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Downey’s performance as Iron Man in “The Avengers” was balanced by strong performances by lesser-known actors in iconic superhero roles. Meanwhile, the influence of Downey’s portrayal as Tony Stark/Iron Man can be seen in the comic books, where a weird role reversal has taken place.
The comic-book version of Tony Stark now physically resembles the actor who plays him. Suddenly, Stark makes just as many quips as Spider-Man and could be categorized as aggressively shallow by superhero standards most of the time.
This is, no doubt, an attempt at corporate synergy on the part of Marvel Entertainment, but if Downey was of a mind to bite the hand that has fed him so well, he could conceivably sue Marvel for royalties. The character in the comic book is clearly crafted in his image now.
Now that “Iron Man 3” is in theaters, there will be debates among comic aficionados about what director Shane Black got right and wrong about the characters and the Marvel universe. Certainly the absence of a certain espionage group from the film is glaring and will be much commented on.
There are other gaps in the film’s logic that you’d never see in any self-respecting comic book, but the superhero-movie universe is a weird place. Superhero movies are more grounded in reality but less grounded in solid storytelling than the comics that inspired them.
Movie directors have found that they can get away with a whole lot more than their comic-book counterparts. They don’t have to worry about the squeamishness of fans caught up in the cult of comic-book continuity. Movie directors bringing comic-book mythology to the big screen aren’t oppressed by the burden of representation at all. For them, the bottom line is always the bottom line. Even the mightiest of heroes must yield to that.