Iron Man Three, the latest film offering from Marvel Comics, gives us an anxiety-ridden superhero. Tony Stark, AKA Iron Man, has come away from the epic battle alongside the other Avengers in New York (see The Avengers from last year) as a changed man. The bravado and sarcasm is still there on the surface, but underneath is a person who has difficulty sleeping, fears for the safety of loved ones, and often succumbs to anxiety attacks.
Marvel led the way in giving us superheroes with problems—the Hulk and Spiderman come immediately to mind. In recent years, graphic novel and movie adaptations have provided DC Comics heroes like Batman with angst-ridden back stories. This approach was central to the just-complete Batman movie trilogy. The television series Smallville attempted to do this with the Superman story, and usually succeeded. It will be interesting to see how the upcoming Man of Steel movie will approach this legendary superhero.
Although some will say that we live in times when we want our heroes to have feet of clay, I would take another tack. I think we want heroes with whom we can identify. People that deal with the same emotions we do, even if they have extraordinary powers. We want heroes who need other people and value relationships. In Iron Man Three, Tony Stark discovers there are several people he needs and at least one of the most important ultimately comes to his rescue.
Sometimes we are tempted to see a superhero as a Christ figure—an all powerful being who has come to save us. In reality, the latest incarnations of the superhero are examples of humanity in all its glory and failure. The superhero always has a flaw. Even Superman could be hurt by Kryptonite. What we see in these current examples is that internal flaws plague us all and we can only overcome them with the help of others.