|First appearance||Tales of Suspense #39|
|Full name||Anthony Edward Stark|
|Place of origin||Long Island, New York|
|Abilities||Powered armor suit|
Iron Man is a superhero appearing in American comic books published by Marvel Comics. Co-created by writer and editor Stan Lee, developed by scripter Larry Lieber, and designed by artists Don Heck and Jack Kirby, the character first appeared in Tales of Suspense #39 in 1963, and received his own title with Iron Man #1 in 1968. Shortly after his creation, Iron Man was a founding member of a superhero team, the Avengers, with Thor, Ant-Man, Wasp and the Hulk. Iron Man stories, individually and with the Avengers, have been published consistently since the character's creation.
Iron Man is the superhero persona of Anthony Edward "Tony" Stark, a businessman and engineer who runs the company Stark Industries. Beginning his career as a weapons manufacturer, he is captured in a war zone, and his heart is severely injured by shrapnel. To sustain his heart and escape his captors, he builds a technologically advanced armor. After escaping, he continues using the armor as a superhero, creating more advanced models that grant him superhuman strength, flight, energy projection, and other abilities. The character was used to explore political themes, and early Iron Man stories were set in the Cold War. Later stories explored other themes, such as civil unrest, technological advancement, corporate espionage, alcoholism, and governmental authority.
Major Iron Man stories include Demon in a Bottle (1979), Armor Wars (1987–1988), Extremis (2005), and Iron Man 2020 (2020). He is also a leading character in the company-wide stories Civil War (2006–2007), Dark Reign (2008–2009), and Civil War II (2016). Iron Man's supporting cast has produced additional superhero characters, including James Rhodes as War Machine, Pepper Potts as Rescue, and Riri Williams as Ironheart as well as reformed villains Black Widow and Hawkeye. Iron Man's list of enemies includes his archenemy, the Mandarin, as well as many supervillains of communist origin and many that double as business rivals for Stark.
Robert Downey Jr. portrayed Tony Stark in Iron Man (2008), the first film of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and continued to portray the character until his final appearance in Avengers: Endgame (2019). Downey's portrayal popularized the character, elevating Iron Man as one of Marvel's most recognizable superheroes.
Creation and premiere
Following the success of the Fantastic Four in 1961 and the subsequent revival of superhero comic books, Marvel set about creating new superhero characters. During this time, Stan Lee developed the initial concept for Iron Man. Lee was interested in making an unlikeable character likeable, saying that he "thought it would be fun to take the kind of character that nobody would like, none of [Marvel's] readers would like, and shove him down their throats and make them like him". Iron Man was created in the years after a permanent arms industry developed in the United States, and this was incorporated into the character's backstory. The character was introduced as an active player in the Vietnam War. Lee described the national mood toward Vietnam in which Iron Man was created as "a time when most of us genuinely felt that the conflict in that tortured land really was a simple matter of good versus evil".
As superhero comics became more popular, Marvel began replacing its previous comic book lines with superheroes. The monster-themed anthology series Tales of Suspense began running Iron Man stories alongside more traditional science-fiction and horror stories, featuring Iron Man on each cover. Iron Man's first appearance, "Iron Man is Born!", was in Tales of Suspense #39, released in December 1962 with a cover date of March 1963. In 1964, the science-fiction and horror stories were removed entirely, with the series running only Iron Man and Captain America stories.
Larry Lieber developed Iron Man's origin and wrote the first Iron Man story, while Jack Kirby and Don Heck were responsible for the initial design. Kirby initially drew Iron Man as a "round and clunky gray heap", and the design was modified by Heck to incorporate gadgets such as jets, drills, and suction cups. Heck continued as the primary Iron Man artist until 1965, as Kirby had obligations to other Marvel properties. Heck later said that when designing Tony Stark, he was attempting to create "an Errol Flynn type". Though the Iron Man armor was gray in its first appearance, it was quickly changed to gold due to issues with printing. Lee briefly delegated the writing to other creators at Marvel, but he felt that their work was substandard; as with his other characters, Lee again took control of Iron Man so he could write the stories himself.
