10. Iron Man’s Victory over the Mandarin in Iron Man: Director of SHIELD #28
by Robert Tacopina
When one looks back at the long history of Iron Man in the attempts at trying to compile a list of the armored Avengers top 10 moments one needs not to leap to far back. The series prior to the current Invincible Iron Man introduced a new element to Iron Man, the Extremis serum. Extremis essentially turned Tony Stark into a living Iron Man by allowing him to generate an inner sheathe which acted like a conduit to his armor and in the process enables him to interact with a multitude of electronic equipment. On top of that the serum rebuilds his body with superior organs an accelerated healing factor and essentially remakes Stark into a super-soldier leveled human.
What this title also gave us was a truly brilliant story worthy of inclusion into the annals of Iron Man greatness. In issues 21-28, the Haunted storyline, Iron Man faces off against one of his greatest and most worthy adversaries, the Mandarin.
Mandarin concocts a sinister plan that consists of unleashing the Extremis on the general populace in order to weed out the weak and create a better version of humanity. To serve as a crutch for our hero he has recently had his Extremis powers compromised by an Extremis dampening ankle bracelet. Forced to use antiquated armor, Stark is in for the battle of his life against the Mandarin with the fate of the world in the balance.
The confrontation between the two is pure Hollywood action depicting a battle for the ages between two long time foes. Void of the Extremis Tony must rely on wits and the functions built into one of his old armor suits. He blasts Mandarin with his chest beam and attempts to hit Mandarin with a repulsor blast but misses. Realizing that he needs an advantage Tony gruesomely rips five of the rings out of the Mandarin’s spine and then unleashes the repulsor to his opponent’s chest.
Unfortunately it is revealed that the rockets carrying the Extremis have already been launched! With the Mandarin no longer posing a major threat Tony uses his wits to come to the conclusion that his Extremis abilities are the only way to thwart the threat and precedes to uses a pencil thin precision beam to remove the heel of his foot which allows him to remove the dampening device attached to his ankle and activating the Extremis within him. This unselfish act permits Tony to use the Extremis to override the nanotech and force them into the jet stream where the subzero temperatures destroy the rockets. In a desperate attempt to see his plans to fruition Mandarin punches a hole in a silo containing the Extremis virus and unleashing it. Iron Man acts accordingly and uses Freon to inactivate the virus and freezing Mandarin ending the threat entirely. Having saved the day Iron Man gives in to the pain and exhaustion and passes out.
Writers Daniel & Charles Knauf succeeded in delivering a fantastic story full of twists and turns and one heck of a fight scene that deserves to be recognized as one of the defining moments of Iron Man. Couple an amazing story with Roberto de la Torre’s gritty pencils and Dean White’s terrific use of muted colors and you have a shining example of what makes Iron Man one of comics greatest characters and one of his most defining moments.
9. Black Widow’s debut in Tales of Suspense #52
by Shawn Hill
This classic comic has added relevance in the wake of the current film, which uses several elements from it to various extents. As in the film, Tony must contend with two foes, Madame Natasha and Anton Vanko. Well, sort of. Natasha isn’t yet an agent of S.H.I.E.L.D., but instead a loyal Cold War anti-American operative. She shows up with her “brother,” Boris, for an educational tour of Stark Industries (waitaminute, Boris & Natasha? Really? An in-joke from Smilin’ Stan?), and Vanko is the former Crimson Dynamo, now defected to the side of our favorite American industrialist. He’s so happy to be Stark’s ally he nearly kills himself in the service of scientific advancement, trying to create a “laser light,” which is helpfully explained as a novel potential weapon in the text. Those crazy kids and their ray guns!
Also appearing are Happy and Pepper in cameo roles, and it’s amusing just how exactly they resemble their film versions, never mind the 46 years that have intervened. They even bicker like Paltrow and Favreau. Art is by Don Heck, who excels on a super-suave Tony, but manages only a dowdy, matronly (as Tim Gunn would say) version of Natasha. Her elegant outfit (silk overload, fur stole, hat w/veil) has dated far more than Pepper’s red bob and especially her tight and perky yellow sweater, making it hard to see why Tony is initially so taken by her.
