This summer has the release of two of the most anticipated superhero films of all time: The Avenger and The Dark Knight Rises. Both films seem very different in terms of style, but have one thing in common: billionaire superheroes and their wonderful toys. I’d like to take this opportunity to compare and contrast these two similar, but different big screen heroes. They will be examined on the following areas: origins/motivation; methods; and themes.
We all know Batman’s origins. Bruce Wayne wants to avenge his parents’ death at the hands of Gotham’s criminals and tries to clean up Gotham. Iron Man’s are quite different. Arms manufacturer Tony Stark is kidnapped by whatever enemy the United States is fighting, and sees firsthand the destruction created by his weapons. He then vows to fight communism/terrorism/stop manufacturing arms depending on what decade/continuity it is. At least Batman’s consistent. Overall, the origins are similar in that it took these coddled rich boys, exposed them to life changing trauma and made them take up arms in the fight against injustice. Where their motivations diverge is that Bruce Wayne seems more focused on Gotham City, whereas Tony Stark is more global in scope.
Both of these superheroes rely on their genius intellects and gadgets to fight crime. Tony Stark though tends to be more of a heavy hitter than Batman. Look at his armor: rockets, repulsor blasts, lasers, flight, and various little gadgets he adds when needed. Batman stripped down to his basics can get by with some Batarangs, a grapple gun, a basic detective kit, and some smoke pellets. That’s because their methods differ. Batman is not only an expert hand to hand combatant, but also the world’s greatest detective. Most of his work is figuring whodunit and how and then beating them up. Iron Man tends to go up against more heavy hitters in terms of raw power than Batman and his armor reflects that. Both however do use their intellect to great advantage when fighting injustice.
Both series deal with similar issues, redemption and escalation. Bruce Wayne isn’t seeking redemption for himself, he seeks it for Gotham. He wants Gotham to be the city he knows it can be, a shining beacon of light. Tony Stark however is seeking redemption for himself and his family. His entire fortune is based on the sale and manufacture of weapons. He wants to end the pain and suffering that he feels responsible for and right the wrongs of him and his family. The series also examine the question of escalation. Is Batman doing more harm than good? It’s been put forth several times, including in The Dark Knight film that Batman leads to villains like the Joker because he ups the ante. His presence makes it possible for them to exist. Iron Man faces similar consequences. How many of his villains are essentially other people trying to copy his armor for their own purposes? Iron Man 2 dealt with this issue extensively. Tony Stark put this technology out there and it’s his job to deal with the consequences
Iron Man and Batman are probably the most grounded people in terms of superheroes. They don’t have special powers, or epic origins. They aren’t quite regular people, but they’re close. Both used their suffering and trauma as a motivation to make the world a better place. They want to see an end to injustice. And they both try to bring that about using only their innate wits and gadgets. They’re the superheroes we’re most likely to see, but hopefully won’t have to.
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