Men of Iron is writer-illustrator Howard Pyle’s popular tale about the adventures of knights in shining armor. Originally published in 1891, it’s full of colorful detail about the 15th century English system of attaining knighthood, a lengthy and often bloody process. It also contains a romance. The hero, Myles Falworth, woos and eventually wins Lady Alice, a resident at the noble house where he spends many months going through squirehood to become a knight. A tale of knighthood just wouldn’t be the complete without a highborn lady to whom the hero can aspire.
Flash forward to today, and there is “Iron Man,” the movie made from the comic book. Superheroes are modern knights. They follow an implicit code of honor that requires them to do good, and of course to rescue damsels in distress. And they have power beyond that of the ordinary man with which to accomplish their noble deeds.
Spoilers ahead, but not big ones.
I like movies in which things blow up. And I’m a longtime comics fan. So I went to see “Iron Man.” Lots of things blew up, which made me happy. But something else occurred that made me happier. Pepper Potts, the devoted secretary to Tony Stark, the billionaire industrialist, may or may not be secretly in love with him. And they do flirt once and almost kiss. But it goes no farther, and when Tony tries to build on it another day, Pepper shuts him down. This is so refreshing. In the comic books on which this movie was based, Pepper Potts has a very longstanding professional relationship with Tony Stark, but it does not move into romance right away. In fact, she first has a funny romance with the comical ex-boxer chauffeur, Happy Hogan. The movie was true to the character’s origin story in that respect. And it was true to the needs of romance, because there was a bit of wooing, but no bedding of the heroine. Yes, Tony Stark does have a cheap one-night stand with another woman, à la “Jerry Maguire.” He does have a playboy jerk reputation to uphold.
Still, “Iron Man” was romantic, despite all the things blowing up (and crashing, and shattering, and so on). Romance is about the development of a relationship. In this movie, we see the beginning of one, and no more. We are left with something to look forward to. Contrast that with those old Batman movies in which sex is merely dessert after a first date. No romance. No development of a relationship. Very disappointing.
A friend of mine said he was disappointed because in the almost-kiss scene Pepper is the one who moves in for the kiss. He felt it broke with the characterization. And he also believes that as two people who have forged a longtime work relationship, the sex issue would have been resolved long ago. I thought it was credible that Pepper could be confused fleetingly, and follow her instincts. Anyway, thank goodness, the scene ends without anything more happening. I got very ticked off at the Michael Keaton Batman movies in which women would appear and would immediately have sex with Bruce Wayne. It demeaned them. But then, those were mean-spirited movies. How else to explain the one in which women kept being thrown off buildings?
Of course times have changed since Howard Pyle was writing about knighthood, and since it even existed as a system in one small country for a short period of time. Still, in various eras, knighthood in one form or another has captured people’s imagination. The Iron Man movie is yet another version of these traditional tales. And no tale of a knight in shining armor is complete without a ladylove to be wooed. I’m so glad that Pepper is there (in ridiculously high heels) upholding her part of the tradition.