9;s not till the end of the story, when she doesn’t react to his factory going up in flames (caused by Boris, who has stolen both the Crimson Dynamo suit and the “traitor” Vanko), that he starts to wonder what is up. As far as Iron Man goes, he saves Vanko’s life; rescues himself from the horror of being caught and left alone unguarded IN his suit by his brilliant commie captors (they don’t even want to unmask him? Much less take his weapons?) by using a light bulb; but must leave it up to Vanko’s self-sacrifice to defeat the new Dynamo after Natasha distracts him again.
She survives, unlike Boris or Vanko, but ends up “lonely…abandoned…always hiding” in some anonymous city. At least till the next issue when she apparently meets the Watcher and steals a gravity machine! And thus begins her enigmatic relationship to the Marvel Universe, with little evidence of the uber-competent triple-agent that Scarlett Johansson rocks in the film. It would be some years before John Romita, Sr. comes up with the definitive catsuit she still happily sports today. In this issue she’s just another of Marvel’s endless line of 1960s femme fatales, albeit of the thoughtful sort.
8. Iron Man and Doctor Doom work together to come back from Camelot
by Jason Sacks
In the double-sized Iron Man #150, September 1981, Iron Man and Doctor Strange are time-lost in the age of King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table. No, Tony and Victor didn’t go to a showing of Spamalot. Instead, the pair was sent back in time via Doom’s time machine.
While there, the two men meet King Arthur, Sir Lancelot, Merlin and Morgana Le Fey, in a glorious late Bronze Age adventure by the sterling team of David Michelinie, John Romita Jr., and Bob Layton.
There are many wonderful scenes in this story – for instance, Tony winning King Arthur’s trust by lifting the King’s throne via a reverse magnetic field, Tony seducing the beautiful maiden Eleonora, the immediate bonding between the evil Doom and the evil Morgana, and the astonishing battle between Iron Man and and his heroes, and Doctor Doom and an army of zombies.
Yeah, zombies. This comic was a little ahead of its time, wasn’t it?
Finally, though, the battle ends with the heroes winning and Doom demanding revenge against the double-crossing Morgana. He dictates to Tony that they should return to the present: “My reason for coming to this era no longer exists. My purpose, my life lies in the future, and there is but one way that future can be achieved. But, much as I regret to say, I cannot do it. We must work… together.”
So the two enemies work together, sharing their knowledge and cannibalized circuitry, working together to create a new time machine. Stark so impresses Doom that Doom even compliments our hero, and Stark shares Doom’s admiration. It’s a terrific moment, in part because we can see that either man, turned in the opposite direction, could have had his life turn out completely differently.
Finally, on the final page of the issue the two men find themselves back in then-contemporary 1981. The men would remain enemies, but they would also always have tremendous and lasting respect for each other.
7. Iron Man’s debut in Tales of Suspense #39
by Jason Sacks
“Who? Who? WHO? Who? Or what, is the newest, most breath-taking, most sensational super hero of all…? ‘Iron Man!’ He lives! He walks! He conquers!”
How can you resist the amazing Marvel Age of spectacular cover hype? The awesome cover to Tales of Suspense #39 brought readers some of Stan Lee’s most breathtaking hard sell exhortations to spend their hard-earned 12¢ to discover just why those mysterious hands were grabbing that gray armor in order to wear a suit of armor. C’mon, you have to admit that, even in 2010, it’s hard to resist this awesome kind of hard-sell.
And once the reader turned the page and found themselves lost in the Stan Lee/Larry Lieber/Don Heck story, they found something very similar to the origin story depicted in the first Iron Man movie. Minus the alcoholism, the origin story in this issue is very reminiscent of the one presented in the movie.