When Marvel's distributor allowed them more monthly releases, The Avengers was developed as a new comic book series. Iron Man was one of the five characters that formed the titular superhero team. By 1965, the difficulty of maintaining continuity between The Avengers with heroes' solo comics prompted Lee to write the original cast out of The Avengers, including Iron Man.
As part of a shuffling to match artists with the characters they were most suited for, Steve Ditko became the artist for Iron Man. Ditko was responsible for only three issues in late 1963, but in this time he had Iron Man's suit redesigned with the red and gold color scheme that became the character's primary image. Iron Man's recurring nemesis, the Mandarin, first appeared shortly after in Tales of Suspense #50.
Growing opposition to the American involvement in Vietnam prompted a shift in Iron Man's characterization at this time as part of a larger push by Marvel to be more apolitical. Lee shifted the focus of Iron Man stories to espionage and domestic crime, incorporating the intelligence agency S.H.I.E.L.D. into these stories. They also incorporated the villains of other Marvel heroes, avoiding Iron Man's primarily communist rogues' gallery. Some of Iron Man's villains were given new motivations without their communist allegiances.
Previously relegated to short stories in an anthology series, Iron Man was one of several characters to receive a full length dedicated series in 1968. The final issues of Tales of Suspense and Sub-Mariner's Tales to Astonish were combined as a one-shot special, Iron Man and Sub-Mariner. Iron Man then began its run under writer Archie Goodwin. Political themes were reintroduced slowly over the following years, with a focus on domestic issues like racial conflict and environmentalism rather than geopolitics.
I don't feel Tony Stark is a dinosaur, a creature unable to change before the weight of time crushes him aside. Yeah, it is hard in 1977 to praise a millionaire industrialist, playboy and former munitions-manufacturer—but it isn't impossible to change that image. Which is what I plan to do.
Over the years, the letters to the editor column in several issues saw extensive political debate. When Goodwin was made editor-in-chief, assigned Gerry Conway as the writer for Iron Man. Conway began a four-year-long effort to reform Iron Man in 1971 with stories that directly addressed the character's history as a weapons manufacturer. These stories were especially prominent during a run by Mike Friedrich, in which corporate reform of Stark Industries was a recurring subplot.
Iron Man was one of several Marvel characters that declined in popularity during the 1970s, and the series went for a period of time without a dedicated writer until Bill Mantlo took over in 1977. The following year, David Michelinie and Bob Layton took charge of the series beginning with issue #116. While inking the series, Layton used issues of GQ, Playboy, and electronics catalogues as visual references, and they stayed informed on developments in real world technology so that the Iron Man armor would always be a more advanced version of what existed. Layton was inspired by the vast collection of specialized outfits used by Batman when designing Iron Man's various armors.
In Iron Man #117 and #118, Michelinie and Layton replaced many elements that had developed in the series: they removed Iron Man's romantic interest, they removed the Life Model Decoys that served as robotic doubles of Tony Stark, and they had him move to a different home. Iron Man's new romantic interest, Bethany Cabe, was introduced as a feminist character who worked as Tony Stark's bodyguard. The largest change they made was making Iron Man an alcoholic. This was unprecedented for a major comic book hero, and for much of popular fiction. This began the Demon in a Bottle story arc that ran from #120 to #128. At the same time, they introduced the character of Justin Hammer, who became the main backer of several Iron Man villains.
1980s and 1990s
The 1980s saw increased focus on Iron Man as a businessman reflecting the economic changes associated with Reaganomics, and many of his challenges involved threats to his company. Denny O'Neil was put in charge of Iron Man beginning with issue #158. His run explored Tony Stark's psychology, having the character again fall into his alcoholism and suffer at the hands of business rival Obadiah Stane. O'Neil eventually wrote Tony Stark out of the role entirely, having him temporarily retire as Iron Man and replacing him with his ally James Rhodes. The 1987 Armor Wars story arc blends the superhero and businessman aspects of Iron Man more directly when Tony Stark seeks legal recourse for rivals stealing the Iron Man technology. Michelinie and Layton returned to the series with issue #211, and they again began experimenting with different variations on the Iron Man armor.
