It has been over fifty years since Marvel’s inception. Since that fateful day in 1961, Marvel has established itself as the edgier publication, especially in comparison to its main rival, DC.
While “edgier” invokes a certain feel—i.e. doing random runs just to be provocative—it is much more than that. Marvel’s edginess comes from the fact that they attempt time and time again to tackle real-world issues (so much so that this is their M.O. now)–however imperfectly they may do it.
To me, the greatest example– one that has been full of its own triumphs and failures–is the creation of the X-Men. I am not joking when I say the legendary group literally embodies every marginalized group in existence ever. Their mere existence is thought-provoking and Chris Claremont’s run with the group proved to be the progressive jolt that Marvel and (the comic world at large) needed.
Unfortunately for us, however, Marvel does not own the movie rights to the X-Men. Fox does. As a result, we may never, ever see them in the MCU.
That said, we do have another imperfectly perfect bunch that they do own the rights to: The Avengers.
Yes, Marvel’s premier A-Team, while very glamorous, can be the hottest of messes. But you know what? I appreciate that because not only do I constantly get to see their humanity on display, but I also see them trying to do the right thing…in spite of that humanity.
Granted, this might not mean much to most, but I think it’s worth noting especially in contrast to DC’s A-Team: The Justice League. Let us be completely honest here: The Justice League is a pantheon of GODS. No ifs, ands, or buts about it.
Save for the very human and the very flawed Batman, everyone else on the line-up (I’m going to be referring to JLU’s version of the line-up as I am not fond of the New 52 one) is incredibly powerful and incredibly just.
Superman is Moses incarnate. Wonder Woman is an immortal (depending on which iteration, course) warrior princess. Green Lantern is a space knight. Hawkgirl is a mace-wielding, high-flying, extraterrestrial spy. Martian Manhunter is the last (and good) son of Mars (and basically Martian Superman). And finally, the Flash is quite literally the fastest person in existence.
To be honest, I would not want to go up against them on their worst day, much less their best day. Sure, they have moments when their sense of judgment falters, but they are only that: moments.
And there’s nothing wrong with that. I love them because they are stupendously great and stupendously just. They would not have stuck with me (and frankly pop culture at large) for this long if they were not, because like the godawful Man of Steel movie once said, they do—in fact—give us something to strive for. Something to hope for.
On the flip side, however, they leave us nothing to relate to.
And that’s where Marvel–and specifically, the Avengers–come in.
Let’s break them down, shall we? So we have:
- A formerly frail kid from Brooklyn turned Olympian with a heart of gold
- A borderline megalomaniac of a genius,
- The real-life embodiment of Dr. Jekyll, Mr. Hyde, AND Frankenstein,
- A deaf (again, depending on which iteration) circus kid,
- A former Soviet Spy,
- And a demigod with daddy issues.
To be completely honest, I would be hard pressed to not find something relatable in all of that.
And honestly, the comics continue to do a fairly decent job with constantly addressing these potential flaws and shortcomings that I listed above. But you know what HASN’T done due diligence to these flaws lately?
If you guessed the movies, then you are correct.
I could go on and on about how the movies have dropped the ball in this regard, but in this piece, I really want to address how the movies tendency to gloss over these perfectly flawed people through one character in particular:
Anthony Edward Stark. Or as you know him, Tony Stark.
On Tony and His Missing Scotch
To explain, Tony is an alcoholic. But you would not know this if you are not familiar with some of his comics, as the movies have all but omitted it. We’re twelve movies into the MCU and the only one that even attempted to allude to it was Iron Man 2.
Prior to that, it made sense that it had scarcely been mentioned. Iron Man was the only movie that just came out and Tony was just starting out. It would have been weird for his movie series to start out and for him to be immediately hit with INTENSE STRUGGLE MODE. Granted, getting kidnapped by a mysterious (and potentially mystical) terrorist organization BECAUSE of an age-old mentor and family friend falls well into the category of intense struggle mode, but I digress.
No. Not there. Inserting his alcoholism into Iron Man would have made no sense. But, it would (and should) have made perfect sense for alcoholism to be Tony’s version of intense struggle mode in Iron Man 2.
Just think about it. Iron Man 2 was the immediate sequel and we all know the deal about sequels in trilogies especially. The second sequel is always full of struggle. Like, I feel like the unseen title in these sequels should be called “TITLE OF THE MOVIE: THE STRUGGLE”. We saw it with Harry Potter, we saw it with The Hunger Games, and, you know, I could go on, but in the interest of time, I will not.
Bringing this back to Iron Man 2, however, I really want to harp on how it was such a missed opportunity. For starters, we were just coming off of Tony’s “I am Iron Man” reveal from the first movie and, in addition to that, I’m pretty sure Tony wasn’t about to get over being kidnapped and tortured in a day.
Add that to the fact that Tony was dragged into a congressional hearing over his Iron Man suit at the beginning of the movie and the fact that Tony was dying from the palladium that was being utilized by his arc reactor and it would have been a perfect opportunity to show Tony dealing with these problems like he always deals with these problems: with alcohol.I mean, ol’ Tin Man was getting the business from life already. Why not pile some more on?
