Well, you can forget it. I am Iron Man. The suit and I are one. To turn over the Iron Man suit would be to turn over myself, which is tantamount to indentured servitude or prostitution, depending on what state you’re in. You can’t have it.
– Tony Stark
You know what the #1 movie was for the weekend of May 3, 2013? No, it wasn’t the live telecast of “Wait, Wait Don’t Tell Me.” It was Iron Man 3, the first post-Avengers film released by Marvel. And man, was it a ride. Iron Man is one of the most popular superheroes right now, attracting a large fanbase with $175 million coming in box office-wise opening weekend.
There have been many analyses of Iron Man 3, from it being an understanding of the war from an economic standpoint, to a psychological exploration of Stark and his “demons,” to just a good time. But the screenwriters did an interesting thing with Iron Man 3; they created a conflict between the Robotic Iron Man and a biologically driven villain.
The film introduces us to the threat of a new villain called the Mandarin, who seems to be the next Osama bin Laden. However, the true threat to the world is not this terrorist, but a genetically modified virus called “Extremis” which allows humans to quickly regenerate body parts and heal injuries, and also gives them the “side effect” of having control over intense internal temperatures for melting and attacking others (though this often leads to very large explosions).
This has been a classic theme in the Iron Man series: how technology that has practical purposes for everyday man can also be weaponized. It’s what made Stark stop Obadiah Stane in the first film, and it’s why he couldn’t hand over the Iron Man suit to the government in Iron Man 2. Mass-producing the Iron Man suit would change the nature of combat in general, similar to how drones changed the way we fight in Iraq. In the same way, the reproduction of the Extremis virus — or of the Super Soldier Serum used to create Captain America — can be just as detrimental.
However, one can simply “remove” the Iron Man suit from the equation. As that wonderful scene in The Avengers stated, if you remove the suit, what do you get? You still get a brilliant man, but he’s far more vulnerable and easier to punish and keep morally accountable. Those who are genetically enhanced are slightly harder to control (as shown by every superhero movie ever).
So, then, which method of human enhancement is better? If one can disarm another of his powers if he misuses them, then that is better than detaining them and letting them keep their powers.
Consider this: if Iron Man or Captain America were to become evil, how could one take them out? With Iron Man, all one needs to do is remove the suit from the equation. Meanwhile, Captain America isn’t so easy. Since his powers are within his essence and are biological, the only way to stop him is to kill him. That’s why Extremis is so dangerous: death was the only way to stop the villains.