In 1990, Michelinie and Layton stopped writing for Iron Man, and the series was given to John Byrne, one of the most highly regarded comic book writers of the time. His run consisted of three story arcs across twenty issues: Armor Wars II (which had already been announced by Michelinie and Layton), The Dragon Seed Saga, and War Games. He did not have further interest in the series by 1992, as his collaborators John Romita Jr. and Howard Mackie had moved on to other projects. During his run, Byrne rewrote Iron Man's origin to remove references to communism and the Vietnam War. Iron Man's supporting character War Machine was spun off into his own comic book series in 1994.
As part of a company-wide reorganization, Marvel's major characters, including Iron Man, were given to former Marvel writers Jim Lee and Rob Liefeld in a profit-sharing agreement. Lee and Liefeld were given charge of the 1996 Heroes Reborn branding that renumbered Marvel's long-running periodicals at #1. This new iteration, labeled volume two, was set in an alternate universe created during the Onslaught event. It ran for thirteen issues, written by Lee and Scott Lobdell and drawn by Whilce Portacio. The following year, Marvel introduced the Heroes Return event to bring the characters back from the alternate universe, which again reset characters such as Iron Man to issue #1. This was labeled volume three, which was taken on by writer Kurt Busiek and artist Sean Chen.
When the Ultimate Marvel imprint was created with reimagined versions of Marvel's characters, an alternate Iron Man appeared in 2002 with the Ultimates, the imprint's adaptation of The Avengers. A five issue limited series, Ultimate Iron Man, was released featuring this character in 2005.
In 2004, Iron Man was a major character in the Avengers Disassembled event and subsequently became a founding member of The New Avengers. Volume four of Iron Man began in 2005. This new run was written by Warren Ellis and drawn by Adi Granov, and its first story arc, Extremis sees Iron Man upgrade his body directly through the Extremis virus, giving him direct control over a biological armor. The first fourteen issues of volume four carried the Iron Man title, while issues #15–32 were titled Iron Man: Director of S.H.I.E.L.D. Iron Man was the leader of the "pro-registration" faction during the 2006 Civil War crossover event by Mark Millar and Steve McNiven. After the character was rebranded as "Director of S.H.I.E.L.D.", he also appeared with The Mighty Avengers in 2007.
Coinciding with the release of the first Iron Man film, Marvel restarted Iron Man's comic book run with Invincible Iron Man, written by Matt Fraction and drawn by Salvador Larroca. This series ran for sixty issues alongside the character's standalone film appearances, ending shortly before Iron Man 3 was set to be released. The series reverted to the original numbering in 2011, when the overall 500th issue was published as Iron Man #500. Iron Man was then one of several characters whose series was relaunched at issue #1 with the Marvel Now! branding following the 2012 Avengers vs. X-Men event. The 2014 AXIS event led into the Superior Iron Man series, featuring an amoral Iron Man.
Iron Man was again a leader of one faction during the 2016 Civil War II event by Brian Michael Bendis. As part of a broader trend by Marvel Comics to substitute its main characters with a diverse cast of original characters in the 2010s, Iron Man was then temporarily replaced by Ironheart, an African-American teenage girl who reverse engineered the Iron Man armor. At the same time, the series Infamous Iron Man was created with Dr. Doom becoming Iron Man. Invincible Iron Man was renumbered to #593 with the 2017 Marvel Legacy branding, and this issue reintroduced Tony Stark.
The series Tony Stark: Iron Man premiered in 2018 with the Fresh Start branding, written by Dan Slott and drawn by Valerio Schiti. In 2020, Iron Man was relaunched in a new series, written by Christopher Cantwell and illustrated by CAFU, following the Iron Man 2020 event. This series was written as a "back to basics" project that reverted the character to a more traditional superhero following the developments of previous series. The character was relaunched again in 2022 with Invincible Iron Man, written by Gerry Duggan and illustrated by Juan Frigeri.
