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Friday, May 3, 2013

To Better Know a Hero: Iron Man

I was going to do a post on the Mandarin in preparation for Iron Man 3, but time got away from me, laziness, etc., etc., so instead, here's a reformatted and slightly updated version of my original "To Better Know A Hero" post on Iron Man, from back in May of 2008.

Real Name

Anthony "Tony" Stark  

First Appearance 
Tales of Suspense #39 (March 1963)

Nicknames and Aliases 
Shellhead, Iron Avenger, the Cool Exec with a Heart of Steel     

Powers and Abilities 
Tony Stark is a mechanical and engineering genius, as well as a wealthy industrialist, able to create and upgrade fantastic technologies, including his ever-evolving Iron Man armor. He’s also been trained in hand-to-hand combat by Captain America, and of late, taken to calling himself a “futurist”, with the ability to scientifically predict future events. It’s unclear if this is a super power or not, and is mainly used as validation for some of his more recent dick-ish actions.

Stark recently injected his nervous system with a techno-organic virus called Extremis, which allows him to “store” the inner layers of his armor in the hollows of his bones and mentally control it. He can also control the other elements of his armor through “technopathy”, allowing him to suit up at will. Extremis has also increased his body’s ability to heal and given him the ability to remotely connect to satellites, cell phones and computers worldwide.

Yeah, it’s overly-complicated and pretty lame.

Weaknesses and Achilles’ Heels
During his early appearances, the chest plate of the Iron Man armor prevented a piece of shrapnel from piercing Tony’s heart; as a result, he had to wear it at all times and worry about it losing power. Eventually, he had a successful surgery to remove it. Afterwards, he suffered from various debilitating diseases and handicaps that he eventually overcame (shot in the spine, paralyzed, presumed dead, debilitating nervous disease, Republicanism). Also, he’s an alcoholic. And kind of a dick.

Gadgets and Accessories 
The Iron Man armor is one big gadget, complete with his offensive repulsor rays, a chest-mounted uni-beam, flight capabilities, energy shields, EMP generators, and all kinds of other gizmos and abilities. Once upon a time, Tony carried the (presumably lightweight but still tough) armor in a briefcase for easy access. He has also developed numerous special purpose armors over the years, including ones designed for use in deep space or deep water, stealth, a heavy duty “Hulkbuster” armor designed for combat with the Hulk and another “Thorbuster” armor for facing off against Thor.

Friends and Allies
HaroldHappy” Hogan (his deceased driver/best friend), Virginia “Pepper” Potts (aka Rescue, his former secretary and love interest), Jim Rhodes (aka War Machine, his friend, former pilot and occasional substitute Iron Man), the Avengers, S.H.I.E.L.D, and the many, many attractive ladies he’s bedded through the years, too many to name here.

Foes and Antagonists
The Mandarin, Titanium Man, Crimson Dynamo, Jack Daniels, M.O.D.O.K, Whiplash, Ultimo, Jim Beam, Living Laser, Justin Hammer, Captain Morgan, Obadiah Stane

Movies and Appearances
Iron Man was one of the Marvel characters to receive an animated series in the late 60s (the one which gave us the theme song proclaiming him to be the "cool exec with a heart of steel"), and later headlined his own animated series in the 90s, where he was teamed up with some pretty 90s-fied versions of his Avengers West Coast teammates (who, at the time, were all starring together in a comic with arguably the most 90s title of all, Force Works), and featured a green Mandarin and a mulleted Tony Stark.

Of course, 2008 saw the release of the first Iron Man feature film, starring Hollywood prodigal son Robert Downey Jr. as the titular character. That film led to at least two direct sequels and Marvel's batshit insane but ultimately successful attempt to create a shared universe on film.

One-Sentence Origin
After being fatally wounded while testing weapons in a warzone and captured, Tony Stark used his mechanical genius to create a suit of armor to stay alive and break free, thereafter deciding to use his constantly-upgraded armor to defend the world from evil as Iron Man. 

Memorable Moment
Iron Man #128 (November 1979), in which the extent of Tony Stark’s alcoholism is made clear.

Fun Fact
Iron Man's armor isn't made out of much iron, rather it is composed of various complicated steel and titanium alloys, making his name something of a misnomer.

Teebore’s Take
Iron Man always seemed an odd fit at Marvel in the sixties, lacking much of the pathos and grounded-reality of many of the other characters: down-on-his-luck Peter Parker, the persecuted Hulk, Ben Grimm trapped in the form of the monstrous Thing. On the surface, 60s era Tony Stark had more in common with DC’s Superman, the character you wanted to be (in Iron Man’s case, a handsome millionaire playboy with access to the coolest toys and tons of babes), instead of the character you related to, like Spider-Man.

The damaged heart and the need to wear/power the chest plate was obviously Stan Lee’s attempt to ground the otherwise happy-go-lucky, wealthy industrialist. It’s also interesting to note that Iron Man's origin/motivation isn’t born of personal tragedy. His parents weren't murdered in alley, his Uncle Ben didn’t die as result of his inaction. Rather, he saw firsthand the effects of the weapons he manufactured, and after being injured by one, designed an even greater weapon for good instead of harm. Even then (these stories taking place at the height of the Cold War) it took some time before Stark International stopped being a munitions company and transitioned to the production of more beneficial technologies. 

After the heart injury became too difficult/ludicrous to continue, the new weakness that grounded the character became his alcoholism, and to a larger extent, the issue of an addictive, controlling personality. Even prior to his mid-00s actions in the Marvel Civil War (in which Iron Man sided with the government on the issue of registering all super humans and led the charge against Captain America’s rebels), Iron Man has always been an “ends justify the means kind of guy,” often skirting the line between hero and villain along the way, and coming into conflict with less morally relativistic characters like Captain America, citing a “big picture” view of things to rationalize his actions.

It’s likely that much of the appeal of the character comes from this more complex “gray area” approach to heroism; I particularly enjoy it when Iron Man comes into conflict with someone I more readily agree with, like Captain America. Despite many fans considering his actions in the wake of Civil War to be, at worst, outright villainy and, at best, him being a dick, the popularity of the character has continued to rise, in part because Norman Osborn came along and was a bigger dick than Tony was, followed by a campaign to redeem Tony Stark, and in part thanks to the immense popularity of his film counterpart.

Also, he wears a high tech suit of armor that flies and shoots ray beams at stuff, and that’s pretty cool.


  1. Great post, as usual. Have you seen the movie yet?

  2. @Sarah: Thanks! I did see the movie, and even managed to write up a post about it.


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