Analyzing the MCU: The Many Faces of Howard Stark
As we move forward into the future and the unlimited possibilities in the ever growing Marvel Cinematic Universe, I wanted to take some time to travel back and examine one of the most intriguing and complex characters we have gotten so far: Howard Stark.
We know Howard as the genius inventor who gave Capt. America his vibranium shield, a key contributor to the Manhattan Project, and (probably most importantly) the progenitor to billionaire-playboy-philanthropist Tony Stark. He’s someone who does not get much screen time, but is a key figure in multiple points in history for several characters in the franchise.
For all we know about Howard, there seems to be nearly twice as much that is obscured from us. Howard is beloved by characters such as Steve Rogers and Nick Fury, but is held in a high level of distaste by Hank Pym and his own son, Tony. It’d be easy to say the former two simply had a ‘clearer’ view of Howard, and even cite that Tony grew to forgive his father.
But let’s look at the facts.
Understanding Howard means that we have to accept the parts we like and the parts we don’t give much heed to. He is both a war hero and a man who made an immense profit from the ensuing arms race that followed that same war. He is the man who defied rules and regulations to assist Steve in saving the lives of U.S. soldiers and did the same to try and replicate Dr. Pym’s entire life’s work behind his back. He is the man who loves his son dearly and the same man who refused to acknowledge that love to his son.
When I look at it all, I see a man who had begun to see himself as a step behind his enemy at all times. And in that feeling of desperation, he began to crack. Howard had seen a world being taken over by HYDRA, and took the steps he thought best to prevent it from happening.
He developed weapons, and tried to copy the work of a trusted colleague, because he did not want to be woefully unprepared for another large-scale conflict. He became cynical and combative as he saw friends either abandon him or die as the years went on, and had few outlets to express that level of pain. He was an authoritarian asshole to his son because he likely believed that maybe if he had been a little more disciplined, more refined, or just plain better, he could have stopped most of his suffering.
In doing these things, he both saved the world and made it more difficult defend from subsequent enemies. For all his flaws, Howard Stark is someone the MCU would not have survived without and a true hero when and where it counted.