Fictional character biography
Tony Stark inherited his family's business, Stark Industries, after his parents were killed in a car crash. Developing equipment for the U.S. military, he travels to a war zone to conduct a weapons test when he triggers a booby trap. His heart is critically injured by shrapnel, and he is captured by the communist Wong-Chu, who demands that Stark build him a weapon. Stark instead builds a suit of armor that sustains his heart, becoming Iron Man. The war zone that Stark visits has been changed multiple times by different writers to correspond with the character's age, which is explained by a "sliding scale of continuity" in which the timing of significant events in the world of Marvel may change. For the first decades of Iron Man's publication history, the conflict is the Vietnam War. This was changed retroactively in the 1990s to an unnamed Southeast Asian country, and a conflict in the fictional country of Siancong was eventually established to justify the inconsistency.
Iron Man returns to the United States and becomes a superhero, convincing the public that Iron Man is Tony Stark's bodyguard. When he is called to stop Hulk and learns that Loki is behind Hulk's attack, he joins forces with Hulk, Thor, Ant-Man, and Wasp to defeat Loki, and they agree to form a superhero team, the Avengers. At the same time, he helps found the intelligence agency S.H.I.E.L.D., providing the organization with equipment. As Iron Man comes to regret his involvement in weapons manufacturing, Stark Industries is changed to Stark International, an electronics company that emphasizes environmentalism and ending world hunger. S.H.I.E.L.D. attempts to take over the business and revert it back to weapons manufacturing. At the same time, Iron Man is framed for murder. These stresses cause him to begin drinking heavily, and he develops alcoholism. Though he gets sober, he later relapses back into alcoholism as part of a plot by Obadiah Stane. Iron Man briefly loses his company to Stane, passes the mantle of Iron Man to his ally James Rhodes, and becomes homeless. After he recovers, Stane adopts an armored suit and becomes the Iron Monger before being defeated. Iron Man then founds a space technology company, Stark Enterprises. When Iron Man learns that Justin Hammer had acquired the Iron Man armor's technology, he seeks out all of the other armors. The resulting fights leave Iron Man a fugitive, leading him to fake his death and then describe himself as a new Iron Man.
Iron Man had previously undergone surgery to replace the damaged portions of his heart, eliminating the need for his prosthetic chest plate. But when he is shot in the spine and paralyzed, he develops a new prosthesis that grants him mobility. This prosthesis is hacked and controlled remotely, causing neurological damage that appears for a time to kill him. During this time, James Rhodes takes the Iron Man armor. After returning, Iron Man falls under the control of Immortus, turning him evil. The Avengers bring an alternate Tony Stark from another reality to help defeat him. Iron Man is killed, and the alternate Tony Stark becomes the new Iron Man. The original Iron Man and the alternate Iron Man are merged into a single being by Franklin Richards when he rewrites reality. His company had been bought out, so he starts a consulting firm, Stark Solutions. His secret identity is revealed to the public shortly afterward. He is then appointed Secretary of Defense until Scarlet Witch alters his mind, causing him to embarrass himself and leave in disgrace. When Mallen becomes a threat through the Extremis project, Iron Man has himself injected with the Extremis virus, giving him a biological armor that he can control with his mind.
Iron Man serves as the enforcer of the Superhero Registration Act upon its enactment, creating a schism between superheroes, with Iron Man leading proponents of registration against a group of resistors led by Captain America. At the end of the conflict, Iron Man is appointed head of S.H.I.E.L.D. When the Earth is invaded by Skrulls, S.H.I.E.L.D. is dismantled, but Iron Man refuses to turn over the list of registered heroes to its corrupt successor agency H.A.M.M.E.R. This is eventually dismantled as well, and Iron Man organizes the Avengers to replace these intelligence agencies. He founds a clean energy company, Stark Resilient, and he fakes his death so his enemies would not threaten it. He joins the Guardians of the Galaxy for a time, and upon returning to Earth, he discovers that he had actually been adopted by the Starks so their real son could be hidden. When a man is discovered who can see the future, the superhero community undergoes another schism, and Iron Man leads a team of heroes opposed to a system of predetermined justice using his ability. The battle ends with Iron Man in a coma. A reformed Victor von Doom becomes Iron Man, while an artificial intelligence backup of Stark's mind guides a new armored superhero, Ironheart, until the technology in Stark's body allows him to heal.
