Iron Man 50th Anniversary

Posted: March 5, 2013 in comics
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It’s hard to believe but Iron Man is completing 50 years since his first appearance in Tales of Suspense # 39 (released March 1963).

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Iron Man’s Marvel Comics premiere was a collaboration among editor and story-plotter Stan Lee, scripter Larry Lieber, story-artist Don Heck, and cover-artist and character-designer Jack Kirby. In 1963, Lee had been toying with the idea of a businessman superhero. He wanted to create the “quintessential capitalist”, a character that would go against the spirit of the times and Marvel’s readership.

“I think I gave myself a dare. It was the height of the Cold War. The readers, the young readers, if there was one thing they hated, it was war, it was the military….So I got a hero who represented that to the hundredth degree. He was a weapons manufacturer, he was providing weapons for the Army, he was rich, he was an industrialist….I thought it would be fun to take the kind of character that nobody would like, none of our readers would like, and shove him down their throats and make them like him….And he became very popular”.
Stan Lee for The Invincible Iron Man (Ultimate 2-Disc Edition Iron Man DVD). Paramount Pictures. 2008.

Iron Man first appeared in 13- to 18-page stories in Tales of Suspense, which featured anthology science fiction and supernatural stories. The character’s original costume was a bulky gray armored suit, replaced by a golden version in the second story (issue #40, April 1963). It was redesigned as sleeker, red-and-golden armor in issue #48 (Dec. 1963) by that issue’s interior art is by Steve Ditko, though Kirby drew it on the cover. As Heck recalled in 1985, “[T]he second costume, the red and yellow one, was designed by Steve Ditko. I found it easier than drawing that bulky old thing. The earlier design, the robot-looking one, was more Kirbyish.

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Left: Tales of Suspense #39 (March 1963): Iron Man debuts. Cover art by Jack Kirby and Don Heck. Right: Tales of Suspense #48 (Dec. 1963), the debut of Iron Man’s first red-and-gold suit of armor. Cover art by Jack Kirby and Sol Brodsky.

The original Iron Man title explored Cold War themes, as did other Stan Lee projects in the early years of Marvel Comics. Where The Fantastic Four and The Incredible Hulk respectively focused on American domestic and government responses to Communist threat, Iron Man explored industry’s role in the struggle. Tony Stark’s real-life model, Howard Hughes, was a significant defense contractor who helped develop new weapons technologies. At the same time Hughes was an icon both of American individualism and of the burdens of fame. In his premiere, Iron Man was an anti-communist hero, defeating various Vietnamese agents. Lee later regretted this early focus. Throughout the character’s comic book series, technological advancement and national defense were constant themes for Iron Man, but later issues developed Stark into a more complex and vulnerable character as they depicted his battle with alcoholism (as in the “Demon in a Bottle” storyline) and other personal difficulties.

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From issue #59 (Nov. 1964) to its final issue #99 (March 1968), the anthological science-fiction backup stories in Tales of Suspense were replaced by a feature starring the superhero Captain America. After issue #99 (March 1968), the book’s title was changed to Captain America. An Iron Man story appeared in the one-shot comic Iron Man and Sub-Mariner (April 1968), before the “Golden Avenger” made his solo debut with The Invincible Iron Man #1 (May 1968). Lee and Kirby included Iron Man in The Avengers #1 (Sept. 1963) as a founding member of the superhero team. The character has since appeared in every subsequent volume of the series.

BIOGRAPHY, ALLIES AND ENEMIES

Anthony Edward Stark, the son of wealthy industrialist and head of Stark Industries, Howard Stark, and Maria Stark, is born on Long Island. A boy genius, he enters MIT at the age of 15 to study electrical engineering and later receives Master’s degrees in electrical engineering and physics.[23] After his parents are killed in a plane accident, he inherits his father’s company.

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iron_man_1Tony Stark is injured by a booby trap and captured by the enemy led by Wong-Chu, who then orders him to design weapons. However, Stark’s injuries are dire and shrapnel is moving towards his heart. His fellow prisoner, Ho Yinsen, a Nobel Prize-winning physicist whose work Stark had greatly admired during college, constructs a magnetic chest plate to keep the shrapnel from reaching Stark’s heart, keeping him alive. In secret, Stark and Yinsen use the workshop to design and construct a suit of powered armor, which Stark uses to escape. But during the escape attempt, Yinsen sacrifices his life to save Stark’s by distracting the enemy as Stark recharges. Stark takes revenge on his kidnappers and heads back to rejoin the American forces, on his way meeting a wounded American Marine fighter pilot, James “Rhodey” Rhodes.

