Individuality is the Key to Teamwork in Tony Stark: Iron Man 4

by Spencer Irwin

This article contains SPOILERS. If you haven’t read the issue yet, proceed at your own risk!

Despite the double emphasis in its title, Tony Stark: Iron Man isn’t really a solo spotlight for its titular hero. Instead it’s an ensemble piece, a team book, devoting just as much (if not more) space to the stories of Jocasta Pym, Andy Bhang, Bethany Cabe, Amanda Armstrong, or Rhodey as it does Stark. In fact, issue 4 outright turns this choice into an ethos, predicating Stark Unlimited’s entire victory on the fact that they are a team who can work together and pool their ideas, and their opponents from Baintronics’ loss on the fact that they’re not a team, they’re a hive mind. Their lack of multiple perspectives and approaches seals their fate.

What a hive mind lacks is individuality — they do everything in unison, numerous bodies united in one thought. They may outnumber the staff of Stark Unlimited in terms of physical (or robot) bodies, but in terms of ideas they’re dwarfed by Stark.

It may sound counter-intuitive to say that individuality makes a better team, but that’s what Dan Slott and Valerio Schiti prove throughout Tony Stark: Iron Man 4. The “Make-A-Match” program at Baintronics can only conceive of and implement one idea at a time; its isolation is its limitation. Meanwhile, everybody at Stark Unlimited brings their own ideas to the table, and it’s by putting all those ideas together that they’re able to achieve victory. It’s Bethany Cabe who realizes they’ve been infiltrated and is able to bring down Baintronics’ image inducers; it’s Andy Bhang who recognizes their hive mind structure; it’s Tony who is able to fit all these individual puzzle pieces together and combine them into an effective strategy.

More importantly, Slott and Schiti argue that it’s not just the strengths of each individual member of a team, but their so-called weaknesses as well that are vital aspects of an effective team.

Here, for example, Tony is clearly frustrated — if only for a split second — that he can’t just smash his robotic opponents. But Jocasta is a trusted member of Tony’s team, and thus he respects her opinions, and ultimately taking her concerns into consideration allows Tony to come up with a much simpler, more elegant solution to their problem.

Thus, true teamwork isn’t about stifling individuality or following orders, it’s about the unique qualities of each and every member of the team coming together to make the team stronger. Make-A-Match doesn’t seem capable of understanding this, and it’s not just because of their hive mind; even when given the chance to embrace individuality, they shun it instead, using a facade of individuality only to help con their Make-A-Match victims.

It’s the fact that everyone’s matches are “too” perfect that eventually tips Bethany off to Make-A-Match’s deception, but Make-A-Match’s idea of “perfect” matches are dates who are essentially just copies (or distaff counterparts) of their victims. Rhodey and his date aren’t truly compatible in a deep way, they’re just similar; Make-A-Match is using his individual tastes against him instead of celebrating them or creating their own complimentary ones. They don’t understand what makes people click, how people can come together to be stronger and better than the sum of their parts. Stark Unlimited does, and that’s why they eventually come out on top.

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