MOTW: A History of "Iron Man"

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Tony Stark uses his ingenuity to fight those who destroyed his private world and soon goes up against his most powerful enemy yet: the Mandarin.
Photo Credit: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures
April 30th, 2013

MOTW: A History of "Iron Man"

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Tony Stark, also known as Iron Man, has a rich history that is a big part of the Marvel comic book universe. Since his introduction in 1963, he has appeared in several comic book series, cartoons, and movies in his distinctive armor. Like all superheroes, he has an origin story that has made him a legend.

Marvel introduced the character in an ongoing comic book series called "Tales of Suspense" in issue number thirty-nine. It was the culmination of a lot of work by creator Stan Lee, who came up with the back story for the character. He then asked illustrators Stan Heck and Jack Kirby to help him figure out what the character would look like with and without the armor. Lee initially wanted to use the character as a way to tell tales of the Cold War.

After the successful introduction of the character over several issues of "Tales of Suspense," Iron Man was given a coveted spot as one of the founding Avengers in the comic book series "The Avengers." He then headlined his own single-issue comic book called "Iron Man and Sub-Mariner," which was released in 1968. Later that same year, he finally got his own series called "The Invincible Iron Man." This series has run for over 500 issues through the present day, although it was temporarily stopped in the mid-90s. Even as this solo title was selling like hot cakes, Marvel still used the character in several one-shot comic books and short, limited-edition series throughout the years.

As Iron Man's popularity was steadily increasing among comic book fans, the character took a leap off the comic pages and onto the small screen for a semi-animated series called "Marvel Superheroes," which only lasted for five episodes. After that, he wasn't in a television show again until 1981 in "Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends," where he appeared only as Tony Stark and not as Iron Man. The 1990s brought a partnership with the Fantastic Four in "Marvel Action Hour" for several episodes and a guest stint on "Fantastic Four: World's Greatest Heroes." Currently, the life of Tony Stark before he became Iron Man is being explored in a new cartoon called "Iron Man: Armored Adventures." The series focuses on Stark as a teenager before he inherited his father's company and became the billionaire playboy featured in the comic books and films.

During the 80s and 90s, Iron Man became a mainstay in many video game titles as the popularity of these games skyrocketed. He appeared in many games, including "Marvel Super Heroes," "Captain America and the Avengers," and a series of "Marvel vs. Capcom" titles. He wasn't always a featured player in all of the games in which he appeared. In a few titles, such as " X-Men Legends II: Rise of Apocalypse," he was only available after the player reached a certain level and unlocked the character for play.

In 2008, Marvel released "Iron Man," the first of several films where actor Robert Downey, Jr. played both Tony Stark and Iron Man. It was a huge success with critics and moviegoers alike, generating over half a billion dollars worldwide in ticket sales. A second film was quickly commissioned in 2010, titled simply "Iron Man 2." The character then transitioned into the superhero showcase known as "The Avengers" in 2012 before the upcoming 2013 release of a third film titled "Iron Man 3."

"Iron Man 3" marks the start of what Marvel calls "Phase Two" (Win the Entire Phase One Collection in MRR's May Giveaway) of their wildly successful film franchises, which will also include "Thor: The Dark World," "Captain America: The Winter Soldier," and "The Avengers 2" among other movies. Although Captain America is largely thought to be the leader of the Avengers, Iron Man has arguably surpassed all other Avengers in terms of popularity, due in no small part to the charismatic performance of Downey. Downey has not said whether he will sign on for "The Avengers 2" or any further Iron Man films, so the future of the character in cinema is a big question mark.

Both Tony Stark and Iron Man have changed quite a bit over the years in comic books and other media. From the bulky gray armor of the first issues of "Tales of Suspense" to the multicolored, multifunctional suits of the latest films, Iron Man has changed looks through the decades. What hasn't changed is his desire to help others, even if he does it with a smart quip or one-liner.