Essential Avengers

Essential Avengers: Iron Man Now and Then

Hero. Businessman. Survivor. Inventor. Avenger.

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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 Chris Arrant

He may be a super hero in a suit of armor, but he’s no knight; Iron Man is a mechanical magician, using the sheer resourcefulness of his mind to stand toe-to-toe and side-by-side with some of the most powerful men and women in the Marvel Universe without having any super powers of his own. Created in 1963, Iron Man is one of the few super heroes who doesn’t keep his civilian identity a secret. In fact, Tony Stark is just as popular and well known as a businessman, inventor and rogue thinker as his super hero identity is for his life-saving achievements. As a founding Avenger and one of the pillars in Marvel’s storied shared universe, Iron Man is arguably the most multi-faceted character around.

Iron Man by Joe Quesada

“What interested me most about Iron Man when I first started writing the character was Tony Stark himself,” says longtime Iron Man writer David Michelinie. “Here was a super hero without any super powers. He was just a guy with a huge intellect and imagination, and he used those to give himself the mechanisms and the means to make the world a better place. All the while keeping a multi-national business running in the black.”

In comics, Tony Stark has been head of his own company, head of the Avengers and even head of S.H.I.E.L.D. at one point. Even without the Iron Man suit Stark would be a defining presence in the world around him, but it’s that suit and what instigated its creation that make him the man he is today.

“Iron Man’s my all-time favorite Marvel hero, and it’s his origin that really makes him important,” says Marvel’s Chief Creative Officer Joe Quesada. “When you look at his life before he became Iron Man, you could question the morality of what he was doing for a living.”

Tony Stark’s transformation into Iron Man came after years of being an unrepentant industrialist and weapons maker, selling his hardware to the highest bidder. But after he’s kidnapped and left with a fatal heart condition, he turns his impressive intellect towards saving lives--starting with his own. While in captivity, Stark created the first iteration of the Iron Man armor to protect his heart and also give him the means to break free of his prison.

The first appearance of Iron Man

“That reversal of character, the ‘I’ve been screwing up my whole life but now I’m going to do things the right way,’ makes him a captivating character,” says Quesada. “The best heroes are the ones who have an innate sense of humanity, and every one of us carries around things we regret that we attempt to make amends for.”

But just as Iron Man’s armor has evolved over the years, so has the character himself. Iron Man’s adventures aren’t just limited to the usual super heroic antics, as the technological inventions Tony Stark created to bring Iron Man to life also posed threats if left in the wrong hands.

“'The Armor Wars' really showcased Tony’s sense of responsibility like nothing else,” explains Michelinie, who has written over 80 issues of Iron Man over the years. “He faced off against his friends, his country and even the opinion of the globe to get back the technology he created as it was being used unscrupulously to cause untold misery. Talk about laying it all on the line!”

While some super heroes carry a duality that separate the person they are from the person they become when in their super hero guise, Tony Stark is one and the same whether he’s in the board room or on the battlefield. That led the hero to become one of the few who lives both sides of his life in the public view.

The beginning of David Michelinie's classic "Armor Wars" story

“When I was writing the character in 2000, it made no sense to me for Iron Man to hide his civilian identity of Tony Stark. The editors at the time didn’t like that idea, but when I became Editor-In-Chief I pushed for it,” Quesada explains. “Tony’s not what you call a private citizen, he’s one of the world’s most brilliant scientists, industrialists, businessmen, whatever you call it. Tony is already a target. When you see guys like that in the real world like Richard Branson of Steve Jobs, you see that they already have to be cautious and constantly have a security presence. At the end of the day, there was no logical reason for Tony to have an alter-ego and pretend to not be Iron Man. If I’m Tony, I want people to know I’m Iron Man. I want people to know when you take on me you also take on Iron Man.”

Although he’s been a key component of Marvel’s comics for almost 50 years, it wasn’t until the debut of the live-action “Iron Man” film in 2008 and the revitalization of the Avengers comics titles earlier that decade that Iron Man became the force he is today.

“Before then Iron Man wasn’t someone you could say was as recognizable as Spider-Man, but here we are in 2012 and he’s one of Marvel’s most popular characters in movies, animation and comics,” says Quesada. “He’s arguably one of the top two or three best-known super heroes in the world, and it’s an amazing thing to see and be a part of. As an Iron Man fan going way back and then coming on to write his title, guide him as Editor-In-Chief and now in my current role, it’s rewarding. I have a lot of affection for Tony Stark and Iron Man, and I’m glad to see the rest of the world catching on to what I’ve known for a long time.”

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