In 2013, the U.S. military began development of an ‘Iron Man’ suit – a powered, armored exoskeleton – heralding the possibility of technologically enhanced supersoldiers in the not-too-distant future. Despite the political and ethical dangers that supersoldiers pose, this paper proposes that the supersoldier – like Donna Haraway’s cyborg – also contains the potential to disrupt the hegemonic institutions of capitalism and nationalistic militarism that give it life. Marvel’s Iron Man is a direct beneficiary of the American military-industrial complex, and certainly the character functions as an evolving metaphor for American optimism regarding the role of technology in national security. In both comic and film incarnations, however, Iron Man continually rejects military control of his technology, and re-negotiates the relationship between technology and violence. As a cyborg, his integration with technology is ambivalent and painful as often as it is empowering. I will examine the Frankensteinian themes in the Iron Man mythos, especially in Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015) which can be read as a Frankenstein retelling. Iron Man’s desperate attempt to create a non-human protector for the Earth results instead in a hostile artificial intelligence, Ultron, who carries through on the threat delivered by Frankenstein’s Monster, builds himself a body, and turns against humanity. Crucially, however, Iron Man does this in a desperate attempt to make himself redundant, suggesting a deep discomfort with the concept of the supersoldier. In this paper I will suggest that although the supersoldiers of Iron Man are deeply rooted in privileged ideologies of wealth and war, like Haraway’s cyborg, they are “exceedingly unfaithful to their origins”.
Katherine Cox is a PhD candidate in Literature in SLLL. Her research interests include science fiction and fantasy, apocalyptic fiction, critical theory, film and game studies, and popular culture. Her doctoral project investigates the affective influence of national security in Marvel’s Iron Man (2008) and sequels.