I spent the last week in New Orleans for a conference…where I saw none of the city as I was stuck in 12+ hours of meetings/seminars/lectures every day. BUT I did direct some of my mental energy towards contemplating one of life’s biggest, most pressing issues. You see, Tony Stark and Bruce Wayne essentially have the same character framework. I’m not the first person to make this observation, but it’s true. Both are insanely wealthy. Both have brilliant minds. Both run huge companies. Both lost their parents when they were young (albeit in different circumstances). Both became superheroes. Both are founding/central members in one of their universe’s most important superhero teams – the Avengers and Justice League, respectively. Despite their similarities though, they are two VERY different characters with VERY different lives…which leads us to our BIG question – if you could choose, would you rather be Iron Man or Batman??
I think about this a lot. If I was to guess, on an average day, how many times I imagine Iron Man’s faceplate closing over my face as the armor seals up around me I’d have to say it’s in the neighborhood of a half dozen times…on a slow day. I imagine flying and what it would be like to try and balance myself with the repulsor jets in the armor’s gloves and boots. I imagine how the head’s up display in the helmet could incorporate as much as we see it do in the movies and comics. I imagine chatting with my little A.I. of choice. I can’t help it. My mind just naturally drifts there. More than once at this conference (like…so much more than once) I found myself drifting off in my head and thinking about what it would be like to live life as the Armored Avenger. This then lead me to think about how Iron Man and Batman are pretty much the exact same guy (except they are complete and total opposites (at least in all the ways that count (even if the framework of their character is essentially the same))). And this then led me to ponder if there were people who fantasized about being Batman in the way I was fantasizing about being Iron Man. And that, my friends, is what’s led us here.
The game, as usual, is fairly simple. If, given the choice, would you rather be the Batman or Iron Man? Now this doesn’t mean you have to literally be Bruce Wayne or Tony Stark, although you may choose that. Feel free to imagine yourself in their respective roles. So you may maintain your own gender and racial identity, etc. However you will fully embody their lives, characteristics, personality, tech, place in the superhero community, etc. and so on. For example, if Kalie chose to be Iron Man and chose to retain her gender, she’d still be a girl but she’d also be a snarky, cocky, genius, billionaire, playgirl, philanthropist – just like Tony. If she chose the Batman, and chose to retain her gender, she’d be a woman but she’d still be a grim, brooding, serious, cape-and-cowled, genius detective – just like Bruce. Get it? Okay, good. So now it is time to consider one of the deepest, most difficult questions human imagination has yet to yield….
Except it’s easy. Right? I mean, c’mon. It’s Tony Stark for the win, ten times out of ten. I’d pick Tony. You’d pick Tony. Literally anyone who is being honest with themselves would choose Tony Stark over Bruce Wayne. There’s no contest!!! Do you think I’m wrong? Really?? Huh. Well let’s consider the evidence and you can tell me what you think at the end.
I’m just going to come right out and say it at the start. People will say they want to be Batman because they think he’s cool. Yes, he’s dark and edgy and he’s trained his body to peak human perfection and blah, blah, blaaaaaah. But if you could honestly choose – if the two lifestyles were laid out before you and one of them would be yours with the push of a button – NO ONE is choosing Bruce Wayne. The man is too glum! No amount of cool-because-he’s-dark could counter the allure of Tony Stark.
Bruce loses his parents to a random act of gun violence when he’s a child. Then, as a character, Bruce essentially stops evolving. He spends his entire life as an emotionally stunted adult who is emotionally distant (at best) from his friends and loved ones and emotionally abusive (at worst) with them. He has no real, lasting friendships outside of those who are part of his war on crime. He doesn’t ever really share his feelings. And look at his track record as a legal guardian. Dick Greyson…Jason Todd…Tim Drake…all young men who faced tragedy in their own lives, only to be taken in by Bruce and turned into child soldiers for the Batman’s crusade.
And he lives in a cave under the ground! A dark, dank, musty CAVE that is UNDERGROUND. I’m sorry, who’s picking the Batcave over Avenger’s Mansion? Anyone? I can wait…
He pushes all of those who are “close” to him (obviously those quote marks around close are meant to be ironic because how close is anyone to Bruce Wayne??) away because he spends all his time living in his own head. He’s angry. He’s pretty emotionally disturbed too. Sure, he is perhaps the world’s greatest detective, but the guy also has plans to kill all of his friends should they ever go bad. Does that sound normal to you?!? Or, more to the point here, does that sound appealing to you? I say nay!
Also, despite all his brilliance, he essentially sticks to dressing in some combo of spandex and Kevlar, tucking all of his gadgets in his belt, gloves, boots, etc. So yes, I grant his suit looks cool (if you’re into flying rodents (which I am not (because (as I’ve mentioned once or twice before) I freaking hate rodents (with a burning, unholy passion (they are basically my living nightmare (and I maintain they (at least mice) are not of God)))))) but it’s still just spandex!
