10 Must-Read Stories Before You Watch ‘Iron Man’ in Theaters
Even people who’ve never picked up a comic book are looking forward to seeing the new Iron Man movie debuting tomorrow, starring Robert Downey, Jr. as Tony Stark, "the cool exec with a heart of steel!"
When Stan Lee and Don Heck introduced Anthony Stark, he was a modern-day Howard Hughes, a weaponsmaker who was investigating his interests in a war zone when he was injured by shrapnel and captured by guerilla soldiers. Desperately needing a life-support system to keep his heart beating, as well as a weapon to fight off his captors, he used materials around him created a make-shift suit of high-tech armor that earned him the name "Iron Man."
Returning to the states, the world welcomed its new superhero, believing him to be the rich playboy’s bodyguard, and he soon became a founding member of the famous Avengers. Over the years that followed, "Ol’ Shellhead" has been through many armors, as well as many personal changes. He had his heart repaired and battled alcoholism. He had his heart injured again and replaced it with a mechanical one that needed constant recharging. Recently, his body was finally healed and his resources greatly enhanced after merging with an experimental form of nano-technology.
Much like The Dark Knight reading list we provided you as prep for Batman’s upcoming return to the big screen, ComicMix has assembled ten recommended reads that showcase how clever and resourceful our hero is while also displaying the forces and passions that drive him in his double-life. They have been assembled in chronological order, so you can follow Iron Man’s evolution.
IRON MAN: The Iron Age #1-2
These two graphic novels by Kurt Busiek, Patrick Zircher and Bob McLeod revisit the earliest days of Tony Stark’s career as Iron Man. The story is told from the perscpective of Tony’s assistant Virginia "Pepper" Potts (played in the movie by Gwyneth Paltrow) and his chauffuer Happy Hogan (played by director Jon Favreau). Watch Tony’s adjustment from non-caring businessman to hero through the eyes of those closest to him.
In this two-parter, Busiek stays very close to the continuity of the early Stan Lee issues, while also foreshadowing people and events that would pop up later in Tony’s life. You also get to see the evolution of his earliest armors, from the gray Mark I suit to the golden Mark II outfit to the red and gold version which would serve as the major inspiration for most designs to follow.
IRON MAN: ENTER THE MANDARIN #1-6 (available in trade)
Writer Joe Casey and artist Eric Canete very cleverly weave together four old Stan Lee issues in order to re-imagine the first meeting between Tony Stark and one of his most powerful enemies.
Asked to do a favor for the counter-terrorist agency S.H.I.E.L.D., Iron Man goes to China and investigates the operations of a terrorist cult-leader known as the Mandarin. But when he gets there, the armored avenger discovers that the would-be conqueror is armed with ten rings of alien technology so advanced their powers are indistinguishable from magic. Iron Man is at his most heroic when he’s not sure he can win.
The Mandarin’s supposed to be mentioned in the new film, so viewers may be interested to see how his war with Iron Man began in this story.
IRON MAN (Vol. 1) #17-23 "The Beginning of the End!"
Writer Archie Goodwin delivers a story-arc of drama and tragedy. A radical new surgery finally frees Tony from being dependent life support. But the strain he’s now suffering may mean he has to give up the armor and pass it on to a successor.
As if that weren’t stressful enough, Iron Man has to deal with the new menaces of Madame Masque and Midas, as well as the alien conqueror called Lucifer (the same villain who crippled Professor X of the X-Men). This story is full of action and also marks a great personal loss for our hero.
Black and white reprints of this story can be found (along with other issues) in Essential Iron Man Vol. 3.
IRON MAN (Vol.1) #95 – 100 : "Ten Rings to Rule the World!"
Bill Mantlo and George Tuska bring you this five-issue story arc where Tony finds that he’s being framed for committing treason against the United States. In his quest to prove his innocence, he’s got to battle the new Guardsman (who blames Tony for the death of his brother), the devastating giant robot called Ultimo and the Japanese mutant super-hero Sunfire.
And what foe from the past is really behind this whole mess?
IRON MAN (Vol. 1) #120 – 128 : "Demon In A Bottle"
This break-out run by David Michelinie and Bob Layton not only introduced the idea that Tony Stark was an alcoholic, it also features Iron Man being set-up to take the fall for a public murder and having to fight his way through an entire gauntlet of super-villains.
A major milestone in the life of Tony Stark, this story-arc includes two new characters created by Michelinie and Layton: the ruthless businessman Justin Hammer and Tony’s old buddy, military pilot Jim "Rhodey" Rhodes, the man who would become the armored hero War Machine many years later (and who will appear in the movie played by Terrence Howard). And just for fun, Namor the Sub-Mariner and Ant-Man II are there as guest-stars. Definitely a must-read story and it’s available in trade!
