The jman Sayeth…: The Blessing (or curse) of RDJ

Whenever I pick up an Iron Man comic book (or a comic that features Iron Man) these days, I always start off reading him/expecting him to be Robert Downey Jr’s Tony Stark/Iron Man.  And, invariably, the Tony Stark/Iron Man in whatever book I’m reading at that moment is not portrayed that way.  He’s portrayed the way that so many talented writers and artist have shaped him over the years.  And there’s nothing wrong with that.  I just get a bit…disappointed. 

wait...that doesn't look like RDJ!

wait…that doesn’t look like RDJ!

I end up thinking to myself (who else would I think to?  You?), if I feel this way, I wonder what the general public thinks when they open an Iron Man comic book.  I wonder how the creators deal with that expectation when they write/draw this character.  Which brings me to the question of today’s article:  Is having a mega-movie and a mega-star good or bad for a comic book and the people who draw/write it day to day?

Ever since he blew up the role in 2008’s Iron Man, Robert Downey Jr has come to personify the spirit of Tony Stark. In my not so humble opinion, I don’t think anyone has come to embody a character so completely as RDJ and Tony Stark/Iron Man.  Suresuresure.  You can throw out Sean Connery and Bond.  Christopher Reeve and Superman, but for my money?  It’s Robert Downey Jr. all the way.

it's not a man-crush!  i totally respect the man's work!

it’s not a man-crush! i totally respect the man’s work!

Now, for sake of full disclosure, I’m going to sheepishly admit something here.  I probably identify with RDJ’s portrayal of Tony Stark far more than I should.  Because, believe you me, while I consider myself a genius, I’m no billionaire or a playboy.  I am kinda of a philanthropist, though (Ever been to my websites?  I give all my writings away for free!  Free entertainment.  Laffs for the masses!  Tell me that’s not philanthropy?!?!?). In any case, you see where I’m going with this.  I’m a bit biased.

Iron Man’s continued motion picture success can only be good for all parties involved, right?  Including all of us fanboys (and fangirls).  It brings attention to the character, the book(s), and really, all comics in general.  Most importantly, though, a successful superhero movie brings in new readers.  And for all that’s holy, we need fresh blood!  New readers are our lifeline.  Whether we care to admit it or not, us hardcore fans need newbies.  Like a vampire needs virgin blood, we need new readership.  But…that’s a tale for another day.

yessssss….fresh fanboy blood!

Iron Man (the movie), though, did exactly that.  It brought in more readers, a ton of them.  There’s a great website for comic books sales numbers.  It’s called (Let me tell you something, I did a lot of research for this article.  This is way more than my average shoot from the hip bullshit I usually post.  You can thank me later.  With Krispy Kreme donuts.)  I picked a “random” month in 2007.  April, actually.  A year and a month before the movie came out.  Iron Man sold 59,409 issues that month.  For May of 2008, when the movie hit, Iron Man sold 150,833 issues.  That’s almost 100,000 more issues over the prior year!

Invincible #1

Invincible #1

Now…are all these people walking into their LCS and expecting to see RDJ as Iron Man in the comic books?  I don’t know.  Probably.  Are they disappointed?  I don’t know.  In June of 2008, Iron Man sold almost 69,000 issues.  I am in no way shape or form saying the Iron Man books are bad.  I’m just saying that’s a heckuva drop off.

My point is this…when a book is getting a hundred thousand issue increase over the prior year (because of the movie premiere) and then quickly falling off in subsequent months, it’s got to affect the book creatively.  Robert Downey Jr’s portrayal of Tony Stark is not the Stark of the comics.  Tony’s not nearly as flip, colorful or…fun in the comics.

I’m not a comic book writer/artist.  I don’t even play one on TV.  But, if I were, it would seem to me that having a wildly successful movie is more of a curse than a blessing. Even though I personally liked RDJ as Tony Stark/Iron Man, doesn’t mean the writers/artists that do/have done the hard work on the book day in day feel the same way about RDJ’s portrayal.

issue 2

he did decline the paycheck…

Is it a blessing or a curse for Matt Fraction, who began writing Invincible Iron Man in July 2008, that Robert Downey Jr is what the public at large expects of Tony Stark?  Fraction’s Stark is far more serious than RDJ ever was.  The first few issues of Invincible back in 2008 had a bit of glibness to them.  But, by issue 8, the book had a decidedly more serious tone to it.

issue 8

And what about Salvador Larroca, the artist on Invincible back in 2008?  Is it a blessing or a curse for him that the movie is so popular, yet his Stark doesn’t look quite like RDJ?  Marvel hired Larroca to pencil his interpretation of Stark, not Robert Downey Jr’s likeness.  What was Larroca’s reaction when people opened the book to see a Stark without RDJ signature goatee (it’s really called a Van Dyke, but that’s neither here nor there)?

I don’t know.  I don’t know what the answer is.  What I do know, though, is that it was cool as shit when RDJ landed at Stark Expo, at the beginning of Iron Man 2, and the Suit-Up Gantry de-suited him.

That’s totally and completely me.  And if you don’t believe me, ask my kids, they’ll tell you…


Images courtesy of:

Image RDJ #1:

Movie poster:

Image RDJ #2:

Bela Lugosi:

Invincible Iron Man #1:

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