Personality and motivations
We really thought about how we needed to give him a weakness. It wasn't hip to have him running out of energy and looking for a light socket every few pages, or having a heart attack every time Ultimo was fighting him. So we discussed it and we thought that we would give him the corporate man's disease [alcoholism]. Something that would always haunt him.
Iron Man is a businessman and an entrepreneur who constantly seeks to innovate and improve his technology. Stan Lee modeled Iron Man after businessman Howard Hughes. The character shares many traits with Hughes, including a similar business, his reputation as an arrogant playboy, and a physical resemblance. As a businessman, Tony Stark is motivated to create and develop technology both for personal benefit and for the benefit of society. His belief in progress sometimes manifests as opposition to the press and politicians, whose attempts to keep him accountable hamper his efforts as a superhero. Iron Man was created at a time when comic book characters were first depicted struggling with real life problems, and his heart injury was an early example of a superhero with a physical disability. This injury was prominent in his early characterization, making him misanthropic so as not to reveal the nature of his injury or his secret identity, thereby threatening his autonomy and his masculinity. As real world medical technology made heart injuries less fatal, Iron Man's physical maladies extended to neurological damage. Iron Man was given a mental illness as well when he was written as an alcoholic.
When his stories frequently invoked the Cold War during his first years of publication, Iron Man stood for liberal capitalism, fighting against communism in the name of democracy and capitalism. In the early 1970s, Iron Man became more self-doubting, questioning when the use of force is justified against communism, and he responded by becoming a philanthropist. The 1990s saw Iron Man reject broader ideology in favor of individualism, and his allegiance to American democracy was replaced by his own personal values. He remains anti-communist, however, reiterating his support for democracy and refusing to do business in China following the Tiannamen Square Massacre. Iron Man is portrayed as an archetype of how masculinity is seen in the United States, with his success in business and his playboy characterization allowing the character to symbolize a masculine image of the country during the Cold War. This characterization also manifests in negative traits that were prominent in early Iron Man stories, including belligerence, negligence, and misogyny.
Iron Man prefers machines to humans, believing that machines can be more easily controlled and repaired. Writer Dennis O'Neil described the Iron Man armor as "a psychological crutch preventing him from dealing with his own inner demons". He identifies with the Iron Man armor as an extension of himself. He believes that the image it presents is his own image, and he considers himself responsible any time someone uses the technology. In the 2008 story The Five Nightmares, Iron Man narrates his five greatest fears: relapse into alcoholism, reproduction of the Iron Man technology, other people becoming Iron Man, the technology becoming disposable, and that someone else would be distributing this technology. Besides the danger that such scenarios pose, they all represent fear of Iron Man losing power over himself or his technology.
Themes and motifs
Iron Man was more overtly political than other Marvel characters of the Silver Age. Stan Lee wished to create the "quintessential capitalist", developing him as an industrialist that manufactures weapons to fight communism. From 1963 to 1968, Iron Man represented capitalism and the United States in allegories for the Cold War, particularly in reference to the Vietnam War. Though anti-communist sentiments were present throughout Marvel Comics, they appeared most prominently in Iron Man stories. This dynamic allowed Iron Man to examine the perspectives of both the individual inventor and of the bureaucracy of governments and corporations. After Marvel shifted away from addressing foreign conflicts, Iron Man was portrayed as a liberal who was skeptical of the U.S. government while also opposing radicalism associated with the counterculture of the 1960s. By 1975, Iron Man was an opponent of the Vietnam War. John Bryne's run revisited communism at the end of the Cold War in the early 1990s, but it was shown as less threatening. The absence of Cold War politics was not immediately replaced by another theme, and post-Cold War Iron Man stories often visited different ideas regarding technology for a short time before moving on. When terrorism became more prominent in the public mind, Iron Man became a symbol of anti-terrorism rather than anti-communism.
