it as a “problem,” which I think is the correct approach. The plot coincides with my pitch insofar as it hinges on Tony’s growing realization that he is not making the world a better place by manufacturing ever-more sophisticated weaponry. He doesn’t become schizophrenic, rather, he fights Obidiah Stane, his corporate officer and gets bounced out of his own company. It’s a lot of the same ideas, but more elegantly and organically presented. As far as superhero movies go, it’s pretty sophisticated stuff and a cracking good time. It is both a geek-fest and a good “entry point” movie: it’s filled with Marvel in-jokes but also manages to stake out its own identity.  This is all very hard for a hugely-expensive movie to do, which makes Iron Man all the more impressive.

The crowd for the screening I attended was more pumped for this movie than I’ve heard a crowd be pumped for a movie in a long time.  They hooted and hollered, shouted and sang as the lights went down.  The only thing that got them more excited than Iron Man was the trailer for The Dark Knight which received cheers and a round of applause.  Iron Man completely delivered to this crowd, a movie about a gearhead, made by gearheads, for an audience of gearheads.  I mean that as a compliment.

I would say to be sure to stay until after the ending credits, but if you’re the sort of Marvel Geek who is rushing out to see the movie today you probably already know that.



38 Responses to “My Iron Man”
  1. I think that the idea of a superhero who drinks heavily in order to activate his powers is one that needs to be more thoroughly explored.

  2. curt_holman says:

    Possible spoiler…

    “I would say to be sure to stay until after the ending credits, but if you’re the sort of Marvel Geek who is rushing out to see the movie today you probably already know that.”

    I went to a critics/word of mouth screening on Tuesday night, stayed through the credits and the “stinger scene” WAS NOT THERE! (I know of other critics screenings that didn’t get it, either.) Neither did we get any trailers. No fair!

    I strongly suspect that now Iron Man has been established, the alcohol problem will assert itself in a sequel that gives Terrence Howard more to do (as the film strongly hints).

    Am I the only person who thought that the last half hour strongly echoed the last half hour of Ang Lee’s The Hulk, with the superpowered “flawed” hero fighting his superpowered “evil” father (or father figure)?

    • moroccomole says:

      Re: Possible spoiler…

      I mean, the casting of Downey can’t be a total coincidence, right? They can’t not eventually pursue Stark’s alcoholism with that actor at the helm, one would think.

    • Todd says:

      Re: Possible spoiler…

      The final act of Iron Man has its problems, but it is freakin’ Laurence of Arabia compared to the final act of Ang Lee’s Hulk.

      • mimitabu says:

        Re: Possible spoiler…

        at the very mention of “ang lee’s hulk“, i become immediately angry. i actually decided never to knowingly perform any action in the future that will result in giving ang lee money. i loved many of his previous films, but the shudder-inducing hulk just has me repeating “this time you went too far.” this livejournal comment is laurence of arabia compared to the final act of ang lee’s hulk.

        • Todd says:

          Re: Possible spoiler…

          I’m guessing I wouldn’t like you when you’re angry.

          • selectnone says:

            Re: Possible spoiler…

            Or, indeed, Ang Lee

            (you know, they actually modelled The Hulk’s face on Mr Lee’s, so my terrible pun has extra, terrible, depth!)

            • Todd says:

              Re: Possible spoiler…

              On the other hand, it seems mimitabu wouldn’t like Mr. Lee under any circumstances.

      • curt_holman says:

        Re: Possible spoiler…

        Let me rephrase that: The final act of Iron Man is like the final act of The Hulk, only good.

  3. chrispiers says:

    The sad fact about Iron Man the comic book character is that he mostly sucks in his own book. These days he’s pretty much a fascist who all the other superheroes absolutely hate. His two most defining characteristics have been that he’s a) an alcoholic and b) wants to force all superheroes to register with the government.

    But this film was awesome. His origin is surprisingly apt for today’s political climate. It will be tough waters to navigate his personal demons and (let’s face it) racist supervillain and still make him a likable hero. Downey, Jr.’s delivery sure helps a lot, though.

