May 26, 2017
The 40 Years of Comics Project - Day 821: Iron Man #202, January 1986
First things first: I am always a fan of taking two completely disparate superheroes and putting them together in a buddy-cop-style story. And you can't get much more disparate than Iron Man and Ka-Zar. Well, sort of, but I'll get to that in a moment. Having a high tech knight and a Tarzan homage team up to take down The Fixer (who is, actually, one of my favourite Marvel villains) is a treat. While Stark is very much Stark in this issue, though there is some lovely self-awareness as he compares his addiction to being Iron Man to his addiction to alcohol, Ka-Zar is beset by comparisons to Tarzan, and seeing this C-list character take it all in stride, and seeing how it actually affects his sense of self-worth is really quite a nice bit of nuanced writing.
So, yes, in many ways, they are very, very different characters. Well, except for the fact that they're both privileged, powerful white guys. Let's bear in mind that the identity of Iron Man has, literally 3 issues prior, been taken back by Tony Stark from Jim Rhodes, an African-American man who was in the suit for just over 2 years publication time. Rhodey is not relegated to helping Tony test the new armour. This is a few years before the advent of War Machine (I think), and this complete acquiescence to Stark taking back the armour speaks to the assumption that Rhodey was always nothing more than a fill-in, until Tony could pull himself together and take over again.
But wait! I'm not done yet. Do you know what blond-haired, blue-eyed Ka-Zar's real name is?
Lord. Kevin. PLUNDER.
Without even a trace of irony present. And did I mention that he's hero/ruler of a jungle realm that, as of this issue, was recently completely destroyed, and he's one of the few people who escaped?
Don't get me wrong, or too wrong, here. I actually like Ka-Zar. Seeing him struggle with being compared to a fictional character here speaks volumes about superhero comics and their relationship to our world. And he struggles, again in this issue, with feelings of displacement, of aimlessness, that I find all too familiar. But he's still a white, conquering hero in the mold the white jungle men that were de rigueur in the early 20th century, which I could even accept, if there were any hint of the creators being conscious of the problems of that heroic stereotype. But as I say, no irony present. And that just makes the comic, 30 years old, seem dated and more than a little insulting.
To be continued.