The Evolution of Iron Man

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*Warning – This post contains spoilers for Avengers: Endgame – starting in the first paragraph.* (You really should have seen it by now).

With the latest installment of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, the story of these heroes we have followed for the past 11 years comes full circle. But none so much as that of Iron Man. While not technically the first movie in this massive franchise (That would be The Incredible Hulk), Iron Man is the film that set it all in motion. Being the excellent storytellers they are, the writers at Marvel brought the series to an emotional close in this chapter – from the birth of Iron Man to, sadly, his death.

I grew up a Marvel kid. However, Iron Man was not really on the top of my hero list growing up. Tony Stark has always been more of a “grown-up” character. His struggles with daddy issues, women, and alcohol, thankfully, did not appeal to me as a child (well, maybe the daddy issues – but that’s a different post). My go-to, “good-over-evil” hero was Spider-Man. A superhero kid himself in brilliant colors and fun bad guys had me hooked.

Conversely, when I needed real action and some comic-friendly violence, Wolverine was my man. I subscribed to many of the different threads of each one of those guys and filled my room with their action figures, bookshelves, sheets, and everything else I could get my hands on. Iron Man was cool, he was still a key character in the greater Marvel Universe, and I’d pick up comics with him as a player often enough, but he was never my main guy.

Then 2008 came along and not only did Marvel change but so did my life. I lost everything after a very long fight to save that which I loved most in the world. It was a terrible conflict that cost me just about everything a person can lose. To say I nearly died fighting this battle is not overselling it. The trial that was this time of my life still haunts me to this day. (More on this in another post). I learned through this experience that loss can birth new life – if you are willing to learn from experiences. This transformation is precisely what created such a huge Iron Man fan in me. It was the evolution of Tony Stark, the change in his life that loss brought on, that revealed some needed truth in my life and changed the way I see myself.

2008’s Iron Man introduces us to Tony Stark, an arrogant, self-absorbed, careless, conceited, billionaire weapons developer and arms dealer on tour in Afghanistan to showcase his latest creations for the U.S. military stationed in the country. On his way, he finds himself escorted by a threesome of young, starstruck members of the military. However, their convoy is attacked, and Stark watches all three of these all-but teenagers die, and himself nearly with them, at the hands of his own technology by terrorists who were specifically targeting him.

One might think a scenario such as this alone would be enough to change a man. However, Tony is not finished watching people die at the hands of his weaponry. Stark is escorted to a cave where he meets fellow prisoner and scientist, Yinsen, who also loses his life as an indirect result of Tony’s life and choices. These deaths, up close and personal, set Tony Stark on a transformative journey unlike any other in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Yes, all the characters throughout the 22 movies grow and change, but none like Tony Stark.

The opening scenes of Iron Man give way to Tony giving up the profits-over-everything mentality and changing everything about himself and Stark Industries. The company becomes a producer of clean energy and Tony begins to use his tech to fight the bad guys he once armed. At the same time, he must deal with his own mortality as the technology keeping him alive is also killing him. His attempts to ignore these issues reveal to him his need for others and force him to confront his father’s legacy that has been killing him spiritually as much as the palladium has physically.

From here he is denied “membership” to the Avengers by Nick Fury. Once things get bad enough that he’s allowed to help, he gets an ego check through accepting he is not the leader of the Avengers. This acceptance does not come easy as he repeated knocks heads with Captian America along with the rest of the team. Tony had been a supplier of war all his life, but it took him actually being in one to make him realize he did not deserve to be the leader. Here he began to understand that others had things to offer he did not.

But these revelations are of no consolation when Tony finds himself alone, dealing with PTSD, and the only help he can find is a young boy with daddy issues of his own. Growing through this scenario sees Tony finally give up control, destroy his suits, and throw his arc reactor into the sea. However, Tony Stark is an addict, and giving up one addiction often leads to finding a new one. Now that he has given up protecting the world, he lets fear fully manifest itself, and he bullies Bruce Banner into creating Ultron to defend the earth.

The results are, disastrous and Tony’s guilt gets the best of him. For maybe the first time, Tony learns that actions have consequences. So, to clear his conscience, the man who once told the government they’d never have his tech becomes their poster boy. Turning his back on his friends to calm his own demons, Tony tries to mitigate this newly created guilt by mentoring young Peter Parker. Still struggling to admit his wrongs, he, like many of us, just moves on. Tony makes amends with Pepper Potts and, with Captian America out of the way, becomes the face of the Avengers once again. However, I would go out on a limb and say that Tony saw Peter as a possible way to rebuild the burned bridges between him and the friends he turned into fugitives one day.

