Iron Man spotted at Ridgecrest Cinemas opening?

Rebecca Neipp

News Review Staff Writer

Iron Man spotted at Ridgecrest Cinemas opening?He’s a humble family man and former prison guard who now spends his free time creating armor for superheroes in his garage.

It may sound like a compelling backstory for a vigilante sidekick, but that is actually the hobby of 30-something Darren Smith of Ridgecrest, whose creations have landed him on the front page of “Yahoo! News” and even prompted a solicitation from Iron Man creator Stan Lee.

But Darren’s discovery of his “super power” was both recent and accidental.

“It all started when my Xbox took a gainer from the shelf,” said Smith. “I felt my heart break as I watched it shatter into a thousand pieces on the floor. I was sure the angels were weeping with me. But then I looked at my wife standing there with this huge smile on her face and I figured that it might turn out to be a good thing.”

Darren married his high school sweetheart, Emily Good, a few years after the two graduated from Burroughs High School. Together they are raising their three children in Ridgecrest while Emily makes a living as a photographer and Darren works as a youth pastor at Desert Christian Center.

Soon after the tragic Xbox incident and before discovering the hobby that would soon replace gaming, Darren was watching “Iron Man.” “I thought, ‘I want that suit!’ So I started looking online to see what it would cost to buy one. I knew in reality I wouldn’t be able to afford it, but I did stumble across some videos that show you how to make your own,” said Darren.

After watching how-to videos on YouTube, he downloaded a two-dimensional pattern that had to be cut out of cardstock and glued together to form a thin three-dimensional model. That paper model is then covered with liquid fiberglass. After it dries, the form is sanded down to be sculpted into the desired shape.

“That first helmet took at least 40 hours to make,” he said. After wearying of such time-consumption to finish only one project, he determined he would find a way to cut down that time.

“I decided I was going to make one helmet that was absolutely perfect and use that to make a mold,” said Darren. So after investing in that process once more, he covered the finished helmet with silicone. When it was set, he“filled that with liquid fiberglass. With a hard mold in hand, Darren has the ability to mass produce the form and customize the paint.

But he admits that the commercial possibilities came only as an afterthought when his friends and family began prompting him to sell his creations.

“The very first one I made, which I thought was terrible, a guy came in and was like, ‘I gotta have that! I’ll give you 100 bucks!’ I felt bad selling it. I was like, ‘That was my first try, it’s garbage.’ Then he offered me $200. So I was like, ‘OK — deal!’”

Last summer, Darren, with the help of young art major Nolan Havig, made his first complete suit and wore it to San Diego’s annual Comic-Con — a Mecca for all comic-book-counter-culture in particular, and all things geeky in general.

“I didn’t think that suit was all that great either. Most of it was built the day before,” said Darren.

But it was good enough to create a stir among the fans at Comic-Con.

That was also where Darren met Lee — the creator of dozens of beloved comic book characters and himself an icon to his faithful followers.

“He actually approached me. He said, in the Stan Lee way, ‘Now, Darren — your name is Darren, right? — I gotta tell ya, Darren. I’ve seen a lot of these Iron Man suits. But you’ve done an amazing job on this one.”

Among those who approached him at Comic-Con were people interested in contracting out fabrication to Darren. But he insists that he is first an artist, not an entrepreneur.

“I’m looking into selling helmets and suits now just because everyone tells me I should. But for me the point of this is the amazing process of actually making them. That is super therapeutic for me.”

The suits are composed of items that can be found at Home Depot or a dollar store and assembled by tools found in most garages. And though the fundamentals of Darren’s creation remain the same, he and Nolan continue to find ways to refine their product.

Some of those upgrades include a degree of customization, including color and style. Darren is also looking into making molds for different sizes. He said he is also open to custom orders of other designs.

In a few days, the Darren’s Iron Man Designs Facebook page has reached about 3,000 users and received about 250 likes. He showed up to Ridgecrest Cinemas on opening night of Iron Man 3. At the theater, moviegoers lined up for the chance to have their photo taken with our local “Iron Man.”

“The best part is getting to see how excited the kids are,” said Darren. “Most of the parents think it’s pretty cool, too, and even the teenagers — who can’t show too much excitement — you can tell they’re interested. But the young kids are just enthralled. They think Iron Man is real, and they ask me if I can fly. I tell them that I just can’t do it inside.”

But if Darren’s suits lack flight and weaponization, he and Nolan have found a way to incorporate the arc reactor and pulsers into his design.

The base cost for an Iron Man Helmet is $100, and it is available through Darren’s Facebook site or by calling him at 760-608-1990.

Story First Published: 2013-05-08