Tuesday, April 19, 2016

The Future Belongs to Tony Stark

As imposing and iconic a figure as the invincible Iron Man is, it's interesting to note that although the character's origin has been told and retold a number a times (even revised once or twice), in all this time we've only learned bits and pieces about the background of Tony Stark, the man who suits up as this hero. By the time we're introduced to Stark in Tales Of Suspense #39, his parents are dead, and he's become a reputed scientist and brilliant engineer in his own right who's the envy of his competitors, to say nothing of being one of the world's most eligible bachelors; and we mostly come to know him as an industrialist who inherited his father's holdings and business, going on to manufacture weapons and munitions for the government before shifting over to research, innovation, and development of projects that would benefit the whole of humanity.

When we finally do learn more of Stark's upbringing almost thirty years later in a 1992-93 tale, and the path he took to become a man who ultimately rejected his father's course toward self-destruction, it's an incomplete picture which takes the fast track toward presenting us with Tony Stark as he is today, a "featurette" that's shoe-horned into a current adventure taking place within the pages of Iron Man and nowhere near as comprehensive as the story where we learned more of Bruce Banner. Despite the tale being presented by Stark himself, as he sifts through his memories, we're still left with gaps as well as inconsistencies.

Perhaps it's all for the best that Stark hasn't delved too deeply into his memories of his childhood before now, since his father played such a supervisory role in it--and Howard Stark, by most accounts, was no role model. A wealthy, embittered man who was stern and harsh with his son, Stark was also a man of position who was mindful of image in the world of the privileged and thereby sought to mold his son within that world--and his choices for his son were bound to affect Tony's personal life, as well as his education.

Tony's time in boarding school would give him time away from his overbearing father and, as is the case with many children, allow him to make his own choices within that environment while dealing with his peers on his own terms. He also finds solace in education and, left to his own devices, excels in it; but it's also implied that his reading material would come to influence a rather crucial moment later in his life.

Throughout the run of Iron Man, we've come to learn a great deal about Stark's personality, his temperament, his strengths as well as his weaknesses, and certainly his drive--but most importantly, in the context of this story, the incredible legacy that is his life's work, extending past and occluding his father's by a wide margin. If that's due, at least in part, to a desire to make Stark Enterprises reflect his own worldview rather than any reflection of his father's, he does a fair job of presenting his status as that of a self-made man rather than a chip off the old block. The only connection to his family that he appears to acknowledge is through his mother, Maria, and even then simply through the foundation in her name.

Ironically, it's his parents' deaths that appear to serve as the catalyst for veering Stark off from his preoccupation with self-indulgence, the "playboy" image that clung to him well into his taking the reins of Stark Industries and his role in the formation of the Avengers. It's here that the story is somewhat confusing, since it's difficult to reconcile a man applying himself in school to such a degree yet lapsing into an existence of excess and pointless diversions, becoming more closely aligned to the father whose influence should have been kept at bay by the isolation and distance that boarding school offered. But the C.E.O. chair offers Stark the challenge of responsibility, and brings with it innovation that allows him to get on with his life, and his future.

From what we've seen of Stark's drive over the years in the pages of Iron Man, the character thrives on being in business in general and R&D in particular--made all the more rewarding by the ongoing success of his greatest invention, the Iron Man armor. Yet the following flashbacks of Stark present his priorities in a different light--as if Iron Man was the saving grace in his life, rather than his accomplishments and continued success overall, to say nothing of the heady feeling he must have acquired as he distinguished himself from his father. The chronology is these scenes has also been revised, since it now places the creation of Iron Man sometime after Stark ceased accepting weapons contracts from the government and shifted his company toward more scientific pursuits.

This condensed, digest version of Stark's growth is perhaps all we really need of the man, since, again, we've learned so much more of the person he became that it renders his past all but inessential. At times, Stark seems to feel that way himself, as little as he speaks of his father to others and as seldom as the subject is even brought up. Indeed, there seems little of Howard Stark that bears mentioning following the end of the war, an s.o.b. that began to spiral down and appeared to reject any new challenges in favor of the bottle--another pearl of wisdom that he sought to pass on to his son, if we're to believe a later scene from a 1995 issue.

Stark and his father are so much like night and day, it's a wonder Stark thinks of him at all.  In fact, it's tempting to admire Tony for emerging from his past with a greater purpose, if not for the taint of his obsessive actions that produced the events of "Civil War"--a blight on his legacy that, unlike his father, he'll hopefully have the time to atone for.

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