By Jim Beard
Time will shape a man, and Tony Stark, the Invincible Iron Man, proves no exception to the rule. As one of the greatest and most popular Marvel Comic heroes—ready for his big screen debut on May 2, time's been good to the Golden Avenger. Though, within his fictional universe, it's often been cruel.
We've thrilled to Iron Man's adventures for forty-five years now, and here on the eve of his theatrical film debut we thought we'd take a look back at the dazzling decades that've shaped Tony Stark, his amazing armor, his faithful friends, and of course, his egocentric enemies. Let's start at the beginning and those Swingin' Sixties! Watch for a new decade every Thursday until the opening of the film!
– The story of Anthony Stark in the 60s revolves around one thing: his heart. Perhaps his greatest asset, Tony's heart would also prove to be his greatest enemy. Horrifically damaged in the jungles of Vietnam, in TALES OF SUSPENSE #69, the millionaire industrialist/inventor was forced to craft a special iron chest plate to keep his wounded heart a'tickin'. Though he held death at bay that day, Tony realized his critical condition would be a minute-to-minute proposition – and playing armored avenger certainly didn't help things.
Throughout the 1960s Tony Stark's painted as a lonely guy. Despite his outward appearance as a man-about-town and a fancier of gorgeous dames and fast cars, the "dreamiest thing this side of Rock Hudson" often ruminates on his sad situation, desperate to share his soul with a special someone. By late 1964 Tony's so frustrated with his ailing heart that he contemplates retiring as Iron Man, and by TOS #59 his heart has worsened to the point of trapping him in full armor day and night. Add to this his burgeoning yet confidential love for his private secretary Pepper Potts and we have a three-dimensional hero who cannot wear his heart on his sleeve but must lock it away under cold, hard iron.
One of the perks of Tony's career in the '60s came in the form of travel. Sure, it was travel to such scintillating spots as Red China, Vietnam, Cuba, the deep sea, an underground empire, "Alberia" and even back in time to Ancient Egypt, but hey, the guy got around at least. In fact, Iron Man never really rested; he was always jetting off somewhere. And when he wasn't jet-setting, he was inventing something – anti-gravity rays, generators, proton guns, an earth borer and the ever-popular Cobalt Device.
– One thing about Iron Man in the 60s that's the same as today: he changed armor like socks. Tony's first 1963 clanky, clunky grey armor quickly gave way to a clanky, clunky gold armor in TOS #40. That suit with its jet skates and magnets lasted on our hero until TOS #48 and the debut of the red and gold togs that would cement the familiar version for decades to come. The key word for Iron Man in the 1960s is transistors – transistors were everything. They ran the whole shebang, and the more miniature the better. Iron Man was doodied up with jet boots, magnetic repellers, a solar scanner beam, and even a splendiferous sub-miniature reverser – all run by, yep, transistors. And if one or two transistors were good, triple transistors were fab, gear, and even boss.
Unfortunately, the amazing armor wasn't just a boon to crimefighting; it was also that which kept Tony's heart pumping and a sheepish smile on his face. The genius arms-specialist tweaked and tinkered with his iron suits, debuting a new helmet in 1964's TOS #54 and "better, stronger" armor to fight the Mandarin in TOS #84. But when it came right down to it, Tony still had to plug the dang thing into a wall socket to revive himself – constantly.
By 1965 Tony was able to change into Iron Man so quickly, with the aid of "collapsible armor", that he was cocky enough to carry it around in a briefcase. This dubious practice led to the armor being stolen and used by a crook in TOS #65, which prompted Tony to break out the really, really old 1963 clunky armor to wrest his property back. The old armor was also trotted out again in 1967's TOS #90 to combat the Melter. The Golden Avenger even lent his fighting togs to his chauffeur, Happy Hogan, but that went sour almost immediately with a negative vote from the Mandarin.
