Pepper Potts: Where Do I Start?

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Virginia “Pepper” Potts was born in the pages of 1963’s Tales of Suspense #45, but didn’t quite stand out until years later. But now after her stellar portrayal by Gwyneth Paltrow in the Iron Man movies and Matt Fraction’s handling of her in the Invincible Iron Man series, Pepper has quietly become one of comics’ leading ladies.

Originally created as a vampish secretary (with echoes of Mad Men’s Joan Holloway), Pepper Potts fell fast and hard for the allure of businessman Tony Stark but later went to fall for his assistant, Happy Hogan. In the comics her tenure as love interest to Tony Stark and Iron Man was short-lived, as she eloped with Hogan and was rarely seen in decades. But in the years leading up to the first Iron Man movie, Marvel’s comics writers found a new role for Potts — first as an assistant to Stark once again, but later as a hero in her own right; first as a backroom coordinator codenamed Hera in the short-lived series The Order, and then coming to Stark’s own aid in a version of the Iron Man suit that she later called Rescue. Although she eventually left the costumed crime-fighting to others, she remains one of the most prominent women in the Marvel U — with or without Tony Stark.

And with the movie Iron Man 3 hitting screens this weekend and the promise of a large role for Potts, I’ve scoured the racks and the bins looking for the key texts to refer t to better know Ms. Potts. With only a sole one-shot to her name, her story is primary told as part of the supporting cast in various Iron Man books and as part of teams like The Order. I’d be first in line for a well-written Pepper Potts series, but for now we’ll have to make due with what we’ve got.

rescueRescue #1: While she might be best known for her business attire, for a time Pepper Potts wore an Iron Man suit dubbed Rescue. And in this one-shot by Kelly Sue DeConnick and Andrea Mutti, she shows how different she was in approach than her sometimes-beau Tony Stark. As her codename implies, Rescue focuses more on aid than attack. This one-off issue acts as an excellent character study of Potts in her civilian role and as a sometimes-superhero, coming to terms with her marriage to Happy Hogan who had recently passed away at the time of this series in 2010. This issue is collected in Mighty Marvel: Women Of Marvel and both the hardcover and softcover editions of Invincible Iron Man Vol. 8, but if you’re just aiming at Pepper Potts then this standalone issue is a cheap find at any decent comic shop.

Essential Iron Man Vol. 4: This collection of 70s era Iron Man issues doesn’t contain her first appearance, but does contain what I figure to be the best string of stories where Pepper stands out. Issues #59 through #61 shows the burning flames over the love triangle between Pepper, Tony and Happy Hogan, as Pepper shows herself to be full of fire and determination. Don’t kid yourself however, as these stories are still stories about Iron Man and Tony Stark, but Pepper is a part of the story here too.

M Payoff 1shtInvincible Iron Man Omnibus, Vol. 1Collecting the first nineteen issues of Matt Fraction and Salvador Larroca’s run with Iron Man, these issues have Pepper as a primary character here — going from aide, confidante and love interest  to donning the Rescue armor for the first time. First given the suit to save her after a shrapnel injury, she dons the armor in combat when Stark is on the run in the great “World’s Most Wanted” arc which closes out this volume. Off the battlefield, Potts assumes the role of CEO of Stark’s company during this time, along the way turning the series from being about Iron Man and allies to being truly an ensemble piece with Tony, Pepper and Maria Hill.

Iron Man: I mainly stick to comic book recommendations in the Where Do I Start? series, but I can’t help but point out how great Potts is written and acted in the first Iron Man movie. Whether it’s Paltrow’s delivery, Favreau’s directing or the screenplay, this depiction of Potts is far more three-dimensional that she’d been seen in comics much until that point, being an equal to Tony and with a unique, almost quirky, relationship with Tony Stark.

The Order, Vol. 1: The Next Right Thing: Largely forgotten in the shadow of Fraction’s other work like Invincible Iron Man and Immortal Iron Fist soon after, this twelve-issue series features a team of new heroes created in the aftermath of Civil War — all new faces, or in the case of Pepper, old faces in new roles. Predating her transformation into Rescue years later, in this series Pepper acts as a Oracle-esque logistical coordinator for the team, providing information and orders (if need be) while not operating on the battlefield herself. Her role here is relatively limited, but acts as a unique precursor to how Fraction would later use her in the Invincible Iron Man series.


  1. “I do anything and everything Mr. Stark requires. Including, occasionally, taking out the trash. Will there be anything else?”

    It’s nice to see one of the lesser-known women of comics get her time in the spotlight. I agree Paltrow’s portrayal made me really care about her in a way I hadn’t before.

  2. Can you echo a character created decades after you?

    It’s great that she’s been highlighted the past few years. I seem to remember her being used well in the Waid/Chen run, but maybe she was still more or less in the background, I can’t recall. I liked how Chen drew her, anyway.

  3. Kurt Busiek’s Iron Man: The Iron Age mini features a pretty cool Pepper Potts.

  4. Pepper was almost always very underused for decades. She was introduced as a stock, nothing character back in the sixties, very stereotypical and kind of insulting to womn, really. It was nice to see her really come into her own these last few years.