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.
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.