Monday, October 29, 2012

My Heart Will Go On

Your health will improve immeasurably after answering this

Marvel Trivia Question

Whatever happened to this guy's heart condition?

Grab the patient's chart and let's proceed...

Imagine Peter Parker's Aunt May, with her own bum ticker, embarking on a career as a super-hero, and you get an idea of the handicap that industrialist Tony Stark was dealing with each time he suited up as the armored Avenger, Iron Man. Of course, no one can explain it more succinctly than Stark himself:

Stark's heart condition was brought on by a booby-trap he tripped while supervising his weapon deployments in Viet Nam, and shrapnel from the explosion lodged near his heart. With the help of a fellow scientist, he developed a chest device designed to keep his heart beating once the shrapnel reached it, while at the same time creating the "Iron Man" armor to aid in his escape from the enemy camp he was imprisoned in. After returning to the States, Stark continued his activities as Iron Man, though always with the possibility that any battle might cause his chest device to fail and thus bring on his death.

In the old Tales Of Suspense series, Iron Man was practically debilitated by this ongoing theme, as circumstances more often than not had him lumbering or even crawling to recharge his chest plate before it was too late. Amazingly, he was still able to maintain his secret, with no one even knowing how seriously he'd been injured in Viet Nam. Until, that is, he finally submitted to giving testimony to a Senate committee that had demanded full disclosure on Iron Man, and the strain proved too great for him:

Stark took the timing of that heart attack as an omen that his decision to cooperate with the Senate committee was a bad idea--and during Stark's recuperation, the Committee eventually agreed to back off its demands. In the meantime, to save his friend, Happy Hogan, from being killed by the Mandarin, the still-recovering Stark cast a new suit of armor designed to provide added protection to his chest device; in addition, he infused it with more power to give his heart the ability to withstand addtional stress or strain.

That armor served Stark well, even when the character moved to his own series in Invincible Iron Man. Apparently too well, because things were about to drastically take a turn for the worse. Trapped in his factory by a rogue Life Model Decoy of Iron Man, Stark is forced to don his original Iron Man armor in order to save himself. Yet this older armor isn't nearly a match for the LMD, and is also heavier to operate. And as the battle becomes more intense, the inevitable happens:

Incredibly, Stark manages to outwit his foe and engineer his defeat, but collapses from the effort. The Avengers arrive and rush him to the hospital, where Thor flies in a heart specialist, Dr. Santini, in an effort to save his life. There's a common misperception* that Santini performed a heart transplant on Stark at this point; but Santini's surgery only involved using synthetic tissue to repair the damaged tissue in Stark's original heart. So while there was still a danger of rejection, Santini wasn't referring to a transplanted heart:

*The impression that Stark was dealing with a transplanted heart probably had the book's own scripters to thank for it--first, Gerry Conway, who referred to it as an artificial heart, and, later, Mike Friedrich, having Stark himself refer to it at one time as a "semi-artificial" heart and then later as his "transplanted" heart. An oversight made even more confusing by the fact that each of those references by Friedrich were in issues edited by none other than Roy Thomas, who scripted the Avengers crossover story dealing with Stark's impending operation.

Though Stark indeed thought of taking it easy, old habits--and responsibilities--die hard. So Iron Man still suited up, but this time with a handicap that he'd put on the back burner:

Eventually, Stark grew tired of erring on the side of caution whenever he went into battle, and began thinking about a replacement. His search led him to Eddie March, a boxer who nicknamed himself "Iron Man" March and brought his hero's dedication and determination with him into the ring. Stark presented his offer to Eddie, and he accepted, taking quickly to the training and proving himself to be a wise choice. Yet after a deadly battle with the Crimson Dynamo has Eddie on the ropes, Stark discovers that Eddie had failed to disclose brain injuries he had sustained in the ring which would put his life at risk from the strain of being Iron Man. Stark manages to get Eddie to the hospital in time to save him, but it serves as a wake-up call for him:

So Stark puts his fear behind him. Yet in a later battle, a new complication arose when Iron Man collapsed while battling an alien being, the stress apparently too much for his heart. In order to survive, he was forced to grab an old suit at Avengers Mansion that had a built-in pacemaker for his heart--not the same as his more specifically-designed chest device of old, but for all intents and purposes Stark was back to depending on a charged device in his armor to maintain his heart's integrity.

