The Primordial Soup: Why is Iron Man so popular?

So this little movie just came out.

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It’s safe to say that the Avengers and the Marvel movie experiment has been a massive success, bringing together a team of some of the greatest superheroes of the 20th century.  What’s even better for the fans, and Marvel’s box office bottom line, is that most of these superheroes have built up successful movie franchises on their own.  The mighty Thor can easily draw fans in on his own with his epic fantasy tales (though it doesn’t hurt that he has Loki on his side).

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Captain American can rake in the box office proceeds with his sense of moral justice amid a world that is increasingly going to hell in a hand basket.

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And the Incredible Hulk is resilient enough to survive over fifty years worth of comics, television, Ang Lee, and a reboot.

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But by far the most popular and successful super hero to arise from Marvel’s post bankruptcy movie juggernaut is Iron Man, who over the course of seven years and three movies has managed to rake in over 2 BILLION on his own.

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But what makes Iron Man so popular?  Why did Marvel decide to kick off their movie universe with an unknown director and problematic lead actor?  Let’s find out.

In order to figure out why Iron Man is so popular we have to go back through his history.  One of the reasons I find his popularity so funny is because Iron Man may be the only hero created so people would hate him.  Stan Lee initially created Iron Man in 1963 during the height of the Vietnam War.  Iron Man aka Anthony Stark, is a “genius billionaire playboy philanthropist” who designs and builds weapons for the U.S military, which meant he was responsible for the Marvel equivalent of this.

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which Stan thought would piss off a lot of younger readers.  However, for some odd reason Iron Man proved to be incredibly popular and he developed into a Marvel mainstay.  Due to his capitalist, free wheeling, death dealing lifestyle Stark became the embodiment of American industrial might and militaristic aggression beating back colorful villains like the Crimson Dynamo, an experiment by the Soviet Union attempting to duplicate the Iron Man armor.

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And the Mandarin, an evil Chinese super genius with ten rings that give him various powers.

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It’s pretty clear that most of these villains wouldn’t work today, Iron Man 3 avoided using the Mandarin in his original form, because they were meant to be caricatures of America’s great Communist enemies: the Soviet Union and China.  Through out the 60’s, 70’s, and 80’s Iron Man was Marvel’s representation of American industry, conquering his foes with technological prowess and ingenuity.

And then the Berlin Wall fell in 1989 and just like that the Cold War ended.

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You’d think that would be the end if Iron Man, after all what would the living embodiment of the military industrial complex have left to fight, but he managed to keep his position as one of Marvel’s top characters long after the Cold War was over.  As far as I can tell there are two possible explanations for this.  First, there’s the Batman argument, which basically means comic book readers just really enjoy watching a 1%er beat the ever loving crap out of poor people with cool gadgets.  But the second option is much more interesting to me.

Iron Man is a geek.

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Think about it.  Iron Man makes his living designing machines and gadgets.  From an early age Stark was tinkering, programming, and graduating from MIT at age 15. Heck, his only real superpower is his mind, which was able to develop a suit to give him the powers of a god.  There is no problem he can’t solve with technology and nothing his mind can’t handle.

Now if we take that template and we apply it to our society and our modern day world we can see something interesting.  Who are our real world industrial heroes?  Who are the people we admire for changing the world and making massive fortunes?  The answer is, geeks who developed the products that run our world today.  Computer experts like Bill Gates.

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Programming innovators like Larry Paige and Sergey Brin.

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And visionaries like Jeff Bezos.

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And our fascination with tech innovators doesn’t end with the people who wind up with all our money, it extends to the rest of us as well.  In fact, if you look at the number over the past twenty years, there are more engineers and people studying engineering then ever before.  If you go to crowdfunding sites like Kickstarter and Indiegogo they are filled with people working on fun and interesting gadgets and tech.  We love the ideals that heroes like Iron Man exemplify like intelligence, confidence, innovation, and curiosity and while it is true that Iron Man does share quite a few similarities in his background with heroes like Batman I think that people tend to be more interested in Batman’s dark atmosphere and fanatic devotion to justice while we are more drawn to Iron Man’s spirit of innovation and creativity.

Unless everyone just likes to associate him with the song, in which case this entire article is completely pointless.

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