Iron Man was one of the two main characters of the 2006 Civil War event, an allegory for the Patriot Act and government surveillance. While Captain America represented liberal opposition to government surveillance in the name of individualism, Iron Man represented conservative support for government surveillance in the name of security. In this story, Iron Man represented an attempt to define what a superhero was in the 21st century following the September 11 attacks, implicitly likening the fear of terrorism to the fear of unregulated super-powered beings. While Marvel was neutral between the characters, readers overwhelmingly saw Iron Man as the villain, being the stronger force that the underdog had to overcome. A second Civil War event in 2016 portrayed Iron Man as an advocate of free will against Captain Marvel's determinism.
Technology and its influence on society is a common theme in Iron Man stories, and Iron Man has been emphasized as a technological marvel since his earliest appearances. Depictions of technology in Iron Man stories have often endorsed the use of technology to alter the natural world. This is in contrast with other Marvel superheroes of the time, when scientific advances—and radiation in particular—are portrayed as having unintended effects. Iron Man's business, Stark Industries, is depicted as a force for good that advances scientific knowledge through capitalist innovation. Reflecting his characterization as a businessman, Iron Man stories often invoke themes of economic competition, seeing him face characters that try to develop better versions of the Iron Man armor. Likewise, many of Iron Man's challenges involve corrupt business rivals and corporate espionage. The technological nature of the character means that he may also be seen as something that could possibly exist in the real world. Iron Man's position within the suit allow for discussion regarding automation versus human oversight of technology. These technological themes are explored through a modern lens during the Extremis story arc, which incorporates the idea of human enhancement through biotechnology.
In most depictions, Iron Man does not have any superhuman abilities. He instead derives his strength from powered armor of his own design. In addition to protecting the wearer with its durability, it allows the wearer to fly. As of 2010, Marvel Comics described Iron Man's armor as being able to lift 100 tons and to fly at Mach 8. The armor is also equipped with various weapons, which typically include particle beam "repulsor rays" in each palm that project energy as well as a stronger "unibeam" on his chest. From its first appearance, the armor is linked to the brainwaves of the wearer to allow movement. It must be calibrated to the user, and Iron Man has to design the armor specifically for who will be using it, whether it be himself or an ally. It typically has some method of being shrunk down or made more portable when not being used.
When it was first developed, the armor was described as using transistors to function. This was replaced with integrated circuits as real world technology advanced. Its primary function was to produce a magnetic field that protected his heart from the shrapnel in his body, and his efforts to keep it charged and to keep it secret sometimes drove the story's plot in early years. A contrast is made between the armor's strength and the vulnerability of the human inside it. The armor protects Iron Man externally from attacks, but it also protects him internally as it keeps his heart beating. This point is emphasized by the form-fitting design of many Iron Man armors, which incorporates a clear human-like element in an otherwise robotic-looking character.
The armor was gray in its first appearance, but Iron Man gave it gold plating in the subsequent issue, and a few issues thereafter it was replaced by the red and gold look that the character became identified with. The character constantly seeks to develop newer, more advanced variations on the armor, and he frequently designs specialized models for specific purposes. These include the space armor, the stealth armor, and the deep sea armor, as well as the Hulkbuster armor to engage in combat with the Hulk. Developments in the armor's design often reflect real world advances in technology as well as trends in science fiction. The use of a technological suit of armor has allowed artists to frequently make changes to the character's appearance without controversy.
During the Extremis story arc, Iron Man developed a biotechnological armor that was embedded in his DNA and stored in his bones, allowing him to summon the armor from within his body and control it with his mind, effectively giving him superhuman abilities. This reduced the input lag between him and his armor, allowed him to mentally interface with technology, and gave him the focus to engage in several unrelated tasks at once. The Extremis technology also converted Iron Man's mind into a digital storage device: this allowed him to create a back up of his memories. He uses this back up after wiping his mind to destroy any record of the superhero registry, but he loses access to the Extremis armor in the process. He then develops the similar Bleeding Edge armor based on nanotechnology, but he gives this up as well after being unfit to pilot it during a period of alcoholism. He has subsequently used other armors that incorporate nanotechnology.