Back home, Stark discovers that the shrapnel fragment lodged in his chest cannot be removed without killing him, and he is forced to wear the armor’s chestplate beneath his clothes to act as a regulator for his heart. He must recharge the chestplate every day or else risk the shrapnel killing him. The cover for Iron Man is that he is Stark’s bodyguard and corporate mascot. To that end, Iron Man fights threats to his company, such as Communist opponents Black Widow, the Crimson Dynamo and the Titanium Man, as well as independent villains like the Mandarin, who eventually becomes his greatest enemy. No one suspects Stark of being Iron Man as he cultivates an image as a rich playboy and industrialist. Two notable members of Stark’s supporting cast at this point are his personal chauffeur Harold “Happy” Hogan and secretary Virginia “Pepper” Potts, to both of whom he eventually reveals his dual identity. Meanwhile, James Rhodes finds his own niche as Stark’s personal pilot, revealing himself to be a man of extraordinary skill and daring.

The comic took an anti-Communist stance in its early years, which was softened as opposition rose to the Vietnam War. This change evolved in a series of stories with Stark profoundly reconsidering his political opinions and the morality of manufacturing weapons for the military. Stark, however, shows himself to be occasionally arrogant and willing to let the ends justify the means. This leads to personal conflicts with the people around him, both in his civilian and superhero identities. Stark uses his personal fortune not only to outfit his own armor, but also to develop weapons for S.H.I.E.L.D. and other technologies such as the Quinjets used by the Avengers, and the image inducers used by the X-Men.

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Eventually, Stark’s heart condition is discovered by the public and treated with an artificial heart transplant.[volume & issue needed] Later on, Stark expands on his armor designs and begins to build his arsenal of specialized armors for particular situations such as for stealth and space travel. However, Stark develops a serious dependency on alcohol. The first time it becomes a problem is when Stark discovers that the national security agency S.H.I.E.L.D. has been buying a controlling interest in his company in order to ensure Stark’s continued weapons development for them. At the same time, Stark’s business rival Justin Hammer hires several supervillains to attack Stark. At one point, the Iron Man armor is even taken over and used to murder a diplomat. Although Iron Man is not immediately under suspicion, Stark is forced to hand the armor over to the authorities.

pepper-and-haroldEventually Stark and Rhodes, who is now his personal pilot and confidant, track down and defeat those responsible, although Hammer would return to bedevil Stark again. With the support of his then-girlfriend, Bethany Cabe, his friends and his employees, Stark pulls through these crises and overcomes his dependency on alcohol. These events were collected and published as Demon in a Bottle. Even as he recovers from this harrowing personal trial, Stark’s life is further complicated when he has a confrontation with Doctor Doom that is interrupted by an opportunistic enemy sending them back in time to the time of King Arthur. Once there, Iron Man thwarts Doom’s attempt to solicit the aid of Morgan Le Fay, and the Latverian ruler swears deadly vengeance – to be eventually indulged sometime after the truce needed for both to return to their own time. This incident was collected and published as Doomquest.

Some time later, a ruthless rival, Obadiah Stane, manipulates Stark emotionally into a serious relapse. As a result, Stark loses control of Stark International to Stane, becomes a homeless alcohol-abusing vagrant and gives up his armored identity to Rhodes, who becomes the new Iron Man for a lengthy period of time. Eventually, Stark recovers and joins a new startup, Circuits Maximus. Stark concentrates on new technological designs, including building a new set of armor as part of his recuperative therapy. Rhodes continues to act as Iron Man but steadily grows more aggressive and paranoid, due to the armor not having been calibrated properly for his use. Eventually Rhodes goes on a rampage, and Stark has to don a replica of his original armor to stop him. Fully recovered, Stark confronts Stane who has himself designed a version of armor based around designs seized along with Stark International, dubbing himself ‘Iron Monger’. Defeated in battle, Stane rather than give Stark the satisfaction of taking him to trial, commits suicide. Shortly thereafter, Stark regains his personal fortune, but decides against repurchasing Stark International until much later; he instead creates Stark Enterprises, headquartered in Los Angeles.

Text: Wikipedia. Images: Google

NEXT POST: THE IRON MAN ARMORS

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