The world of comics is really nothing more than a physical manifestation of the phrase, “art imitates life.” We have learned to love comic characters, to a large degree, because we identify with them. Others have also taught us lessons. Anthony Edward Stark, AKA Iron Man, is one of the most educational characters about life that we can find in the pulp pages or, in this day and age, on digital screens. First introduced to us in Tales of Suspense #39, Iron Man has been fighting the good fight and making the world a better place since March 1963. So, what exactly is it that everyone's favorite genius, billionaire, playboy philanthropist can teach us? Read on, true believers!
Regardless, right into adulthood, he still desperately sought the love from his father that would never come. Through his skill, knowledge, and tenacity, he took Stark Industries to the worldwide stage and dominated many markets. Other than the aforementioned conquest of women, this success was seemingly his only concern in life. Much of his product was used for less than positive results. His wares were sold off to the highest bidder. Often, these buyers were men of nefarious intention. However, Tony got a real eye and heart opener when he was captured by the warlord Wong-Chu. During his capture, he was injured by an explosion and found that the resulting shrapnel embedded in his body was moving towards his heart. Much like Humpty Dumpty, all of the Tony's horses and all of Tony's men were no use, and were unable to put him back together again while he was being held captive. But, an angel of mercy was upon him. A man, whom he looked up to and held great regard for, Ho Yinsen, was being held alongside him. We all know the story from here. Stark and Yinsen built a suit of armor powered by the same magnetic chest plate that kept the shrapnel from shredding Tony's ticker. But, what is the real story here, and who is the real hero? For me, the true hero is Yinsen. He shows Tony the first real love that he has experienced in quite some time. He is the one that truly teaches him the error of his ways and shows him that no matter how much talent, effort, skill or dedication you put into something; it is all but wasted if it doesn't serve the greater good. Yinsen pays the ultimate price to aid Tony in his escape, but perhaps it was seeing his sacrifice that truly started Tony on the road to becoming the man we know and love today.
Now, let’s move on to the suit, the one thing that Mr. Stark is known for above all else. Truly his greatest power, it also conceals his biggest weakness. Even though most won't admit to it, many of us can identify with that and use our talents and accolades to conceal our failures and insecurities. Through the years, Tony has fought many different enemies with his suit, from Communists to super villains, even his friends. During these battles, he finds himself in need of specialized armor for special situations. So, he creates many permutations of his suit in order to achieve these needs. Versatility is always a good quality, no matter which enemy you are combating.
In his last really major example of comic book metaphor, we find Tony at the centre of the Civil War storyline during 2006 and 2007. Iron Man found himself going head to head with an opposing faction of super heroes over his proposed Superhero Registration Act. The opposing team was captained by the captain of captains, the sentinel of liberty himself, Captain America. Both sides fought bitterly over the issue and casualties mounted up along the way. The biggest casualty was Steve Rogers, the Cap himself, when he turned himself in to prevent more collateral damage. While in custody, he was mortally wounded by an assassin. In the end, this was the final shot of the war. Tony won, but it was a costly Pyrrhic victory. He remarked that it wasn't worth it. He learned that we must always pick our battles, especially when they are with friends. Winning isn't everything, especially as sometimes we lose more than we win on that road to victory.
These are but a few of the lessons that Iron Man has taught us over these fifty-odd years. He's been both a great inspiration and teacher to us. He certainly has touched my life in many ways. What other ways can you think of that Iron Man has bettered our world?