Iron Man

by Kevin Reaves

I have been a comic book enthusiast since the early 80s. I used to sit in my room reading stories of super heroes and their struggles over powerful and devious villains. The characters and their fantastic tools, abilities, and powers captured my imagination and sparked my creativity. Of all the heroes and characters found in comics, Iron Man was and still is my favorite. I fell in love with the character and the design of armor right from the start.

The main character in the comics and creator of the Iron Man armor is billionaire playboy Anthony (Tony) Stark. Tony Stark’s story and rise to power is extremely reminiscent to my second favorite Super hero Bruce Wayne aka Batman. Tony Stark’s parents were killed in a car accident orchestrated by a company called Republic Oil. Through his parents death Tony inherited his fortune. Tony Stark was more interested in leading a playboy lifestyle and perusing his interests in engineering rather than acting as CEO of Stark Enterprises so he hired Pepper pots to act as his executive assistant.

Tony Stark created the Iron Man armor out of necessity to live rather than an internal ambition to be a super hero. Stark originally received an injury to his chest while visiting a military weapons test in foreign territory. His group was attacked by a terrorist organization headed by Wong-Chu. In the attack a land mind was set off that sent a piece of shrapnel into his chest and dangerously close to his heart. He was ultimately captured and Wong-Chu demanded weapons to be developed to aid the terrorist group. Instead of creating weaponry Tony began working with Professor Ho Yinsen, another prisoner, to create the battle suit to save his life and free them from their captors.

            Iron Man made his first appearance in March1963 in the American comic book series Tales of Suspense, issue #39. Tales of Suspense was labeled under Atlas Comics but later became a product of Marvel comics. Iron Man was created by the infamous Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, Don Heck, and Larry Lieber. Stan lee wanted to create an anti-communist hero figure out of a capitalistic business man. The cold war had a lot to do with Stan Lee’s vision of the hero. He wanted the figure to be a filthy rich industrialist who was a ladies man. So he created Tony Stark. Stark as a weapons dealer and modeled him after Howard Hughes. Tales of suspense continued to carry stories of Iron Man through issues #40 to #52. Later issues #53 through #58 of the comic were titled “Tales of Suspense featuring The Power of Iron Man”. This was a testament to the acceptance and interest readers had in ol’ shellhead (Iron Man) and his adventures. In 1968 Iron Man made his official solo debut in his comic titled “The Invincible Iron Man.
The original story of Iron Man has been adapted and updated over time to fit multiple eras and wars. In the 1963 origin story Iron Man was injured and captured by the Vietnamese during the Vietnam War. Since then his origin story has taken place in the War in Afghanistan and the Gulf War. Although the locations and time periods have varied the basic unfolding of events has remained very similar. Every story has Tony Stark being injured during a weapons demonstration, captured by enemies and forced to create weapons. The one element that has never changed in any story is the character Ho Yinsen. He has been the other prisoner along side of Stark from comics to the silver screen.

The first armor introduced was in 1963 was a clunky looking gray armor with very little detail. The legs, chest and arms were bulky and undefined and the helmet was a dome with cut slits for the eyes and mouth. This armor only lasted for one story and was replaced by a golden version in issue #40 that was very similar in style. The biggest difference was the chest armor came down like a jacket and covered the pelvis area, like a weird skirt. It wasn’t until December 1963 issue #48 that the Iron Man armor would take on a sleeker and more anatomically defined appearance as well as the red and gold colors.

Later on Stan Lee wanted to recreate Tony Stark’s persona. He kept the playboy ladies man, weapons dealer and themes of national defense, but he wanted to add more depth and complexity to the hero. The way he went about this was to give Stark a real life problem and alcoholism would become the humanistic burden for Tony. In 1978 Comic book artist Bob Layton and writer David Michelinie were handed the keys to Iron Man. They would introduce Tony Stark’s alcoholism in the story “Demon in a Bottle” issue #116. This was a pretty cutting edge and real problem to introduce to the comic book world. Layton and Michelinie worked together on Iron man all the way through issue #154. Through this period they introduced several key characters in the world of Iron Man. One of these characters is James Rhodes. Rhodes was Tony’s personal pilot, friend and personal confidant. Later on in the series Rhodes becomes partners with Iron Man as the silver and gray hero War Machine. Justin Hammer was also introduced by Layton and Michelinie. Justin Hammer is Tony Stark’s arch industrial enemy. Hammer is secretly responsible for several of Iron Man’s nastiest armored foes.

In the eighties Layton and Michelinie returned to work on the Iron Man series from issues #215 to #250. The Iron Man series ran all the way to issue #332 and was ended in 1996. It was not long before a second volume of Iron Man was started. Writers Jim Lee, Jeph Loeb, and Scott Lobdell started work on the 2nd volume of Iron Man, a 13 book series from November 1996 to November 1997, and planted it in an alternate universe. The main illustrator for these books was Whilce Portacio, who worked on titles such as the Uncanny X Men, The Punisher, and X Factor. The third volume of Iron Man began with writer Kurt Busiek best known for his work on “Unknown Tales of Spiderman, The Avengers, and JLA. This Volume ran for 89 issues and ended in 2004. In 2007 Iron Man went through another major metamorphosis, this change happened in the story Extremis written by Warren Ellis. In this story Iron Man chooses to inject himself with the Extremis virus to battle the terrorist known as Mallen. The villain Mallen gained super human strength after being injected by the extremis virus and defeated Iron Man and nearly killing Tony Stark in the process. The Extremis virus enhanced Tony’s strength and abilities and allowed him to link with technology with his mind. This added to Iron Man’s already formidable power and elevated him in the ranks of super powers among heroes.

Iron Man has come a long way in the comic book world. He has been drawn by multiple artist and his stories have been told by just as many writers. I have enjoyed the world of Iron Man for several years and the one thing that has always captured my attention is the wide range and variety of his armor. He began in the 60s with a clunky gray suit that evolved into a gold version and eventually into the classic red and gold in 1964, but there is many more. The red and gold armor was revamped with a super sleek look late in 1964 and stayed primarily the same until the 80s. In the 80s Iron Man’s armor began to take a variety of forms for specific environments and locations. He was given armor for stealth operations, space travel, and under sea exploration. This trend opened up multiple possibilities that are still evolving today.

With the evolution and development of new armor artists and writers were given an opportunity to change staple characteristics of the suit. The magnetic field generator in his chest began as a circle but in 1981 it developed into a pentagon with the space armor and in 1985 developed into a triangle with, my favorite Iron Man armor, the Silver Centurion. The shape of the magnetic field generator changed back and forth from the circle. the triangle, and the pentagon all the way to the present. The most recent Iron Man suit is back to the circle and is reminiscent to the 1960s red and gold version.

Iron Man has been around since the 60s and his popularity has steadily grown over time. He is still going strong in the Marvel Universe having a plethora of comics and stories developed for him as well as several cartoons and finally as of recent he has made an appearance on the silver screen. His movie debut took over forty years but it was well worth the wait and was a smash hit at the box office. Iron Man is and always will be an influence in my creativity. My view and admiration of good ol’ shellhead has only strengthened as I have grown into adulthood.