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Character Arcs Part 2: Arcs in Sequels and Series featuring Iron Man

Banes at 12:00AM, March 24, 2016

Today we'll talk sequel and series character arcs, and focus on the cinematic portrayal of Iron Man

Last Week we talked about character arcs. They're an important element of fiction writing…although a lot of the time, there is no arc! But a strong, unpredictable character arc can be a great help in driving a story from beginning to end, and making it a tale worth telling.

But what about sequels? And ongoing series, where the same characters appear over and over? How do we approach arcs in those cases? A few ideas occur to me…

The Slow Roll

Slow rolling is a poker term. As a big fan of that game, I couldn't resist!

This is where the progress of the characters happens very gradually over time. This is very common in modern TV shows, where an entire season of episodes is planned at once. The entire season or series is one long story, with a strong idea of where the character starts and ends (with room for side trips and nuance along the way).

A looser approach would be to focus mainly on the drama, mission, mystery, or comedic hijinks of the week, while gradually moving the characters to change.

One Day at a Time

A slightly different method would be to give the lead characters a strong emotional arc within each episode. The characters will generally not change completely of course, but each story will establish an emotional state at the beginning of the episode, and take them somewhere else by the end. I thought this was handled superbly for several seasons of the show Supernatural.

There was some big emotional thing with one or both brothers in almost every episode, which would of course match as a metaphor to whatever monster or ghost they encountered that week.

And again, another approach is to give the characters plot-related challenges in each episode, but have the characters remain pretty much the same. I get this sense from the various CSI shows (though I'm not sure, since i don't really watch) as well as comedies like 30 Rock and Two and a Half Men.


There are a LOT of sequels happening these days. In particular, the Marvel Cinematic Universe has been breaking new ground (in terms of movies) with their various interconnected films.

The Cinematic Universe began with Iron Man, and the character has undergone some pretty interesting ups and downs in his many films. This notion became clear to me when I saw the trailer for the Captain America: Civil War, which prominently features ol' Shellhead (as we used to call him in the comics).

Many sequels will pretty much put their characters through identical arcs as the first films. Ghostbusters, the new Star Trek films, American Pie…

Iron Man looks to be having a more interesting journey!

In the first Iron Man, it's a classic arc (and a brilliant movie). The selfish, narcissistic genius arms dealer grows up a great deal. Not only does he become a superhero, but he dismantles his own weapons manufacturing company and becomes a better man. He's still glib and somewhat narcissistic and arrogant, sure…but we kinda love that about him! He's no longer heartless, despite his artificial heart.

Iron Man 2 continues his progress in dealing with unresolved father issues.

The Avengers finds Mr. Bigshot still cocky and everything, but sees him (and the other heroes) go from fiercely independent to being a team player. Iron Man butts heads and then bonds with his fellow Avengers, and sacrifices himself for everyone in the end (only to be saved by the friends he bonded with).

Iron Man 3 continues from there. He's messed up about the experiences in the Avengers. He is isolating himself from his girlfriend and falls into some personal darkness. In the final moments, after he wins the day and then fixes something about himself…well, it makes me tear up a bit. Great ending there.

Where it gets really interesting to me is where he's at in Avengers 2: Age of Ultron. Tony sets the whole problem in motion. Because of his fear of more otherworldly invasions like in Avengers 1, he tries to set up a planetary defense system. An artificial intelligence that goes very, very wrong (as these things do). In the end (spoiler alert!), he leaves the team.

So this brings us to Captain America: Civil War, coming out later this year. This one seems to be about the Government intruding on the superhero community in some way, and demanding some kind of registration or something (I didn't read the Civil War comics). Some heroes are pro-government, while some are strongly opposed.

Maybe surprisingly, the rebellious Iron Man is pro government, while good boy Captain America is on the other side! Looks to be an exciting confrontation in the offing!

What I like about it is I can see the thread running from Avengers 2, with a Tony who wants to be in charge of protecting the planet, to the new Tony in Civil War, who realizes he got too big for his britches and is now very much in favor of being sanctioned. He feels he NEEDS that.

At least that's what I get out of it. But it made perfect sense to me, and I'm glad Robert Downey Jr. is interested enough to follow the character through these interesting pathways.

Though the bajillions of dollars may be part of that. But that's a whole other arc!

Okay, I'm running long again. Happy Thursday!




Banes at 9:34AM, March 27, 2016

thanks, Abt! Yeah, I see what you're saying there. You're right - that relationship could have been emphasized more. And as a huge fan of Jeff Bridges and his Obadiah portrayal, it was disappointing that he didn't show up in any of the sequels. It was not clear whether he lived or died at the end; Marvel certainly could've brought him back... if they and Bridges wanted to. Ah, well.

Abt_Nihil at 5:43AM, March 26, 2016

Great article! The one thing I felt could have naturally improved the first Iron Man movie was that it could have easily acknowledged how Obadiah Stane played the role of a father figure for Tony Stark, which would have added to the hero-villain dynamic, I think. For some reason, they just glossed over that, although I thought it was pretty obvious. Especially since you rightly point out that the movies deal with his "father issues", especially the second one.

takoyama at 2:16AM, March 25, 2016

joss whedon is good at developing a characters personality and having them grow over time, look at how cordelia changed and willow, sorry if that's not understood by non buffy and angel viewers. but tonys journey is a similar one to a lot of marvel characters that's what set them apart from DC characters they learned and grew usually from getting their powers. Dr Strange is a magical version of tony stark-arrogant until events led him to be humbled. Seeing this on the big screen makes you appreciate the groundwork Stan lee laid in so many characters origins.

Banes at 1:17PM, March 24, 2016

Thanks for reading it, KL; I ran out of time to edit to a more manageable length. Agreed on Supernatural - though that show did a masterful job of balancing the standalone adventures with the ongoing myth arc. I tried watching the whole thing, and they did some very cool stuff after the initial mythology was wrapped up. But I couldn't get through the entire thing...I think I made it through season 8? 9? Not sure...

KimLuster at 6:33AM, March 24, 2016

Very nice read Banes! You gave me insights into Tony Stark that I never noticed, but it's like bells went off after reading this!! Concerning Supernatural (and the one day at a time arcs)... Yeah, some shows that were slowly building for years need to know when to quit...! How do you revert back to day-to-day after the mega-epic arc that (essentially Biblical Armageddon) is done! After all that, to continue just feels weird...!

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