May 05, 2008

“Iron Man” one more time

Returning very briefly to ?Iron Man?: this weekend I mused that the central character is a personification of a fantasy of American foreign policy gone right?the good guy swoops in, kills the Nazi-like bad guys (who aren?t really terrorists but are ethnically cleansing innocent villagers), and then flies off, leaving behind no messy consequences to clean up and no democratization to pursue. He is Intervention Man, and at the end of the movie we see our superhero teaming up with the U.S. government to do some more good. 

I actually agreed with the young neoconservative blogger Sonny Bunch who called ?Iron Man? a ?political Rorschach? that will please different people for different reasons: there’s some anti-Military Industrial Complex and anti-capitalist stuff in there to satisfy the lefties, and the fantasy of Intervention Man saving the world and kicking evildoer ass is one shared by neocons and liberals alike.

All True, but the fact is, the liberal-Left set haven?t taken to ?Iron Man,? indeed, when they?ve tried to unpack its politics, they?ve instinctively hated it, as they instinctively hate everything with a whiff of being pro-War on Terror. (The anti-MIC and anti-capitalist barbs were puny compensation for the movie?s patriotic tenor). This revulsion in the face of interventionism on the part of the Left is probably temporary and partisan?the second an opportunity for an Obamian crusade in Darfur arises, the Left will all start to get really patriotic and self-righteous again. But now even a fantastical portrayal of American force abroad leaves them with a bad taste in their mouth. One can tell a lot about a class by its reaction to culture products, and I find the Left?s dissing of ?Iron Man? significant. 

After searching around a bit, I discovered that the comic-book Iron Man actually went through the same morning-after regret now experienced by the interventionist Left.

In my review, I speculated that Iron Man was about the fantasy/nightmare of Man turning into Machine. Perhaps. But in truth, the comic was always about intervention. The first Iron Man was a Cold Warrior who fought the evil forces of Asian Communism, represented by the strip’s supervillain, ?The Mandarin.? But as the year went, it seems Iron Man lost faith in the Vietnam War, and the love of Peppe Potts, and soon turned to drink. 

There?s actually an interesting article I found on the subject by a Tennessee columnist who knows quite a bit about the history of comics and “Iron Man”?s creator, Stan Lee:

But as Vietnam turned into a quagmire, Commie-bashing lost its appeal. Even comic-book heroes no longer saw the world in black and white.

When Iron Man returns to Vietnam in 1967, he fights to save villagers from a massacre. The Vietnamese villain is portrayed as sympathetic and misguided, not simply evil.

Years later, Lee admitted he was naive about Vietnam and the alleged International Communist Conspiracy. Like most of his countrymen, he swallowed the government line on the domino theory.

Stark eventually stopped making weapons for the military. In a 1975 story, he muses: “You didn’t do much soul-searching back then, did you? As Iron Man you beat the Commies for democracy, without ever questioning just whose democracy you were serving. … Vietnam raised all those questions, didn’t it, Tony? Like: What right had we do be there in the first place?”

It’s the same question many are asking about Bush’s quagmire in Iraq.

Intervention Man remains relevant.

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