Since 2008, no other superhero has commanded as much attention or authority as Iron Man. Portrayed by Robert Downey Jr, the Armored Avenger has been the face of the Marvel Cinematic Universe from the beginning. What is most fascinating about Tony Stark is his character development. He goes from a selfish and greedy business man to a selfless hero.
In Avengers and Avengers: Age of Ultron Tony Stark almost makes the ultimate sacrifice to save the world. It was fitting that Iron Man was the superhero made the final snap of the new technological Infinity gauntlet in Avengers: Endgame. His death may have come as a surprise, but it was appropriate and necessary for the Golden Avenger to be the one to save everyone in the end. Iron Man’s completely noble deed completed the 180 degree transformation of his character.
Unfortunately, not every Iron Man storyline shows Tony Stark as a hero and leader. The Superior Iron Man (2014) series has an egomaniacal character thinking he is greater than the rest of humanity. This article will discuss the potential dangerous effects immoral use of technology would have on humanity, examine the Christian understanding of being the “best version of yourself”, and how Jesus is still the way in the age of superheroes.
The New Man vs. The Man of the Future
According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church paragraph 452, “The name of Jesus means ‘God saves.’” Jesus did not enter our world as a political or military messiah to usher in a worldly power of dominion. Instead, he entered into our world and became one of us to show us the true path—the road of true love and obedience to God. He gave us the blueprint to overcome sin—the sacraments. St. Augustine described sacraments best by calling them, “an outward and visible sign of an inward and invisible grace.” As the New Man, Jesus gave us access to become new and better versions of ourselves, free from sin and death.
In Marvel comics, Tony Stark stands at the vanguard of human advancement. He is often referred to as the Man of the Future. The future ignites excitement. Possibility. Promise. Fulfillment. We all hope for a better future. Issue #1 of Superior Iron Man opened with that excitement. In San Francisco, Stark delivered a free app to all citizens to access and download Exetremis 3.0 This was a techno-virus created to turn people into the best version of themselves. Iron Man was a messiah figure!
Upgrading the Exterior
All promises for a better future are enticing at first. Superior Iron Man’s plan for the future was no different. However, Extremis 3.0 only solved physical defects. Tony Stark’s altruism quickly faded as he cut off free access to the techno-virus. He made the cost so expensive it caused people to turn to robbery. Bodily perfection became addictive.
Acting as one of the moral compasses in this series, Pepper Potts expresses concerns about Stark’s use of technology. “You created a master race across the city, but you’ve also created an instant underclass. Extremis may have made people more beautiful on the outside but you know as well as I do that, for some it will only enhance all of the ugliness within,” Potts warns Tony (Issue # 1).
Similar to technology there is an allure, an attraction to the exterior—to the mere outside. We can only see outward appearances. It is difficult to sense the underlying beauty at times. Iron Man’s various suits of armor are both attractive aesthetically and technologically. Whenever I watched the Iron Man or Avengers film I dreamed a day where similar technology could be created and implemented in our world. Fighting off evil with the flick of a wrist or voice command would be incredible. If given the chance to overcome a physical limitation would you have it cured?
Playing God Not Man’s Destiny
Iron Man gave Daredevil his eyesight back temporarily. Infused with a dose of the Extremis virus, Matt Murdock regained his vision. In response to receiving the virus without consent Murdock asks Stark, “What gives you the right to play God?” (Issue #3). Stark quips back, “Being a God can’t be too hard. I mean if Thor can do it…I’m the most intelligent, capable person on the planet. I’m not playing God. All this time…I’ve been playing human.”
This world is definitely imperfect. Human beings are selfish. Manipulative. Greedy. Prideful. We long for control of our situation. Control over suffering—eventually the eradication of all suffering.
God Values His Creation
Another important theme in Superior Iron Man is the creator versus creation. Tony Stark prior to his personality becoming infected with pride and egomania implemented a contingency plan to keep himself in check if he ever got out of control. Pepper works with a mysterious “new” Iron Man to combat the Superior Iron Man (Issue #6 In His Own Image). Later it is revealed that the “new” Iron Man is actually an artificial intelligence (the consciousness of Tony Stark before he turned evil) in an earlier version of the Iron Man armor.
As creator of his advanced superhero armor and artificial intelligences, Tony Stark is like God because he creates. That is as far as the similarities go. God respects human freedom. He did not create humanity to blindly obey 100% of the time. We are not automaton. Mere robots. Fighting his creations across San Francisco, Tony takes a brief moment to inform the artificial intelligence Tony, “Do you know what’s left when you take away everything that was holding us back? Freedom” (Issue # 8 Bio-Mark-One). He goes on to boast in Issue #9, “I made you. All of you. And I can tell you: each and every one of you is inferior.”
Danger of Man’s Pride
This is definitely the mentality of a prideful man. According to St. Teresa of Avila, “There is more value in a little study of humility and in a single act of it than in all the knowledge in the world.”
The Superior Iron Man certainly possessed superiority, but dominance in worldly things alone. Tony Stark had a genius level intelligent, grand ambitions, and creativity second to none. His inability to account for human freedom and the need for morality would be his downfall. Stark failed to depend on others’ for help. Potts, Murdock, and their allies united together in humility to fight the selfish Stark.
Next Steps for Humanity?
Technological advancements such as advanced prosthetics, improving medical procedures, and renewable energy sources provide hope for the future. We can learn from the Superior Iron Man that true perfection is not skin (or armor) deep. Pride initially causes us to experience invincibility—and superiority. Experience shows us otherwise.
Jesus as the New Man—and True Man of the Future—teaches us the importance of the virtue of humility. His humble obedience to the Father led to suffering on the Cross, but it also led to the Resurrection—True life! We can experience authentic power when we follow Jesus, the Avenger of Sin. There is still value (and entertainment) in watching and reading about the adventures of Iron Man. Be a superhero. A superhero of virtue! St. Paul wrote, “Put on the armor of God so that you may be able to stand firm against the tactics of the devil.” Suit up. Not with arc reactor technology, but with the “ark technology” of the sacraments instituted by Christ and safeguarded by the Catholic Church.
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