Superhero Top 10 - Iron Man

5 Iron Man

Created by: Stan Lee, Larry Lieber, Don Heck, Jack Kirby
Created for: Marvel Comics
Currently owned by: Marvel Comics
First appearance: Tales of Suspense #39 (March 1963)
Real identity: Anthony Edward "Tony" Stark

When Stan Lee, Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko unleashed the Marvel revolution in the 1960s their characters were reluctant heroes, chosen by fate to possess fantastical powers and riven with angst about it. And then there was Iron Man. Playboy orphan and arms manufacturer – Tony Stark was everything a hero wasn’t meant to be. At the height of the Cold War he was the acceptable face of the American military industrial complex. Using his high-tech inventions to battle the Red menace (much to Lee’s later regret), Stark was a self-centred, vainglorious, womanising, belligerent bastard. And the readers loved it.

His debut in Tales of Suspense #39 (1963) was scripted by Larry Lieber and with wonderfully chunky interior art by Don Heck and a cover by Jack Kirby. Critically wounded by a landmine while observing tests of his inventions for the US military in Vietnam, Stark was captured by Communist warlord Wong-Chu and, with deadly shrapnel inching towards his heart, is given a choice – develop a weapon for his captors or die. He agrees, but instead he and his fellow captive – famous physicist Professor Yinsen – build a glorified magnetic iron lung-like pacemaker to keep the shrapnel away from Stark’s heart. Yinsen is shot dead creating a diversion while Stark is charging the suit, the inventor then quickly making short work of Chu and his men.

Switching to an all-gold suit in the next issue (characteristically, Stark changed it when a woman he saved suggested he’d look “like a knight in shining armour”) before adopting the more recognisable red-and-golden tones in issue #48 (December 1963), Stark decided to use the suit to fight crime and loaded it with technological devices produced through his multinational arms manufacturing corporation, Stark Industries, keeping his identity secret by claiming Iron Man was his personal bodyguard.

Alongside Thor, Ant-Man, the Wasp, and the Hulk he helped found the Avengers (The Avengers #1, September 1963) and over time themes of crime and terrorism replaced Cold War paranoia. Making his solo debut with The Invincible Iron Man #1 (1968), the bulky dull suit was now a lithe and colourful man-of-metal. Aided by his chippy assistant Virginia "Pepper" Potts and chauffeur Happy Hogan, Stark continues with his philandering ways while racking up a veritable host of armoured and bizarre foes.

By far the most impressive partnership on Iron Man, artist Bob Layton and writer David Michelinie’s collaboration from Iron Man #116 (1978) did most to shift him into the top tier of Marvel heroes. As a socialite, drink had always been part of Stark’s world but in the groundbreaking if sometimes hackneyed “Demon in a Bottle” (Iron Man #120-#128, 1979) a combination of personal trauma and business woes pushed him into alcoholism. The unforgettable cover to Iron Man #128 shows an unshaven Stark staring with bloodshot eyes into a mirror, horrified at his own weakness. Temporarily handing over the suit to old war buddy James Rhodes, Stark was provoked by ruthless rival Obadiah Stane into a quick relapse in Iron Man #168 (drunkenly beating the crap out of Machine Man, who’d only come to ask for a bit of help). He lost his company to Stane, had all but one of his Iron Man suits destroyed, became penniless. Rhodes stepped in to become Iron Man twice: once during Stark’s relapse in Iron Man #169-199 (1983-1985) and again when Stark appeared to have died in Iron Man #284-#289 (1992-1993). Given the “Variable Threat Response Battle Suit” by Stark, Rhodes went on to become War Machine in Avengers West Coast #94 (1993).

Michelinie and Layton never hesitated to take Stark in less-than-heroic directions and Armour Wars (Iron Man Vol. 1 #225-#231, 1987-1988) saw Stark vowing to track down anyone using his inventions for good or ill, and wrest them from their control. Either in a titanic copyright hissy fit or a noble attempt to stop his weapons falling into the wrong hands, Stark blasted his way through a great deal of US government property, even taking on Captain America, before having to fake Iron Man’s “death” to try and regain some credibility.

With his origin story now shifted from Vietnam to the Gulf War, the shrewd and cynical businessman was never far away and, turning politician to stop a corrupt senator in John J. Miller and Jorge Lucas’s ‘“uperheroes meet The West Wing” story The Best Defence (Iron Man Vol. 3 #73–78, 2003), he ended up becoming a somewhat ruthless US Secretary of Defense. It was during Marvel’s 2006-7 Civil War earth shattering crossover, that Stark was at his most self-centered and uncompromising. More of a petulant Bill Gates than a playboy Howard Hughes, Stark stood foursquare behind the movement to register all superheroes – even going so far as to capture and imprison former allies – before suddenly changing his mind. The doubts stayed with him as he became the head of security organisation, S.H.I.E.L.D (Civil War #7, 2007). Falling from grace yet again, following the Skrull invasion in the ongoing Dark Reign Stark was removed from his post by megalomaniac former Green Goblin Norman Osborn and now has a bounty on his head – which is exactly where he’s stored the only remaining list of registered superheroes which Osborn so desperately covets.