Pepper Potts is an employee of Stark Industries that Tony Stark promoted to his executive assistant. As he had little interest in running the business, much of the management was handled by her. When Stark became Iron Man and began taking responsibility for his company, she taught him how to manage the business. When Potts is injured by an explosion and receives a heart injury similar to Iron Man's, he installs the arc reactor technology in her. She eventually becomes the CEO of Stark Industries. Iron Man built her a set of armor in secret, and after finding it she became the superhero Rescue.
James Rhodes is an employee of Tony Stark's that became the superhero War Machine. He first appeared in 1979 and was developed as a supporting character in 1981. He briefly took on the role of Iron Man while Tony Stark was relapsing on alcoholism. Later on, when Stark was near death, he gave Rhodes his corporation and the War Machine Armor. After Stark returned, he had Rhodes keep the armor. Rhodes' dependency on Iron Man for his armor often constrains him as a supporting character to Stark, even in solo War Machine stories.
Happy Hogan was hired as Tony Stark's chauffeur after saving his life, and Hogan later deduced that Tony Stark was Iron Man. Edwin Jarvis is the butler for the Stark family and for the Avengers. Through Iron Man's membership in the Avengers, he has worked extensively with many of his fellow heroes, including Captain America and Thor, among others. His association with S.H.I.E.L.D. sees him working with its agents and leadership, including Nick Fury and Maria Hill. He has also taken on other heroes as sidekicks, including Spider-Man and Jack of Hearts.
Iron Man has had many romantic interests, most of which only last a short time. In Iron Man's original Tales of Suspense run, a love triangle was established in which Tony Stark and Happy Hogan both had romantic interest in Pepper Potts. Hogan eventually married Potts. Roxie Gilbert, the sister of the villain Firebrand, was introduced as a romantic interest in the early 1970s. She was a foil for both Iron Man and Firebrand, representing non-violent activism. Whitney Frost was Iron Man's romantic interest later in the decade until she turned against him as the villain Madame Masque. She was replaced by Bethany Cabe as part of an overhaul of Iron Man's supporting cast, and Cabe was Iron Man's romantic interest during his alcoholism. She left Iron Man after he saved her husband, who had been presumed dead. Iron Man later partnered with Rumiko Fujikawa, the daughter of a businessman who took over Stark Enterprises. He eventually began a relationship with his long time ally Janet van Dyne. A story arc in September 2023 saw Iron Man married to X-Men member Emma Frost.
Iron Man's earliest villains were often affiliated with the Soviet government or otherwise associated with communism. In the first three years after Iron Man was created, one-third of his villains were communists. Some of these enemies were Soviet counterparts of Iron Man, such as Titanium Man and Crimson Dynamo, while others were leadership of communist states, such as the Red Barbarian and the real-life Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev. Khrushchev, like most communists in the series, was drawn in caricature style as a brute who only sought power. Multiple communist villains, such as Crimson Dynamo, were reformed and became heroes loyal to the United States to present Iron Man and liberal capitalism as more appealing and morally superior. Two prominent Marvel heroes, Soviet spy Black Widow and American street criminal Hawkeye, were introduced as Iron Man villains before reforming as heroes.
The Mandarin was introduced as a Chinese villain, initially incorporating racist Yellow Peril themes and stereotypes regarding China. Though he is also an allegory for autocracy, the Mandarin was not created as another communist villain. Instead, any work he does with the Chinese government is purely in self-interest. Later on, the Mandarin was retroactively established as the man behind the kidnapping of Tony Stark that created Iron Man. The Mandarin contrasts with Iron Man in that he is associated with magic and mysticism rather than science and technology, and in that he was born into nobility unlike Iron Man, who is a self-made man in line with American ideals.
