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Posted on May 20, 2015

Superhero Spotlight II: Iron Man

Superhero Spotlight II: Iron Man

In our last superhero breakdown, we talked about Captain America (click here to visit that post). This time, we’re talking about one of Steve Rogers’ greatest allies – and, at times, greatest rivals: Iron Man. Tony Stark is one of the most recognizable superheroes around, so here’s some info about his history in comic books, as well as a few Iron Man costume ideas.

Iron Man Character Bio

In our Captain America biography, we mentioned that his revival in the early 1960s was part of a superhero renaissance in comic books, in which the characters that had been seen as inspirations during the wartime era, but later fallen out of favor, returned to popularity. Captain America was one of the older superheroes that made a big return around this time, but Iron Man was one of Marvel’s new creations that arose from the emerging superhero trend.

Just like Captain America was inspired heavily by World War II themes, Stan Lee created Iron Man with a lot of Cold War themes in mind, especially the ever-advancing state of military technology. After all, Iron Man is basically just a guy wearing a robotic suit of super-weapon armor, so that makes sense.


Iron Man’s Origin Story

iron-man-tales-of-suspense-39Tales of Suspense Vol. 1 No. 39, art by Jack Kirby and Don Heck

The Iron Man story begins in issue #39 of Tales of Suspense, published in 1963. Tony Stark, whose father is the owner of weapons manufacturer Stark Industries, is a child prodigy in engineering, math, and physics. After graduating from MIT at a young age, Stark must assume the role of chairman at the company after losing his parents in a car accident. The military weapons, defensive systems, and other technologies that Stark Industries develops are the most advanced in the world, which unfortunately makes Stark a prime target for comic book supervillains.

wong-chu-from-tos-39Wong-Chu formulates a plan in Tales #39. Art by Don Heck.

Wong-Chu, the leader of a rogue faction of the Vietnamese Army, is the first such villain that Tony Stark faces, and the one responsible for his becoming Iron Man. Stark and a team of his fellow researchers had been testing new weapon prototypes in the jungle, but triggered a booby trap which led to their capture. Stark is hit in the chest by shrapnel, and Wong-Chu, realizing that the most brilliant weapons developer in the world is at his mercy, offers to have his army surgeons help Stark if he can design a new weapon for him.

yinsen-stark-designing-armorTony Stark and Ho Yinsen review Iron Man armor plans. Art by Don Heck.

Wong-Chu is, of course, lying, and Tony Stark, of course, sees through the villain’s plan. Stark plays along for the time being, though, and is given tools, materials, and the aid of Ho Yinsen, a Nobel Prize-winning scientist forced into Wong-Chu’s servitude. Together, they build an electromagnetic breastplate that repels the shrapnel pieces in Stark’s chest from migrating into his heart, as well as a full suit of armor – the original suit of Iron Man armor. Stark uses the armor to escape from Wong-Chu and return home.

iron-man-original-comics-costumeThe original suit of Iron Man armor. Art by Don Heck.

Later, Tony Stark discovered that the shrapnel in his body is lodged in such a way that it cannot be removed. So, he must wear the electromagnet at all times, and keep it constantly recharged, to avoid death. To “disguise” Iron Man, the character is explained to the public as Stark Industries’ mascot and Stark’s personal guard. This origin story has been keep largely unchanged by Marvel across different comic book arcs, movies, and other media, but the location of Stark’s capture has typically been updated to keep up with current events. For example, most recently, it’s taken place during the conflicts in the Middle East, not Vietnam.


Iron Man with the Avengers and Going Solo

Iron Man was featured in the first issue of The Avengers as a founding member of the team, but wasn’t officially given his own comic book series until five years later, in 1968. Tales of Suspense, the series in which Iron Man debuted, was reworked and renamed to focus solely on Captain America. The Invincible Iron Man hit the shelves shortly afterwards, finally giving Stark a series of his own. Also among the series’ major contributions to the Marvel Universe as a whole is the mega-villain Thanos, whose comic book debut was made in Iron Man #55.

the-avengers-volume-1-issue-1A gilded Iron Man on the cover of The Avengers Vol. No. 1. Art by Jack Kirby and Dick Ayers.

As the Iron Man comics progressed, their themes began to focus less on technology and war and more on Tony Stark’s personal demons, especially his problems with alcoholism. Enemies in his business and superhero lives begin to intertwine, and Stark even gives up being Iron Man for a time, a role which is taken over by his friend, Rodney Rhodes. It’s the struggles with his dual identities’ affect on his mental state, as well as his physical health problems, that shape Iron Man’s character throughout his story.


