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Iron Man – Is Building Such a Body Suit Possible?
Inventing Iron Man: The Human Machine Option [Hardcover]
by E. Paul Zehr
224 pages, $24.95
Review by Steven King, MBA, MEd
Sometimes when a teacher points out strongly to students, the teacher’s best intentions don’t always achieve what they think they should. As an unabashed Batman devotee, I once mentioned the Dark Knight’s greatness as a prelude to one of my lessons. Before diving into the world of math with this group of high school students, I said something like, “Just imagine—a mere man who became a formidable superhero. No one can be as great as Batman.” One of the students in the middle of the class without missing a minute said, “Have you ever heard of Iron Man?” I tongue-in-cheek told him yes, but I would only give extra credit for receiving the Batman gear.
As comic denizens are sure to know, Iron Man is the brainchild of Tony Stark, a 30-year-old genius inventor who inherited Stark Industries from his father at just 21 years old. Before that, when he was 15, his penchant for brilliance led him to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where he would earn two undergraduate degrees: one in physics and the other in engineering. In the latest Forbes Fictional 15, his $9.4 billion net worth puts him at number six — two spots above Batman’s much more conservative real name, Bruce Wayne (whose $7 billion net worth is still nothing to sneeze at. ) . By the way, he’s right behind #5 Jed Clampett (The Beverly Hillbillies), but an oil legacy and country life don’t sell any comics.
Dr. Paul Zehr answers my former student’s query with an incisive analysis of The Golden Avenger. His Inventing Iron Man: The Possibility of a Human Machine pulls back the curtain to determine the plausibility of such an endeavor — actually building a fighting machine like the one popularized by Tony Stark in the comic book series.
Zehr’s analysis is convincing as he tries to establish Iron Man’s credibility. In the course of his narrative, he explores such themes as:
- What time frame would it take to develop a pilot sufficiently trained for the job?
- Timeline required to produce an actual suit based on current technology trends.
- Scientific advances in brain-machine interfaces and the type involved in Iron Man’s design.
- The effects of alcohol intoxication on Iron Man’s character abilities (any Iron Man devotee should admit that Tony Stark drinks a little too much).
As I read this report, I found Zehr’s development of neuroprosthetics particularly interesting. Given his PhD work in neuroscience, he has an uncanny ability to steer clear of tense technical jargon and skillfully guide a novice through what would otherwise prove to be a cerebral quagmire. One learns that Iron Man’s suit would have to be an advanced brain-machine interface that only augmented the wearer’s neural (and physical) capabilities. As Mr. Stark even said, “I am Iron Man. The suit and I are one.”
I previously had the honor (and pleasure) of reading Dr. Zehra Becoming Batman. In contrast to this piece, his writing seems much freer and more comfortable – giving the reader an insider, yet very enjoyable look at the possibility of becoming Iron Man.
Perhaps writing several superhero books suggests that Dr. Zehr has a hidden desire to offer an elective course on their myths at the University of Victoria in British Columbia. Inventing Iron Man is not only a work of science, it also contains abundant illustrations and frequent quotes from the comics that will interest Iron Man fans. An appendix detailing milestones in Iron Man’s development concludes the work before Zehr includes an impressive bibliography for those seeking additional information.
We highly recommend it to anyone who likes a glimpse into the world of superheroes – but science nerds will love it too.
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