The summer movie campaign officially begins Friday with the release of Iron Man, based on the Marvel comic book of the same name and featuring Robert Downey Jr. as Tony Stark, a millionaire industrialist who dons technologically advanced iron "armor" to fight evil.

If the buzz is any indication, it looks to be a super smash. The film's pyrotechnic trailers (beginning with a sneak peek during the Super Bowl) may already have diehard fans camping out by the Cineplex. But beyond its obvious entertainment value, does Iron Man have more in store for us than battle suits and repulsor rays?

You bet. Superhero movies offer plenty of food for thought and our souls, right down to their premises and the philosophy behind them. Plus, a number of recent superhero films have focused as much on the men behind the masks—and on the critical events that shaped and guided them—as they have on special effects and fight scenes. And Tony Stark, the man beneath the armor in Iron Man, is one of the most complex and compelling characters in comic book history.

Superpowered in the broken places

Recent comic book movies have shown us that superheroes can come from just about anywhere, and that physical or situational limitations need not be a roadblock. In fact, sometimes they can prove exactly the opposite.

We often find superheroes, in their beginnings, to have physical weakness. In order to fight evil, they must overcome their disadvantage and become "strong in the broken place"—and in the comics, they become not only strong, but superpowered. Blind lawyer Matt Murdock becomes Daredevil, whose superpowered "radar sense" far surpasses normal sight. And as we'll see in Iron Man, industrialist Tony Stark—with a damaged ...

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