Firmly ensconced as central to Marvel’s ongoing plans, it was actually renowned ”futurist” Warren Ellis’s six-issue “Extremis” that catapulted Iron Man into the limelight. A critically injured Stark injects himself with a techno-organic virus, allowing him to store his armour inside his own body and control it telepathically. Director Jon Favreau based the whole look, and even key scenes, of his 2008 big screen Iron Man movie on artist Adi Granov’s amazing visuals.

POWERS
Technically, none, though Stark’s genius-level intellect allows him to develop his powerful armoured Iron Man suits along increasingly complex lines. During “Extremis”, however, Stark briefly became a cybernetic being with increased healing abilities, storage of his suit under his skin and the ability to connect remotely to satellites, cellular phones and computers.

The Iron Man suit has gone through more redesigns to provide Stark with:
• Superhuman strength and supersonic flight
• Energy repulsors fired from his palms and missile banks secreted about his person.
• Other powers have included a chest energy projector and a freeze-beam.
• Regenerative life support
• Hardened protective shell – “mission-specific” suits designed for battling the Hulk and Thor have thicker and hardened armour

CAREER LOW POINT
Appealing to younger readers is one thing, but replacing Stark with a teenage version of himself from the past because the former had actually been controlled by a time-travelling alien for years? “The Crossing” was quickly and mercifully erased from the continuity book.

SCREEN APPEARANCES
Iron Man
2008
Director:
Jon Favreau
Played by: Robert Downey Jr
The maiden production for Marvel Studios, up against the gritty Batman sequel, Dark Knight, Iron Man looked like a featherweight already on the ropes but it turned into the surprise hit of the summer. Director Jon Favreau’s note-perfect production stuck closely to Iron Man’s origin story but had Obadiah Stane, now Stark’s mentor, conspire to take over his business empire when the playboy undergoes a Road to Damascus anti-war conversion. Downey Jr’s cocksure womaniser, quite possibly the part he was born to play, helped the film earn an estimated $33 million on its opening day, going on to make around $900 million worldwide.

SCREEN APPEARANCES
Iron Man 2
2010
Director:
Jon Favreau
Played by: Robert Downey Jr
A sequel is due for next year, with Favreau and Downey Jr back on board and Mickey Rourke playing villain Whiplash. Cameos of Downey Jr’s Stark are also expected in the forthcoming Incredible Hulk and Avengers movies.

TRIVIA
• American industrialist, playboy and celebrated nutcase Howard Hughes was Stan Lee’s original inspiration for the character
• Iron Man's helmet was deliberately designed to resemble a skull
• Don Heck based Stark's look on the 1930s movie actor Errol Flynn
• The real reason that Iron Man’s suit changed colour was that Lee wasn’t happy with colourist Stan Goldberg's lead-grey armour
• Both Nicolas Cage and Tom Cruise showed interest in playing Iron Man
• Lee said that in the early days Marvel didn’t get many fan letters from women, “but whenever we did, the letter was usually addressed to Iron Man”

RECURRING ENEMIES
Crimson Dynamo: Iron Man’s Soviet counterpart, the Dynamo’s electricity-harnessing power suit allowed him to fire devastating energy bolts and fly. After they fought Iron Man convinced the suit’s creator, Professor Vanko, to defect to the US and work for him. The somewhat annoyed Russians sent the Black Widow (see below) and Boris Turgenev to kill Vanko. Donning the armour, Turgenev almost defeated Iron Man before Vanko fired an experimental laser at him, killing himself in the process. All told there have been 12 Dynamos.

Black Widow : Beautiful Soviet spy and assassin Natalia Romanova battled Iron Man when she tried to assassinate Professor Vanko after he absconded to the US. Defeated, she later defected herself and became a member of the Avengers and S.H.I.E.L.D.

Titanium Man : Serial failure and Siberian gulag boss Boris Bullski forced imprisoned scientists to build him his own suit of armour using Professor Vanko’s lab, intending to score a propaganda victory for Mother Russia by defeating Iron Man in battle. He didn’t. Repeatedly.

Ghost : Arch-technocrat Stark is understandably something of a hate figure for this mysterious freelance electrically-charged industrial saboteur and inventor, who has a pathological hatred for high-tech business and businessmen.

The Mandarin : After discovering a crashed alien spaceship, this Chinese super villain and embittered civil servant (no, really) mastered its technology – along with ten “power rings” – but found Iron Man and Stark Enterprises a continual barrier to his plans for world domination.

Iron Monger : After engineering Stark’s relapse into alcoholism, ruthless business rival Obadiah Stane took over his business empire and, from Stark’s discarded notes, had his own Iron Man-style suit created. Vanquished by a recovered Stark, Stane blew his own head off with a repulsor beam. His son took up the mantle, eventually becoming a complete cyborg.

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