I have already covered Tony Stark’s descent into alcoholism. In truth, that article was very short-sighted on my part. I did not take into account that Stark’s transformation into Iron Man involved more than just the one disability, and that alcoholism is just part of the larger structure of Iron Man’s profile.
For starters, Stark became Iron Man because of a disability. No matter the origin you’ve read, you learn that Stark’s heart becomes injured as a result of war—Vietnam, Iraq, or otherwise. Because of his weakened heart, Stark must use a magnetic piece to keep shrapnel from killing him. This began the steps toward Stark creating the first Iron Man suit and heading down the road to crime fighting.
Iron Man’s origin is born from a conditional physical disability. His injury comes from war and would have killed him if he didn’t take steps to keep himself alive. I find it akin to the pacemaker: it keeps people alive and keeps hearts ticking, but it still is a foreign object designed to keep someone from succumbing to the weaknesses of being human.
Seriously though, I love that Iron Man’s origin can be found in a disability. Yes, he fights crime in a $1 billion suit, but as we learned from his bout with alcoholism, Stark is a loose screw. He could have crawled into a corner when he faced his mortality. He chose to build a one-man army.
But Stark’s disability woes don’t end there. After being shot and paralyzed by former love interest Kathleen Dare, Stark went through the mental trauma of losing his ability to walk, just the same as anyone would. Like in the alcoholism arc, Stark went through the seven stages of denial. While he could still fight crime because of the suit, he couldn’t walk as Tony Stark. That’s a stressful situation.
But it all went horribly wrong. Stark regained mobility through the use of a biochip, because magic.
Okay, not exactly magic. Biochips exist, but in the late 1980s and early 1990s, it was more of a theory then a legitimate piece of technology. Still, I should let that slide, because the biochip opened up a wonderful story arc.
In the arc, Stark’s chip was sabotaged by corporate foe Kearson DeWitt. Marvel’s official wiki page goes into deeper detail on the matter:
DeWitt hijacked the biochip and took control of Tony’s nervous system. Though Tony regained control of his body using his armor, but by the time he had defeated DeWitt his body was so damaged he could barely move. Tony donned a skintight neuronet suit to help him function, but his armor became the only certain way to keep himself alive.
As Tony’s health continued to deteriorate, he designed his variable threat assessment armor (model 11, also called the ‘War Machine’) and won back Stane International’s assets from its last owner, Justin Hammer. Succumbing to total nervous system failure, Tony seemingly died on an operating table.
That’s a heavy story, but from a disability studies standpoint, I can’t stand that he came back with a rebuilt nervous system and no emotional repercussions. Like I said above, Stark is a loose screw. Facing mortality should’ve had long-term results as opposed to just over the arc.
Stark’s character was built from a weakened psyche because of his near-fatal heart failure. The character, at times, rivals the inward struggle we all have to face. Stark may be a billionaire playboy, but he’s human too. Fear of dying is a crucial tool of Iron Man’s modus operandi. It’s okay to let his fears stand on their own merit.