Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Iron Man and the Buddha

"No one saves us but ourselves. No one can and no one may. We ourselves must walk the path. "

~ Buddha

“The real meaning of enlightenment is to gaze with undimmed eyes on all darkness.” ~ Nikos Kazantzakis

"I had my eyes opened. I came to realize that I had more to offer this world than just making things that blow up. And that is why, effective immediately, I am shutting down the weapons manufacturing division of Stark Industries. " ~ Tony Stark

Long time comics reader that I am, I was there when Iron Man first appeared in 1963. I just saw the movie and was pleased, and a little saddened, to see that -- except for changing the 60s Vietnam location to a more contemporary Afghanistan -- the story stuck to the original source mythology.

I left the show feeling a little sad when i remembered that Jack Kirby, the comics genius who created Iron Man -- and Spider-man, X-Men, the Hulk and more -- never lived to see his work made into multimillion dollar movies and become a part of our cultural awareness. Kirby used a lot of mythic ideas. He would have been pleased to know that his heroes are ingrained into modern mythic consciousness.

It wasn't until I saw the movie that I understood what myth Iron Man recalled. There are a lot of archetypal elements: on one level Iron Man is a knight in modern armor or the hero who is granted magical weapons. He's also the next step after Superman. If Hercules was stronger than anything manmade in his time, and John Henry outperformed early steam technology, and Superman overpowered modern technology, then Iron Man goes them one better. He owns the technology.

But there's one more myth that I was surprised to find in Iron Man. The story of the man behind the armor is the story of Buddha.

Buddha didn't wear jet-powered armor or fire missiles and repulsor rays, but compare the stories. Prince Siddhartha was raised in luxury and priveledge in a palace. He left the palace one day and saw all the suffering in the world. He became enlightened and built the philosophy of Buddhism to try and save the people. Tony Stark was raised in luxury as the heir to his father's fortune and a billionaire weapons manufacturer in his own right. He went to Afghanistan and and was captured by terrorists. He saw the suffering his weapons caused. He built an Iron Man suit and used it to help the victims of his weapons, redirecting Stark Industries to more peaceful pursuits.

I'll leave it to others to argue whether Buddha's teachings of freedom from desires or Stark's repulsors would be more effective.

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