A whole new era of Iron Man comics kicked off this week with the release of Superior Iron Man #1 by Tom Taylor and Yidiray Cinar. As the solicitations have been indicating for months, the Superior Iron Man is expected to depict a Tony Stark in all of his megalomaniacal glory. And, of course, with another shift in Stark’s attitude, there comes a new iteration of Iron Man armor.
Perhaps no character in comic book history has gone through more cosmetic upgrades than Iron Man. Over the years, Stark has tweaked and enhanced his suit for both aesthetic and practical/technological reasons. So with another new suit on the horizon, we thought we’d run down the 10 most important changes in Iron Man armor history.
1. The Original (MK I)
First Appearance: Tales of Suspense #39
In one of the truly great Marvel origin stories from the Silver Age, billionaire industrialist and engineer Tony Stark was severely injured and was forced by his captors to construct a weapon of mass destruction for their benefit. Instead, Stark designed a solution for all of his problems – an iron suit of armor that included a chest plate that prevented a piece of shrapnel from traveling to his heart (and killing him) while also providing him with enough firepower to escape from capture and become one of the world’s most recognizable superheroes. The original Iron Man armor may not be fashionable, but it certainly got the job done and served as a prototype for all future Stark suits.
2. The Golden Avenger (MK II)
First Appearance: Tales of Suspense #40
In only the second appearance of Iron Man, Stark realized that his medieval suit of gray armor was actually terrifying the general public. So he took some unsolicited advice from one of his girlfriends, Marion, and upgraded his armor to a more fan-friendly gold model. In addition to being fashion forward (as Marion said, who doesn’t love gold?), Stark also incorporated some structural/technical improvements, including making it a collapsible model that could be stored in a briefcase (an enhancement that would be a key part of future suit models), a more streamlined chest plate that could be worn under normal clothing, and rechargeable solar-powered batteries. He also added some air pressure boot-jets for limited flight. Obviously, the Iron Man attire had a long ways to go before it was totally optimized and versatile, but this was the first step of many.
3. The Original Red and Gold (MK III)
First Appearance: Tales of Suspense #48
Even the most casual comic book fans is familiar with the red and gold Iron Man motif, which may be his most iconic in terms of instant recognition. Interestingly enough, unlike the Golden Avenger get-up, Stark did not design this upgrade out of vanity. Stark was confronted by a villain named Mr. Doll, who, despite being a fairly low level name years later, at the time seemed to have found the perfect way to defeat Iron Man. By using a replica doll, Mr. Doll was able to control aspects of Stark’s very rigid and constricting armor. As a result, Stark had little mobility in his fight against Doll and was almost crushed as a result. So he came up with a lighter weight model made of 3-D knit alloy, giving him the versatility to resist Doll’s attacks. Additionally, he upgraded his boot-jets for faster flight speed a more powerful chest-mounted moonbeam, repulsor rays and, 'natch, roller skates.
4. The Classic Red and Gold (MK IV)
First Appearance: Iron Man #85
This one has stood the test of time. Despite the fact that Stark has made countless improvements and upgrades to his armor over the years, he has demonstrated a tendency to return to his old reliable MK IV model when the situation warrants. For example, this model makes an appearance during the group’s big confrontation with Norman Osborn in 2010’s Siege storyline. In terms of improvements, cosmetically, Stark did away with the MK III’s nose-plate. Additionally, the sleeves, gloves, leggings, boots and helmet could retract into the torso unit and expanded when his ID bracelet sent a signal to the polarization unit in his chest-beam.
5. Space Armor MK I
First Appearance: Iron Man #142
Despite being a founding member of “Earth’s Mightiest Heroes,” Stark never really had a suit of armor capable of handling the rigors of deep space exploration until he created this model in 1981. His space armor was developed after Stark was being blamed by S.H.I.E.L.D. for the shocking deaths of some people in Allentown, PA. Donning this new suit, which was designed about two days of traveling beyond the Earth’s atmosphere, Stark flew towards the source of microwave rays that were responsible for killing the innocents. There he discovered a space station being run by Roxxon Oil. Over the years, Stark would upgrade the space model so he could be accommodated for even longer stays up in the abyss beyond the Earth’s atmosphere.
