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Friday, March 29, 2013

Irony Thy Name is Iron Man

The first comic book my father bought for me was Captain America #117. My dad was a voracious reader, for pleasure and entertainment he particularly loved reading science fiction. He used to take me to a used bookstore named “Big Books” the place he copped what he was literarily jonesing for.

It was there that he purchased Cap 117 for me. He bought that particular comic because it featured a black superhero prominently on the cover named 
“The Falcon” —it was The Falcon’s first appearance. I was seven at the time and the comic was already a couple of years old and a tad dog-eared, but I loved it. I remember reading it that very evening while waiting at the laundry mat with my big sister.

Five years later when my father died, my family sold his collection of science fiction books back to Big Books on Cass Avenue, much to my consternation I might add. But today, Captain America is still my favorite superhero, (I’m emotionally fond of the Falcon as well) and that first comic lead to a lifetime love of comics and sci-fi that eventually lead to me actually becoming the co-owner of a small chain of comic book stores in Metro Detroit for ten years during the 80s and 90s. Which may make it seem odd for me to say, I am not at all looking forward to the new Iron Man movie.

Those who know me fairly well are quite aware that I hate just about every superhero movie made so far. But, I still look forward to them. And like the hapless fan boy I am, I zombie walk mindlessly to the theater (usually the very first day) to see them all. And then, some months later, I open my eyes in time to realize I am walking out of a store with the most expensive version of the movie’s Blu-Ray. (Again, usually the first day it goes on sale.)

So why do I not quiver with restless anticipation for Iron Man 3? Frankly, there is something subversive about Iron Man being produced by a Communist Chinese company. DMG, a Beijing headquartered multi-media concern, is the primary partner with Walt Disney/Marvel in this production, There is something rotten in the state of American film making.

In 1963 America, the year Iron Man was conceived by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby and subsequently drawn by Don Heck in Tales of Suspense #39 and the Golden Avengers first outing—Iron Man and Tony Stark his alter ego, were the comic book exemplars, the vanguard of American/capitalist opposition to Communism.

It was a Red booby trap that injured Tony Stark’s heart in Vietnam leading to the birth of Iron Man. Stark’s company was the constant target of Red aggression. The Black Widow (Now an Avenger) was introduced as a Soviet spy and assassin, ever bent on capturing American weapons secrets, most often Iron Man’s armor. I never liked the Widow even after she defected.

Notably, Iron Man’s greatest enemy, the malicious “Mandarin”, was a backhanded swipe against Chinese communism. Though the Mandarin was half Chinese, he bore resentment towards The Red Chinese government because the commies usurped the power of his aristocratic Chinese family. The Mandarin aligned himself with the Reds only when it suited his purposes—the partnership, always fraught with distrust, the Reds feared the villain, even while they needed him.

While Captain America more often than not dealt with villains like the Red Skull and Baron Zemo, relics of fascist Germany seeking to reassert the Third Reich, Iron Man fought Communist villains like the Crimson Dynamo and the Titanium Man. The Red Chinese Radioactive Man was created to destroy Thor and the fiendish Yellow Claw led Chinese forces against American heroes in commie plot after commie plot.

So excuse me if I'm reticent in accepting a film portraying historically one of the most patriotic heroes in comicdom, produced by an entity springing from the same political culture that was quite often his deadliest antagonist. Just doesn’t smell right. A red star on a cap throughout my formative years meant enemy of my way of life.

This subversion is not limited to the latest film—for some inexplicable reason, the producers of the second Iron Man film thought it was cool to say that the Repulsor technology, the basis for Tony Stark’s power, was stolen from a Soviet scientist by his father Howard Stark. So much for pride in good old Yankee know how!

The Bruce Willis and Joseph Gordon-Levitt vehicle “Looper,” was also produced by DMG—it was revealed that the Chinese demanded references and elements of the story meant to take place in a future France, be changed instead to China, with the requisite communist red stars insinuated into the background.

Similar Sino-political weight has been brought to bear on films like Disney’s Kung Fu Panda 3 where every script change has to be vetted by the Red Chinese on pain of not being allowed access to the enormous Chinese market. I have no problem with American companies seeking to expand into a burgeoning market, but at the price of cultural integrity? I do take issue with that.

It seems particularly creepy that you have North Korean sabre rattling, with threats against America, a seemingly preposterous idea, yet escalating daily—when you again remember it was the Chinese that forced the film makers responsible for the remake of the cold war classic “Red Dawn” to delay the release of their film until they made the North Koreans the invaders of mainland U.S.A, forcing them to digitally replace every Chinese flag and uniform emblem with North Korea’s.

Well I don’t like it! Unfortunately, most of those born after the baby boom have no real understanding of what it was like living in a cold war world. Our youth can’t access the concept of communist/socialist subversion. We thought we won the cold war with the collapse of the Berlin Wall—that seems rather naïve in light of our growing fiscal and now artistic subservience.

I remembered an old series of sci-fi books featuring a character named Perry Rhodan, my father loved that series. I spent decades trying to find them in Metro Detroit’s used bookstores out of nostalgia for dad. Never could find the early books especially the first few.

For some reason I'd stopped going to Big Books after my dad died, so I'd never checked there. I happened to be driving down Cass Avenue one day just about a year ago and on a lark decided to stop and visit my dad’s old haunt.

Well it just so happened that the bookseller was a guy I knew from the comic book community. I asked about Perry Rhodan while we chatted. “Funny you should ask,” he said, “We have a set of the early ones that in the 20 years I’ve worked here, as far as I know, no one has ever so much as touched.”

Owing to my father’s penchant for buying second hand books, they often had the previous owners marks in them and for some reason I always thought it cool that someone would bother to have a stamp made up to discern their books. And sure enough, there was a mark I recognized.

                                                EX LIBRUS

So not only had I finally found copies of Perry Rhodan from the time period I’d longed for, it appeared I was reacquiring my late father’s own copies, sold to that very store decades earlier. Pity the political and cultural integrity of our great nation can't be so perfectly restored.

Digital Publius