When I was writing about IRON MAN 2’s blockbuster grosses yesterday, I couldn't help seeing this whole thing as being a comeback story on several levels. Unequivocally, Iron Man's really ascended the levels of Marvel’s pantheon to really be one of its biggest characters next to Spider-Man and Wolverine. Kids want Iron Man toys for their birthdays and Iron Man costumes for Halloween. Mainstream entertainment magazines describe these movies as hip and fresh. “Normal” friends of mine with no interest in the comics have been loving these flicks to bits.
This will be pleasantly ironic to anybody who’s read IRON MAN for more than a few years.
See, I remember a time in the mid-90s when IRON MAN was on some pretty hard times. The title had come off a very unpopular storyline, THE CROSSING, wherein Tony Stark had gone insane and evil, and the Avengers had to recruit a teenage version Tony Stark from an alternate reality to stop him. Tony died, and the ensuing “Teen Tony” period was very unpopular. At the point, you almost felt like IRON MAN was being kept around only out of tradition. The subsequent HEROES REBORN reboot proved to be even less well-received and I recall Kurt Busiek and Sean Chen having quite the mess to sort through when they launched Volume 3 during the HEROES RETURN event.
Basically, they took the “ultimate” approach and went tabula rosa, giving the character a back-to-basics fresh start. They eventually sorted out what happened to Teen Tony and evil Crossing Tony, but you didn’t have to bother with any of that to enjoy the title. It was very new reader friendly, it was well-received (as I recall) and it effectively streamlined and updated the character for modern audiences. I really think that’s what started the upswing we’re experiencing, now.
Iron Man’s story is really about a guy making a comeback, anyway, right? The callus playboy industrialist rediscovers his conscience, gets back in touch with his roots and saves the world? Robert Downey Jr. talked a few times about feeling some empathy for Tony and I see the similarities. It’s almost just as surprising now to see the actor be the major box office draw that he is. Not that he isn't a great talent. He’s always been an amazing actor, but he was away for a long time (in jail even, at one point) because of a lot of personal problem that he’s subsequently overcome.
Hell, this is even a comeback story for Marvel, as they were going through bankruptcy - - Chapter 11 bankruptcy - - around the time of “Teen Tony”. Now, the corporation’s putting out event pictures grossing hundreds of millions of dollars in a matter of days.
Maybe this whole "comeback" vibe is why Iron Man, of all characters, has captured the zeitgeist in America. Anybody agree with me, here?