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Hero's Journey in the Iron Man Movie and Homer’s Odyssey

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“A hero is an ordinary individual who finds the strength to persevere and endure in spite of overwhelming obstacles,” said by Christopher Reeve when defining a hero. This quote perfectly describes the main character from the movie Iron Man, where a world-renown engineer builds a super-suit complete with futuristic weapons to save the world . Many worlds and multiple millennia apart from Iron Man is Odysseus from The Odyssey, written by Homer, who follows the same basic hero’s journey. Iron Man is about a revolutionary entrepreneur who creates weapons of mass destruction and who eventually builds a suit of armor to save the day. The Odyssey is about a Greek king on his way home from the battle of Troy, the challenges he encounters during his journey and how the gods influence his path. But in the basic structure of both stories is an old pattern that is very common today. The “Hero’s Journey Archetype” is a well known story pattern used in almost all types of written and visual media. In comparing the two forms of media, The Odyssey and Iron Man, which have two obviously different heroes and different respective journeys, it is revealed just how prevalent the hero’s journey archetype is to today’s story-tellers as it was to Homer in the days of old.

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The first part of the hero’s journey entails the “Ordinary World”, the hero’s life before the story or journey takes place. Next is the “Call to Adventure” where the hero is given a problem in which he must undertake. The hero then can “Refuse the Call” usually out of fear or intimidation by the challenge. The hero also meets a mentor to receive advice, support and confidence in preparation to face the adventure. Lastly, in part one of the hero’s archetype is “Crossing the Threshold” which is the first event that separates the hero from the real world as he enters the special or super world. The closest thing Odysseus has to an ordinary world is in Book I of The Odyssey, living with the witch goddess Calypso on the island of Ogygia. This is ordinary to Odysseus because he lives there for seven years and this is the most ordinary everyday lifestyle of drinking and feasting that he experiences. The ordinary lives of both Odysseus and Tony Stark, from Iron Man, have in common that they are both playboys of their times. Odysseus is seduced and unfaithful with Calypso during his seven year stay and Tony Stark is known for his reputation with women and how he can never commit to just one. Tony Stark’s ordinary world also consists of a casual life of luxury and being a well-known scientist creating weapons of all sorts. In Book V of The Odyssey, Odysseus’ call to adventure takes place while still on Calypso’s island where Hermes the messenger god demands to Calypso that Odysseus be set free: “That’s the man, and the orders are to send him away at once; for it is not his fate to perish in the place far from his friends. It is decreed that he shall see his friends again, and return to his native land”(Homer 64). This allows Odysseus to finally leave the island of Ogygia and to set sail on his journey home. In the more modern take, in Iron Man, Tony Stark is involved in a military convoy after a weapons demonstration in the Middle East. After taking fire from so-called terrorists, with weapons that he created, he is imprisoned by a military force in Afghanistan. While in captivity Stark builds a robotic iron suit from scrapes of weapons given to him by the terrorists. Both calls to action are prevalent. Though each hero is called to accomplish a different task for a different goal for their respective journeys, the one similarity between the two is that both of their calls are to escape from somewhere, Odysseus, being on an island with a goddess and Stark being held in a cave by terrorists. Odysseus refuses his call of liberation by not taking the words of Calypso seriously. He does not trust her devious mind and does not think that she will ever let him go as easily as she does. On the other hand there is not a direct refusal of the call in Iron Man because Yinsen, another scientist oppressed to captivity by the Afghans, is able to convince Stark of his call to adventure. This occurs while being held captive in the enemy cave with Yinsen, after Yinsen decides he will sacrifice his life for Stark. During Yinsen’s dying declaration, he provides support, guidance and motivation to Stark by telling him not to give up and not to waste his intellectual gift, “Don’t waste it…Don’t waste your life, Stark” (Iron Man). Although Stark may have required some additional convincing, there is no direct refusal of the call as a result of his mentor Yinsen. Odysseus receives courage and wisdom from Athena throughout his journey. Athena plays a role as Odysseus’s mentor, counselor and aide to his son Telemachus on his journey to find his father. Tony Stark also receives confidence from Yinsen as the two are imprisoned together. Although unaware initially, Yinsen saves Tony’s life by creating an electromagnetic power source to keep deadly pieces of shrapnel from getting into Tony’s heart after the rocket attack. Yinsen teaches Stark the greatest lesson of all which is self sacrifice. Because of Odysseus and Stark’s associations with mentors their paths are influenced immensely by the pride, confidence, and wisdom of their influential beings. In Book V of The Odyssey, Odysseus steps into the special world when he leaves Ogygia and sets sail for Ithaca to reach his wife, son and kingdom in distress. Odysseus’ ability to finally set sail and leave a past of inactivity and occurring obstacles connects the idea that Odysseus is “Crossing the first threshold”. Also entering a new world, Stark improves the original power source made by Yinsen as he puts on the iron suit for the first time and makes the decision to fight his captures. He was just an ordinary man and now he is fighting terrorists in a homemade super suit using tools he creates to shoot flames, fly and fire bullets. This event marked the start of Stark’s new life. As both Odysseus and Stark enter the new world, they leave a prior period of oppression with new hopes of freedom and a bright future ahead.