Yet perhaps the biggest hang-up Bruce has (and this is the main reason I can’t ever see anyone really choosing to be him if they had the for-real chance to choose) is he finds no fun in life. For Bruce, the whole playboy persona is an act. Who he really is, is a dour, lonely man with trust issues who spends all of his time engaged in a bloody war with the criminal elements around him. He is always working to save his city (or the world, depending on the adventure) but he never takes the time to enjoy what he’s protecting. What is the point of saving the world if you can never appreciate all the beauty in creation?
Now, I will grant Tony Stark can be an egotistical ass sometimes. And I grant he was way out of line in the First Superhero Civil War (although he was 100% right when it comes to the MCU Civil War). But when you close your eyes and think of Tony Stark – not Iron Man but Tony Stark – what comes to mind? You’re probably thinking of snark and parties and women (whether his playboy days or his “stable-ish” relationship with Pepper Potts) and flashy cars and you’re probably smiling, either because the lifestyle is appealing or because of some funny quip you’re remembering or imagining or both. That’s because Tony’s life is fun. And that, for the most part, is his real life too, not just some faux-life designed so people don’t realizes he spends his free time beating up criminals.
Part of the fun in his life comes from the joy he takes in his inventions. He doesn’t run a company as a front for a “normal” life nor solely to fund his war on crime. Tony legitimately loves building what he builds at Stark Industries! He’s as much involved with building things to make the world a better place as he is with designing new Iron Man tech. So he has a job he loves, a job he finds fulfillment in, a job that sincerely helps the world AND he gets to be his own boss while making a ton of money.
And while we’re on the design/tech note, his superhero suit is SO MUCH BETTER than the Batman’s. Again, let’s be serious. If you could really choose to wear the cape and cowl of the Caped Crusader every night for the rest of your life or fly around in a seemingly limitless supply of NEW IRON MAN ARMORS are you really going to pick Batman? A super sweet and sophisticated A.I. versus your poor butler giving you advice, state-of-the-art a/c and heating system versus sweaty and freezing, all manner of physical protection versus bruising with everything, vibrant colors suiting your mood versus blacks and greys, flying versus swinging and driving, a self-assembling suit versus putting it on yourself like a sucker with normal clothes…do I have to keep going? Stronger, faster, more advanced in every way – give me the Iron Man armor any day of the week.
Plus, look at the person Tony’s become. Yes, he’s cocky. Yes, he’s arrogant. But he’s risen above his emotionally fractured relationship with his father and the emotional stunting it caused him, not just in becoming a superhero but as a person. He’s learned how to have serious, monogamous relationships. He’s learned how to admit when he’s wrong (even if he doesn’t like to (but, then again, who does?)). Perhaps most powerfully of all, he’s confronted his alcoholism and is presently in recovery, finding time for AA meetings even as he battles threats all over the cosmos. He is a character who demonstrates growth. Sure, his lifestyle is fun and flashy. And yes, his Iron Man armor is CRAZY COOL. But if I’m picking the life of one of these characters for my own, I certainly want the one who can grow and develop, not the one wrapped in stagnation.
Plus, the man just has more charisma. Look at how Bruce Wayne tough talks Ra’s Al Ghul when he reveals the League of Shadows’ plan to decimate Gotham City in Batman Begins.
I mean, it’s alright. I’ll give him that. He’s certainly tough. But conversely, let’s look at how Tony Stark handles Loki as the God of Lies prepares to invade New York City with his Chitauri army in The Avengers.
I LOVE THIS SCENE. Is anyone really going to say, in the above situations, they’d rather be Bruce Wayne than Tony Stark? I think we all wish we could carry ourselves with that level of confidence and cool. And that’s part of what makes Tony Stark, Tony Stark. Joss Whedon captured it perfectly in The Avengers. Cap asks, “You’re just a man in a flashy suit. Take that away and what are you?” Without missing a beat Tony gives his (now iconic) reply, “Genius. Billionaire. Playboy. Philanthropist.” Who is saying “no” to that in favor of the grim, isolated Batman?
So I’ll say it. Batman kinda sucks and Iron Man totally rocks. And, if all of this doesn’t make it clear, let the wisdom of youth bring it all home for us.
So what to you think? Am I right? I’m curious if anyone out there can make a convincing case for why they would choose to be Batman…and in so doing if anyone can convince me that I’d be happier as the Batman. Because I’m not seeing it. As often as I think of this question, I can only see one believable answer here.
If you’d like to ponder other BIG Questions, you can let me know…