IRON MAN (vol. 1) #149 – 150 : "Doomquest" (available in trade along with its sequel story)
Another Michelinie and Layton joint, Iron Man and the terrorist Doctor Doom (arch-enemy of the Fantastic Four) find themselves hurled backwards in time to the court of King Arthur. It’s a tale of science and magic clashing and Tony knows that the only way to get back home is to trust the ruthless villain who’s stranded with him.
This story spawned a sequel (which wasn’t as good, but is included in the trade collection) and has been referenced several times in the past couple of years (most recently during the Civil War event). A third installment is planned to come out soon.
Interestingly, the story shows Tony to be ignorant of some parts of Arthurian myth, yet several writers in later years would indicate that King Arthur and his knights were a great inspiration to Stark when he was a boy.
IRON MAN (Vol. 1) #163 – 200 "Tony Stark vs. Obadiah Stane" (no official title for this story arc exists)
Why the heck is this not available in trade or as an omnibus hardcover? This is a saga that not only shows Tony Stark’s true heart, but appears to be a major influence for the upcoming film.
Actor Jeff Bridges will play the character of Obadiah Stane, who in this story arc is introduced as a ruthless businessman who decides he wants control over Stark International. Viewing life as a chess game, he sets up Tony Stark to recieve financial and emotional attacks, driving him back into alcoholism (so much so that Tony actually goes off as Iron Man at one point while he’s still drunk, endangering several lives).
His life in shambles and his company finally bought out by a hostile takeover, Tony gives up the mantle of Iron Man to his long-time friend Jim Rhodes and becomes a derelict. Readers then got to see a very different Iron Man battling super-villains for a while, as Tony Stark made the slow and painful journey back to recovery, eventually taking charge of his life again and building a new suit of armor to let him personally confront Obadiah Stane. This epic saga was written by ComicMix’s own Denny O’Neil.
IRON MAN (Vol. 1) #225 – 232 "The Armor Wars"
Oh, Michelinie and Layton, is there any story you can’t write?
In this story arc (originally called "Stark Wars" but renamed "Armor Wars" by the fans), Tony discovers that many high-tech super-villains are using weapons based on stolen designs of his own armor. Since he never patented the armor, anyone who studies it is legally free to duplicate it for their own purposes.
Horrified that the same breakthroughs which have made him Iron Man have been used to threaten lives, Tony goes off on a one-man crusade to attack every person using his stolen designs and render their technology useless. Unfortunately, this includes a few government employees and Iron Man finds himself facing off against the U.S. and allies such as Captain America.
This is a major tale for Iron Man and people still talk about it years later. Elements of it were echoed in Marvel’s recent Civil War storyline. If you’re someone who thinks that Tony Stark’s manipulative ways was a recent development, this story will prove you wrong.
IRON MAN (Vol. 3) #73 – 78 "The Best Defense"
John J. Miller and Jorge Lucas tell a story in which Iron Man’s identity is now a matter of public record and Tony Stark finds a new foe: politics. A power-hungry senator is using the unpatented designs of Iron Man’s technology in order to make new military weapons and secure a position as the new Secretary of Defense.
Unlike in "Armor Wars," Tony doesn’t have the option this time of simply attacking people and destroying their weapons. So, to prevent these weapons from going into production and keep the corrupt senator from ever taking office as Secretary of Defense, Tony Stark will just have to take that job for himself. It’s a story of political maneuvering, clever power plays, suprising comedy, and major stakes as the U.S. must consider if it wants a superhero in charge of its armed forces.
IRON MAN (Vol. 4) #1 – 6 : "Extremis"
This is a dark tale by writer Warren Ellis and artist Adi Granov. Having convinced the world that he has allowed some new anonymous individual to continue operating as Iron Man, Tony reflects on his life and whether his technology has truly benefited the world, only to discover that a new techno-virus poses a threat to humanity. Not only does this story have Tony merging with his technology on a whole new level (becoming a unique type of cyborg), but it also features a revised version of his origin story that fluenced the upcoming movie’s take on it.
If you want an Iron Man tale that doesn’t involve you knowing a lot about his continuity, or if you’re looking to catch up on what he’s like these days, this story should be in your hands already.
Alan Kistler has been recognized by major media outlets
as a comic book historian and can be seen in the special features sections of the Adventures of Aquaman and Justice League: New Frontier DVDs. He once attempted to make his own suit of high-tech armor before realizing that he was only nine-years-old and didn’t own any welding equipment. He has several story ideas he’d like to produce/publish. His personal web-site is http://KistlerUniverse.com.
Iron Man debuts in theaters this weekend, with early showings tomorrow, May 1.