Warning: Its about to get personal.
In the superhero world, and in our world, no one wants to watch someone pick up the pieces. Every story is set up so that it is steadily rolling to the climax, the most challenging moment. The hero faces his greatest foe, and whatever that entails… And then its over. The credits roll. The book runs out of pages. No one shows how the character reacts to all the shit that just happened.
That never used to bother me. I didn’t even notice it, until my parents passed away. Without a doubt, that was the worst moment of my, admittedly short, life. That was my challenge, the climax of my story. Except life went on. And it kept going on, even at times when I was convinced it couldn’t. My parents died when I was 21. That means, if I live as long as the average human, I will live without them longer than I lived with them.
Tony Stark has always seemed to me like a reactionary superhero. A lot of the choices he makes, he does so while influenced by a trauma or a fear or a situation out of his control. He built his first suit to escape a terrorist group who was holding him hostage and became Iron Man initially because he felt responsible for his weapons being in the hands of those same terrorists. The examples are there in every movie: forming the Avengers, building Ultron, agreeing to the Accords, his fight against Steve and Bucky.
A key part of Tony’s character is that he feels alone. This stems from his not-so-great relationship with his father and the shocking death of his parents at a young age (17, I think). That is certainly a feeling I can relate to. Your parents are the people who are supposed to love you the most, more than anyone else in the world. When they’re gone, you lose that love, and it leaves a hole that can never be filled, no matter how many people love you or how much they love you. My man Tony and I, we struggle to escape that loneliness, while, at the same time, we isolate ourselves because we know how the loss of love feels and don’t ever want to feel it again. Wow. That got sad. What I’m saying is I understand Tony simultaneously craving and fearing affection from others.
There are many instances in the Marvel Movies that I could point to that show Tony dealing with the loss of his parents, but I want to focus on one scene in Civil War.
Binarily Augmented Retro-Framing. An extremely costly method of hijacking the hippocampus to clear…traumatic memories. It doesn’t change the fact that they never made it to the airport, or all the things I did to avoid processing my grief.
I love this scene. I love it. I love it. I love it. I told my therapist about this scene. Tony spends millions of dollars to try to “fix” his last moment with his parents. 20+ years later, their deaths are obviously still bothering him and he’s trying to recover. Grief, and what comes along with it, is almost never accurately shown in movies. The existence of the trope Conveniently an Orphan is proof enough. So, either the person is seemingly unaffected, or the person is damaged forever and the loss ruins the rest of his life due to unresolved emotional issues, like Batman.
Tony is different. No, he isn’t a model of mental health either, but he is trying.
“I saw young Americans killed by the very weapons I created to defend them and protect them, and I saw that I had become part of a system that is comfortable with zero accountability.”
“Pepper, it’s me. I’ve got a lot of apologies to make and not a lot of time. So first off, I’m so sorry I put you in harm’s way. That was selfish and stupid and it won’t happen again.”
Tony isn’t perfect; He’d be the first person to admit that. What makes him different is that he realizes he makes mistakes and tries to learn from them. He’s also the only superhero whose mental health is a major part of the narrative. One of the main storylines of Iron Man 3 was the fact that Tony was not mentally well, to the point he was having panic attacks.
Being an orphan is not unique in the superhero world, but spending time on mentally coping with the feelings that come along with being an orphan is. That scene from Civil War was, as I already said, very personally impactful. My mother’s death was a long time coming, so I was actually able to “say goodbye” and tell her how much she meant to me, but my father’s death was extremely sudden. Not being able to “say goodbye” to him still haunts me. I wonder what I’d say if I got the chance. Maybe the same as Tony.
“I love you, Dad, and I know you did the best you could.”