Sure, the movie takes viewers to Afghanistan rather than Vietnam, but that’s an easy concession to our current era. But so much of the story in this issue does seem familiar, from Tony suffering an ambush and getting captured, to his being aided in creating armor by the brilliant Professor Yinsin, straight through to the main in the iron suit shooting fire at his evil opponents.
It’s a fun and breezy story, only marred slightly by the racist depiction of the Vietnamese – can you believe their skin was a bright yellow? It’s hard to imagine that anyone who was sucked in by the spectacular cover hype regressed spending their 12¢ to find out just who was the most sensational super hero of all.
6. Getting drunk, murdering the Supreme Intelligence, murdering Yellowjacket, then having the audacity to lecture the other heroes on responsibility
by Kelvin Green
Surely his greatest moment has to be when he convinced the entire world that he was a paragon of responsibility, even winning Spider-Man over, and we all know that the latter is a bit OCD when it comes to the “r” word. Perhaps I’m being too cynical; after all, Iron Man’s a hero, and not the type of guy to spend most of 1979 flying around in a personal weapon of mass destruction while smashed off his face, or to unilaterally decide to have the Kree Supreme Intelligence executed, but then get the Avengers to do the actual deed, just to maintain that air of plausible deniability. Oh no, not at all. You certainly wouldn’t catch a hero of his stature throwing his lot in with Kang-or-maybe-Immortus-or-perhaps-both and going on a little killing spree, murdering the second Yellowjacket, a number of the Avengers’ support staff, almost killing the Wasp, then framing Hawkeye for the whole thing. That would be absurd. Almost as absurd as paying supervillains to attack US politicians, or cloning a friend and then sending said clone off to murder other friends. Because you can never murder too many of your friends, obviously. And it’s not as if the aforementioned weapon of mass destruction ever gets stolen and/or taken over, because a technological genius like Iron Man would obviously create some kind of counter-measure to prevent such an event happening, say, every six months or so. So yeah, if you want someone to convince all the supeheroes to do the responsible thing and register with the government, you want the drunk serial killer with jet boots and laser guns as your spokesman. Clearly.
(The irony of course is that Iron Man is a perfect role model because he knows exactly what it’s like to go rogue, but none of the Civ
il Bore writers thought of that, so he just came across like a big red and gold hypocrite.)
5. The intro of Nick Fury in Iron Man
by Diana Dougherty
The thrill ride that was the movie Iron Man is over. You find yourself energized at the sheer awesomeness of the movie yet pooped out from all that action too. You stay in your seat and watch the credits, because that’s what good fans do, while grooving out to a very cool version of the song “Iron Man” and other rockin’ tunes that’ll end up on the soundtrack. Besides, sometimes they’ll put something cool at the end and you don’t want to miss it. How long do these credits take anyway? Don’t they know the size of the soda you bought? Your bladder is about to burst but still you don’t leave your seat.
Then suddenly, the credits are over and Tony Stark enters his apartment. “I am Iron Man,” a disembodied voice coming from the shadows sardonically says. “You think you’re the only superhero in the world? Mr. Stark you’ve become part of a bigger universe. You just don’t know it yet.” “Who the hell are you?” “Nick Fury, Director of S.H.I.E.L.D. I’m here to talk to you about the Avenger initiative.”
The screen just as suddenly goes dark, leaving you hanging with that amazing cliffhanger. Gah!
Okay, so now you’re really about to pee your pants and it has nothing to do with the gallon of soda you sucked down over the last couple of hours. When Samuel L. Jackson walks out of the shadows and you get your first glimpse at Nick Fury – and make no mistake he IS the perfect embodiment of Nick Fury – you though you were gonna lose it right then. How could it possibly get more nerdgasmic than that? But it does. The Avenger initiative? Damn. Way to leave a person hanging! I guess we’d be disappointed if we would have gotten anything less after that incredible movie. So, how long to we have to wait for The Avengers movie anyway?