By the time we get to Infinity War, Tony’s sentiments reveal that time has allowed him to get past the civil war between Steve Rogers and himself. He seems to be genuinely sad that he and Steve, “fell out hard.” While his relationship with Peter has grown, Peter’s rejection of Tony’s offer to join the Avengers may have been another wake-up call for Tony. Learning that his friends don’t need him as much as Tony needs them is part of his final transformation. Tony, once the ultimate loner who lived on the outskirts of life, now only desires to be surrounded by his friends.

Tony Stark began his journey believing everything began and ended with him, and if something happened to not fit that mold, he ignored it. Gaining a family, then losing it, helped Tony to realize how wrong he was about things – it tends to do that. Following the life of Tony Stark, his, “arc” if you will, we watch a self-centered man evolve from believing his life was the only one that mattered to sacrificing that life to literally save the world. While all the characters in the MCU change and grow over this Three-Phase adventure, none experience the transformation that Tony Stark encounters. Many of the Avengers began their journey as heroes. Tony had to suffer and experience loss, many times at his own hands, to understand that sometimes not wanting to be a hero is what makes a hero.

The evolution of Iron Man teaches us that it’s a long, and challenging, journey from child-like attitudes to being a hero. That Tony Stark’s walk through life mirrored Robert Downey Jr.’s so closely only made the character more relatable. It took Tony Stark 10 years to come out on the other side and RDJ even longer. There were ups and downs, and for every two steps he took forward, he sometimes took ten back. I think that gives us hope that maybe being a hero is about more than just saving the day and fighting bad guys. Sometimes is about just getting through the day and fighting your own demons. But if an alcoholic, self-entitled, jerk with daddy issues like Tony Stark can become the hero we got and the end of Endgame, perhaps there is hope for us too.

Maybe, I am Iron Man.

The Heart Inside You

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My kid, like his father, is a movie watcher. Also, like me, he watches the same movies over and over again. He makes his old man proud, loving all my favorites. From Star Wars to Marvel to thirty-year-old Disney movies, I have found my partner in motion picture appreciation. While it is quickly being replaced by, “Coco,” his latest fixation has found itself in nonstop replays of Disney’s “Moana.”

While few can resist the lure of a Disney/Pixar movie, this was a particularly fun movie for me. I am a lifelong WWF/WWE fan. So, The Rock playing the role of Maui was a delightful aspect to this movie. In this story, Moana Waialiki, the daughter of the village chief, must locate Maui, a demi-god, who has brought a curse upon the sea over 1,000 years ago by stealing the Heart of Te Fiti – the mother island that possesses the power to create life and brings other isles into existence. Once Maui, a shape-shifter, acquires his magical fish hook, he and Moana set off to face Te Ka, a demon of lava and fire which rises from the sea like a volcano, who guards the island.

Maui fails to defeat Te Ka, sacrificing his magical fish hook to ensure Moana a chance to deliver the heart to the island. Upon arrival, Moana discovers the entire island of Te Fiti is missing, replaced by the shape of the goddess gouged beneath the water. Looking back, Moana notices a spiral symbol on Te Ka’s chest as it rages and understands. Holding the heart in the air, she attracts the attention of Te Ka in an attempt to save Maui’s life. Moana instructs the ocean to allow Te Ka to come to her and she walks to meet Te Ka face-to-face.

What Moana has come to realize is that Te Ka, the rage-filled monster, full of anger, hate, and destruction is actually the goddess Te Fiti herself. The backstory here is Te Fiti was once full of love, and that love manifested itself in her giving her heart to others through her creation of islands, the wind, flowers, trees, and all the other things the seafaring people of the South Pacific loved. However, Te Fiti’s heart was taken from her. That those she loved stole her heart changed and transformed her over time from the loving, giving beautiful goddess of creation to the fiendish legend known and feared as Te Ka.

Pixar is a master of placing the feels in their movies. Each outing to a Pixar movie almost guarantees a tug at the heartstrings at the very least. However, this movie in particular was different for me. I know what it is like to have your heart stolen from inside you. I know what it is like to have your heart taken from someone you loved and gave your all. I am sure many of you do too. How many of us have allowed the pain of what someone did to us or took from us turn into a hate-fill, raging, bitter monster?

