OK, time for a public confession.
I am a geek. Indeed, I am the King of the Geeks. I have played Dungeons and Dragons for more than 30 years and have had D&D books published.. I can speak a little Elvish from the Tolkien novels and was able to recognize the dialects in the movies. I am working on making my own language. I think micronations are fascinating. I got a degree in systematic theology because I thought it was the most fun thing I could study!
It should be no surprise that I once collected comic books. I started with the usual – Superman. I loved the old TV series and started getting the comics. Before too long I had learned to go to the local comic shop and troll through the quarter bin to find old issues I had missed. I moved on to Green Lantern and the Fantastic Four. In 1975 I discovered the X-Men (with about, oh, every other comic book reader on Earth) and began to read X-Men and Alpha Flight.
I enjoyed comic books for the same reasons I enjoy Edgar Rice Burroughs and the pulps – action, clear morality, heroics. If I want boring, I’ll re-read The Catcher in the Rye (I loathe that book), if I want moral ambiguity I’ll read crime novels, and if I want anti-heroes I’ll read Moorcock. Burroughs, pulps, and comics share in the simple joy of having fun. Bad guys are bad, good guys are good, there it is.
Don’t get me wrong – there is more complexity to comics and the stories than a 1930’s singing cowboy serial (which I also love). While critics complained that the movie The Hulk was ‘too cerebral and not enough like a comic book’, the comic book is actually pretty talky with the main theme being the anger and violence inside all men. The X-Men are used as a metaphor for race relations; Spider Man is about the transition from childhood to adulthood, etc. In the end, though, they all get to punch evil people in the face, which is fun fiction.
As young as I was, though, I started to realize that many comic books had a political and social agenda, too. This was the worst in the old Green Lantern/Green Arrow stories of the 1970’s. When your attempts to promote a liberal agenda is so transparent and ham-handed that a 7 year old tires of it, you’ve gone overboard! I eventually quit collecting comics entirely in 1988 – in addition to the more overt liberal bias in so many comics, the rush of dark, gritty comics in the ‘80’s sucked the fun out of them. I quit collecting about 15 years ago.
Anyway, this long exposition/rant leads up to this point – I am excited about the upcoming Iron Man movie. Despite the overwhelming majority position of liberals within comic book writers and artists, Iron Man has remained conservative. Sure, that means he is often portrayed as a jerk by his liberal editors and writers, but the character (like the Hal Jordan Green Lantern) remains a law and order type with a respect for society and tradition. Originally one of the “anti-commie” heroes of the Cold War early 1960’s Iron Man remains a successful business man and inventor. Iron Man has always been my favorite superhero character, though never for reasons of his politics. He is my favorite because, in the end, he is uniquely normal. Spiderman? Changed permanently by an accident. The Hulk? Just like a ton of others, altered by radiation. Batman? So obsessed he is off the deep end and so highly trained in everything he must be 90 years old. The X-Men? Mutant DNA. Superman? He’s not even human.
Iron Man is, in the end, a smart guy with a good education. He builds his super powers. He turns around and makes a ton of money and employs thousands of workers from the inventions he uses for his super powers. Superman might give hope to the world, but Iron Man gives thousands of working men their paychecks! Iron Man is, like almost every superhero, a metaphor. In his case, he symbolizes Mankind’s creativity and drive to build things. He is the stand-in for people who build and expand civilization by working with their hands and their minds.
Listen to the King of the Gooks – go see Iron Man next Spring.