Beginning in the 1970s, Iron Man faced villains that represented social conflict and unrest, such as the anarchist Firebrand and the corrupt businessman Guardsman. Villains representing concerns about technology emerged at the same time, including Ultimo. The business aspect of Iron Man's character has invited several supervillains who oppose Stark Industries rather than just Iron Man. These villains became prominent in the 1980s, and they were amplified by the backlash to the decade's consumerism that emerged in the 1990s. Some of these villains wish to compete with the corporation and steal trade secrets, such as Spymaster, Whiplash, and Beetle. Others oppose the corporation on ideological grounds, such as Atom-Smasher. Other such villains include Obadiah Stane, Justin Hammer, Shockwave, the Controller, the Mauler, and Stilt-Man. A focus on terrorism brought villains such as Zeke Stane, who carried out terrorist attacks using suicide bombers.
Several other versions of Iron Man exist in other universes as part of Marvel's multiverse.
- Iron Man 2020, the title of Arno Stark as a future Iron Man.
- Iron Man 2099, the superhero Sonny Frisco in the year 2099.
- Lord Iron, who exists in an Elizabethan society in the Marvel 1602 series.
- A Tony Stark who operated as Ant-Man on Earth-818.
- An evil version of Iron Man called Iron Maniac.
- A Tony Stark who operates as Iron Lad on Earth-6160.
- Iron Hammer, a combination of Iron Man and Thor during the Infinity Warps event.
- Iron Lantern, a combination with Green Lantern of DC Comics in the Amalgam crossover.
Cultural impact and legacy
Iron Man's appearances in the 1960s saw mixed reception from readers, many of whom criticized the character for his association with the United States military and the controversial Vietnam War. In response, Marvel rewrote the character to moderate his image and to have him directly reflect on his culpability in the harms caused by war. Iron Man became widely popular following the success of the film Iron Man, which made him one of Marvel's most recognizable characters, and Iron Man is credited with redefining the superhero film genre. The relatively realistic nature of the character and the fact that he had no history of poor adaptations are factors in Iron Man's capacity to renew the interest of general audiences in superhero fiction. Since then, many publishers have listed Iron Man in the top ten in best Marvel character and best superhero lists. Iron Man's portrayal of futuristic technology has affected public image of how these technologies may develop. Heavy use of augmented reality interfaces by Iron Man, in his helmet's heads-up display and elsewhere, has informed public awareness of the technology. In 2019, a statue representing the character in his Iron Man armor was erected in Forte dei Marmi, Italy.
In other media
In 2008, a film adaptation titled Iron Man was released, starring Robert Downey Jr. as Tony Stark and directed by Jon Favreau. Iron Man was met with positive reviews from film critics, grossing $318 million domestically and $585 million worldwide, and became the first in the long-running Marvel Cinematic Universe. Downey's casting was praised, as was his portrayal of the character; Downey's own recovery from substance abuse was seen as creating a personal connection with the character. Downey reprises his role in Iron Man 2 (2010), Marvel's The Avengers (2012), Iron Man 3 (2013), Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015), Captain America: Civil War (2016), Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017), Avengers: Infinity War (2018), and Avengers: Endgame (2019). Downey's character was retired following his appearance in Avengers: Endgame, but Iron Man supporting characters continue in their own Marvel Cinematic Universe titles, Ironheart and Armor Wars.
Iron Man's first animated appearance was in a seven-minute segment of the 1966 series The Marvel Super Heroes, and has since been featured in the animated series Iron Man (1994–1996) and Iron Man: Armored Adventures (2009–2012). He has also made many appearances in other Marvel animated programs, particularly those featuring the Avengers, and there have been multiple Iron Man direct-to-video releases.
Iron Man has featured in several video games, including Iron Man (2008) and Iron Man 2 (2010), which were released as adaptations of his Marvel Cinematic Universe films. He also featured in the PlayStation VR game Iron Man VR (2020). An Iron Man action-adventure game was announced in 2022 to be developed by Motive Studio. Iron Man has also appeared in many other Marvel video games, such as those featuring the Avengers.
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