Yes …. the family is not doing well, and my White Sox, despite taking 2-of-3 from the Twinkies are still unable to hit out of a paper bag. So for my sanity, I write on a topic I have been contemplating for some time, tied to a long awaited film I hope to see soon.
M. Night Shyamalan proposes, in his film Unbreakable, the fictitious premise that the heroes of mythology (Hercules, Gilgamesh, Jason, Hector, Ajax, etc) were more real than people think ….. that in fact the stories were exaggerated, but that there are people who walk the Earth, gifted of special super-human abilities, and that these people were the basis of the great mythological legends that were the basis of so much human culture.
Of course, in the modern world, these stories are not much more than bed time stories that occasionally interest your odd psychologist looking for archetypes in the supposed collective unconsciousness that some think we share.
Some believe (as was pointed out in Shyamalan’s film) that the super heroes of comic books have become the modern equivalent of heroes from mythology. Certainly, we have yet to find a temple to Aquaman anywhere, and I don’t see Batman requiring a yearly sacrifice of 20 virgins, but nonetheless, these stories, short of not always holding up the highest standards of the literati, are the stories that come the closest to mirroring the stories of King Arthur or of the Iliad.
In that sense, when you think about it, most superheroes share something with their ancient bretheren (and sisteren). That is, their powers were a gift (and/or a curse) that they had no choice in receiving …. the powers of the man of steel were gifted from his homeworld of Krypton …..Captain America ….gifted powers from a super soldier serum which he did not know the outcome of …… Peter Parker ….. gifted from the random bite of a radioactive spider ….. even Bruce Wayne’s plight was a curse on him by the murderer of his parents …. something he had no choice in witnessing as a child, and which left him scarred to go into the night to defend others from such an outcome.
Then there is Tony Stark.
Stark never got nothing from no one …… except the several billion dollar empire that (in some versions) were gifted from his father. You could also say that his tremendous creative and intellectual powers were a genetic gift from this parents, but that’s nothing superhuman …… Howard Hughes was rich and creative. He might have dressed up as a super hero, but no one would call him one.
Iron Man, Tony Stark’s alter identity is truly an unique hero for our times in that his superpowers are the most attainable: a combination of wealth and ingenuity. He cannot see through walls, but he can create a mechanism that will permit him to see infrared through walls. He cannot fly, but can create a machine that will permit him to. He has no super strength, but he has a suit of armor armed with enough missiles and other weapons that make up for the lack of strength.
Just think – from ancient mythology, was there ever a hero whose ability was his own ingenuity? One might say Archimedes ….. but he was real! One would find it amazing to see in the pantheon of some ancient religion a hero who owned the biggest home in the city-state, and who used only the power of his mind to build the needed mechanisms to hunt down evil.
Aside from his down-to-earth powers, one also sees a more modern source tale. All heroes in mythology have their “call to adventure” …. whether it is to eternally avenge the murder of their parents, or to fulfill an uncle’s dying admonition; to use “great power with great responsibility”; this is often an artificially or externally imposed call.
Tony Stark was a weapons manufacturer ….. a war profiteer ….. considering his original appearance was in the height of Vietnam, one was to wonder that his creators were taking a gamble in introducing such a character. One day, he sees the that his creations are being abused …. used for evil. Most playboys would call a news conference and announce new safety measures to control distribution, then go hit the beach with a few surf bunnies. Not Stark! He decides to take direct control of the situation. He isn’t hiring an army to go stop his weapons from being abused. He makes himself into that army. His calling his internal. He had hundreds of options at his disposal to solve this problem. He chose the oddest .. direct involvement to take fullest responsibility.
And thus a new hero is born …. one that more closely resembles a fictional Oskar Schindler …. a hero that does not represent “truth, justice, and the American way” …. not a green archetypal juggernaut who represents the dangers of unchecked science ….. but a hero representing ….
At the end of the day ….. we really would not want most superheroes around …. consider Superman …. a real Superman would be attacking the Capitol Building or White House and hauling out politicians by the giant net full as often as any real menace ….. while there are times we wish a vigilante batman would appear, we know deep down that vigilantes are always more trouble than they are worth. But a corporate billionaire taking on the responsibility that we wish every corporation would take on?
I guarantee that no myth system from any ancient culture ever had such a hero, and while we needn’t wish these corporate leaders would don suits of mechanized armor, they could take a lesson from this hero.