Iron Man
Mark Fergus, Hawk Ostby, Art Marcum, Matt Holloway, Stan Lee, Don Heck, Larry Lieber, Jack Kirby, and Jon Favreau, 2008

Iron Man is the first series I ever collected, and over on the right there you will see the very first comic in my collection: Iron Man #174. I'd been a big fan of the Superfriends cartoon, which had in turn led me to the collections of Golden Age and Silver Age comics at the Canyon Hills Library, and I expected this more or less randomly-selected comic to be more of the same. But this time the villain wasn't some goon dressed in spandex trying to nail the hero with a death ray; he was just... a bald guy in a suit, sitting behind a desk. His big fight with Iron Man consisted of an argument over who held the legal rights to the armor. Much of the plot revolved around various members of the corporate hierarchy deciding whether or not to resign. I pretty quickly realized that I was reading a book written for another age group. It was one of my great leveling-up experiences as a kid.

This was Denny O'Neil's epic Obadiah Stane arc. O'Neil was best known for starting the "relevance" trend in comics with his work on Green Lantern/Green Arrow, in which he sent the straight-arrow supercop and the beatnik archer around the country to combat social ills ranging from heroin abuse to housing discrimination, and for changing Batman from a cheerful dweeb slinging "Bat-Shark-Repellant" into a grim avenging ninja, a sort of... dark knight, if you will. A decade later, O'Neil took the reins on Iron Man and produced a four-year saga in which corporate raider Stane seizes Stark International, reducing Tony Stark to an homeless wino while his former pilot, James Rhodes, assumes his role as Iron Man. O'Neil had no interest in the gadget porn that had defined the Iron Man book before he arrived (and would define it again after he left); he wanted to tell the (clearly deeply and personally felt) story of a man's descent into alcoholism and subsequent recovery, and since he happened to have been offered this particular comic to write, he told it there. To an audience full of nine-year-olds like me. And changed their brains. Or at least mine.

So what I'm saying here is that I have a nearly lifelong investment in Iron Man, especially the Stane-era Iron Man, and so I was totally locked into what, objectively, is probably a pretty forgettable entertainment. If this were a TV show (as it probably should be, since all these superheroes were designed to appear in ongoing serials) I'd be refreshing Hulu every five minutes the moment I suspected a new episode was about to go up. Very enjoyable.

One thing about starting with Denny O'Neil's Iron Man run is that, unlike pretty much every other version of Iron Man, the one I imprinted on was funny. James Rhodes wasn't quite in Peter Parker's league as a quipster but was miles ahead of Tony Stark in that department. The big triumph of the film is to make Stark himself funny; within the first two minutes Robert Downey Jr. had totally won me over. So much so that, despite my misgivings, I decided to try...

Tropic Thunder
Etan Cohen, Justin Theroux, and Ben Stiller, 2008

...which was sufficiently unfunny that I turned it off after forty minutes, despite Downey Jr.'s amusing line readings. The movie announces that it's going to be an over-obvious satire right from the start, with its fake trailer for a disaster movie:

In 2013, when the earth's rotation came to a halt — [picture of oceans boiling away, leaving the planet a lava-streaked black orb] — the world called on the one man who could make a difference.

Okay, that's not exactly groundbreaking comedy, but it's passable...

When it happened again...

...and that merits another "heh"...

...the world called on him once more, and no one saw it coming three - more - times.

...and that ruined it. Seriously, if you don't get that "Scorcher II" is funny and "Scorcher VI" is not funny, I don't know what to tell you. (Hint: It's the same reason "The Neverending Story II" is funny and "Leonard Part 6" isn't.)

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