May 24, 2017

The 40 Years of Comics Project - Day 819: Iron Man #188, November 1984

One of the really cool things about reading stories from this particular era of Iron Man is getting to see Jim Rhodes learning the ins and outs of being a super-powered adventurer. At one point in the comic, Stark notes that Rhodey might have the potential to be a better Iron Man than he ever was, as Rhodey has piloting skills that make him more at home in the air than Tony might once have been. Rhodey might be technically better, but the story being told is demonstrating how much of being a superhero is a very specific skill set that allows one to deal with the unforseeable without having it throw you for a loop.

Rhodey's not great at this. Yet.

I think the part of the comic I found most interesting was the letter column. Comics fans don't change much, it seems - they just get more venues in which to give their opinions. At least here there is editorial oversight that keeps the vitriol to a minimum. Fans are fairly united in their desire to see Stark back in the armour. Comics fans have this need, sometimes, for something original, in that there's a belief that the first version of something, particularly a superhero, is somehow intrinsically the best version. I think this betrays an odd propensity for superheroes to take on a reality that's more significant than most fictional characters. But this undercuts the ability of the creative team to propel a character to greatness. A number of the letters claim that Tony Stark is Iron Man, but I think this betrays a misrecognition about where the vitality of a character comes from. It would be more suitable to credit a creative team with being Iron Man, as they are the ones who take the iconic assemblage that is a superhero and turn it into stories that we enjoy and cleave to.

History has shown that Rhodey is every bit as good in the armour as Stark. This is a result not of anything intrinsic to the character, but to the characterization he is given by the people writing the comic. As long as the story is well-told, the inhabitant of the armour doesn't matter that much.

Not to me, anyway.

To be continued.

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