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Comic Book Alphabet of Cool – I

Today, the most important Marvel character whose solo title doesn’t even sell that well.

Iron Man


How weird is it that Iron Man is, like, the most central figure in the entire Marvel Universe, being used by practically every title out there, and yet his own book doesn’t even sell that well (despite solid writing from the Knaufs)?


I suppose it has to do with Marvel’s fairly odd decision to recast Iron Man as the “heavy” – the one that readers want to see guest-star so that Character X can beat him up (whether it be She-Hulk or Hulk or Thor or whoever), as that is not exactly the ideal circumstance to get people to read his main title – “Remember that guy we made you hate? Buy his book!”


Still, that doesn’t mean he isn’t still a cool comic character, as he is – which is why his upcoming movie sounds like it’ll work pretty well, as the basic concept behind Iron Man is pretty darn fun. Rich weapons manufacturer gets almost fatally injured, forced to build suit of armor to keep him alive – turns suit of armor into force for good. That’s a cool idea – and when you add in the cute secret identity twist (pretends to be his own bodyguard), it is a great package.


Of course, over the years, the package has been changed multiple times, the most amusing would probably be Tony Stark’s secret identity.

Like I mentioned, the secret identity twist is pretty cute, but writers have decided to do different things with it. First, Tony “died,” so his identity was revealed then, but then Kurt Busiek had Tony wipe the world’s knowledge of that memory. Next, Mike Grell had Tony reveal his identity during his run on Iron Man (which was 20 issues or so after Busiek’s run ended). After about thirty issues of his identity being publically known, Warren Ellis started a new series where Tony’s ID was once again secret (I loved Ellis’ solution – “Tony told the world he was no longer Iron Man, and they believed him.” Suspension of disbelief rules!). After a year or so, though, Tony once again revealed his identity to the world during the events of Civil War. That is the current status quo.


The most notable change to Tony’s personality, though, would probably be his alocholism, which was first introduced during the acclaimed Michelinie/Layton run on the series, and later hackified by Denny O’Neil after Michelinie and Layton left the book (I don’t blame O’Neil – it was just the card he was dealt – “Play up the alcoholism”).


A close second would be the Crossing, which revealed that Tony was secretly controlled by Kang for, like, years. Tony would turn on his “master,” and sacrifice his life. Luckily, the Avengers had brought a younger Tony from the past (before Kang corrupted him) to confront his future self, and that teen Tony stayed Iron Man, until that stuff was all thankfully forgotten.


By the by, let’s say Teen Tony’s story wasn’t cut off by Onslaught? How long do you think it would have lasted before they returned to the status quo?


Still, despite all the weird things that have been done to Tony over the years (making him the Secretary of Defense, making him the Director of SHIELD, making him a paraplegic, etc.), the basic concept of a super smart dude building a suit of armor to fight crime is still a neat idea.


I also dig how Tony really didn’t even apologize for being an arms dealer, for, like, YEARS. It was only after a decade or so that writers first had Tony be all, “Wait, guns are bad!”


Also, Tony used to be majorly anti-Communist. The earliest Iron Man comics are notable in that nearly every villain is an evil, evil Commie bastard.


And his girlfriends! Tony has been quite the ladies man over the years, and his list of girlfriends has been quite notable. One problem with being a girlfriend of Tony’s, however, is that future writers will often look to kill you off or something like that. I am utterly astonished that Bethany Cabe is still alive.

Story continues below


Iron Man has also been a major part of the Avengers for years, being the guy who gave them their initial funding. Heck, the Avengers’ faithful butler, Jarvis, was on loan from Tony! Good ol’ Stark, some people lend some furniture to help folks start out – Stark loans PEOPLE!


Iron Man’s Rogues Gallery is interesting in that it has a lot of depth, but the upfront talent is a bit lacking. Mandarin’s obviously the “big bad,” but he’s not THAT great of a villain (although Joe Casey’s recent mini-series about him was quite cool). And there’s no clear second after Mandarin, unless you count evil businessman, Obadiah Stane, I suppose.

