Essential Avengers

Essential Avengers: Iron Man

Look back at Shellhead's storied history from the comics as we kick off the Essential Avengers!

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"Marvel's The Avengers" hits theaters on May 4, and in anticipation of Earth's Mightiest Heroes assembling on the big screen for the first time we're bringing you the Essential Avengers. From accounts of the characters' epic stories from the original comics to looks back at the character with some of their most prominent creators both past and present and interviews with the designers of the heroes cinematic costumes, the Essential Avengers give you everything you wanted to know about the team, its allies and its enemies.

By Jim Beard

Iron Man

On the outside, Tony Stark is a genius playboy philanthropist and inventor; but inside he’s a complicated man with a broken heart. The story of Iron Man, the Armored Avenger, stands as a triumph of human ingenuity and invention, yet also one of personal tragedy and tribulation.

The figure of Iron Man represents power and authority to the people of the world, but if they knew the full story behind the man in the armor, they might also learn from both Tony Stark’s mistakes and his lessons in humility and responsibility.

We’ve compiled that story for you here, the tale of one of the most powerful Avengers and the man who created the legacy of Iron Man.

It Begins with Heartbreak

The first appearance of Iron Man in Tales of Suspense #39

Anthony Stark, heir to his family fortune and an industrialist inventor, found himself wounded and alone on an Asian battlefield while testing weapons he’d created for the United States government. A piece of shrapnel became lodged near his heart, forcing Stark to craft an amazing set of armor to not only lend him the power to escape his predicament, but also save his very life. With the help of a fellow captive, an award-winning physicist, Tony Stark built the very first Iron Man suit and went on to play the hero once he returned home.

As Iron Man, he put his genius and talent to use fighting for justice and the common man, but his weakened heart limited his ability to live life to the fullest. Surrounding himself with good people as his personal staff, Stark continued to promote himself as a playboy and man-about-town, while fighting evil as his own “bodyguard,” the Invincible Iron Man.

The origin of Iron Man and his first adventures may be found in MARVEL MASTERWORKS: IRON MAN VOL. 1-6 and IRON MAN OMNIBUS VOL. 1-2.

Assembling with the Avengers

Iron Man helps form the Avengers

Eventually, Stark came into contact with other heroes and formed a team to combat menaces to the planet that no one of them could handle alone. When the evil trickster god Loki sought revenge on his half-brother Thor, his plan backfired when Earth’s Mightiest Heroes came together to fight him as the Avengers.

Iron Man joined the Avengers for many adventures, facing such fantastic foes as Kang the Conqueror, the Sub-Mariner, the Mole Man and the Masters of Evil. During this time, Stark also continued to upgrade his Iron Man armor and forged a longstanding friendship with Steve Rogers, the man known as Captain America. Alas, the day came when Stark would leave the Avengers, but the team still loomed large in his future.

Iron Man’s early missions with the Avengers can be found in MARVEL MASTERWORKS: AVENGERS VOL. 1-2 and ESSENTIAL AVENGERS VOL. 1.

Addiction and an Artificial Heart

Tony Stark also eventually received an artificial heart to replace his damaged organ, but the pressures on his life far exceeded his physical woes. A life of drinking socially led to a dependence on alcohol and a slow slide to the bottom of the bottle for the Armored Avenger. Stark’s alcoholism severely impacted his ability to work at both his job and at being Iron Man, leading him to give the armor to his trusted aide, Jim Rhodes, and seek help for his life-altering addiction.

Tony Stark’s battle with alcoholism may be found in IRON MAN: DEMON IN A BOTTLE.

Bounce Back, Spring Forward

Iron Man vs. Iron Monger

Ever resilient and inventive, Stark conquered his addiction, regained his life and faced down the man who’d made his existence a living hell, Obadiah Stane. He also returned to the good fight as Iron Man and served with the West Coast Avengers for a time. Stark went on a crusade to reclaim his armor technology from many sources who had integrated his designs into their own suits of armor. Iron Man’s “Armor Wars” didn’t win him any fans throughout the world, though, and Tony Stark “fired” his armored bodyguard to allow him a freer hand to pursue his mission.

