Iron Man: Where Do I Start?

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.

You can also check out the iFanboy video show on Iron Man, or our Booksplode on Invincible Iron Man.


  1. The Five Nightmares is a good suiting-up point.

  2. Agreed, Fraction’s run has been my one and preferrabe Iron Man Title for the past 3 years. Def recommend the first trade for anyone interested in Tony Stark, or better yet the omnibus.

  3. SpiderTitan- You don’t find Fraction’s retake on Tony loosing his fortune again and someone stealing the Iron Man armor for their own dastardly purposes Again- a kind of retread?

    “detroit steele” 

  4. @ericmci – More like “Detroit Steal!” Am I right, huh? High five.

  5. Good suggestions all. Some places to stay away from would include Young Tony Stark from the mid-1990s, Dead Tony Stark from the early 1990s… pretty much everything edited under the Nel Yomtov regime.

  6. @ericmci Well I personally got into Iron Man with Fraction’s run, so I don’t really know much about the past Iron Man stories, but I think that retreads, even if they are modernized for the new-millenium audiences, are bound to happen in any comic series no matter what. I mean Iron Man’s been around since the 60s so a retread in storylines is probably going to come up every now & again with each new writer. So even though the Detroit Steele storyline is a bit like Obadiah Stane’s storyline on how he took Tony’s fortune from him while Tony got drunk, I think that Fraction’s writing should still be praised since he has culminated the offspring of Iron Man’s 3 most popular villains & made them join together in a great overarching story to destroy Tony Stark, or at least attempt to & in that sense I definitely will forgive Fraction for “recycling” an overused story in order to breath new life into Iron Man. Plus after all, the main purpose of the Invincible Iron Man series was to introduce or re-introduce comic readers to Iron Man while also tying into the movies which would help new readers come aboard. So bringing back familiar stories is & IMO should happen in order to refresh them & introduce them to potential new readers in order to help them to fully understand the character of Tony Stark/Iron Man.

  7. Definitely find the trades that have the Dr. Doom/Iron Man fights in them.

    One is called ‘Doomquest’ which has two stories of the two fighting in medieval and future medieval (long story) timelines. The other trade is called ‘Legacy of Doom’ which is a sequel to the first ‘Doomquest’ story. All 3 stories have David Michelinie as writer, Bob Layton as artist, and ‘Legacy of Doom’ as Ron Lim to help as artist as well.

  8. “a jet-flying, limousine-riding, kiss-stealing, Iron Man-wearing life.”  


  9. The motion comic of Iron Man was fantastic. The best motion comic I’ve seen yet

  10. 4 Nightmares is great!

  11. @TheNextChampion  Is right about the Doom stories. Especially the original 2 issue story where they go back in time and fight in Camelot. Such a classic story. I love how Doom constantly refers to iron man as “lackey” because he was seen as Tony Stark’s bodyguard at  the time.

    If you want to get up to speed on the current Iron man, start with Extremis and then jump to Fractions run. If you want more backstory, ANYTHING done during the Michelinie/Layton runs is great. They had a grasp on the character that was the definitive take on him for 20 years until Ellis brought him into the modern era and then Fraction came along and just totally got what made iron man a great character.

    John Byrne also had a really strong run on Iron Man. I believe those issues were collected, but might be out of print now. But Amazong or Ebay should have them for a decent price.

    There were so many terrific Iron Man stories over the years, I’m glad marvel is going back and collecting them now that he has become a top tier character again thanks to the movie. When Tony fell off the wagon and Rhodey took over as Iron man, that was a great period for the character. It played out over a long series of issues, and really made Tony a flawed hero that you wanted to believe in and root for.

    Once Tony took back the mantel of Iron Man and had his final showdown with Stane, there was another great run of stories for a while. The Ghost, one of the all-time great Iron man villains, was introduced at this time. A lot of fun stories that led up to the first Armor Wars arc, which still holds up pretty well all these years later. (All those people who said Tony acted “out of character” during Civil War obviously never read this run, where Tony goes against everyone and breaks every law imaginable to do what he feels is right, including taking down Cap.)

    After Armor Wars, Tony created a new set of armor, one of the best, in my opinion, and had some more great stories. But every time things seem to be going well for Tony, his life gets shattered. When he got shot by a crazy lover and was paralyzed from the waist down, it was another great, great run of Iron man stories that really delved into Tony’s psyche in a way that was pretty out of the ordinary for a Marvel comic in the early 90s. He created a suit of armor that allowed him to walk, and he basically stayed in his lab all day, because he didn’t want to take the armor off and be a cripple.  Powerful stuff for it’s time.

    John Byrne came soon after that, and established The Mandarin as THE iron man villain, along with bringing back The Living Laser, another classic IM foe, and updating his origin for a modern audience. Byrne’s run is often overlooked, but was really strong.

    After that came the “dark days” with teenage versions and other horrible things us Iron man fans like to forget…..

    Damn, I just rambled WAYYYY too much! Sorry about that, but Iron Man has been my favorite super hero from the time I was 3 years old until today, when I’m 32. So we’re talking close to 30 years of following Iron Man. I can get carried away a bit…..

  12. @JohnVFerrigno  Excellent work.  Thanks for the additional recommends!

  13. @vadamowens  No problem! I probably could have kept going lol