But boy, are the low-level guys cool! The Ghost, the Living Laser, the Melter, Boomerang, these guys are pretty cool.

Not the Unicorn, though.

He was lame.


At one point or another, Tony has slept with pretty much every female Avenger, so that’s something, too, I suppose.


Okay, I’ll admit it, I’m reaching now…just one more cool cover image, and I’ll leave it be!


Iron Man – he’s cool. And his movie will rock.


Dan (other Dan)

April 1, 2008 at 12:55 pm

Iron Man: The Inevitable by Joe Casey and Frazier Irving was fantastic! I had never read an Iron Man comic before that, and now I never think I’ll read one as good. Check it out!

Looking forward to Matt Fraction’s take on it…


April 1, 2008 at 1:41 pm

Knaufs ROCK. If you aint reading it, you don’t like good comics. nuff said

I’m glad you picked Iron Man for I! How is tagging every hot female in the entire Marvel Universe reaching?! That’s a main selling point! Also glad you mentioned Layton and Michelinie’s run on the title. Probably my favorite comic run of all time.

And fingers crossed for the movie this summer…

1. O’Neil’s run wasn’t bad at all, even though the alcoholism was an editorial decision. the stories were od, Rhodey wore the armor, and Stark got clean and started a new company.

2. Communists ARE evil. Crack a history book.

3. There is a certain amount of… what’s the word… hypocrisy in comic book creators bemoaning the fact that a character creates weaponry. Did superhero comic books suddenly stop being an inherently violent medium?

4. Iron Man just might be my favorite Marvel character of all time. Civil War etc. is my least favorite storyline.

Iron Man’s book doesn’t sell well because it’s really never sold all that well. Marvel’s always been odd in that, with rare exceptions like the current “Death of Captyain America” arc, the traditional Big Three Avenegrs have never sold as well as raffish outsiders Spider-Man and Wolverine. (Even now, New Avengers seriously outperforms New Avengers.) Living gods, heroic ideals, and wealthy playboys are in some senses not the categories we identify with Marvel’s heroic ethos revolving around the flaaed underdog. Cap, Tony, and Thor have all been flawed underdogs in the context of their own titles, but rarely in the context of their shared universe. They fought crime from a hi-tech mansion and got relatively good in-universe PR.

In Iron Man’s specific case, it may also be because he’s the only really long-running example of the “hi-tech armor” superhero archetype — Steel couldn’t hold his own book, for example, and the likes of X-O Man-O-War went up in smoke pretty quickly too. We think of the “super-suit” as a major comics trope, but in terms of readership it’s a relatively minor one.

Andrew Collins

April 1, 2008 at 3:09 pm

Iron Man, Iron Man…can do whatever an iron can…

The most notable change to Tony’s personality, though, would probably be his alocholism, which was first introduced during the acclaimed Michelinie/Layton run on the series, and later hackified by Denny O’Neil after Michelinie and Layton left the book (I don’t blame O’Neil – it was just the card he was dealt – “Play up the alcoholism”).

O’Neil’s alcoholism story was leagues better than the original.

2. Communists ARE evil. Crack a history book.

Yeah…but perhaps not in the “cackling supervillain” way.

2. Communists ARE evil. Crack a history book.

Have I got the comic for you!


John Trumbull

April 1, 2008 at 4:10 pm

OK, just out of curiosity… how many female Avengers HAS Tony slept with?

He dated the Wasp when she was separated from Hank Pym (what a pal!), he had a thing with the Black Widow, Madame Masque, he was persuing Tigra for a while, he recently slept with She-Hulk (didn’t really get WHERE that one came from, personally)…

Am I missing anyone? Probably tons, since I’ve really been a regular Iron Man reader.