When those we love wrong us, it causes significant damage to us, and we react in different ways. Having my heart stolen from me sent me into a full-blown spiral. I was drowning, and I pulled anyone who tried to help me under the water as well. The danger of becoming a monster was real. I was blessed that hate and rage did not transform me, but it took years waiting for my Moana to come along and restore my heart.

Our lives, our hearts, revolve around whatever we place at its center. If we set a job at the center of our lives and we lose our job, our world falls apart. If we place a person at the center of our lives and that person leaves or is taken from us, our heart breaks and our world falls apart. Anytime we place something of this world at the center of our lives, we run the risk of losing our heart. There is only one constant that will never leave or forsake us. That constant is God, and when you place Him at the center of your life, it does not matter if the other things go or are taken. Your foundation remains firm because all those things are not the center of what makes up your world.

I learned this lesson the hard way. Granted, I was blessed to have a foundation in the Word and a surrounding of friends to keep me from that road. So, I did not become a bitter monster, filled with rage and toxicity destroying all in my path. But I know people who have. I am sure you do as well. Ta Ka was fortunate enough to have someone like Moana who was brave enough to confront her and restore what was taken from her. I will never have what was taken from me returned. It is lost forever. The best I can do is pass on to others what I have learned.

Much like my last post which discussed the hidden things people go through that lead to suicide, we need to be like Moana. Brave enough, caring enough, and willing to get involved in the lives of people. Don’t let people in your life suffer alone, wallow in their pain alone, do life alone. What happens if, like me, they never get their “heart” back? They will need someone like you to lead them out of that dark place to find a new purpose in their life. We need to be reminded, as Moana reminds Te Fiti, “They may have  stolen the heart from inside you, but this does not define you.” Be willing to cross the ocean and take on the monsters of this world affecting the lives of others. Make the world a better, brighter place.

A Community of Tomorrow

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I lived in Orlando for almost five years. Since moving to Houston, I have made a purpose of returning to the City Beautiful as often as possible. This endeavor leads to at least two trips across the Gulf a year in attempts to stay as connected as possible to what I consider my adoptive home.

I would be a liar (as if I am not other times in my life) if I denied Walt Disney World did not play a huge part of my excursions back to Central Florida. Mickey Mouse is not my sole reason for returning, but he joins my list of friends, activities, the church I attend in Orlando, and various other sirens that call me to return.

Of all the things that go on in Walt Disney World, Epcot hands down is my favorite of the resort activities. There are many reasons for my love of the second-built theme park within the San Fransisco-sized Disney resort, and the primary one has nothing to do with Mickey Mouse.

International Diversity

I am a huge proponent of travel. Travel. Travel well. Travel often. Travel exposes people to views, opinions, cultures, and most of all people that are different than us. Too many of us never experience the world outside our own hometown. The world is so much bigger than your neighborhood. However, international travel seems much too huge an endeavor for the average joe.

Epcot follows a “two parks in one” model with Future World on one side and “World Showcase” on the other side. World Showcase consists of eleven pavilions featuring different countries from all parts of the world. One can spend all day walking the semicircle of World Showcase spending time in each country as you go.

The pavilions are staffed with Cast Members from the respective countries. Now, there is a Disneyesque manner in which each country is portrayed. However, a visit to each pavilion will put one in contact with actual people from somewhere other than Anywhere, U.S.A. Some pavilions show films educating viewers of the country, and all have restaurants featuring samples of local fare.

We are living in a time when the world is growing and shrinking at the same time. This situation provides many opportunities to pull each other together. However, there are just as many, if not more, trying to pull us apart. Diversity is a beautiful thing, but it is something one must experience to appreciate. I am fortunate in that I have eleven stamps in my passport (so far). However, most people feel they cannot accomplish a tour of the world.

The reason I love Epcot is it allows people to go on a trip to one place and meet a widely diverse range of individuals. It provides experiences in their culture, even if it is in a Mickey Mouse way. Time has taught me experience changes people. Travel changes people. Walking the pavilions of Epcot provides an opportunity for Disney guests to expand their minds and take in a plethora of new ideas, food, music, and most of all, people. I feel an exuberance wandering from “country” to “country” I cannot find in one location like I can inside Epcot. My love for this theme park actually has so little to do with Disney and so much to do with my growth as a person.

One cannot grow as an individual, thoroughly love, and fully take in life inside one’s bubble. This world and the people who live on it were beautifully created, each in their own way. Get outside your comfort zone, talk to people not like you, learn why they think the way you do. Don’t spend your life in the same bland room everyday. Life was meant to live in color. We each get to choose what kind of community we will live in tomorrow. Do what you can to make it a better one.