Mid-Atlantic Popular &
American Culture Association

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Ultimate Trauma: Iron Man, Tony Stark, and America’s Chance to Rebuild

Samantha Atzeni (The College of New Jersey)
Presentation type: 

When the Ultimate series began in 2000, the Marvel Universe was unaware of how its change in the superhero canon would affect the current cultural climate. Suddenly, the Marvel superheroes had to answer the question: how do we combat real evil? Robert Downey Jr.’s Tony Stark answers this question for America when he is forced to build his Iron Man suit while held prisoner by terrorists. With the country in a tension-filled war, American audiences watched in terror and awe as Tony Stark manages to not only defeat his captors, but to turn his dire situation into a chance to fight the war on his own terms. Tony Stark is the new postmodern superhero: he has a destiny to help his country, but he also has a love of excess that often debilitates his abilities to function as a superhuman. The public’s disdain and fascination with the celebrity status of Stark can be juxtaposed with the global opinion of the United States. This new Tony Stark represents America’s view of the war: in order to restore order to the chaos from September 11th, we must jump into battle, armor ready and fists swinging as we hold our iPhones and shots of whiskey. At the same time, Stark also points out that this “old-fashion” American swagger is what landed him (and us) onto the battlefield. This presentation also plans to explore the depth of Tony’s relationship with Steve Rogers as both characters adapt to the real life threats and moral quandaries of the audience. Unlike Rogers, Stark never promises world peace, but to uphold American ideals through technoculture, guilty pleasures, and the need to win on a battlefield where civilization is merely a guideline.

Scheduled on: 
Thursday, November 3, 1:45 pm to 3:00 pm

About the presenter

Samantha Atzeni

I am a professor at The College of New Jersey in Ewing, NJ where I teach a freshman seminar course, “The Hero and Trauma,” and a writing course, “The Postmodern Superhero.” My research also extends to postmodern studies, Holocaust and genocide studies, feminist and cultural studies, and memoir and ethnography. I have published works of fiction as well, including the graphic novel “The MOTHER Principle” with Read Furiously.

Session information

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