Stark’s final battle against Stane can be found in IRON MAN: IRON MONGER, and his campaign against other armored individuals may be found in IRON MAN: ARMOR WARS PROLOGUE and IRON MAN: ARMOR WARS.

Armor Alive and Avengers No more

Having upgraded the Iron Man suit to the nth degree, the inventor witnessed the armor gaining sentience and experienced a new heart attack when he confronted his creation. Stark then decided to reveal his identity as Iron Man to the world and accepted a Presidential appointment to the cabinet post of Secretary of Defense. As if his world hadn’t then become even more complicated, Stark found himself caught up in the mentally-unbalanced Scarlet Witch’s manipulations that led to both his own public humiliation at the United Nations and the complete disintegration of the Avengers as a team.

The story of Iron Man's armor gaining sentience may be found in IRON MAN VOL. 3 #26-30, Stark’s identity revelation in IRON MAN VOL. 3 #55-78 and the Avengers’ downfall in AVENGERS DISASSEMBLED and AVENGERS DISASSEMBLED: IRON MAN, THOR & CAPTAIN AMERICA.

Division and Disaster

Iron Man vs. Captain America during Civil War

Though operating as Iron Man in secret for many years himself, Tony Stark proposed a “Superhuman Registration Act” after a tragic event involving super heroes took innocent lives in Connecticut. Many costumed champions declined to register and reveal their identities, so Stark led government-sanctioned heroes against the rebels--including his old friend and Avengers comrade Captain America. The super hero “civil war” ended in Stark’s favor, but victory came at a cost: the death of Steve Rogers, Captain America. Then, when an alien invasion further ripped apart Earth’s heroes, Iron Man’s standing as a champion disappeared and in his place as head of S.H.I.E.L.D. stood Norman Osborn, a supposedly-former villain.

The tale of the Civil War and subsequent invasion can be found in CIVIL WAR, CIVIL WAR: IRON MAN, IRON MAN: DIRECTOR OF S.H.I.E.L.D. and SECRET INVASION.

On the Run

Hunted by Norman Osborn and literally losing his mind, Tony Stark fled to the far corners of the globe, seeking to do as much damage as he could to Osborn’s infrastructure – but at the price of damaging his own brain. Ever a forward-thinker, Stark institutes a planned “backup copy” of his intellect and, after a long bout of healing, returns to duty as Iron Man to aid the Avengers in defeating Osborn during the lunatic despot’s siege of the mythic city of Asgard.

These important stories of Tony Stark’s ordeal may be found in INVINCIBLE IRON MAN: WORLD’S MOST WANTED BOOK 1-2, INVINCIBLE IRON MAN: STARK DISASSEMBLED and SIEGE.

Iron Man and the moder day Avengers

New Heroic Armored Age

Now, Tony Stark stands today as a new man. With an even more incredible and invincible armor, Iron Man joined with a revived Avengers team to rebuild the world and protect it anew from menaces of all shapes, sizes and variety. Recently, Stark’s will was put to the test when he confronted Odin, the king of the gods himself, to seek an Asgardian forge to craft weapons for Earth’s heroes during an invasion by Odin’s wicked brother.

Stark’s latest armor first appeared in INVINCIBLE IRON MAN: STARK RESILIENT BOOK 1-2 and the story of the Serpent’s reign of fear upon the world can be found in FEAR ITSELF.

Ultimate Iron Man

Ultimate Iron Man

The Ultimate Universe Tony Stark aligns fairly closely with his Marvel Universe doppelganger, save that this Stark, a billionaire jet-setting industrialist with an inoperable brain tumor, tends to be more ruthless and swaggering. As Iron Man, he joined with other super humans to form the government-sponsored Ultimates, whose first mission put them into direct conflict with the Ultimate Hulk.

The origin of the Ultimate Iron Man and his participation in the Ultimates project may be found in ULTIMATES ULTIMATE COLLECTION and ULTIMATE COMICS IRON MAN ULTIMATE COLLECTION.

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