Still with me so far? This trip down cardiology lane has a lot of twists and turns, doesn't it. Well, the next one puts us on the road to Stark possibly ridding himself of this albatross. And it begins with a double-whammy to Stark's chestplate by these two villains:

Naturally, the strike sends Iron Man into full retreat, scrambling towards the nearest electrical outlet. Collapsing on the way, he's helped by Pepper Potts, who assesses the situation and plugs him in--but his suit is too damaged to take the charge. Amazingly, Stark later regains consciousness on his own, and makes a startling discovery:

This doesn't mean that Stark is out of the woods. From this point we just see far less frequent instances where danger to his heart is a factor in his battles. For instance, in a later story where Stark is viciously injured by the Mandarin and the strain on his heart forces him to lose consciousness, his armor's pacemaker automatically kicks in to revive him, and Stark himself remarks how long it's been since his heart has failed.

From here, things get a little weird in regards to Tony Stark's heart condition, thanks to the "Onslaught" storyline taking place in several Marvel books. The story eventually builds to a crescendo where many of Marvel's heroes (including Iron Man) are shunted to an alternate world where their respective histories are far different than the lives we're familiar with. To make a long story short, when Stark is "returned," he apparently has no heart condition whatsoever. (At least not that I know of. God knows there was enough publication and continuity chaos around this time that I could have missed an issue somewhere along the way.)

But what's Iron Man without a heart condition, you ask? It looks like Whiplash asked himself the same question on our behalf. In a battle with Iron Man, he demonstrated a new ability of his weapon--to tap into the power of a lightning bolt, and use it to increase the striking power of his whip. The lightning-whip makes a direct strike on Iron Man's chest area, which brings on a seizure, and voilĂ --Tony Stark now has another heart condition to intermittently deal with.

(Frankly, Stark has only himself to blame for these kinds of strikes. The man puts a large, light-emitting access point smack-dab in the center of his chest that looks like the only vulnerability on his armor--what villain wouldn't target that?)

But wait, it gets better. In a later story, Iron Man's armor gains a kind of sentience, and becomes involved in a bitter struggle for dominance with its creator, Stark--yet when things reach the boiling point, and Stark is on the ropes and in pain from his heart, the armor sacrifices itself and implants its enhanced technological "heart" into Stark:

The bright side is that this "hardware" heart isn't susceptible to the strain or stress that an organic heart would be, so Stark need never worry again about a "heart attack" in the traditional sense. The down side is that, like his old chest device, it still has to be charged on a regular basis.

All of which writer Warren Ellis totally throws out the window, when he later reboots Iron Man into another series--while at the same time severing Iron Man's origin from the Viet Nam era and making it more contemporary. In doing so, Ellis pays lip service to Stark's old heart condition but wipes away the liability completely:

In this version (where Stark is injured by a landmine explosion in Afghanistan), the shrapnel never reaches his heart; thus, there is no heart damage. Stark simply decides to continue being Iron Man because of the good he's doing.

And that brings us up to speed. Finally.

Lord knows that the writers on Iron Man have still found ways to debilitate Tony Stark without needing to fall back on heart failure. Paralyzed from a gunshot wound... having his nervous system compromised... erasing his mind like it was some kind of hard drive... life as a billionaire engineer isn't all it's cracked up to be, no matter who's writing your stories. Though through it all, Stark has maintained his identity as Iron Man, despite the roadblocks that have been placed in his way. Perhaps that's just dedication combined with...

...wait for it...


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