Captain America: “Big man in a suit of armor. Take that off, what are you? ”
Iron Man: “Genius, billionaire, playboy, philanthropist.” – The Avengers (2012)
A giant robot is attacking New York. It pulls back its arm to destroy a building, but is staggered when a laser hits it. A figure soars around the robot, pelting it with lasers and missiles. The figure destroys the robot’s power source and throws it into the river. Iron Man flies off, realizing that he’s late for a business meeting.
Iron Man is one of Marvel’s most popular superheroes. He’s founded The Avengers, overcome alcoholism, and was the gateway to the Marvel Cinematic Universe. So who is he? Why did he create his armor? And why has he been replaced in comics? Let’s find out.
Merchant of Death: Iron Man’s Backstory
Tony Stark: “They say that the best weapon is the one that you never have to fire. I respectfully disagree. I prefer the weapon you only have to fire…once! That’s how Dad did it, that’s how America does it…and it’s worked out pretty well so far.” – Iron Man (2008)
Iron Man debuted in Tales of Suspense #39 in 1963. He was created by Stan Lee, who wanted to write a capitalist superhero. Lee wanted to see if he could make a rich, arms-dealing superhero character popular at the height of the Cold War. He succeeded.
Tony Stark is the CEO of Stark Industries, later Stark Enterprises, a weapons manufacturing company. While demonstrating weapons in Vietnam, he was caught in an explosion and captured by the Viet Cong. Tony’s captors ordered him and another prisoner, Yinsen, to create weapons for them.
Tony realized he was dying from shrapnel wounds and created a magnetic chest piece that stopped the shrapnel in his body from moving. This gave Yinsen a brilliant idea. They worked to convert the chestpiece into a weaponized suit of armor. They completed the armor, but Yinsen sacrificed his life to buy time for Tony to put it on. Tony escaped and destroyed the base before returning to America.
Tony, shaken by his personal experience with war, closed the weapon manufacturing division of Stark Industries. He also revealed his new bodyguard, Iron Man. What the public didn’t know was that Tony was Iron Man.
Armored Avenger: Iron Man’s History
Iron Man: “There is no throne, there is no version of this where you come out on top. Maybe your army comes and maybe it’s too much for us, but it’s all on you. Because if we can’t protect the Earth…you can be damn well sure we’ll avenge it.” – The Avengers
Iron Man protected Stark Enterprises from countless supervillains, Soviet saboteurs, and even his eventual allies, Hawkeye and Black Widow. During one mission, he joined Thor, Ant-Man, The Wasp, and The Hulk to fight the Norse god Loki. After defeating the evil god, the group decided they worked well together and formed The Avengers.
The stress of being a superhero and a CEO drove Tony to drink. During the famous story “Demon In A Bottle”, Iron Man’s armor was hacked and used to assassinate a foreign diplomat. Tony started binge-drinking to cope with the situation. He eventually captured the assassin and, with a little help from his friends, got sober.
Civil War: Iron Man’s Modern Stories
Iron Man : “I know it’s an enormous change from the way we’ve always worked, but we aren’t living in 1945 anymore. The public doesn’t want masks and secret identities. They want to feel safe when we’re around. And there’s no other way to win back their respect.” – Civil War #3
During the Superhero Civil War, Iron Man was the leader of the Pro-Registration faction. He believed that having superheroes register with the government and train to help stop collateral damage during fights.
Writers portrayed Tony as an out-of-control government lackey and all-around bastard whenever he appeared in Civil War stories. Fans didn’t like the change and began referring to Tony Stark as Iron Fuhrer.
Years later, Marvel released Civil War II, which was basically Minority Report with superheroes. Iron Man led the faction that was against arresting people before they commit crimes. At the end of the story, Iron Man was comatose and some characters implied he was dead.
Two characters succeeded Iron Man: newcomer Riri Williams as the hero Ironheart, and Doctor Doom as the Infamous Iron Man.
Mechanical Marvel: Iron Man’s Powers and Personality
Tony Stark: “I’m the most intelligent, capable person on the planet. I’m not playing God. All this time… I’ve been playing human .” – Superior Iron Man #3
Iron Man is one of the smartest characters in the Marvel universe. He is a master of engineering, capable of making highly advanced technology with anything on hand. Or, to quote the first movie’s big meme “Tony Stark was able to build this in a cave! With a box of scraps!”
Iron Man’s best weapon is his armor. He has different suits for different situations, but they all share weapons and tools. The suits can fly, lift several tons, fire repulsor rays, and have a powerful laser called the uni-beam. Sadly, they do not come with Kung-Fu Grip and batteries are sold separately.
Tony Stark is a jackass. He’s arrogant, sarcastic, and tends to act superior. Despite all of that, he is a hero who genuinely wants to help people. His decisions have an unfortunate propensity to backfire.
The Actors Who Played Iron Man
Nick Fury: “Think you’re the only superhero in the world? Mr. Stark, you’ve become part of a bigger universe. You just don’t know it yet.” – Iron Man, post-credit scene
Robert Downey Jr. is the only name you need to know for Iron Man’s film career. He’s been playing ol’ shellhead since 2008’s Iron Man. He’ll be showing up as Iron Man for the eighth time as Peter Parker’s mentor in Spider-Man: Homecoming.
Iron Man made his initial screen debut in television’s The Marvel Super Heroes, where he was voiced by John Vernon, the incomparable Dean Wormer from Animal House. He next appeared in Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends, voiced by character actor William H. Marshall with a booming deep voice.
Iron Man finally got his own show in 1994, where he was voiced by Robert Hays of Airplane fame. Hays reprised his role when Iron Man did a crossover with Spider-Man: The Animated Series. Adrian Petriw voiced Tony Stark in Iron Man: Armored Adventures.
Didya get all that?
Genius, billionaire, Avenger, and one of Earth’s Mightiest Heroes.
Jared Bounacos has written for Movie Rewind since 2017.