Did they ever explain what happened to teen Tony? That was still unresolved when all of the comic shops in my town closed (well one closed, the other was burned down as part of an insurance fraud scheme) and I was forced to drop every title I couldn’t find in the corner of the one bookstore across town that carried a small comics selection.

I always thought of Iron Man as Batman without the mental disorder.

Both are wealthy, good looking, smart men with no super powers who fight crime.

Bruce Wayne became a detective and master of hand-to hand combat.
Tony Stark used his brains and money to build a kick-ass suit of flying armor.

Bruce Wayne scared people and lived in a cave.
Tony Stark dated gorgeous woman and lived the fun-loving life of a famous millionaire.

It’s too bad Marvel has portrayed him as a jerk over the past couple of decades. They sucked all of the fun out of the concept.

I get the feeling “Tony The B@st@rd” is due his moment of redemption any day now. Either that, or he’s a Skrull…

@ M Bloom:

As I recall, when Franklin returned everyone to the mainstream MU, he returned him the way he remembered them. No more insect-ized Wasp, no more giant-breastices Cap, and no more fake-id-totin’ Tony.

Cool! Love Iron Man, and agree with Henz at comment #3 that the Knaufs are doing great work (that surprises me a little, as I didn’t really get into their first few issues, but now it’s a slam-bang action/political thriller).

I get the feeling “Tony The B@st@rd” is due his moment of redemption any day now. Either that, or he’s a Skrull…

Yes, but…I agree, I think, with what Patent D. is saying here, but also wonder– hasn’t Tony Stark always been a compromised character, and isn’t that actually one of his strengths? I mean, from business to superheroing to politics to his addictions, he’s often made bad choices, or been put in situations where purely “right” choices were impossible. And yet he struggles to do the right thing, and this allows for a more complex and interesting take on “heroism.” I always thought that was what made him Marvel’s most interesting character: he’s an adult, who has to make compromises and move forward. I suspect that’s why he’s less popular than the “bad-ass” characters like Wolverine, whose adolescent ethos always suggested self-righteousness to me (something far more appealing to folks, I think).

And the O’Neill run is great– flawed, but fascinating and sad and ultimately kinda moving, and the last really ambitious epic the title tackled (Armor Wars aside, maybe). It makes Civil War seem even sillier by comparison.


April 1, 2008 at 6:21 pm

he had a thing with the Black Widow,

Does that count though?

Every hero has had a thing with Black Widow.

I think Spiderman must be the only hero with his own long running series who hasn’t.

Anybody else wonder what title Omar really meant when he said “New Avengers seriously outperforms New Avengers”? I’m curious. I do agree with his post, and always found it funny that Marvel’s “Big Three” have rarely been the popular solo titles.

I’m sure Omar meant to say that New Avengers was outselling Mighty Avengers.

Will everyone please stop mentioning Teen tony!

Bernard the Poet

April 2, 2008 at 1:55 am

Every hero has had a thing with Black Widow.
I think Spiderman must be the only hero with his own long running series who hasn’t.

Actually, didn’t Spiderman and Black Widow have a little romance in the ’70s? I seem to remember a four-parter in Marvel Team-Up with them, Shang Chi and Nick Fury.

Viper and Silver Samurai were the villains.

My favorite Iron Man run was JJM’s.

Just about everything else hasn’t done a thing for me, including Busiek’s. He’s my single least favorite major Marvel character.

I imagine I’ll like Fraction’s take though.

He IS a great foil for other characters in the MU right now.

2. Communists ARE evil. Crack a history book.

No they aren’t. But lots of communist dictators/regimes have been evil.

In the ’90s, Iron Man stuck with the Avengers West Coast, because he was too scared to be on the same side of the continent with the greatest hero of all time, Quasar.

Pedro Bouça

April 2, 2008 at 6:29 am

Yeah, Iron Man! I’m a big fan of the character (yes, I’m a strange beast), even bought the recent DVD with all the issues (well, except for the minis, special editions and the darn Iron Man/Sub-Mariner book…).

