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The 25 Greatest Iron Man Stories Ever Told!

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15. “Dragon Seed Saga” Iron Man #270-276

John Byrne, Paul Ryan and Bob Wiacek tell this story that ties in the origin of Fin Fang Foom with the origin of Mandarin.

14. “War Machine” Iron Man #281-283

A near-death Tony Stark tries to fight the Masters of Silence with a remote-controlled Iron Man suit. Realizing it is not going to be enough, Tony debuts a new suit of armor that has a lot more firepower (to make up for Tony’s lack of reaction time due to his ailment). After Tony “dies” a few issues later, the new “War Machine” armor is given to James Rhodes. Len Kaminski, Kevin Hopgood and Bob Wiacek was the creative team on this story.

13. “Armor Wars II” Iron Man #258-266

John Byrne took over as the writer of Iron Man with this long arc (with art by John Romita Jr. and Bob Wiacek that sees Tony fighting against his own armor (and the Living Laser). Even if Tony succeeds in winning this war, what kind of physical price will he pay for his actions?

12. “Stark Disassembled” Invincible Iron Man #20-24

Matt Fraction and Salvador Larroca rebuild Iron Man from the ground floor up as Tony deals with his recent actions during Civil War by asking for forgiveness from Thor and a newly resurrected Steve Rogers.

11. “The Mask in the Iron Man” Iron Man (Volume 3) #26-30

In this Joe Quesada-penned tale (with art by Sean Chen, Alitha Martinez and Rob Hunter), Iron Man’s armor becomes sentient during a battle with Whiplash. As you might imagine, this does not end well for Iron Man.

10. “The Beginning of the End” Iron Man Volume 1 #17-23

Written by Archie Goodwin with art by George Tuska and Johnny Craig, this story introduced Madame Masque, who turned out to be an old Iron Man supporting character/villain named Whitney Frost. The real highlights, though, were the introduction of two notable tropes that later Iron Man stories used. First, via a Life Model Decoy of Tony Stark, Tony Stark had his fortune stolen for the first time. Second, we had the first fill-in Iron Man, as Tony enlists the help of a boxer friend of Happy Hogan’s named Eddie March. Like other replacement Iron Men to come, Eddie March’s tenure was short-lived.

9. “Iron Man Is Born!” Tales of Suspense #39

Written by Larry Lieber (from a Stan Lee plot) and drawn by Don Heck, it is only due to Marvel having so many great origin stories that this origin is not remembered even more fondly than it already is (and it already has been adapted seamlessly to film, which is a real rarity for superhero origins). Anyhow, you know the drill, munitions maker Tony Stark is in Vietnam and gets caught in an explosion and captured by the bad guys and forced to work for him. Only the genius of one of his fellow captive scientists prevents Tony from dying, but now Tony needs a machine to keep his heart pumping. Secretly, Tony and the other scientist build a suit of armor which Tony uses to escape (the other scientist, an old man, sacrifices himself for Tony). Tony avenges his fallen friend and now that he has a fancy suit of armor, becomes a superhero.

8. “The Five Nightmares” Invincible Iron Man #1-7

In an attempt to avenge the death of his father, Ezekiel Stane adapts Stark technology into weapons of mass destruction, forcing Tony Stark into a race around the world to avoid stopping a man who is basically a younger and faster version of himself, only without any regard for human life! This storyline brings Pepper Potts back into the Iron Man universe in a big way. The beginning of Matt Fraction and Salvador Larroca’s long run on Iron Man.

7. “Deliverance” Iron Man #182

Denny O’Neil, Luke McDonnell and Steve Mitchell had been having Tony Stark spiraling for some time, even giving up the Iron Man armor to his friend James Rhodes a year earlier. Finally, Tony Stark hits rock bottom on a cold, sad night when his drinking buddy dies in child birth. A rough story that began a long comeback for Tony.

