Tony Stark’s flawed attempts at rising above his mental struggles is the relatability we need as we navigate an anxious COVID-19 world.
When people were first introduced to Tony Stark in the 2008 film Iron Man, they were met with a hedonistic and irresponsible man with a more than sizable inheritance. With his brilliance, Stark easily went on to make even more money via the sales of Stark weaponry (which earned him the moniker the ‘Merchant of Death’) as well as patenting other Stark Industry inventions.
The Birth of Iron Man
It wasn't until he was captured and put through unspeakable torture by the terrorist organization, the Ten Rings in Afghanistan, that he undergoes a change of heart. After making his daring escape in an armored suit (the Mark I), Stark decides to shut down (at the time) the most lucrative division in his company - the weapons manufacturing division.
The Mark I Suit from MCU's Iron Man
He then began to devote his life to things greater than himself - such as providing the world with self-sustaining, clean energy via Arc Reactor tech and privatizing world peace. And he did it in the most Tony Stark fashion - boldly and in style.
“I am Iron Man.”
The proud proclamation edged with a bit of defiance managed to capture the imagination of audiences worldwide. Even now, after the end of the 22-film arch that Iron Man started, the spirit of Iron Man still burns brightly in all of his fans.
Dealing with Inner Demons
Tony Stark was a superhero no one had ever seen before. Unmasked, proud, and so very painfully human. In Avengers: Endgame (2019), he was an example of how anxiety, depression, and other mental illnesses were afflictions that could affect anyone, even those seemingly buoyed by extreme privilege.
“You experience things, and then they’re over, and you still can’t explain them.”
As someone who is lauded as a genius in various STEM fields such as computer science, A.I., mechatronics, electrical engineering and mathematics, Stark’s usual ‘go-to’ method of fixing a problem consists of him breaking it down into smaller pieces and solving each problem piece by piece. This method of deconstruction is great for when you’re dealing with tech, but not so much when it comes to problems of the mind. At least not without help.
In Iron Man 3, we see Stark experiencing his first anxiety attack during which we get a flashback scene to when Stark flew into the wormhole above New York City with a missile to destroy the Chitauri army that lay beyond. During the incident, J.A.R.V.I.S. (Stark’s ever faithful A.I.) suggested that he call Pepper Potts, Stark’s assertive, compassionate, and highly competent P.A. turned love interest. Realizing that it could very well be the last time he would ever speak to her, he was fully prepared to say his final goodbye.
Of course, he survived the ordeal, but the terrifying experience continued to plague him throughout the rest of the movie series - filling him with self-doubt, fueling his obsession to create things that’ll help save the world and inadvertently putting a strain on his relationship with Potts due to communication breakdowns.
A Man of Many Layers
One of the reasons people find Iron Man so compelling is his multi-faceted character. The Marvel Cinematic Universe showcases his progress from a sarcastic genius, billionaire, playboy, philanthropist to a hero who was willing to make the ultimate sacrifice play in the Avengers: Endgame.
Unlike the idealistic Captain America, Steve Rogers, who is portrayed as being unflappably good; Stark is portrayed as a man who has made many mistakes in his lifetime but who also actively tries to rectify them with varying levels of success.
Rogers, at the most, can be taken as an idol and someone people can take inspiration from but to call the man relatable is a bit of a stretch as people rarely conduct themselves in a way that is as ‘perfect’ as Rogers.
Instead of a symbol of ‘perfection’, Iron Man’s journey symbolizes 'redemption'. In our reality where idealism can be foolhardy, Stark is a figure that reminds us to always re-examine our habits and actively make a change for the better, no matter how many times we fail along the way.
As a tribute to Stark’s realism, Royal Selangor’s Limited Edition: The Invincible Iron Man #96 reinterprets cover art from 1977, portraying the hero in battle-damaged armour as he hunkers down into the iconic Iron Man pose, readying himself for a showdown he’s uncertain he’ll survive.