In the second part of Odysseus and Tony Starks journeys their worlds are changed forever as their experiences take both a mental and physical toll on them in similar ways. In the second part the hero meets his allies, enemies and takes his first tests in the new world. The hero then faces setbacks and questions his abilities and needs to reevaluate his plan on life. After the setbacks the hero comes into contact with his biggest ordeal which enables him to fully understand his purpose and abilities, enabling him to move forward toward the hero’s greatest crisis. The last component of part two is the hero earning a reward for his actions during the ordeal and surviving the crisis to overcome fears. In Book V of The Odyssey, Odysseus faces one big challenge, Poseidon. After Odysseus sets sail for multiple days, Poseidon, the god of the seas, hears about Odysseus liberation from Calypso’s Island and immediately tries to make Odysseus’ path worse. He causes a storm to wreck Odysseus’s ship and sends him to the Island of the Phaeacians. The Phaeacians act as Odysseus’s ally by giving him a ship to get back home to Ithaca. Although it seems like the journey for Odysseus is coming to an end his greatest ordeal is yet to come. As for Tony Stark, he is consumed by his own conscience and disconnects from the real world in his state of mind. He defies his ally, Obadiah Stane and attempts to pull Stark Industries out of the weapons business. Stark retreats from the political and social spotlight by hiding in his workshop and making improvements to his first iron suit. His first test occurs while being chased by the US military as he tests his new suit and learns how to use all of his gadgets and gizmos. He also is tested by flying to the Middle East and destroying weapons his company manufactured that are in enemy hands. Similarly, Odysseus and Stark both have to overcome multiple tests and learn who they can trust along the path of their journeys. A difference between the two plots is that Odysseus is given tests by the gods while Iron Man approaches the tests on his own. In Book XIII of The Odyssey, Odysseus then prevails “The Approach” of the hero’s journey when he finally steps foot on his homeland at Ithaca. Odysseus is challenged by his mentor Athena who tells him to contact Eumaeus and ask for assistance as he approaches his kingdom. Eumaeus teaches him what he needs to do to take down the suitors. Odysseus also meets with his grown son Telemachus as they construct a plan to return the kingdom to Odysseus and regain his wife Penelope. On the other hand, Odysseus never directly hits setbacks but does reorganize with his helpers. Stark does have setbacks as he reevaluates his iron suit because of an icing problem that occurs at high altitudes. He is also having issues with his assistant, Pepper Potts, who is frustrated with Stark because of his lack of involvement with his company in the real world. His ally, Obadiah, begins to squeeze Stark out of the company as Stark enters the new world and becomes more powerful as a hero. In Book XXII of The Odyssey, Odysseus’s grand ordeal without a doubt is his confrontation with the suitors and the others who betray him: “…not if you would give me your whole estates, all you now possess, and more if you could get it, not even so would I stay my hand from killing until every man of you shall have paid in full for his outrageous violence. Now the choice lies before you, fight or flight, if you wish to save you lives; but I do not think any one of you will escape sudden death” (Homer 244). Odysseus waits for the right time to strike then releases his rage disguised as an old man. Odysseus kills every suitor on his property and also kills the untrustworthy maids as his journey comes close to an end. In both The Odyssey and Iron Man both heroes face and overcome a near death situation utilizing the skills they have learned from their trials and tests. Stark’s main ordeal happens in the comfort of his very own house as his once ally Obadiah tries to eliminate him altogether by removing his energy source from his chest. Stark almost dies if not for the antique power source that his assistant Pepper Pots keeps for him as a memento. Both of the events these heroes face are near death though Odysseus is in battle while Stark is almost murdered by his once ally now enemy. In Books XXII-XXIII of The Odyssey, Odysseus earns a reward by taking control of his kingdom, taking back his wife Penelope, and reuniting with his son Telemachus and elderly father Laertes. In Iron Man, Stark survives death, rebuilds his final iron suit and starts to reassemble his life and conscience into a stronger more focused person. He is still between worlds as he continues to put the touches on his suit while re-evaluating his life. Both heroes’ rewards are not physical objects, but the ability to continue to live in Starks case and the ability to live in peace with family in Odysseus case.

