Comics Reviews

Why the Most Powerful Avengers Suffer from the Same Terrible Trauma


As Iron Man and Thor embark on harrowing, separate adventures, they are linked but a shared pain that only makes them push forward even harder.

WARNING: The following contains spoilers for Iron Man #14 and Thor #19, on sale now from Marvel Comics.

As the old saying goes, each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way and the various superheroes on the Avengers are no different. Many of Earth’s Mightiest Heroes have less than ideal upbringings before taking on their hero mantles to defend the entire Marvel Universe. At the core of the Avengers are Iron Man, Thor, and Captain America, with each figure having their own respectively rocky childhood before becoming the backbone of the world’s premiere superhero team. Though these heroes share a common trauma, they have overcome it in their own way and used it to fuel them forward in the never-ending battle to keep the universe safe from harm.


In Iron Man #14 — by Christopher Cantwell, Cafu, Angel Unzueta, Frank D’Armata, and VC’s Joe Caramagna — the Armored Avenger has recently bonded with the Power Cosmic to prevent it from falling to the twisted hands of the supervillain Korvac. Granting Tony Stark omnipotence and changing his whole perspective on the nature of space and time, Tony saw recollections of his unhappy childhood as he came to terms with his powers. This included him being neglected by his parents as a young boy, with Tony confronting his unresolved issues of acceptance from his father, with an apparition of Howard Stark taunting his son as not having truly changed the world for all his smarts.

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Iron Man deals with his past

Over in Thor #19 — by Donny Cates, Nic Klein, Matt Wilson, and VC’s Joe Sabino — the God of Thunder has had to deal with the revelation that the Phoenix Force is his biological mother while contending with his constantly bitter relationship with his father Odin. Thor and Odin being on rocky ground isn’t a new development between the two Asgardians but Thor has uncomfortably found himself partnering up with his father on more than one occasion lately. The two go on the road together to search for the stolen Mjolnir as the father and son delicately dance around their own fragile dynamic to focus on their common goal instead.

And though Steve Rogers’ own familial history hasn’t come up lately, the Star-Spangled Avenger certainly isn’t without his own longtime hangups and unresolved childhood trauma. Growing up in Manhattan’s Lower East Side during the Great Depression, Steve grew up poor and with a sickly mother who succumbed to tuberculosis while Steve was still just a boy. By contrast, Steve’s father Joseph was a mean drunk who self-medicated with alcohol to forget about the horrors he witnessed serving in World War I.

This would affect Steve deeply and inform the fearless, selfless man that he would become, embracing his mother’s love and rejecting his father’s abuse. It also led Captain America to act emotionally when he saw his friend Tony Stark descending into alcoholism years later, determined that his friend wouldn’t go down the same road.

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Captain America and Tony Stark discuss alcoholism and their fathers

Thor, Captain America, and Iron Man are each hardened by these experiences, emerging from the other side of this crucible stronger for it. However, like all trauma, each of these upbringings has come with its own set of scars, with the first thing that Tony thinks about after gaining omnipotence is his unhappy childhood while Thor’s relationship with Odin is too sensitive and raw for him to openly address it.

This level of vulnerability provides a human look at Earth’s Mightiest Heroes and what makes them tick, taking that pain and using it towards good along with the inspiring message that not even a superhero is without their painful histories but made all the stronger for it.

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