Ironman has undergone various changes since his inception in the early 1960s. His costume has changed, his writers have changed, and his character has changed. Interestingly, what hasn’t seemed to change is the characters use. In the 1960 comic book, Tony Stark (Iron Man) was held captive in Vietnam …in 2008 the film Tony Stark was held captive in Afghanistan. Sound familiar? It should. Looking to Ironman’s origins in 1963 and 2008 the only major difference is the setting, which in both examples has coincided with America’s enemies. In 1963 it was the Viet Cong, in 2008 it was Afghanis terrorists. Clearly in both iterations, Iron Man is used to comment on American conflict.
In 1963 Ironman use as war propaganda was blatant. Literally in the very first panel of Tales of Suspense #39 (Ironman’s debut) it is made clear who the enemies are. “The commies would give their eyeteeth to know what [Tony Stark] is working on now”, reads the speech bubble. A page or so later finds Tony Stark getting into an explosion where the “reds” (Viet Cong) capture him. Tony Stark is taken prisoner and forced to build a weapon for the Viet Cong. An ‘innocent’ Vietnamese genius named Yinsen is imprisoned with Tony Stark. Yinsen and Tony Stark conspire to build a weapon for themselves instead. The Ironman suit is created and using it Tony Stark fights his way out and defeats Wong Chu the “red gorilla tyrant”.
The same thing occurs in the film; the difference being the location and the enemies. Where Tony Stark is held captive is Afghanistan. Interestingly the film is more discrete than its comic book counter-part. The enemies who capture Tony Stark are the “Ten Rings”. However as an Afghani terrorist organization it is safe to suggest that they are a synonym of the Taliban. Though there is a certain amount of transparency here at least the film is once removed from the ‘bad guys and good guys’ analogy used in the comic. While being held captive Tony is assisted by another captive who helps him design the suit, a man named …once again… Yinsen. Instead of being portrayed as an innocent Vietnamese this time, Yinsen is an innocent Afghani.
Personally I feel Yinsen is the problem with these depictions. It paints a very black and white picture of what these international conflicts are like. It attempts to illustrate that the educated Afghani or Vietnamese commoner believes that America is a liberator that fights for others freedom. Any thinking person understands that any use of military is questionable. The saying ‘no more blood for oil’ is just one example of millions that demonstrate that war isn’t black and white, rather it is something that needs to be discussed. Iron Man, from its first comic book and its first blockbuster would have you believe the United States is nothing but a liberator whose military tactics are always justified as characters like Yinsen are grateful for United States involvement.
Stan Lee, the creator of Ironman had this to say reflecting on these early Iron Man stories. “In those days we were of a more unsophisticated bent, seeing things in terms of black and white. The communists were the bad guys and we were the good guys.” My question is this, has Iron Man’s purpose changed since 1963? Or he is still the same simplistic propaganda machine?