In the final steps of the hero’s journey Odysseus and Iron Man make their way back to the ordinary world although in a new state of mind and being. The hero becomes reattached to the journey and takes the road back to the ordinary world. Next the hero comes very close to death and has to use everything he has learned through his challenges to come back to the ordinary world. Lastly, the final part of the entire journey is the return of the elixir allowing everyone to benefit with what the hero has brought back. In Book XXIII of The Odyssey, Odysseus’ road back to the real world is expressed when he goes to convince his father to live with him and come back with him so they can all live together in the now peaceful palace. In this final part of the journey Odysseus still has to face the fathers of the suitors who come to kill Odysseus because of his killing of their sons. Then Odysseus, Telemachus and even Laertes with Athena’s mentorship kill the furious men. In Iron Man we get a good look at a conflicted, brilliant, and sort of unstable guy who is trying to figure out where in society he fits in. These two road blocks are similar in the sense that Odysseus, now back in Ithaca in his palace also has to find where in society he fits in after being gone for so long and after killing many of the suitors. In Book XXIII-XXIV of The Odyssey, the representation of the resurrection in Odysseus hero’s journey is evident that he is brought back to the ordinary world since defeating his final enemies and he can now be relieved of violence and unfaithfulness which haunted him for twenty years. The resurrection of the hero is much abbreviated with no grandiose battle in The Odyssey in comparison to the threats Tony Stark faces in Iron Man. After perfecting the suit, but only having a limited supply of energy to power it, Stark must now go out and battle his enemy Obadiah, who creates a super suit of his own. This is a climactic battle scene where Stark needs to save mankind and his newly forming love interest in Pepper Potts. He also discovers his true self on his journey of discovery involving strength and courage. In the last stage of the hero’s journey archetype, in Book XXIV of The Odyssey, Odysseus returns with the elixir, his gift to humanity. Odysseus gives peace and happiness to his family as they are reunited in his palace as he once and for all lives as king: “But Zeus cast a blazing thunderbolt before the feet of Athena. Then the goddess said to Odysseus, ‘Odysseus Laertiades, prince never unready! Hold your hand, make an end of war and conflict, and fear the wrath of Zeus Cronides who sees all things.’ Odysseus obeyed gladly with all his heart. After this Palis Athenaia, daughter of Zeus Almighty, in likeness of Mentor and with Mentor’s voice, made peace between both parties and ended the strife forever”(Homer 271). A similarity between both elixirs in both stories is that both heroes have something to share with the world that they inhabit. Tony Stark returns to the real world at Stark Industries with more confidence and two things to share with the world. One is his new energy source which can be contained in large and small amounts, something Obadiah was not able to fully accomplish. A difference between the elixirs in Iron Man and The Odyssey is the way that in addition to offering intangible promises Stark also offers a physical object that can help the world. The other gift Stark offers is that he will help with the protection of his country which he declares during the final press conference at the conclusion of the movie when he exclaims, “I am Iron Man!”(Iron Man). Both heroes enter back into the real world in parallel ways and each bring their elixir to share with their perspective worlds, showing that the hero’s archetype is prevalent in all writings.

Utilizing the hero’s journey archetype, any two bodies of work can be compared. For example, The Odyssey and Iron Man which were created almost three millennia apart still follow the same general pattern. This shows that the hero’s journey archetype is still a prevalent idea used in modern society in mainstream media today. Even though the journeys of both Odysseus and Tony Stark are very different and they face different highs and lows, the basic path of their travels are very alike and just about identical. The hero’s journey gives the ordinary reader a method of relating to the hero. As the hero goes through the phases of their journey, the reader can visualize themselves as a hero of their own lives, living through the hero. This keeps the reader more connected with the story. People want to see themselves succeed while working toward a goal and overcoming adversity and using the heroes journey archetype, we can.

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