In this day and age nearly everyone has heard of Iron Man. It’s hard to remember that less than a decade ago there were no Iron Man movies; the Golden Avenger wasn’t in the public eye. With the exception of a short-lived cartoon in the early ’90s, Tony Stark was kept to the comic books. Obviously, all of this changed with the 2008 IRON MAN film starring Robert Downey Jr., whose portrayal of the character added much more humor to Stark’s personality than his comic alter-ego ever really had.

Nonetheless, Iron Man is one of Marvel’s oldest heroes and a founding member of the Avengers. He is also one of the smartest and wealthiest characters in Marvel’s universe. From his beginnings in the jungles of Vietnam through CIVIL WAR and beyond, ComicsVerse is here to give you a few highlights in the over 50-year-long history of Iron Man!

TALES OF SUSPENSE #39

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It all starts here: Iron Man’s origin story, originally written in 1963, was more reflective of the attitudes towards communism at the time than modern day fans may be aware. Modern retellings of the origin story have updated the time and location to the Middle East, with the enemies being Middle Eastern terrorists. In each story, Tony is taken prisoner by foreign soldiers and must use his wits to escape his imprisonment. One other thing remains the same throughout all stories—Ho Yinsen, the scientist who helps Tony build the first Iron Man armor, allowing the genius playboy to escape. For any fan of Iron Man, you need to see where the story begins.  It’s certainly not easy to find a physical copy, but it’s worth reading if you can hunt it down. Fortunately for everyone who can’t shell out thousands on a comic, it’s been collected in ESSENTIAL IRON MAN.

READ: To see how the MCU kicked off, revisit IRON MAN!

DEMON IN A BOTTLE

demon in a bottle

For longtime fans of the character, putting this story on the list is a no-brainer. DEMON IN A BOTTLE is the quintessential Iron Man story. Not only does it pit Iron Man against Justin Hammer, one of Tony Stark’s biggest rivals, but it also showcases several of Iron Man’s other baddies as well. You might recognize Whiplash, but are you familiar with Man-Killer, Stiletto, Water Wizard, or The Melter?  These are just a few of the bad guys that show up to fight.

This story is hailed as one of the best Tony Stark stories for an entirely different reason, however. This book really explores Tony’s alcoholism, how deep it runs, and the effect it has on his relationships—particularly with Jarvis. Tony overcoming this internal enemy is the much greater victory. The development of this aspect of Tony’s personality gave the character a depth that he had lacked. Suddenly, the world’s smartest billionaire playboy had a weakness, and it wasn’t a power shortage in his suit. If you want to see Stark struggle against his own personal demons, you can’t miss this book. It’s a tale that holds up surprisingly well, and it is truly one of the stories that most defines who Tony Stark is.

DOOMQUEST

Iron Man doomquest

This book is a lot of fun.  As you might assume from the title, this 2-issue story involves none other than Dr. Doom himself. Doom attempts to illegally acquire Stark technology to rescue his mother’s soul from Hell. This is a familiar motivation for Dr. Doom, but the execution of this story is quite different from anything you might expect. The “Quest” part of the title comes from the setting of the story, which is surprising both in its location and in its time.

The pair is sent back in time to the age of King Arthur. Predictably, Iron Man in his suit of armor finds himself fighting alongside Arthur and his knights of Camelot. Dr. Doom, as anyone might guess, teams up with Morgan le Faye, the evil witch counterpart to the wizard Merlin. While most of this book’s value is pure entertainment, it should be noted that despite being only a 2-issue-long story it has spawned several spiritual sequels. The most direct sequel, RECURRING KNIGHTMARE, takes Doom and Iron Man into the future, where an entirely new Camelot is waiting.

LISTEN: Dr. Doom and Doctor Strange team up in our DOCTOR STRANGE podcast!

Anyone who loves Dr. Doom should check this story out. He’s one of Marvel’s greatest villains, and the time travel element of this story makes for some very fun reading. This is one quest you will definitely want to join.

THE ENEMY WITHIN

iron man enemy within

Alcohol is not easy to fight; even when Tony thinks he’s overcome his alcoholism, he finds that it is all too easy to fall back into old habits when pushed over the edge. Tony is worn thin by AIM, the Serpent Squad, and Diablo before being confronted by Obadiah Stane in a corporate takeover. When Tony finds solace in the bottom of another bottle, it is clear that Iron Man is in no shape to take flight.

READ: For the closest representation of Tony’s issues with alcohol, revisit IRON MAN 2!

James Rhodes steps in and saves the day, donning the Iron Man armor for himself. This marks the first time that Rhodes, who would eventually become War Machine, would put on Stark armor. This is also one of the first occurrences of a minor character stepping into the shoes of a major hero for a short time. Rhodes pulls it off, and his successes eventually lead Tony to create an entirely new suit for Rhodes. Fans of Rhodey will be pleased to see this early adventure, and those who like to see the character of Tony explored will find plenty of depth to this bit of character study.

