Arts & Entertainment: Local superhero aficionados weigh in on ‘Iron Man 3’

“Iron Man 3” was expected to be summer's first box office blockbuster. And, so far, the Robert Downey Jr. vehicle hasn't disappointed, having raked in nearly $200 million in overseas markets, as of Monday.

It opens here on May 3. So to mark the occasion, we assembled a team of local super-hero gurus to deconstruct the movie's Marvel Comics roots and speculate on what might come flying off the screen this weekend in brilliant 3-D.

Our panel included John Munn, longtime owner of the now-closed Comic Book Ink and current managing artistic director of Lakewood Playhouse; Jason McKibbin, avid comic book collector, co-founder of http://www.Comics-4-Kids.org and lead singer of local punk band I-Defy; and Eugene Kirk, the owner of Tricky's Pop Culture Emporium, recently relocated to Tacoma's Stadium District. "If if it was ever cool, I sell it" boasts Kirk.

We met at Dorky's Barcade to further amplify our team's ability to break down all things nerdy.

TW: So, we've seen movies based on the huge heroes – Batman, Spider-Man, Superman. Where does Iron Man rank?

McKibbin: If you would have asked me that question 10 years ago, I would have said he's almost a second-rate character. Not anymore. For years, in the comic books they've amped him up. And, ever since the first “Iron Man” movie came out, how many kids do you see running around wearing “Iron Man” stuff? I'd put him up there as one of the big five.

Munn: Because of (Marvel Comics') bankruptcy about five years earlier, they didn't have the rights to Spider-Man. They didn't have the rights to Fantastic Four. So they had to find the next piece that they had. And if they had a real entry point, a real everyman - a person like us that doesn't have super powers - you have to look at Iron Man.

TW: What I'm hearing from you guys is that he's a second-string character who's been elevated by the movie franchise.

Kirk: He's always been a second-string character. There had been no movies based on him, maybe one cartoon. As much as you like certain (comic book) story arcs, there's no “Dark Knight Returns.”

Munn: There is. There's “Demon in a Bottle” (a nine-issue run from 1979, briefly hinted at in “Iron Man 2.”) That was his battle with alcoholism in the '70s. He's also one of the original Avengers, and they always had a plan that if this (movie) works they've got pieces that they can extend.

TW: Apparently, Robert Downey Jr. got paid $50 million for “The Avengers.” What is he doing right, and what are they doing right with the franchise?

Kirk: He is amongst the biggest international movie stars. A Will Smith is huge in America and is not huge in China, for example. (“Iron Man 3” has) been edited to include extra scenes from China, taking in this huge, new market. So, A, you've got the biggest international star – one of 'em, anyway. B, you're making a special cut for 1 billion Chinese customers. It's an example of absolutely very savvy global marketing. If you read the paper today, it's already opened bigger than “The Avengers” (the third highest grossing film of all time at more than $1.3 billion.)

TW: I'm not so familiar with the villain, the Mandarin. What's up with this character that Ben Kingsley is playing?

Munn: He is, originally, one of the most horrid stereotypes in comics. I'm not going to go into all the negative stereotypes that he embodies in the '60s, but (they touch on) everything that was negatively thought about anybody of Japanese, Chinese background.

TW: So he was kind of a Ming-like character, or a Fu Manchu.

Munn: Right down to the bad, written accent. But what he has is the rings. Each one of those rings represents a symbol of mystic power. I'm not going to say what those are going to be used for, but they open up possibilities for future films, like “Dr. Strange.”

The other two plots it looks like they're working on is one by (comics writer) Warren Ellis, which is the “Extremis” plot (a six-issue story arc from 2005.) The other cool thing is Iron Patriot was introduced in “Spider-Man” comics as Norman Osborn inside the armor. They can't use that character, so they changed it to Don Cheadle's character (James Rhodes, a.k.a. War Machine.)

TW: So what are your hopes and expectations for this film?

McKibbin: I'm hoping the “Iron Man 3” movie is way the hell better than “Iron Man 2.”

Munn: That's simple.

McKibbin: I actually think it’s going to step things up an emotional notch. I think it's going to get young people, and people in general, more invested into the whole universe and everything that is going to happen. I look forward to taking my 4-year-old son to it. I think he's gonna have a blast.

Kirk: What I really enjoy is the wave of toys that will come from this movie, which is gonna be fabulous. They take it up a notch every time a sequel comes out.

I'm just fascinated to see how global this can be, because it's been designed from the ground up to be something that could play the whole planet.

Munn: If you look at “Iron Man,” they're very much like the Rocky movies. The first one, he's just learning how to do it, and then he fights this big guy at the end and still wins. Then the second one, he got the dose of fame and didn't really know what to do with it (but) got his mojo back. This is the one where, if there's a character arc, (writers ask) how do you responsibly deal with power and use it in a positive way?

He died in New York, but he also sacrificed himself for the first time. His story line in “The Avengers” is that you don't really care about the people you protect. It's more about you. Now it's the other side of that. Emotionally, where does he land at the beginning of this film and the end of this film?

This is part of the conversation, which continues online at http://www.tacomaweekly.com.

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