6. “World’s Most Wanted” Invincible Iron Man #8-19

Now that Norman Osborn has taken control of SHIELD, Tony Stark has failed. He does not want to compound his failure, though, by giving Osborn access to the files from the Superhero Registration Act (including the secret identities of all registered superheroes). Tony erases all the existing files on the Act. However, due to his Extremis powers, Tony has the files in his brain. Osborn knows this, so he begins to hunt Tony across the globe. The only way to get rid of the files is for Tony to become brain dead, which he does to himself slowly but surely. It is a powerful arc by Matt Fraction and Salvador Larroca that has a nice prominent role in it for Pepper Potts.

5. “Extremis” Iron Man Volume 4 #1-6

Warren Ellis and Adi Granov revolutionized both Iron Man’s visuals (vis a vis Granov), his origin and the very concept of “Iron Man,” as Tony is forced to use an experimental technology that literally turns him more into a machine than a man. The look and feel of these issues were instrumental in the first Iron Man film.

4. “Iron Monger” Iron Man #190-200

This arc could theoretically go back as far as Iron Man #160, but that seems like a stretch for the rules of this feature, so I figured I’d go with the trade paperback plus a couple of issues beforehand. The concept of the story is that Obadiah Stane has stolen Tony Stark’s company. Tony felt into a pit of despair and self-pity but has finally fought his way back to sobriety. James Rhodes has taken over as Iron Man in Tony’s absence and Tony is fine with that. However, the suit was not MEANT to be worn by someone else for this long, so Rhodey is beginning to crack up a bit. Tony is forced to return to the role of Iron Man, first in an an obsolete armor and later in a brand-new look just in time to take on Stane for one last battle, under Stane’s new identity, the Iron Monger! Denny O’Neil is the writer. Luke McDonnell began the story as penciler (with inks by inking team Ian Akin and Brian Garvey) but the arc is filled with different pencilers, from Rick Buckler to Sal Buscema to Herb Trimpe to finally M.D. Bright, who took over as the regular artist with issue #200 (and stayed on the title for quite a while).

3. “Doomquest” Iron Man #149-150

It is fascinating to note that Doctor Doom and Iron Man, the two most famous men in armor in Marvel Comics, had barely interacted before this story. In any event, David Michelinie, Bob Layton and John Romita Jr. quickly corrected the miscarriage of justice by giving us this fanciful action-packed story where Doom and Iron Man are accidentally transported back in time to the days of Camelot. Iron Man finds himself fighting along side King Arthur while Doom ends up with Morgan Le Fay (who promised to help him in his quest to save his mother’s soul from Hell). After their battle, the two adversaries realize that they must join forces if they are ever to return to their own time. Layton and Michelinie returned to the story exactly a hundred issues later for a sequel.

2. “Armor Wars” Iron Man #225-232

The highlight of Bob Layton and David Michelinie’s return to Iron Man, Armor Wars finds Tony Stark irate that his armor has been used to power a bad guy’s armor. He decides then that NOone can have armor that uses his technology, even past uses that he had authorized (under the theory that he cannot trust anyone to keep his technology from a third party). This naturally puts him into conflict with friend and foe alike. His old pal Steve Rogers is especially angry at Tony when Tony’s attempts to shut down the Guardsmen at the supervillain prison The Vault results in a major prison break. Similarly, Iron Man’s actions lead to the Avengers expelling him from the team. Tony Stark also publicly “fires” Iron Man (he has provided a fake identity to provide to authorities trying to hunt Iron Man down). How far will Tony take his war? What will he do when the world believes Iron Man dead? Will he just let that become the truth? M.D. Bright finished out his run as Iron Man’s layout artist with this arc (Barry Windsor Smith drew the epilogue).

