By Jim Beard with Ben Morse
50 Years ago, Tony Stark became Iron Man, a historic milestone in the tapestry of the Marvel Universe.
Flash forward half a century, and the Armored Avenger has become a worldwide sensation. Beyond his prominent role across the Marvel Comics line, Shellhead hit the big screen in 2008 as Robert Downey Jr. brought Tony Stark to life in the first “Iron Man” movie. The character’s popularity grew in 2010’s “
On May 3, 2013, Tony Stark returns to theaters everywhere in “Iron Man 3.” In anticipation of this momentous occasion and to celebrate Iron Man’s 50th anniversary, each week Marvel.com will be bringing you another chapter in the history of this complex and beloved character. Year by year, get an in-depth rundown of the trials, foes and experiences that have made Iron Man the hero he stands as today.
1963 started off with a bang for Iron Man—literally.
Deep within the Vietnam jungles, a guerilla booby-trap exploded and caught millionaire weapons inventor Tony Stark unaware. As it unfolded in TALES OF SUSPENSE #39, a piece of shrapnel lodged itself dangerously near Stark’s heart and made him easy prey for a cruel and ambitious warlord who saw value in holding the wealthy American captive. However, with the help of fellow prisoner the brilliant Professor Yinsen, Tony constructed a suit of iron armor that both saved his life and allowed him to escape and defeat his jailers, albeit at the cost of his ally’s life.
From that day forth, Tony Stark vowed to honor Yinsen’s memory and make up for his own youthful mistakes by becoming the heroic Iron Man, who would publicly be billed as his bodyguard in order to safeguard his identity. However, his new calling came at a price, as he could never remove the armored chest plate that sustained his life.
Health concerns dominated Stark’s adventures for the rest of the year, with the suit’s energy reserves dropping to dangerously low-levels after Iron Man’s strenuous battles. In fact, this dire situation culminated in TALES OF SUSPENSE #48, when Stark lay closer to death than ever before. Concern for his vulnerable heart also kept Iron Man at arm’s length from his former life as a playboy, for fear that someone might tumble to the cold, hard fact that Tony Stark wore an iron chest plate eerily similar to the super hero’s own armor.
Stark continued to refine his armored suit, which lead to a few innovations. Poor public reaction to his first dull grey armor brought about a change to a golden hue in TALES OF SUSPENSE #40, Iron Man’s second adventure. When the malicious Melter threatened to melt the now-Golden Avenger down for scrap in TALES OF SUSPENSE #47, Stark whipped up a new armor made “entirely out of tough extruded aluminum.” Alas, that incredible innovation lasted only until the next issue, TALES OF SUSPENSE #48, when the inventor designed a lighter, more durable suit that would cause his heart less strain to boot. It also inaugurated the classic red and gold look that Iron Man would sport for many years to come.
What about villains? Well, it took Stark several issues before he found a foe worthy of his talents and cleverness. Beginning with TALES OF SUSPENSE #40, Iron Man rumbled with forgettable fiends like Gargantua,
TALES OF SUSPENSE #46 brought Iron Man into direct conflict with the armored Crimson Dynamo. Though, in the end, Stark convinced the
1963 also saw the introduction of two people who became part of a small inner circle of Tony Stark’s associates and friends: secretary Pepper Potts and chauffeur Happy Hogan. Readers met the squabbling duo in TALES OF SUSPENSE #45, and they quickly proved to be a popular supporting cast for the armored hero—though they seemed to fight with each other more than they actually worked. Happy had eyes for Pepper, but Pepper had eyes only for her handsome boss, Tony Stark, which set up a triangle that would take many years to resolve.
In addition to his civilian allies, Iron Man forged an historic alliance with Thor, Ant-Man, The Wasp and The Hulk in AVENGERS #1, with the birth of Earth’s Mightiest Heroes as Marvel’s most prominent super hero team. This initially unstable gathering of champions for good would provide their Armored Avenger with some of his greatest moments and most dire challenges in the days to come.