Iron Man, Batman and the innovation superhero

May 4, 2013

If you say “innovation” (which we should, apparently, do even more sparingly than before, but more on that later), then it’s not surprising that, especially this week, the words “Iron Man” will be in close proximity.

This film publicity image released by Disney-Marvel Studios shows Gwyneth Paltrow as Pepper Potts with in a scene from "Iron Man 3." (AP Photo/Disney, Marvel Studios)
This publicity image released by Disney-Marvel Studios shows Gwyneth Paltrow as Pepper Potts in a scene from “Iron Man 3.” (AP photo/Disney, Marvel Studios)

That’s right, Tony Stark & Co. are back in “Iron Man 3,” which critics have largely heralded as a rip-roaring, action-packed romp of a good time. WTOP film critic Jason Fraley offers a glowing review, writing simply: “Take note, Marvel: This is the direction you need to go.”

Vibe’s Kevin Clark writes that the entire Iron Man franchise may go down in history as “Marvel’s best ever.

One of the more interesting reviews, which is really more of an analysis of the plot’s deeper questions (well, as deep as an action film can go), appears in comic-book form over at Wired. Laura Hudson, Jim Rugg and Thomas Orzechowski collaborated to create the illustrated review/analysis of the film, with Hudson’s writing combining with Rugg’s artistic talents and Orzechowski’s lettering. Wired, overall, has a pretty comprehensive repository of Iron Man coverage, with a timeline of Iron Man suits over the past 50 years and, my personal favorite, Graeme McMillan’s tour through what it would take to create your own Iron Man.

This film publicity image released by Disney-Marvel Studios shows Robert Downey Jr. as Tony Stark in a scene from "Iron Man 3." (AP Photo/Disney, Marvel Studios)
This publicity image released by Disney-Marvel Studios shows Robert Downey Jr. as Tony Stark in a scene from “Iron Man 3.” (AP photo/Disney, Marvel Studios)

But is Iron Man really the superhero of choice for the innovation set? Yes, the suit is jaw-droppingly complex, and it helps when you have billions (trillions?) in R&D funding at your disposal to perfect your idea. Being a seemingly unbridled genius doesn’t hurt, either. But let’s set aside the Marvel world for a second and travel on over to D.C. Comics to consider another widgets-and-gadgets superhero. That’s right, what about Batman?

In this file film image provided by Warner Bros., Christian Bale portrays Bruce Wayne and Batman in a scene from "The Dark Knight Rises." The Dark Knight Rises" stayed atop the box office for the second straight weekend, making just over $64 million. But it's lagging behind the staggering numbers of its predecessor, 2008's "The Dark Knight." (AP PHoto/Warner Bros., File)
In this file film image provided by Warner Bros., Christian Bale portrays Bruce Wayne and Batman in a scene from “The Dark Knight Rises.” (AP photo/Warner Bros file)

He’s rich, smart and fueled by an almost singular desire to fight crime, and boy does he have an arsenal of creative tech at his disposal:

Granted, Bruce Wayne doesn’t tinker with the technology himself, at least not to the extent Stark does. That damages his chances of unseating Stark as the innovation superhero of choice. But sometimes even financial backers are key to great innovation. Think venture capitalists and angel investors — people with means and a shared passion or common goal. They can be a critical bridge between a great idea and its transformation into a great product — or evil-obliterating weapon. While Batman isn’t necessarily creating the tech himself, he’s certainly doing his part to finance its development.

Then there’s the question of innovative problem-solving: Who does it better? Stark, arguably, takes on the process twice over in both developing his suit and then manipulating it against technologically daunting bad guys. Batman, on the other hand, leverages complex technologies created by others to hold his own alongside the likes of Superman. Ah, but then there’s Thor…

It’s the weekend — one that arguably belongs to Iron Man. But if you have some time and are looking for an interesting discussion over dinner (or in the comments section), ask your friends: Who in the world of innovation — Batman or Iron Man — comes out on top?

For what it’s worth, in at least one fight, Batman’s winning.

Have a great weekend, and if you watch “Iron Man 3,” let us know what you think in the comments — and, of course, who reigns as the innovation superhero.

Update May 6, 4:55 p.m.: We’ve received some pretty awesome responses on Twitter:

And then, from our own Vivek Wadhwa:

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