[14 January 2013]
PopMatters Comics Editor
Like every child, save for maybe a few exceptional stories, I was born into a world of adults already networked into various roles and relationships. No prizes for making the connection between that idea of being a child in a lived-in, vibrant world populated by adults, and being a child reading perpetual fictions like Iron Man or Thor or Captain America, fictions far older than myself. The adults and the heroes of these perpetual fictions would both come to take on mythic proportions, if only until childhood’s end.
By the end of “Men of the World”, the closing chapter of Iron Man: Believe, I’m left with the remembrance of things past, a nagging sliver of memory that hugs me and will not let me go from a time when adults and superheroes were effectively the same thing. Perhaps the only sane response to the situation I now find myself marooned in, is to turn to Warren Zevon’s the Wind, and put track number three, “Keep me in your Heart”, on loop until either the demons or the memories are fully banished.
We’ve got to want to want better things is the conclusion newly-minted Iron Man-scribe Kieron Gillen seems to lead Tony Stark to. It’s not just that Iron Man is there to directly interdict the loss of ambition our species seems to have suffered since the Cold War, but also somehow, Iron Man is there to redress the petty ambition that parades as grand ambition.
Case in point; using Maya Hansen’s Extremis enhancile simply to adapt to becoming cosmic-level lifeforms seems too small to be called genuine human ambition, Tony seems to brood. Consequently dismantling an old friend’s Blue Seed-like orbiting satellite leaves Tony shedding only very small tears—their view of human evolution is just too small a thing. (Sidebar: it must be noted that while Blue Seed is a law-abiding organization, the satellite-based organization Tony dismantles is far from the same).
The end of Iron Man: Believe leaves me in that weird middle space, where it’s not at all unusual for the past to come creeping in to attempt to fill the void. Was it good? No. But the end was better by far than the beginning. The downgraded modular armor is gone, mercifully so. And Tony does seem to wrestle with what it means to be Iron Man and to have an Iron Man in a world, much like our own.
The test of whether or not I personally like it, is not sufficient a test to understanding if Gillen’s Iron Man is good. Remender’s Captain America is clearly good, but I just don’t like it. A few critical mistakes early on in the characterization of Steve Rogers, and I’ve been put off the book, perhaps for good. On the other hand, there are a number of books over the last 18 months or so, new books, that weren’t particularly good, that I just kind of fell into because I liked. Pre-Lobdell Superman clearly falls into that category.
But Gillen’s still looking for something on Iron Man. It’s something he hasn’t found yet, and that act of searching makes the ending of “Believe” just a little bit more hopeful than any Iron Man story ought to be.
How to respond to that unwelcome nugget of hope? Perhaps the only way is to recall the difference between what my aunt said and what my “uncle” said. My aunt was much younger than other adults, perhaps within nine or 10 years of my own age. Young and media-sexy, she was perhaps of the first of generations to wrestle with postfeminism. “Nobody says ‘I love you like the damned’”, she would say. Or perhaps it was “Nobody says, ‘I love you’ like the Damned”. The unceasing uncertainty made the saying a signature of mine when I encountered complexity.
My “uncle” wasn’t my uncle at all, but a friend my dad had gathered with that kind of heroic ordinariness that dads seem to gather up college- and post-college friends and simply deposit them in their own and their young family’s lives, far from any meaningfulness these friends may sculpt out for themselves. Marooned as he was in my dad’s life, my uncle came up with up nonsense songs. One of the lyrics I remember him trying time and again to carve out into a saying—something like “If wagon-wheels were wristwatches, all of history’d be a kaleidoscope”. Or maybe he said “all of time”.
Nevertheless, years later, trying to decipher the strange construction, still leaves me exhausted, and just a little bit defeated. Not at all like the recent run on Iron Man. And how do I respond to both? Maybe Zevon from a time when he knows the cancer will have him, more likely than not, sooner rather than later. Zevon when he sings on the Wind, “these wheels keep on turning, but they’re running out of steam”. A Zevon living on borrowed time.
I wonder how long before Gillen realizes that characterization of Iron Man, a man who’s realized that human ambition is living on borrowed time, might be the best direction for this particular perpetual fiction.