Tony Stark aka Iron Man has been around in comic books since 1963, first appearing in Tales of Suspense #39 before getting his own series in 1968. He has also made many appearances as a member of The Avengers and in other titles whilst Robert Downey Jr’s’big screen portrayal has been extremely well received by fans and critics alike. For those new to comics or even anyone looking for a great read, below are five of the best Iron Man stories ever told. Enjoy!
5) “World’s Most Wanted” Invincible Iron Man #8-19
Capitalising on the success of the Civil War and Secret Invasion events, this story finds Tony Stark on the run from Norman Osborn in a race to destroy all copies of the Superhero Registration Act, which contains the identities of most of the superhero populace. The final copy resides in Stark’s own brain which leads Tony to take drastic action, going so far as to inflict brain damage upon himself. The multi-part story ends with a vegetative Iron Man leaving instructions on how to reboot his brain and putting the choice of whether this should happen in the hands of Pepper Potts whilst Captain America, Donald Blake (alter-ego of Thor) and Maria Hill also appear in supporting roles. Written by Matt Fraction with art by Salvador Larocca, the story is a tense, well-paced affair that takes you on an exhilarating ride. Fraction writes a fantastic rendition of Stark, showcasing the strengths and weaknesses of the character whilst Larocca provides some of his best art to date. Although it requires an understanding of the state of the Marvel Universe at the time and the conclusion is in the following volume, this is one of the best recent Iron Man stories that shows Stark as a conflicted, troubled character.
4) “Doomquest” Iron Man #149-150
Although generally considered a villain of the Fantastic Four, Doctor Doom provides an interesting counterpart to Iron Man in this popular two-issue tale which sees the wealthy, armoured geniuses thrown through time and landing in King Arthur’s Camelot. The contrasting characters fall on different sides of the battle between King Arthur and Morgan Le Fay before putting aside their differences and using their respective armours to create a rudimentary time machine. The story is provided by the popular team of David Michelinie and Bob Layton, whose short tale was so welcomed by fans that Marvel brought them back 100 issues later for a sequel. Meanwhile, John Romita Jr. provides strong pencils that still stand up almost 35 years later.
3) “Armor Wars” Iron Man #225-231
Another tale from Michelinie and Layton, this seven-part story has a simple premise which is executed expertly to create a multi-layered story. In the story Tony Stark realises his armor designs are being used by other characters (namely criminals) and vows to stop anyone using his technology- by any means necessary. The theme of ‘how far should a hero go?’ is expertly executed whilst Mark D. Bright and Barry Windsor-Smith provide the classic storyline with some intricate artwork that makes this an essential read for any fan.
2) “Extremis” Iron Man Vol 4 #1-6
Heavily influencing the look of Iron Man on the big screen and the storyline in Iron Man 3, this 6-part story redefines the status quo and increases the power of the red and gold armored Avenger. The story provides a recap of Stark’s origins whilst cementing his position as a futurist in a fresh tale that includes a nanotechnological serum which helps the brain repair the body and can be adapted to provide different outcomes. The story was written by Warren Ellis with art by Adi Granov, both of whom were new to the character and avoided reading past issues so as not to allow it influence their fresh take. Ellis is known for his work on transhumanist themes such as human enhancement and cryonics, a perfect fit for the story whilst Granov uses a wonderfully detailed painted art style that complements the world of Tony Stark- few would argue that the armor of Iron Man had ever looked better.
1) “Demon in a Bottle” Iron Man #120-128
At the top of any ‘Best of Iron Man’ lists is always this multi-part story, another entry in this list from Michelinie and Layton with Layton also pulling art duties by completing pencil breakdowns from John Romita Jr. (some of the legacy artist’s earliest work) whilst issue #122 was pencilled by Carmine Infantino. The story sees the Iron Man armor apparently malfunction, resulting in the death of an ambassador and an increase in Stark’s drinking as he steps down from leadership of the Avengers, faces losing his company and loses the respect of his friends and himself Justin Hammer is revealed as the mastermind behind the so-called malfunctions and Stark eventually admits his drinking problem, repairing his friendships and determined to regain control of his company.
The story is a wonderful mix of what Marvel does best: mixing the fantastical superhero life of Iron Man with the more grounded real-life problems, in this case, addiction. Watching a superhero fall from grace and then struggle to regain a sense of self and balance in his life makes for an entertaining story that resonates with the audience and shows much about the best and worst of Stark’s character. If anything is missing from the big screen interpretation of the armored Avenger, it’s his struggle with alcoholism. His ego and single-mindedness have already appeared on screen however adding this flaw would bring a new dynamic to the movie version of the character and would provide Robert Downey Jr. with a serious issue to tackle to add a new dimension to the character. Whether that will ever happen remains to be seen but until that day this story presents the best and worst of Anthony Edward Stark in one brilliantly constructed story.