One of the best superhero comics on the shelves lately has been Invincible Iron Man, written by Matt Fraction and illustrated by Salvador Larroca. The book captures the wonderfully fun tone of the Iron Man movies but still maintains its own identity without confounding new readers who might be coming to the series after enjoying one of the films. That’s no mean feat, and Fraction should be commended for those efforts, as well as turning Tony Stark into this charming, libidinous sci-fi capitalist who you’d love to hang out with but would never leave alone with your girlfriend … or your multinational corporation.
However, starting with last month’s issue, something odd happened with the visual portrayal of the main character. I don’t mean Iron Man (who’s sports a sleek new armor design). I’m talking about Tony Stark.
As of issue No. 25, the role of Tony Stark was being played by … Josh Holloway?
That’s right, Sawyer from Lost has made the jump from the small screen to the small page.
Personally, I’m not all that bothered with an illustrator who “borrows” a face for a fictional character. There’s a long history of comic book artists using actors as the models for their characters. Fred MacMurray was the visual inspiration for Captain Marvel (the Shazam! version), and the creators of the comic Wanted based the look of their main characters on Eminem and Halle Berry in an effort to get them interested in playing the roles in a film version. (It didn’t work; James McAvoy and Angelia Jolie got the parts instead.) Of course, not all comic book fans are as charitable as I am, and some comics fans can become quite outraged over an artist lifting a famous face or swiping from porn poses as well as other artists.
What throws me off, though, is that Tony Stark already has a celebrity face: It’s Robert Downey Jr. The guy who has played him–fantastically, I might add–in two highly successful Iron Man movies and will be reprising the role for an Avengers film and probably Iron Man 3. If you’re going to use an actor as a model for Tony Stark, why aren’t you using RDJ? Using an actor who is notable as one of the most popular characters (sorry, Sawyer, you’ll always be behind Hurley) on the most talked about show right now is just distracting.
The most puzzling example of Holloway’s “modeling” comes in the final panels of Invincible Iron Man #25, as Tony Stark “suits up” into his new armor, which he redesigned that issue.
I wouldn’t have noticed the similarities between the above paparazzi shot and Larroca’s illustration if hadn’t been for the following panel in the comic …
… where the artist renders the identical pose Holloway strikes in a cologne ad, just throwing in a high-tech repulsor unit, some muscularized undersheath and armor plating to make it more Iron Manly.
I don’t have any interest on whether this practice is unethical or just the price of doing business in the entertainment business. Has Holloway’s image and likeness been wrongly appropriated? Is Larroca just tracing and not illustrating? Has the artist created a substantially transformative work using these photo references?
I don’t know, and I don’t plan to lose sleep over it. I save my moral outrage for things like government corruption and TV carriers screwing up their signal during a crucial episode of a beloved program. My only hope is that Josh Holloway is receiving some type of payment for Marvel’s use of his image, because clearly his Lost salary has never been enough that he can afford shirts with buttons, let alone the shirts themselves.