ARMOR WARS

This is one of the most action-packed Iron Man stories there is! When Tony discovers that Justin Hammer has incorporated stolen Stark tech into armored suits and sold them to villains all over the globe, Iron Man makes it a personal mission to disable all of the suits. What follows are several major battles with a few of Iron Man’s better-known foes, such as Titanium Man and Crimson Dynamo. These battles take Iron Man to the Vault, to a battle against the government, and to the infiltration of SHIELD.

In terms of stories that change the status quo, this one certainly ranks up there as one of the most impactful of Tony’s stories. This book really shows how careless, aggressive, and out of control Tony has gotten with his enemies. He even deceives teammates and loses friends over the course of his quest. After all that, Tony still manages to come out on top and return triumphant. If you’re looking for a lot of high-powered fight scenes, then ARMOR WARS is a storyline that won’t disappoint.

EXTREMIS

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In 2004, the world was given a story that would redefine the status quo for Iron Man once again. Offering a more realistic approach to the character, EXTREMIS gave us a story that took place in 3-4 days and stood on its own with few references to the rest of the Marvel Universe. The premise is that a new form of the super-soldier serum has been developed. This serum—known as Extremis—utilizes nanotechnology and genetics. When a terrorist gets his hands on the serum, it’s up to Tony to try to stop him.

READ: With rumors of another IRON MAN film, here’s what we want to see!

This book gave us the modern origin story that was used in the 2008 IRON MAN film and was the source for the main plot of IRON MAN 3. It also gave Tony a new connection to his suit through the nanomachines in the Extremis serum. He could now access the suit remotely, connect to any network, and regrow organs. Essentially, he became invincible. It’s a crazy new development in the life of Tony Stark, and the overall story and conflict make for some tense reading. It’s one of the first modern Iron Man stories that you simply can’t miss.

CIVIL WAR

Civil War 7

This isn’t a particularly great Iron Man story, but it is a major Marvel Universe event— and Tony finds himself right in the thick of it. This crossover saw Iron Man and Captain America on opposite sides of a conflict that centered around the forced registration of superheroes with the government. With themes that echo gun control debates today, this storyline has never felt more pertinent.

LISTEN: You’ll love our podcast on CIVIL WAR!

Tony fights for registration, trying to make the world a safer place for civilians. Unfortunately, the story is a little bit biased in Cap’s favor and ultimately makes Tony look pretty untrustworthy. It’s interesting watching things escalate and seeing the effect it all has on Tony. Be sure to read any CIVIL WAR titles that focus on Tony Stark’s point of view; the main title doesn’t explore it too well, and you’ll get a lot more development of Tony and his side of things. His motivations are a lot easier to understand this way. By the end of the story, Tony finds himself as the new head of SHIELD, Cap is dead, and the Marvel Universe has been shaken to its core. Somehow, it’s Tony who is at the forefront of all of this chaos. As one of the biggest storylines in the Marvel Universe, you can’t skip CIVIL WAR.

WORLD’S MOST WANTED

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This was a major return to form for Iron Man. In the aftermath of CIVIL WAR (which many felt was something of an Iron Man character-assassination), Matt Fraction was tasked with redeeming Tony for the actions he’d taken against his friends. What ensues is a storyline that shows just how good of a person Tony really is and how much he truly cares for his friends. In doing so, we see Tony return to the light side of things.

Essentially, Norman Osborne, the new head of HAMMER, another agency that protects the Earth from superhuman threats, wants access to all of Tony’s memories and knowledge about the superhero community. To prevent this, Tony erases his memories. It was an interesting way to softly reboot the character, returning him to an earlier form both in mentality and in costume; as his memories got wiped, he had to use earlier and earlier versions of his Iron Man armor. Ultimately, Tony trades his mind for his reputation. It’s an entertaining journey, even if the volume ends on a low note.

INVINCIBLE IRON MAN ANNUAL #1

iron man annual cover

Of all of Iron Man’s villains, one stands as his true adversary: The Mandarin. Everyone knows that he wears 10 alien rings of great power and has sworn to kill Iron Man. Nonetheless, this character has never really had a defining origin story. INVINCIBLE IRON MAN ANNUAL #1 set out to create the history of the character in a rather interesting way. A concept that was liberally expanded upon in IRON MAN 3, this issue shows the story of The Mandarin through the making of a film.

The Mandarin has kidnapped a filmmaker to create a movie about the villain’s life. It’s a plot that echoes the real-life story of Kim Jong-Il’s capture of Shin Sang-Ok, the South Korean filmmaker. Playing with the nature of myths and the events that inspire them, the story explores the lies that are told to create a legend. It carries similar themes to the twist in IRON MAN 3, but with different results. People who want to learn more about The Mandarin would be much better suited to reading this title than watching the film.

CLICK: For more information on IRON MAN 3, here’s our retrospective!

These are a few titles to get you started, but this is really only just scratching the surface. Each title is just a chapter in over 50 years of history for Iron Man, so if you find that you want to know what happens next, you just need to pick up the next volume. We’ll next see Iron Man in SPIDER-MAN: HOMECOMING, but you can always find Tony Stark on the shelves of your local comic book store. Go pick up one of these books and start your own IRON MAN collection today!

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