Although he may have metallic skin, inside the Iron Man armor beats the heart of a human with the same problems as all of us – and then some. Since his creation in 1963, Tony Stark and his alterego Iron Man have been about how a man can struggle with personal problems but use his immense drive (and brain) to overcome them. From the ramshackle tincan armor that helped him escape from behind enemy lines to the device that helped his injured heart keep beating and on to the drive that helped him escape from alcoholism, Tony Stark’s storyarc is about how human ingenuity can overcome practically any obstacle.
For years, Iron Man has been part of an informal trinity of characters leading Marvel’s flagship team the Avengers, but it wasn’t until the early 2000s that his thrusters really began to kick in for the world at large. After Warren Ellis and Adi Granov redefined the character for the modern age with the “Extremis” storyarc, 2008’s Iron Man movie knocked armchair critics on their heels by being one of Marvel’s most successful movies – even after Spider-Man and X-Men. Around the same time, Marvel tapped Matt Fraction and Salvador Larroca to take on the character in comics and to carry forward what Ellis and the movie had done. And now three years later, they’re still going – and Iron Man is well on his way to a third movie and two ongoing comic series.
But with 44 pages of new Iron Man comics coming every month and forty plus years of comics to go through, where would someone go to get their start in Iron Man? We’ve picked out six books that’ll give you a crash course on Marvel’s Armored Avenger.
Iron Man: Extremis: Although Iron Man has been published almost continuously since his debut in 1963, for awhile he was behind the times on the technological revolution. It wasn’t until the relaunched Invincible Iron Man series in 2005 by Ellis and Granov that Iron Man became a technological hero for the modern age. A bizarre new lab-grown technovirus is on the scene named Extremis, giving its users expansive new powers. After Iron Man’s initial attack on the Extremis user gets knocked back, Stark uses the Extremis technology on himself to innovate a new type of Iron Man armor. This story-arc cemented Warren Ellis’ role as the mad scientist writer at Marvel to turnaround concepts like this and Thunderbolts, and Adi Granov’s work on this comic series led director Jon Favreau to enlist him as a designer on both Iron Man feature films.
Iron Man: Demon In A Bottle TPB: Although Stan Lee broke with the comics code years before this was published, the “Demon In A Bottle” story-arc in Iron Man really poured through that opening. After being introduced as the wealthy industrialist playboy of the 1960s, this 70s storyarc shows the bitter consequences of a jet-flying, limousine-riding, kiss-stealing, Iron Man-wearing life. With the pressures of his business and superhero life coming in on all sides, Tony Stark turns to alcohol .. not so much as an escape, but as a way to make it all bearable.
Iron Man: Enter The Mandarin: Although this isn’t the original first meeting between Iron Man and Mandarin, this series by Joe Casey and Eric Canete pits their struggle of technology versus magic in a modern context. Movie-goers may give you a collective “who?” when you mention the name Mandarin, but he remains Iron Man’s chief foe and its only a matter of time before he’s brought into the big screen. Casey shows an exemplary understanding of Tony Stark as a person, and Canete brings an expressive and evocative sense of art to this story – showing how kinetic a battle between a 21st century technology hero and an ages-old asian mystic can be.
Iron Man: Iron Monger: If you liked the story in the first Iron Man movie, this is where you go to see where it all c ame from. Obadiah Stane takes on Tony Stark on all fronts – from the business side with his competing company and as a hero with the Iron Monger armor. Writer Denny O’Neil really hit a home run here by taking everything from a hero to see what he’d be like left with nothing and what a hero would do to get it back.
Iron Man: Armor Wars: Although over twenty years old, Iron Man: Armor Wars is a omnipresent piece of storytelling of an inventor combating those who try to steal his designs. Imagine if Steve Jobs caught someone stealing the designs for iPhone, but imagine the iPhone is a fully-equipped war machine and there’s your story. With the advent of the Iron Man armor, numerous competitors get into the market – and many on the evil side. After years of fighting them just as a hero versus villain, he learns that their armors were based on his technology – in fact giving him some role in them even existing. The second Iron Man movie was based in part on this story-arc, and comics have used this as a foundation for Tony Stark’s business actions. Consider it “How To Do Business The Tony Stark Way”.
Iron Man: The Five Nightmares: When the son of former rival Obadiah Stane lands on the scene, Tony Stark sees an inventive young man like he once was but with a terrible bitter streak. This story-arc shows an Iron Man who comes face-to-face with the next generation – younger, faster, smarter – and with a grudge to settle. Although later stories by Fraction and Larroca prove to be more potent this initial storyarc, The Five Nightmares serves as a foundation for their work to come and also an ideal bridge from the Iron Man movie to the comics themselves.