By TOM MAY
Like many sons, author T. A. Barron wanted to do something to honor his mother. In 2000, he founded the Gloria Barron Prize for Young Heroes, an award that celebrates outstanding young leaders. Each year, 25 young people are recognized for their significant positive difference they have made for people and the planet.
The administrators of this prize recently polled American teenagers and asked them about their personal heroes. Their study found that only half of those teens surveyed could name a personal hero.
Who were the real people named? Not Washington, Lincoln, Ghandi or Mother Teresa. Most often they were the recent winners of “American Idol.” Not surprisingly, Spiderman and Iron Man were named twice as often as all of the real-life heroes combined.
Incredible special effects and the strong, quirky personality of actor Robert Downey Jr. have propelled Iron Man to incredible box office and merchandising heights. As of today, “Iron Man 3” stands as the fifth highest grossing movie of all time, with a super-heroic $1.18 billion worldwide. But the movie tickets — and popcorn we eat — is only the beginning of the money brought in by the franchise. Hundreds of products with the Iron Man brand have already flooded the market, including a Tony Stark T-shirt that has a light-up LED heart. Batteries sold separately.
Stan Lee, who got his start in the comic book industry by making sure that the artist’s inkwells never ran dry, could not have imagined the success that “Iron Man” would enjoy when he first penned the character in March. Lee wanted to create a hero who wasn’t born with special powers, but built them himself. He wanted to make a businessman be a hero — something that anyone could aspire to be.
Howard Hughes was the most colorful figure of the time and served as something of the prototype. Lee’s character, Tony Stark, would be an inventor, an adventurer, a billionaire, a ladies’ man and just something of a nutcase. In an interview after the release of the first “Iron Man” movie, Lee quipped, “I thought it would be fun to take the kind of character that nobody would like, none of our readers would like and shove him down their throats and make them like him.”
And like him they did. Iron Man’s beginnings find the Tony Stark character suffering a severe chest injury. Stark has been kidnapped by some of America’s enemies and his captors attempt to force him to build a series of weapons capable of mass destruction.
Instead, Stark builds a suit which saves his life and allows him to escape captivity. He later uses the suit to protect the world from the evil use of vast technology.
“Iron Man” story writer Gerry Conway once said, “Here you have this character, who on the outside is invulnerable, I mean, just can’t be touched, but inside is a wounded figure. Stan made it very much an in-your-face wound, you know, his heart was broken, you know, literally broken.”
Isn’t that a characteristic of the true hero?
Besides the amazing graphics, what captured my attention in “Iron Man 3” was the amount of time that Stark spent outside of the Iron Man suit. In the end, it wasn’t the suit that mattered. His courage and consistency had to be found, not in a suit of armor, but in the fabric of his weakest trait — his heart.
Maybe that is why the Bible says that in our weakness, God is proven strong. A real hero understands that who resides inside the armor is what is important. Even though we try to build up impenetrable walls, true strength is found inside the closed doors of the soul.
On our own, our weaknesses seem to be a liability. But when we allow God to work, the weakness becomes an overwhelming strength.
A vulnerable heart. It’s what really matters.
— Tom May is the Minister of Discipleship at Eastside Christian Church in Jeffersonville. He is an adjunct instructor in the Communications Department at Indiana University Southeast.