1. “Demon in a Bottle” Iron Man #120-128

This storyline is now best known for the way that it has Tony Stark confront his alcoholism. However, that is really only the end of the storyline. In fact, when this story was originally collected, it was called the rather generic “The Power of Iron Man,” not “Demon in a Bottle” (this was when collecting comic book storylines in a trade paperback was still quite novel, so the generic title made a lot of sense). The story begins with the introduction of one of David Michelinie and Bob Layton’s best new characters, the villainous Justin Hammer, who is sort of a super-villain franchiser. He provides the outfits and the bad guys give a cut of their take to him. He confronts Iron Man by first causing his armor to kill someone, making Tony Stark go on the run as a murderer. During this time, Tony learns hand to hand combat from Captain America himself, since he has to be on the run as himself. Tony eventually stops Hammer’s plot, but the stress of the affair leads him to a drinking binge that forces him to confront his alcoholism, along with the help of is girlfriend, Bethany Cabe. These were a great series of stories, even forgetting the excellent addition of alocholism to Tony’s characterization, which has been a major aspect of the character ever since. John Romita Jr. did a great job on layouts while Layton’s finishes dominated the visual appearance of the book.

That’s the list! Agree? Disagree? Let us know!

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41 Comments

Finally some love for Byrne and Kaminski.

Stephen Conway

May 3, 2013 at 1:11 pm

I think the Fraction/Larroca run is really over-represented on this list. Beyond the opening arc, I thought it was middling at best.

was wondering if demon in a bottle would make the cut and surprise surprise not only did it crack the top five but it is number one. given how it shows even tony can get addict to something

Out of curiosity, what’s the general opinion on Busiek & Chen’s IM volume 3 run?

I would have included the excellent “The Inevitable” miniseries and Grell’s great run, but otherwise this is a stupendous list.

” Out of curiosity, what’s the general opinion on Busiek & Chen’s IM volume 3 run? ”

Good, but not as good as it could’ve been, especially since Busiek had to scale down to co-writer halfway through due to his health problems. The Iron Age one-shots, however, definitely deserve their place on this list.

No commentary for “The Best Defense”?

Busiek’s first issue of Iron Man was great. Don’t know why the full run turned out to be so collectively forgettable.

Mike Loughlin

May 3, 2013 at 7:08 pm

I found the Busiek run okay but not very memorable.

While I stopped buying the Fraction & Larocca trades after vol. 7. The first 19 issues were entertaining, though. Fraction did a good job putting Tony Stark through the wringer, and made me interested in a character I don’t have a lot of interest in.

The Layton/ Micheline issues are the best I’ve read, despite some of the dialogue. Their plotting was good and they had a great handle on Stark.

Turd Burglar

May 3, 2013 at 7:19 pm

Byrne’s run was mediocre at best. Kaminski’s work on the title seems to either be overrated or underrated, with people either gushing over what was ultimately just a mediocre run that only stood out during its time because of how awful (most of) Marvel’s superhero line was in the early 90s, or outright ignoring it altogether.

I vaguely remember an interview where Matt Fraction said that they were not enough good modern Iron Man stories and he was going to change that with his run. From the look of this list, I would say he succeeded.

Turd Burglar

May 3, 2013 at 8:37 pm

Matt Fraction said that they were not enough good modern Iron Man stories

And there still aren’t.

I’ve only read a few of these. If nothing else, I’ve added a fair amount to my “to read” list this past month!

Happy to see a few O’Neil stories mixed in, especially #182, but that whole run deserves more attention. It’s beautifully done, and sets up the more conflicted view of a more morally flawed Tony that dominates both the last 20 years of the comic and the films. And the O’Donnell/Mitchell art is one of the more stylized, personal and haunting takes on the characters the book has had.

I’m surprised by there being no The Inevitable.

I half expected Civil War to turn up too.

Turd Burglar

May 4, 2013 at 7:08 am

Wait, wait, wait… Did the first appearance of Squirrel Girl seriously not even make the top 25?

Really?

Why would she, Turd?

Turd Burglar

May 4, 2013 at 8:49 am

How is that not one of the top 25 Iron Man stories of all time?

Les Fontenelle

May 4, 2013 at 10:20 am

It’s a shame to see “Hypervelocity”, one of the smartest Iron Man stories ever written, ranking so low. It’s far better than half this list.