    • craigjclark says:

      Iron Man made an appearance in the second issue of Nova, which is one of the few comics I pick up regularly. If nothing else, it has produced some stunning covers.

  4. 55seddel says:

    I thoroughly enjoyed it!

  5. teamwak says:

    Excellent stuff, thanks 🙂

    Looks like I’ll be making a trip to in Cineplex this weekend.

  6. Anonymous says:

    I haven’t been to this blog in ages, but these articles are deliriously helpful to a writer.

    I was wondering if you could talk about pitching in a future post?

  7. popebuck1 says:

    According to Gwyneth Paltrow in yesterday’s LA Times, the central cast has all signed on for three movies. So I have no doubt they’ll delve into the alcoholism angle in II and III.

    (And as said, how can you cast Robert Downey, Jr., and NOT pursue the alcoholism thing?)

    • lokicarbis says:

      I read an interview with Favreau somewhere where he stated that they specifically left it out of the first movie so that they could explore it in greater depth in the sequels – and that apparently he and Downey both agree with on that point.

      Hell, if Downey finds himself in rehab in the next couple of years, we may get some additional verite in the sequels.

      • black13 says:

        What I expect of the next one is, they do a story where Tony slips into alcoholism, there’s a big crisis. Tony isn’t up to fighting the Big Bad, so Rhodey puts on the Mark II armor and becomes War Machine. Only it’s not quite working out (weaker armor, wrong interface calibration, whatever), and Tony has to pull himself out of the gutter to save Rhodey’s butt.

  8. As a kid growing up, I always thought Iron Man as a “superhero power” type stuff, was the coolest to have as kid. Your identity’s secret, invincible, armor protected power and you can fly! WHAT!!! That’s amazing!!!

    Some nights I would sit at night imagining such a scenario and how cool it would be to put on the Iron Man suit, climb out the window on to the fire escape,unbeknown to my mother, and go fly late in the morning fighting crime or just fly around the blocks and think things out—like how should I talk to a girl I have a crush on, or beating up a schoolyard bully without killing him, like just scaring the crap out of him, leaving him a stern warning.

    Yes Iron Man was the comic book I read and enjoyed. Bob Layton the artist was great, and in fact he’s the one who drew the alcoholic issues and the front cover Todd displayed above. Cool stuff, Todd!!!!


    Mr. Alcott, I’m sure I’m not the only one here who may feel this way—but if you would to somehow gather the best of your writings on this journal in BOOK form—I would buy it in a second. Keep up the good work, dear sir!!!

  9. Anonymous says:

    Pretty good movie and it managed to provide maximum fan service and tell a tight, good story with no insurmountable plot holes. Every main element was consistent with the comic book canon, with the exception of updating the war from Vietnam to Afghanistan. And Robert Downey Jr. was so good in the Stark role that this is the first of the comic movies where I wasn’t wishing we could wade through the character bits a bit faster to get onto the superhero stuff. And what a perfect line on which to end the film.

    And yet, even being in the funnybook business I didn’t get the memo. I didn’t know to stay for the extra bit at the end of the credits.

    Bill Willingham

    • marcochacon says:

      And Robert Downey Jr. was so good in the Stark role that this is the first of the comic movies where I wasn’t wishing we could wade through the character bits a bit faster to get onto the superhero stuff.

      Indeed. I watched the scene where Downey tries to convince Paltrow to come back through sheer force of charisma and thought: he’s honed that skill convicing judges not to send him to jail for substance abuse–and God is he good at it.

      Oh, and thanks for the Elementals since I never got a chance to say that when I was like 16.


  10. As I recall, the alcoholism story was first done in the late 70’s in Iron Man.

    It was the second bout (provoked by a series of mindgames by Obadiah Stane) that was in the 80’s.

    I first started collecting Iron Man during the Rhodey era, and I have a great fondness for the character. Loved the movie.

    Originally, Iron Man was very much conceived as an anti communist with a bit o’ James Bond to him. At least from my POV.

    In the 70’s, with Vietnam, Iron Man morphed into an antiwar character. He got out of munitions, and SHIELD’s Nick Fury even attempted to purchase controlling stock in Stark’s company in order to gain control (and thus get Stark back into munitions).