– Though Iron Man joined his fellow heroes in the Avengers in 1963 and those self same heroes popped in and out of his solo adventures, the real tale of Tony's compatriots in the 1960s is that of Pepper Potts and Happy Hogan. Never before in comicdom was there a love triangle such as this: Pepper immediately fell in love with her boss, Tony slowly fell in love with Pepper, Happy immediately fell in love with Pepper, Pepper at first despised Happy but slowly fell in love with him, Happy was loyal to Tony but wanted Pepper for himself…and everybody's opinion about Iron Man was up in the air. This passion play of unrequited-"must keep it secret" love carried the readers on throughout the 60s and though there were occasional strides, there were also crushing set-backs. It was soap opera with armor and explosions.
As mentioned, Pepper began to fall for Happy and Tony distanced himself from the situation, making him appear cold and aloof. His two faithful, loyal employees eventually started dating and by 1966 Happy Hogan had both a secret to keep of his own – that Tony was Iron Man – and also his own alter-ego, that of the frankly frightening Freak. Twice did Happy unhappily transform into the monstrous Freak in the '60s but overall he got the girl and kept his job. He also never smiled. Not once.
Tony's tiny cast of supporting characters in the 1960s also included his annoying cousin Morgan Stark, first popping in for TOS #68, and the even more annoying junior S.H.I.E.L.D agent Jasper Sitwell, in TOS #95. Tony managed to conclude his first decade without killing either of the two but between Morgan's bad debts and criminal compatriots and Jasper's incessant dialogue and trying to blow Iron Man's head off, it's a wonder he didn't.
– They say that the villains make the hero – if that's true than Iron Man did pretty well for himself in the '60s. After a weak start with a few forgettable felons, Tony's rogue gallery began to take off with the arrival of the Crimson Dynamo in TOS #46. This set the tone for his struggles for the rest of the decade, namely communism. The rotund "Comrade K", the real-life Nikita Khrushchev, sputtered and spouted through the 1960s and when he did, Iron Man villains sprang into existence. Iron Man faced off against the aforementioned Dynamo – two of 'em! – and the Red Barbarian, the Black Widow, the Unicorn, and the terrifying Titanium Man, just to name the headliners. Even bums like the Scarecrow were keen to sell secrets and such to the Reds, causing Iron Man to see red on several occasions. On top of that, he tussled with such costumed cut-ups as Jack Frost, the Phantom, Whiplash, the Demolisher, the Controller, and a few other knuckleheaded bad guys who just had to have been gluttons for punishment. Melter, we're looking at you.
The real Iron Man villain of the 1960s was, of course, the mysterious Mandarin. First rearing his ugly visage from his castle in Red China in 1964's TOS #50, the ring-wielding, world-grabbing maniac visited worry and woe on Tony Stark throughout thirteen issues in the 60s. Powered by fantastic rings he seized from a downed alien spacecraft, the Mandarin had the world's biggest mad-on for Tony Stark, one he soon transferred to the millionaire's "bodyguard," Iron Man. Their battles rung out with the sound of energy bursts against iron-hard armor, and, in TOS #86, the two arch-rivals even went a few rounds of actual fisticuffs. Iron Man, gauntlets tossed aside, toasted the Mandarin handily and blew up his castle – just to prove a point.
But, as said previously, Tony Stark's greatest enemy throughout the 1960s was his heart. Big enough to bring a hero to the downtrodden people of the world, his heart told him what was right and what was justice. Caring enough to love his friends for themselves, his heart broke under the necessity of a life he could not fully share with others. Some say the '60s were all about love; the adventures of Iron Man in that swingin' decade certainly bear that out.
Need to catch up on your Iron Man reading? Looking for the perfect stories starring Ol' Shellhead? Check out our list of the 10 Collections marked as required reading by any Iron Man fan!
For more Iron Man, check out Marvel Digital Comics Unlimited. And remember: "Iron Man" comes to a theater near you on May 2! Visit the official "Iron Man" movie site