But of course, that is not what happens. I mean, there is an attempt to hint at that happening with the whole palladium poisoning bit and the drunken party that he has, but after that and after he literally creates a new element to combat the latter problem, it turns into a moot point.
And that is literally the last time we hear about it.
There’s no mention of it in The Avengers. There’s no mention of it in Iron Man 3 (EVEN THOUGH, this, again, would have been the perfect time to bring it up, considering the wormhole he flew through). There is especially no mention of it in Age of Ultron (but y’all already know how I feel about that movie).
It just kind of…vanishes. And I’m not really happy about that.
This is not me saying that alcohol itself is a crucial part of Tony Stark. However, this IS me saying that the struggle with alcoholism and to overcome alcoholism IS, in fact, an integral part of Tony Stark. I mean, all the cockiness, bravado, and ingenuity in the world cannot save him from the beastly demon that is alcoholism. In fact, I feel like all of that makes him almost predisposed to it in a way and I think that really says something,
And, you know, speaking of demon, you know what Marvel probably should have partially adapted in Iron Man 2 (or you know, any other Iron Man-related movie)?
Long story short, Demon in a Bottle tracked familiar Iron Man 2 territory in that it covered Tony going head to head against Hammer Tech/Justin Hammer. However, instead of Hammer being the bumbling, walking-joke-of-person that he is in that film, he is instead a WAY more sinister and formidable threat.
Like this dude sabotages Stark’s tech so that Stark ends up killing a foreign ambassador. This results in the Avengers being like “look, you may wanna lay low for a while or some sh*t” and the cops demanding that he turn in his armor…to which, you know, he complies with because he really has no other choice. And while all this sh*t is happening, the stock for Stark Industries falls tremendously, to the point that if Tony sneezes, he’s finna be broke as hell.
And of course, Tony’s only recourse of action against these series of unfortunate events (heyyyooooo) is to drink. Dude drinks in the morning, in the evening, in the shower, and possibly in his sleep. Like, I’m sure if it had been scientifically feasible at the time or if the writers had thought about it, he would have hooked up an IV to his arm filled with scotch.
Humor aside, sh*t is rough for Tony during this time in his life and he almost loses everything. That said, despite all of the odds—ALL of them—Tony pulls through. Granted, the ordeal ends up having some lofty ass consequences, but Tony decides to face them head-on, preferably WITHOUT the help of a bottle.
As one might guess, this story instantly became iconic because it was willing to “go there” and deal with a hero who is—yes—flawed at his core. The story-line went on to win an Eagle Award, was praised by many for being one of the premier superhero tales at the time, and was praised for dealing with the very real ramifications of what happens when superheroes lose their way like we all do. That’s what really sold it. It was woefully relatable.
And that is why I am woefully distressed by the fact that the movie-verse consistently side-steps it. Granted, I would not go as far as saying that they are ashamed of it (because how can you be ashamed of something that made you and brought you this far?), even though I do get that vibe sometimes. No, I am more or less distressed by this side-stepping that is going on because I see it as an attempt to sanitize characters and people who shouldn’t be sanitized at all. I almost see this as de-clawing their characters and stripping away the edge that makes Marvel characters so unforgettable in the first place.
There is a cost to taking away Tony’s “demons”. For example, if I subtract them and then keep everything else (including the fun-loving, the lady-wooing, the money-spending, and the apocalyptic-bot creating), what exactly separates him from someone like, I don’t know, Green Arrow? You know, despite the obvious suit/arrow differences?
I’ll tell you: not much.
And in addition to characters like Tony becoming a little too identical to their DC counterparts, there is also another cost that comes with taking this “edge” away.
It lessens the impact that these characters have on a key demographic: teens.
So, I figure the hesitance for Marvel to tackle these kinds of subjects in their movies is the risk that these stories end up coming across as a bit “too grown up”. And, you know, I just find that a bit strange because, in my 2+ decades of life, I have never known things like depression or addiction (or related battles) to be discriminatory in who they swallow up and consume. Like, are we really going to pretend that teens/kids can’t or don’t struggle with addiction too? That they have to be a “certain age” before “real-life”/ “grown-up” life hits them? Because I’m pretty sure that’s not how that works.
That’s not how any of this works.
Otherwise, shows like Degrassi (or even something more comical like Skins—the UK version) wouldn’t still be so, so popular to this day. There is just a way that these projects unabashedly and unironically address these “grown up” problems that these teens have that make their appeal damn near timeless and far-reaching.
And I’m pretty sure that Marvel’s willingness to always, low-key address that appeal is why they’ve lasted this long and why they were discernible from the rest to begin with.
Here’s to hoping that doesn’t change.
Images from: Comic Vine, 9e3k.com, Thepaddockmagazine.com, Tumblr, Giphy, Indierevolver.com, Degrassi.wikia.com, TheHark.com