By the mid-80’s, the Marvel Universe was awash in mysticism. Below are a few of the more infamous examples...
1. A group of nine heroes and NPR Talk of the Nation host Neal Conan become trapped in a Dallas high-rise trying to prevent the Native American spiritual embodiment of mischief from destroying reality. The demon’s magical activities cause dinosaurs, cavemen, and a regiment of Vietnam-era soldiers to become displaced in time and many escaped into the city. After a prolonged battle, the heroes force the spirit into a collapsible extra-dimensional gateway by sacrificing their own lives but are magically resurrected moments later in Australia by Merlin’s immortal daughter. Conan survives and broadcasts the act of selflessness to the world.
2. When a mugger dons a magical amulet he is possessed by an ancient sorcerer who uses his powers to transform New York City into a medieval dystopia. Most of the city’s residents are unable to remember their former lives and those with super-powers are hunted and killed. A group of deformed outcasts emerge from underground tunnels and terrorize the population until their former leader and an African woman who controls the weather join forces with a 1000-year-old vampire to steal the amulet. A different sorcerer and a teenage Russian magically create a rift in time that allows an android from the future to kill the mugger and prevent the transformation from ever happening.
3. After a cosmic entity possesses a powerful telepath, her clone is distorted into a magical Goblin Queen who leads a demonic invasion of Manhattan. Many of the city’s heroes are tainted by evil spirits and, except for the few made of organic metal which is a naturally resistant to magic, do little to stop the assault. The tide is turned only after the same teenage Russian opens a portal into a parallel universe and casts the horde out of the city. As a consequence, she de-ages into a seven-year-old. The residents of New York awake from the onslaught and the ones who have not been devoured by demons assume they have experienced a mass hallucination.
4. In a moment of frustration, a crippled surgeon cracks his walking stick onto a boulder and is surprised to find himself transformed into the Norse God of Thunder. His adopted brother becomes jealous of his abilities and uses the enchantment afforded to him by his Ice Giant father to turn the surgeon into a giant, hammer-wielding frog.
Like much of the criticism directed at Dr. Strange, readers became dissatisfied with this Deus Ex Machina aspect of Marvel’s storytelling. By the early 90’s, most of the most of the villains employed magic where quietly cast aside in favor of those whose powers were based on some sort of scientific explanation, no matter how absurd. It’s why Dr. Doom, who often relied of mysticism, fell out favor after being the Marvel Universe’s primary antagonist for most of the 70’s. Conversely, characters like Venom, who powers originate via alien biology, or Apocalypse, who can mentally manipulate his body’s own atomic structure and preaches survival of the fittest, gained in popularity.
Of course there are several classic plotlines from the mid-80s, but most readers still roll their eyes or groan when these mystically based story arcs are referenced. Similarly, time will show that the charade of Iron Man’s exponentially growing powers should be treated the same way.
Marvel’s biggest mistake in this embarrassment was allowing the readers to submit a parallel ranking next to their own. During the short run of the trading cards, each character’s statistics would have been collected by the company’s expert unit of scholars and historians. While small variations in some categories could be expected as the technology in Iron Man’s suit improved or the story line evolved, any dramatic outliers in the accepted levels of his powers would be smoothed out in the evaluation process.
The voting public, on the other hand, are morons. The last ten years has seen Iron Man became central to the Marvel Universe and this prominence has evidently led to the swelling of abilities. He was appointed the director of S.H.I.E.L.D., played a major role in the Civil War, indirectly caused the death of Captain America and was accused of cowardice at best and treason at worst during the Skrull Invasion. And then there was the movie. The resulting attention meant Marvel was obligated to reconcile the wildly inflated scores submitted by the public with the system they had maintained for several decades. In other words, they were forced to round up.
So where does that leave us today? Iron Man is now as smart as Reed Richards, as strong as the Hulk, as fast as the Silver Surfer and can project energy as well as Galactus. He’s also more durable the physical manifestation of Death itself and will never lose in combat since only the universe itself has better fighting skills. Welcome to Marvel Comic’s steroids era.
And what happens in 20 years? The Civil War will be a classic story, the Skrull Invasion will be forgotten and this near-invincible Iron Man will be considered as laughable as a Thunder Frog.