Hard to argue with this list. I would’ve included the Midas arc in Invincible Iron Man #103-07 though, since it set up such a great paradigm for so many memorable stories to build off of later. I’d also agree with the comments on the O’Neil and Busiek runs, the former is really underrated and the latter is not particularly memorable. I never felt Busiek really had a passion for Iron Man, and as with his Avengers run, leaned on past ideas and directions too often.

“And the O’Donnell/Mitchell art is one of the more stylized, personal and haunting takes on the characters the book has had.”

Agree with everything you said about O’Neil, but really strongly agree with this comment about O’Donnel. Reportedly the guy actually slept on New York’s streets as research for Tony’s descent.

I don’t remember there being a prison outbreak at The Vault after Tony took out the Guradsmen and Steve Rogers. Granted, I haven’t read the Armor Wars in quite some time, I don’t recall that happening.

Agree that Hypervelocity could be higher, but given how few people read it, I’m glad it squeaked onto the list at all. I’m not even really an Iron Man fan, but it rocked. At least this might give it a little more exposure.

I have always found Luke McDonnell to be a good, solid, underrated artist. So I’m glad that a couple of the stories he penciled made it onto the list.

Denny O’Neil’s run was quite good. Obviously it’s not as well remembered as his DC work, but O’Neil was the first writer to put Jim Rhodes in the Iron Man armor, and he created Stane / Iron Monger, who played a HUGE role in the first Iron Man movie.

As for Michelinie and Layton dominating the top three spots, well, I would be hard pressed to disagree. They really did some of the most definitive work on the character of Tony Stark. I’m looking forward to reading their latest Iron Man story, which seems to be a sort of Armor Wars II Redux.

Michael Greczek

May 5, 2013 at 5:00 pm

No Gene Colan ? No Don Heck ?
How about the first battle with Titanium Man ? How about the second ?

Sorry, but you lost me at #25 : Hypervelocity.

I’m a lifelong Iron Man fan, and I couldn’t get through 2 issues of Hypervelocity. The armor design, the art, the story, the pacing… I found it lacking in every category but lettering. The lettering was good. :-S

Nice to see that ‘Hypervelocity’ made the list.. It’s one of my favorite Iron Man stories.

No Gene Colan ? No Don Heck ?
How about the first battle with Titanium Man ? How about the second ?

Did you read the list before making that comment?

Travis Pelkie

May 6, 2013 at 1:21 am

Am I the only one who wants to know who the “Pete” is that John Jackson Miller signed that issue to?

I don’t know enough Iron Man to know how good this list is, but people seem to like the list.

guy incognito

May 6, 2013 at 12:22 pm

Sorry, but you lost me at #25 : Hypervelocity.

I’m a lifelong Iron Man fan, and I couldn’t get through 2 issues of Hypervelocity. The armor design, the art the story, the pacing… I found it lacking in every category but lettering. The lettering was good. :-S

this wasn’t “jon’s 25 greatest iron man stories ever told”. and, after reading your comment, I’m glad it wasn’t.

The O’Neil era is on a par with his Green Lantern/Green Arrow work for DC. It is a solid run which fully merits the Omnibus treatment.

You have Rhodey taking over the lead role for couple of years and Tony easing into a supporting role as we helplessly witness the most gut wrenching moments of his life. McDonnell and Mitchell’s moody, nourish art was the exact opposite of Layton’s majestic Golden Avenger, but it fit the storyline like a glove. I began reading the series on a regular basis with #170 and stayed with the book through a few issues beyond #200.

O’Neil’s stories offered action, humor, tragedy, and provided a refreshing break from every “Tony the Renaissance Man” tale that we’ve seen before or since. No fancy armor upgrades, no unlimited wealth, no womanizing. Just Tony as a human being crawling back up from the gutter in a display of actual valor in the face of adversity that any of us could identify with. And Rhodey, torn between the responsibility of taking up his best friend’s mantle while rapidly growing accustomed to the sheer power and invincibility which had been previously denied to him.