4. Invincible Iron Man #17 “World’s Most Wanted”
by Kate Trippe
Tony Stark would be impossible to relate to, he’s rich, handsome and a genius, but in spite of all that he has become so near and dear to us because he makes HORRIBLE choices and has to deal with the repercussions. When Tony is at his most vulnerable, he is relatable.
The combination of Tony actually needing to listen to an introduction to electrical engineering and then on top of that falling asleep (IN THE SUIT) is just hilarious. He’s an arrogant genius; I feel like being able to take this moment and throw it in the Tony of the past’s face would cause quite a bit of chagrin on his part. This moment is just embarrassing, but the little bit of humor keeps the tone of this arc right where it needs to be, somewhere between silly and serious.
Tony is trying to stop Norman Osborne from learning all he knows by erasing all of it from his memory. In the process of erasing all of his back up data from h
is hidey-holes around the world Tony is rapidly becoming a person of below average intelligence. And he is losing all of that Tony Stark chutzpa we have come to expect. He is making an effort to keep on his toes by listening to an introductory book on electrical engineering, during which he promptly falls asleep and manages to get taken out of the sky by two children with a rocket launcher.
Everything about this moment proves that Tony Stark is no longer Iron Man, he may still have the suit, but Iron Man isn’t just the sum of his technology. Tony Stark is what makes Iron Man a hero. Tony is willing to destroy himself to keep the bad guy at bay, and that makes him not just an eccentric genius with power armor, but also a superhero. The implications and focus of this arc and the one that follows his self-destruction are not based on the external struggle, but on the internal, what happens to an individual when the self is destroyed? This arc leads us into a thought provoking exploration of what makes a person a hero and just a human being, and it leaves us begging for more. Matt Fraction makes this ridiculous plot into something relatable and unique. Fraction takes a semi-common comic book (and soap opera) principle, memory loss, and he creates something new and interesting.
3. “I am Iron Man!
by Paul Brian McCoy
“I am Iron Man.” Those four words sum up everything great about the character of Tony Stark and exemplify what makes him a vastly superior take on the Billionaire Crime Fighter motif than those other Billionaire Crime Fighters running around.
“I am Iron Man.” Those four words sum up the ego and the vision, while allowing the Iron Man films to break the molds adhered to by most of the super-hero films that have come before.
The secret identity is the biggest cliché in comics. The absurd narrative contortions required to maintain the secret identities of super-heroes not only require a willing suspension of disbelief on the readers’/viewers’ parts, but we also have to buy into the idea that the supporting cast is made up of simpletons and idiots. It’s a conceit born of stories for children and clung to as though it were an essential part of the super-hero formula.
But Iron Man breaks that formula with four simple words.
“I am Iron Man.” There’s no lying to anyone here. There are no awkward attempts to pretend to be someone he’s not. There’s no deceiving of anybody’s friends and loved ones.
“I am Iron Man” means that the hero is the man himself. The man learning to take responsibility for not only his own sins, but the sins of the father. The man is not a cartoonish cliché of adolescent power fantasies, not entirely, but is a multi-dimensional character reshaping the world with his intellect and his firepower. He’s not a thug, he’s a thinker. He’s not a user, he’s a creator.
“I am Iron Man.” Iron Man is the suit. The tech. The man inside.
When Tony Stark reveals his identity to the world at the end of the first film, he not only shatters the traditional expectations of the average movie-going audience-member, he provides the foundation for the next film, as well.
Iron Man 2 opens with this reveal and hits the ground running. The heroes and villains of the piece aren’t nihilistic clowns dancing like buffoons
and blowing things up with no reason or in-narrative resources. The characters don’t call themselves by silly names or prance around in elaborately orchestrated personas. It’s Tony Stark vs. Ivan Vanko. It’s not War Machine; it’s Rhodey. The tech is the tool, used by the character.