6. Silver Centurion (Model 8)
First Appearance: Iron Man #200
For the climax of the absolutely excellent “Iron Monger” storyline, which saw Stark’s business rival Obadiah Stane steal Tony’s company out from underneath him, Stark, who had quit being Iron Man to clean up his personal life, was forced back into action by Stane. Thus th Silver Centurion was born. After being goaded by Stane, who stooped as low as launching an attack on Stark that killed one of his friends, Tony decided that enough was enough, and he agrees to suit up as Iron Man again. But he was also concerned about not having the firepower to confront Stane in his Iron Monger attire. In addition to cosmetically moving from red and gold to red and silver, the Silver Centurion was a physical upgrade in every way possible – better repulsors, new weapons, et al – allowing Tony to get the upper hand on Stane during their epic battle in Iron Man #200.
7. War Machine (Model 11)
First Appearance: Iron Man #282
As part of a long-running storyline in the early 1990s, Stark was dying from various ailments and was trying to master a remotely controlled suit of armor to battle the Masters of Silence supervillain stable. When those plans failed, Stark decided to do away with a lot of the flexibility and nuance of his earlier models and developed armor for nose-to-nose warfare. That meant a shoulder mounted mingun and missile launcher, wrist mounted canons and other laser guided munitions and ballistics. This model of armor would eventually go on to gain more fame as the attire of choice for Stark’s best friend, James “Rhodey” Rhodes, who took on the identity of War Machine.
8. Hulkbuster Armor
First Appearance: Iron Man #304
Anyone who has seen the Avengers: Age of Ultron trailer is buzzing about the appearance of Iron Man’s Hulkbuster armor. Mainly, people want to know what could possibly be the circumstances surrounding Stark creating a suit of armor designed explicitly to take down the unstoppable Hulk. In terms of the comics, Stark developed the Hulkbuster in anticipation of a confrontation with the Hulk over an abandoned Stane International plant that was producing gamma bombs. Thinking that the only way to reason with the Hulk was going to be fisticuffs, Stark designed modular additions to add to his armor that would be capable of withstanding the Hulk’s immensely physical attacks. Unfortunately for those of us who love to see the good guys pummel each other, Stark and Hulk do reach an accord over the Stane plant, rendering the Hulkbuster unit unnecessary.
9. Extremis Armor (Model 30)
First Appearance: Iron Man (vol. 4) #5
This next entry relates more to how Tony Stark upgraded his own physiology rather than the metallic plates protecting his body. However, it’s hard to argue against the Extremis Armor being a key part of a whole new era of Iron Man. During this famous Warren Ellis storyline (which was loosely adapted for Iron Man 3), Tony injected himself with a modified techno-organic virus in order to save his own life. As a byproduct of this injection, Stark’s armor was fused to his body, allowing him to store it in the hollows of his bones and control it via the pulses in his brain. Because the armor was connected to his central nervous section, his response time was improved in all facets. Of course of the flip side, the “Extremis” arc marked Stark’s transformation into an actual machine.
10. Bleeding Edge Armor
First Appearance: Invincible Iron Man #25
While Stark continues to update and upgrade his armor to this day, let’s end the list with one of the more recent reinventions of Iron Man, as part of the acclaimed Matt Fraction run with the character in the late 2000s/early 2010s. In this instance, Stark built upon the advancements made in his Extremis Armor by completing fusing this suit with his biology. As such, it totally resides in his body and can be controlled mentally, by command. Additionally, Stark was able to use his glorious brains to fashion additional weaponry onto his armor. This was best demonstrated during a Fear Itself crossover when Stark fashioned a large sword to harm the Worthy.