Iron Man in Civil War

civil-war-variant-coverVariant cover of Civil War Vol. 1 No. 1, art by Michael Turner

Iron Man comics can’t be addressed without talking about the Civil War storyline from the mid-2000s – we mentioned it in Captain America’s bio, too. In this arc, it’s Cap and Iron Man who each lead their own, divided factions of Marvel superheroes in response to the United States’ Superhuman Registration Act. The Act is actually Stark’s suggestion, who feels a great deal of guilt from injuring civilians while using his armor drunk. So, when Captain America and other heroes oppose the Act, it becomes a personal issue. Superheroes become anti-heroes in this story, with Iron Man becoming especially manipulative.


The Iron Man Movie Trilogy

The Iron Man movies are one of the most successful trilogies of all-time, together grossing more than $1 billion domestically at the box office. Worldwide, Iron Man 3 easily cleared that milestone by itself.

iron-man-movie-postersMarvel Studios

The first film is a re-telling of Iron Man’s origin story, and follows the comic books pretty closely. Among the few key differences is the absence of Wong-Chu; Tony Stark is instead held captive by an organization known as the Ten Rings. Stark’s rivalry with Obadiah Stane and his partnership with S.H.I.E.L.D. in the movie are pretty similar to the source material.

In Iron Man 2, a direct follow-up to the first movie, Iron Man’s involvement with S.H.I.E.L.D. is more heavily explored, with Black Widow playing a prominent role. The “second Iron Man” story arc from the comic books with Rodney Rhodes is drawn upon heavily, too.

Iron Man 3 takes the six-issue Extremis storyline from the Iron Man comics as its main source material. As one of the critically best-received Iron Man stories, the Extremis books were meant to be a new beginning for the character. Not only is his origin story re-explored, but his powers are also upgraded. Extremis also serves as a lead-in to the Civil War comics, which is the basis for Marvel’s Captain America: Civil War (2016).


Iron Man Costumes

As an inventor, Tony Stark is constantly retooling and redefining his Iron Man armor. In the comic books alone, there have been over 50 different Iron Man costume designs, and that’s not even counting designs from the movies or costumes that have been built or worn by other characters.


Just as Stark is always upgrading to the latest and greatest technology, we like to keep up with the latest Iron Man costumes, too. Our Mark 43 Iron Man costume looks just like the one Iron Man wears in The Avengers: Age of Ultron. It’s a full jumpsuit that packs plenty of details, including molded foam elements, boot covers, and, of course, the classic red and gold Iron Man mask.

There’s also a kids’ version, as well as a set of Hulk Buster armor for when things absolutely, positively need to be crushed. Click here to shop all Iron Man costumes on


DIY Iron Man Costume Ideas

Is the costume party this weekend?

Unless you’re an expert cosplayer, creating a DIY Iron Man costume can be pretty hard. This guy made his own replica of Stark’s armor for less than $100, but “cumbersome” is bit of an understatement: He can’t quite fit inside his own creation.

The difficulty of projects like that is no reason to stop you from making your own Iron Man costume, though. Here a couple of easy ways that you can build around Iron Man accessories to get a complete look. We prefer the term “clever” to “last-minute.”



Iron Man on an off day: Wear an Iron Man reactor, or even just a round touch light, on your chest, beneath a T-shirt so that it shines through. Add some pajama pants, slippers, scraggly Tony Stark-style faux facial hair, and you’re good to go. Carry around your helmet with the morning paper or a cup of coffee. Saving the world can wait. Reruns of M*A*S*H* are on.



Iron Man meets Iron Man: Heavy metal superheroes Black Sabbath have been around for decades. One of their most famous songs ever is, of course, “Iron Man,” from the 1970 album Paranoid, and not, as some people believe, from the Iron Man soundtrack. For this costume mashup idea, wear an Iron Man helmet with a long overcoat (with wide, ‘70s-style lapels, if possible), a black T-Shirt, and a big, chunky cross pendant. A long wig and a solid Ozzy Osbourne impression will help get the joke across, too.



Casual Iron Man: In the Marvel Universe, Tony Stark is a billionaire inventor. Iron Man wears a full suit of shiny armor with all kinds of technological gadgets and gizmos. What would Iron Man look like if he was just a regular guy? Combine an Iron Man T-shirt with a helmet and glowing chest piece. Wear combat boots and protective pads. Find the raddest-looking NERF guns that you can, and paint them red and gold. Non-canon? Non-issue.



If you liked this article and want to see more like it, find us on Facebook and on Twitter @BuyCostumes to let us know which superheroes or villains we should talk about next. Check us out on Pinterest, too, for more superhero costume ideas.



Click here to shop Iron Man costumes on

Click here to shop all superhero costumes on


All Marvel Comics characters and the distinctive likeness(es) thereof are Trademarks & Copyright © 1941-2014 Marvel Characters, Inc. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

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