These are truly some of the best comics ever, folks.

Pedro Bouça

May 7, 2013 at 4:58 am

The Mask in the Iron Man at 11th? SERIOUSLY?!? That was horrible! The friggin’ Millenium Bug was part of the plot, who can take this seriously now (or even then, it was published a few months after the whole fiasco)?

THe only redeeming factor was Sean Chen’s art – and even he was out before the story’s end.

I may not like O’Neil’s overlong and unexciting run, but I can understand people who do. It does have its qualities as it does everything else in the list. Except for The Mask in the Iron Man. I can understand people voting for that one!

Oh, and it’s not even original. The (very) old Iron Man CGI graphic novel Crash had a similar plot – and did it much better, even though the art has now aged very badly…

Pedro Bouça

May 7, 2013 at 4:59 am

In the message above I meant “I CAN’T understand people voting for that one”, of course.

What’s the deal with the “male” symbol in the bar-code box on “Deliverance”? Was there some kind of male-centric crossover that month or something?

Yeah, I question the Mask in the Iron Man being in there, but Busiek’s run not. Heck, it deserved a medal just for fixing all the Teen Tony stuff that had gone on before. And bringing the character back. Plus, till Extremis, it was the only redesign of the armor that really worked. Miss the horns.

But the top of the list pretty much worked out how it should. It’s funny, I wonder how many characters would have so much of their best history dominated not by the original stories, or even the more modern stories fresh in people’s minds….but that was the golden age of Iron Man.

Honorable mention: Avengers Annual 9, while obviously not under the banner of “Iron Man,” is pretty much an Iron Man story. And a good one.

Was really hoping Armor Wars 2 would have placed higher than it did. A single Fraction Iron Man arc topping that shows how little it’s been read by the people who voted, which is sad, but the fact that three topped it is incredibly depressing.

Pedro Bouça

May 9, 2013 at 4:56 am

I think that the Busiek run got overlooked because it doesn’t have a memorable individual story. It started magnificently well, with the best first issue of Heroes Return (well, IMHO at least), but lost steam quickly, possibly because Busiek’s health issues. Avengers was quite clearly a higher priority to him as well (and a far more appreciated run as a consequence).

He even got some subplots unfinished. A silhouette of what seemed to be Midas appeared on the very first issue vowing to get revenge on Iron Man. Well, that has to be a HECK of a revenge plot, because he has been working on it for well over a decade now…

I did vote for the first Busiek stories (as “Deadly Solutions”, the name of the recente reprint HC), but I can very well understand why more people didn’t.

But Mask in the Iron Man IS a memorable storyline (just not, you know, good) and most importantly it was available on TPB for a long time (in the early Marvel TPB program days it was even the ONLY Iron Man TPB available!), so far more people are aware of it than the Busiek run. Why did they think it was any good is what puzzles me…

Oh, and the two major John Byrne Iron Man storylines deserved better indeed. But at least they were on the top 15.

[…] fall & redemption.  One of those issues, #182, was recently voted the number seven position in The 25 Greatest Iron Man Stories Ever Told at Comic Book Resources.  Looking at the cover to that issue, you can see the stunningly dramatic […]

Reading the synopsis for “Crash and Burn” and seeing Venom’s name, I thought “so… Nineties.” Then I saw the New warriors and thought “yep…. Definitely nineties.”

As someone who doesn’t really like Iron Man, I’ll be use to check these out. I read a bit of Matt Fraction’s stuff, and I liked it, but other than that, I’ve never really cared for the character that much as a solo act. The movies don’t help, since they seem to amp up his jackass qualities (or maybe it’s just Downey doing that). Plus, I just really can’t stand the way they’re written (having characters just ramble on and on, shouting at each other, which I think is supposed to be charming and/or funny, but is just annoying).

I tried to get into the current run, but that was so incredibly average, and that was WITHOUT the Greg Land art, and I ended up dropping it after six or so issues.

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