Monday, November 10, 2008

Iron Man Nostalgia

So for my birthday, I used a Best Buy gift card to get myself the "Iron Man" special edition DVD. Just finished watching the extras last night. A few observations:

Robert Downey Jr. is really cut. You wouldn't expect it. He usually seems so frothy and insubstantial on-screen.

It's fascinating (to me, at least) to see how far the stories develop from their starting points. "Iron Man" doesn't deviate from its early versions as much as, say, "Monsters Inc.," but then it had established source material to draw from. But it's fascinating to see, for instance, a long scene depicting the actors' process in preparing for a crucial scene in which the big money line ended up on the cutting room floor, if indeed it wasn't dispensed with before it was shot. It's fascinating to see early Ironmonger designs being referred to as the Crimson Dynamo (indicating possibly a completely different story direction). It's interesting to hear Jeff Bridges talk about how the villain was originally supposed to have been the Mandarin (indicating another completely different story direction).

They put an amazing amount of design detail into that suit.

It's funny how fake and flimsy some of the practical suits look in the behind the scenes footage, yet how completely convincing the illusion is in the final film. Never underestimate the power of lighting and framing and clever editing (and digital post-processing and sound effects and the list goes on).

It's funny how many people lie about being "fans" of the original property in this behind-the-scenes stuff.

And just because I'm thinking of it, a descent into nostalgia: Iron Man #1 was the first comic book I ever bought (or that my parents bought for me). I remember the occasion. In early 1968, I was with my father in a Humpty Dumpty store in Oklahoma City (I think, though it may have been T.G.&Y.--whatever it was, both store and chain are extinct now--FWIW, Humpty Dumpty in Oklahoma City was also the birthplace of the shopping cart). We passed a spinner rack near the front of the store, and one of us suggested the idea of getting a comic book. Dad asked me which one I wanted, and I looked them over. I didn't know who any of the characters really were, but one caught my eye.

It featured a man in red and gold with a robotic face bursting out of some sort of metal prison on the cover, surrounded by smaller action vignettes. Even at that young age, I could tell the artwork was better than anything else on the rack. Dad looked at it and asked me if I really wanted it. Colan only averaged 4-6 panels a page, where most of the other books had 6-9. Dad expressed a concern that this comic would not give me a good panels-per-penny return (he didn't use that literal language, but it was something like "don't you want one with more pictures?").

Nope, I was set, and only Iron Man would do. As it turns out, it was not the best choice. Iron Man's adventures had been running for several years in Tales of Suspense, so even though this issue was numbered "1," it picked up in the middle of a storyline. Iron Man, weakened from a several issue battle against the Maggia crime syndicate including the villain Whiplash, has been captured by AIM, who analyze his armor and create a duplicate set. No wonder I'm so tired of the "hero has to fight his evil twin" trope; it was in the first comic I ever read. But the comic didn't leave a strong impact, because I didn't know anything about the hero or the villains. The story started in the middle and ended on a cliffhanger, so I got neither a beginning nor an ending.

Iron Man #1's main legacy for me was that it turned me into a DC reader, which is how I got educated in old-school comics. Because not only did DC feature more self-contained stories in its issues (which I liked, because I couldn't buy comics every month), but as a cost-cutting measure in the early 70's, they padded their books with reprints from their vast archives.

I never knowingly threw a comic away. Comics got dumped into a big cardboard box in my closet, to be pawed through and reread when the fancy took me. Years later, as I was preparing to graduate high school and leave for college, I decided to bag and box all my comics, turn them into a real collection. Imagine my surprise and delight when I discovered Iron Man #1 toward the bottom of the box.

And then imagine my disappointment when I opened the comic and discovered what I had long forgotten. Kids today don't know how good they have it. In my day, they didn't have shelves and shelves of superhero toys, but I had apparently been excited enough by Iron Man to want some for myself. So I took some scissors and cut out some of the most exciting poses so I could stage my own fights (you might call them paper dolls--I call them '2-D Recyclable Action Figures"). Resourceful, I know, but also devastating for a guy who thought he'd disovered a hidden jackpot only to open it up and find shredded pages inside.

I still have it, though, bagged and boxed, shredded pages and all. It was my first, after all.


Marc Carlson said...

Since the people who captured Stark in the opening scenes called themselves "The Ten Rings", I'd say there's a Mandarin link in there someplace.

TheyStoleFrazier'sBrain said...

Yes, exactly. According to some interviews I've read with Favreau, that was set up to foreshadow the Mandarin in one of the two sequels being planned.