Anyway, replying to everyone I can:

– The Knaufs are hardly the best Iron Man writers, even in recent times (Ellis, Casey and Gage have written much better IM comics in the last few years). Their first couple of arcs was a total mess. They killed Happy, for dog’s sake! Iron Man has so few interesting characters on his support cast (because uncreative writers keep killing them!) that killing a major one like Happy will taint their run forever! Things improved on the recent Mandarin arc, but not that much to make up for it.

– O’Neil’s run WAS bad, I’m sorry. He stretched a SINGLE storyline for 40+ issues! I mean, Bendis has nothing on the guy, THAT is decompressed storytelling! Obadaiah Stane was an interesting villian, though, and would probably be considered Iron Man’s top villian nowadays IF he hadn’t been killed on the end of that arc – and remained dead ever since! (Don’t ask me why “dead is dead” is valid only for Iron Man villians/supporting cast…)

– Definitely not ALL commies were/are (they still exist, you know) bad – and Tony used to smash mostly underlings. THAT aged terribly those stories. Stereotyped villian Mandarin (in essence a superhuman Fu Manchu) didn’t help, but he is so cool that deservedly keeps the Iron Man archnemesis status. But, yeah, Iron Man DESPERATELY needs new major villians. I have high hopes that Matt Fraction can make his promised Jebediah Stane into one, though.

– Admitedly, Iron Man was never a big seller, but at least one major Avenger, Captain America, has been a big seller, on the 40s. But all that is moot now that Spider-Man and Wolverine are Avengers…

– Tony has also been with Ms. Marvel. Maybe he hasn’t slept with ALL female Avengers, but four (Wasp, Ms. Marvel, Black Widow and She-Hulk) is still an impressive feat!

– As far as I know, Spider-Man has never had anything with Black Widow. But she HAS an impressive, almost Tony-like, score of bedding super-heroes. So far, she has been with the (original?) Red Guardian (her former husband), Iron Man, Hawkeye, Daredevil and Bucky/Winter Soldier! Both she and Tony must have a competition to see who sleeps around the most…

– THE big problem Iron Man has had on the last 15+ years or so is that EVERY TIME they need a traitor and/or opposite voice in the Avengers he is ALWAYS the chosen. Since Avengers has always sold better than his own series, that really hasn’t helped Tony over the years.

Hunter (Pedro Bouça)

Let’s not forget that Tony murdered all those people right before he died to be swapped out with Teen Tony.

See, Franklin really DID bring him back just as he was!

I’m not surprised that New Avengers has outperformed Mighty Avengers, but this may have something to do with the fact that NA releases more than 4 issues a year.

He stretched a SINGLE storyline for 40+ issues!

Which is why “decompressed”=”usually good” :)

I get the feeling “Tony The B@st@rd” is due his moment of redemption any day now. Either that, or he’s a Skrull…

I thought that too, but the Secret Invasion freebie is narrated by Stark, so either he’s really into his cover story to like a Bob Arctor / Agent Fred level, or he’s in the clear.

Like Byron, I’ve always seen the Batman/Iron Man similarity. I’ve always focused on the secret identity side of it, though. I won’t go off on another of my “Everyone in Gotham knows who Batman is” rants, but isn’t it great that Tony Stark can say, “Of course I created Iron Man. I have all the patents!”

And if you make enough people mad, you can just fire the employee wearing the armor.

Unless you stupidly tell everyone your secret identity…

Brian, you showed this, but forgot to put it into words…

The COOLEST thing about Iron Man is that there’s a great excuse to constantly fiddle with his costume. Iron Man has had more cool super-hero uniforms than anybody, which also means he gets new “powers” all the time, too!

Maybe Iron Man just works in better in a team book, like he does in Avengers (the same can be said of Cap and Thor). They did have their moments of selling well in the 80s tho, depending on the creators involved (wasn’t Walt Simonson’s Thor considered a hit, sales wise?).

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