There are no identity issues here.
You often hear the question, Who’s the real identity? Superman or Clark Kent? Batman or Bruce Wayne?
For the most part, you don’t hear that about Marvel characters. Sure, Spider-Man keeps his identity secret, but he doesn’t actively alter his personality when he’s not costumed up. Spider-Man is an enhanced version of Peter Parker and the secrecy is rationalized, if not justified. Captain America is a good man, a hero regardless of whether he’s in costume or not. The Fantastic Four never hid their identities, really.
Even characters like The Hulk or Thor don’t actively change their personalities, they literally transform into other beings.
Batman and Superman are just liars with schizophrenic tendencies.
“I am Iron Man” is the declaration that Marvel heroes are not constrained by the cliché limitations of tradition and expectation. They have code-names, not alternate identities.
“I am Iron Man” is about taking responsibility for one’s actions, right or wrong.
“I am Iron Man” is about being the hero and the goat.
“I am Iron Man” is about embracing an Ideal without sacrificing pragmatic concerns.
“I am Iron Man” is the defining moment for Marvel Movies, not to mention being a shout-out to one of the greatest Heavy Metal songs of all time.
2. The “Demon in a Bottle” story
by Thom Young
Back in early 1979, I was mostly buying comics published by DC–which has always been the case for most of my life. Thus, it was unlikely for me to suddenly start buying Iron Man, but the owner of the comic book store where I shopped urged me to try it. He swore it was one of the best-written comics, and that I would love it.
About a year earlier he had urged me to try The Hulk (the magazine, not the comic book) because he thought Neal Adams was doing the back-up feature under a pseudonym, and he wanted to know if I thought it was Adams illustrating the Moon Knight stories.
Of course, we eventually discovered that Bill Sienkiewicz was not Neal Adams. However, because the owner had steered me in the right direction once before when it came to a Marvel title, I picked up Iron Man#125 based on his recommendation.
I’ve always been glad I did.
Of course, starting with issue #125 meant I had missed the first five installments (issues #120-24) of this historic Iron Man arc in which Tony Stark is revealed to be an alcoholic–but I eventually bought those first five chapters as back issues.
It’s now been about 30 years since I read the “Demon in a Bottle” story (which I no longer own). Consequently, I don’t recall the details as well as I should, but the story itself has nevertheless remained etched in my mind as an important “event”–not only for Iron Man, but for superhero comics in general. Reading that story by David Michelinie, John Romita, Jr., and Bob Layton 31 years ago reminded me of how “relevant” superhero comic books could be.
Even though it came out about seven years after Green Lantern #85-86 (Roy Harper’s heroin addiction), “Demon in a Bottle” is just as significant as that earlier “relevant” comic book story. It laid part of the foundation upon which a work with even greater verisimilitude was to be built about seven years later.
1. The “Extremis” arc from Iron Man #1-6
by Dave Wallace
This volume of Iron Man clearly sets out with the goal of relaunching the character, and making him interesting and relevant again in the modern Marvel Universe. Warren Ellis is tasked with redefining Tony Stark, the billionaire industrialist superhero, in an age where ruthless capitalism and war profiteering just isn’t as impressive as it used to be. The dichotomy between Tony the superhero and Tony the businessman offers Ellis the opportunity to add considerable depth to Stark’s personality and character, acknowledging the roots of Stark Industries’ success in weapons manufacturing and military contracts, but giving Tony a believable urge to use his ideas and business acumen for the greater good, even if it means dealing with some fairly complex moral grey areas. Ellis also uses the arc to revisit Iron Man’s origin story (making a few cosmetic changes on the way), and even gifts the character with significant new powers by the end of his run on the book. It’s an impressive undertaking.
All in all, this book does almost everything it needs to in order to cement Iron Man’s place as one of the Marvel Universe’s A-list heroes; it only falls short in the story department, as I would have expected something a little more sophisticated in terms of plotting from Warren Ellis.