    The first alcoholism storyline made this possible. Jarvis quit and was forced to sell his stocks to support himself.

    I think the “driven” aspect to movie Tony mostly comes from the “Armor Wars” storyline, at least IMHO.

  11. laminator_x says:

    If you haven’t already, you should read The Sentry, by Paul Jenkins and Jae Lee. Read nothing else about it, if you intend to do so.

  12. lupa says:

    why is it that no one has mentioned that a character introduced in the movie (and given, initially, little to do) is actually someone used in the comic to REPLACE Tony Stark as Iron Man when he becomes too much of an alcoholic to continue? It strikes me that Favreau and Downey have already set this up, and I’m really interested to see how it proceeds.

  13. And I thought “Huh. Alcoholic superhero. Well, okay.”

    Didn’t you ever read “The Uncanny Drinker”?

  14. Anonymous says:

    I saw this last night and I loved it and think it was the best superhero movie since Batman Begins.

    You mentioned in an earlier comment that the final act has problems. I didn’t recognize any glaring problems so if you could elaborate on that I’d be much obliged.

    Also, my main complaint with the movie is the score. At times it was good but at others it felt like it was trying way too hard to be a 14-year-old boy’s version of “bad ass” heavy metal guitar.

    Additionally, Jon Favreau putting himself in as Tony Stark’s bodyguard was annoying in the same way that M. Night’s cameoes were annoying. He didn’t have anything to do with the story or anything, it was just a little annoying to me.

    • Todd says:

      My main problem with the last act was (SPOILER!) that it feels rushed. I don’t buy that Stane would put on the big experimental suit and suddenly be able to out-perform Tony. Stane isn’t the gearhead Tony is, he’s a suit. He’s a suit in a suit. He doesn’t have the expertise — or the experience — that Tony has. He seems utterly baffled by the suit that he’s created, until suddenly he puts it on and then he’s a bigger badass than Tony. All of these things could have been solved with a longer running time, which is of course exactly what the movie does not need.

      I didn’t mind Favreau as the bodyguard because I knew him first as an actor, and I like him better in this than I did in Daredevil. Of course, I liked any given five seconds of Iron Man more than I liked the 50 minutes of Daredevil I sat through.

      • Anonymous says:

        You got through 50 minutes of Daredevil? Who’s the real iron man here?

        — Kent M. Beeson

      • From a once comic collector with a low threshhold

        So, if I could not bring myself to sit completely through Fantastic Four, Daredevil, Electra, AND Hulk, incredible as he may be, you would recommend Iron Man?

        • Todd says:

          Re: From a once comic collector with a low threshhold

          You may be predisposed against superhero movies. Don’t sweat it. There’s a terrific new collection of silent Ozu movies out.

          • Re: From a once comic collector with a low threshhold

            LOL! I wondered if I was predisposed – but I was caught watching Spiderman (my alpha superhero) last night before I caught the rolling the ball start of Raiders last night. I also liked the first X-Men, eagerly awaiting to see what they did with Wolverine and Nightcrawler.

            And I am out-of-my mind pleased with the new direction in Batman movies (which reminds me of a Roger Moore giant jump to Daniel Craig), and can harly wait for the sequel to Batman Begins.

            But cannot muster any interest anymore for Superman movies, who was never really my thing. And hang on, I did not finish watching Ghost Rider (although I was deemed foolish for having him in my collection)….

            Maybe I am a cinecomiphobe…

          • Hours later…

            You may be predisposed against superhero movies.

            Still laughing at this one thanks!!!

  15. Anonymous says:

    Iron Man was practically flawless as a super hero flick; it drops pretty obvious hints that would indicate a sequel as well… i’m thinking the next one should be equally great

  16. black13 says:

    I’m thinking…

    You should take the idea of the “unconscious superhero”, file off the serial numbers, find an artist and pitch it to various comics publishers. Even Marvel or DC, if you’re not interested in keeping the rights.

    I don’t think your idea works for Iron Man, but it sounds interesting in and of itself.