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When We First Met – All of Iron Man’s Armors!

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In this feature we spotlight the various characters, phrases, objects or events that eventually became notable parts of comic lore. Not major stuff like “the first appearance of Superman,” but rather, “the first time someone said, ‘Avengers Assemble!’” or “the first appearance of Batman’s giant penny” or “the first appearance of Alfred Pennyworth” or “the first time Spider-Man’s face was shown half-Spidey/half-Peter.” Stuff like that. Here is an archive of all the When We First Met features so far! Check ‘em out!

Today, in honor of the release of Iron Man 3, we take a look at all of the first appearances of each of Iron Man’s armors!

I’ll split this into three pages. Page 1 will be armors from the 1960s/1970s, Page 2 will be armors from the 1980s/1990s and Page 3 will be armors from 2000s/2010s.

Tales of Suspense #39 saw the debut of Iron Man and his armor in a story by Stan Lee, Larry Lieber and Don Heck (Jack Kirby drew the cover, so he very well could have been the designer of the first armor)…

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The following issue, Lee, Robert Bernstein, Jack Kirby and Don Heck changed the color of Iron Man’s armor to gold…

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1963′s Tales of Suspense #48 gave us a story by Stan Lee, Steve Ditko and Dick Ayers (with a cover by Jack Kirby, so he very well could have been the designer of the new armor) with a brand-new armor that would last for over a decade (and a basic design that would last for more than TWO decades!)…

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In 1964′s Tales of Suspense #54 (by Stan Lee and Don Heck), the helmet was altered, with a rivet design and more importantly, with a face mask that no longer jutted out at all…

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A weird aspect of this Iron Man armor design is the way that the pods on each of Iron Man’s hips just sort of started appearing in the comic out of nowhere. As an example, check out the first two pages of Tales of Suspense #56 (by Stan Lee and Don Heck). First, no pods on his hips…

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then the next page, pods on his hips!

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Eventually, the pods on the hips became standard issue.

1965′s Tales of Suspense #66 (by Stan Lee, Don Heck and Mike Esposito) abruptly (and without explanation) dropped the rivet pattern from the face mask…

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My only guess is that that was Mike Esposito’s second issue inking Heck on the title and he just decided not to ink the rivets any more for whatever reason.

And that was pretty much the Iron Man armor you would see for the rest of Iron Man’s run in Tales of Suspense (Roughly another thirty-five issues) as well as the first 68 issues of his ongoing series. Don’t get me wrong, each artist had their own flourishes with the armor. How much it shined, how many lines were in the armor design, how pronounced those round things around his shoulders were, stuff like that. But the armor would not be noticeably changed until 1974′s Iron Man #68, when Mike Friedrich, George Tuska and Mike Esposito gave us…the NOSE!

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I’ve done a Comic Book Legends Revealed on the history of the nose, if you’re interested in reading it here.

In 1976′s Iron Man #85 by Len Wein, Roger Slifer, Herb Trimpe and Marie Severin, the nose got the boot and the first new version of the armor since 1963 debuted…

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That’s it for the 1960s and 1970s! On the next page, we check out the 1980s and 1990s!

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52 Comments

Great retrospective, Brian! I discovered some armors I never knew existed. :)

Tomer Soiker

May 4, 2013 at 7:56 am

Did I miss the roller skates on the list?

The 90s and 2000s are fighting hard for the title “Biggest Collection of Most Ridiculous Armors.”

But the late 80s easily wins “Worst Tony Stark Haircut.”

Incredible list, Brian! Among my favorites on the list are the 2000′s “Optimus Prime” space armor and the “Iron Man needs a collar” from the 90′s.

I wouldn’t expect you to include it on this list, but I thought one of the great “F— yeah!” moments from Earth X was Tony’s armor reveal when he takes on the Celestials.

Wow . . . two days, two “Hypervelocity” mentions. For kicks and giggles, you should’ve showed the demo video, where the armor was breaking out into Napelon Dynamite’s dance moves in the background.

Wow. Some of those later armors are… not just ugly but silly.

I’d like to see an installment on the times Tony Stark had to don an older suit of armor (sometimes not even Iron Man armor) to beat someone in a newer one.

Predictably, most of the 1990s suits are pretty terrible. So’s his most recent one; I hadn’t seen that before. The “modified Hulkbuster” armor that Tony used to fight Thor–wasn’t that based on the Asgardian Destroyer armor that Odin created? Its design is obviously reminiscent of it.

I remember the 1980s specialty armors fondly. The new gold armor that jheri-curl Tony debuts on p2 as “the NEW Iron Man!”–was that ever referred to as the Golden Centurion armor? I ask just because it’s not exactly a big leap from the Silver Centurion version.

Why does Tony look like a 80s pornstar here?

Wow, is it crazy that until now I had never seen any art from Iron Man’s first appearance? Interesting to see how similar he looked to Clark Gable in the first story, which is something that I’m assuming was done away with pretty early on (His overall face in that story doesn’t look like any other rendition I’ve seen of Stark).

And the Don Heck art is impressive! I heard he used to get a bad rap in his day, but he was a great draughtsman nevertheless. I guess he didn’t fit in with the Kirby/Ditko Marvel style, and that rubbed a lot of people the wrong way.

On the appearance and disappearance of the hip pods, the second page of Tales of Suspense #56 looks like it switches between the two looks on a single page. In the first panel, there are no hip pods visible. In the sixth panel (the only other panel on the page to show his hips), they are present.

Question; when was the first mention of the “Uni-beam”?

David Fullam

May 4, 2013 at 3:10 pm

Silver Centurion, still the greatest.

Nothing’s better than the first three versions. Not sure why it is, but I always get a thrill seeing Tony have to don the original armour. It’s just so simple and classic (not to mention the only actual IRON armour!!) then I’d have to pick the “standard gold Avenger” look, and lastly, the Silver Centurion look. Sean Chen’s version gets a tick for harkening back to the original third armour.
The only armours that don’t do it for me are those drawn in the “manga” style, and the ones that are overly complicated. What was up with that “devil” armour? Weird.
Bob Layton – I miss his work.

Travis Stephens

May 4, 2013 at 4:52 pm

I got the *nose* issues in a bin as kid. Paid like 10 bucks for a sack full of issue. IIRC Iron Man had suffered a drop in popularity during this period and the title was bi-monthly. Anyway the stories, when there weren’t fill ins or reprints, were dreadful, nose and all.

That was an impressive mullet (and perm?) Tony was sporting back in the early 90s.

Travis Stephens

May 4, 2013 at 5:16 pm

Both he and Rhodey had perms. Rhodey had the jheri curl I think. Tony made home look … pretty. Thanks Bob Layton.

RE: the the question of who design of the original Iron Man armor:”He designed the costume,” Heck said of Kirby, “because he was doing the cover. The covers were always done first. But I created the look of the characters, like Tony Stark and his secretary Pepper Potts.”[5][7] [via WIKIPEDIA)

RE: the question of who designed the red-and-gold armor in TALES OF SUSPENSE 48: ” 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.[8]” [via WIKIPEDIA]

So, if Don Heck’s memory can be trusted, Jack Kirby designed the original suit, while Steve Ditko designed the red-and-gold version.

Wait… The original Iron Man is DEAD, and all we’ve had since The Crossing is an aged-up, teen Tony stand-in?

That blows my mind.

LouReedRichards

May 4, 2013 at 10:46 pm

I’ve always been very fond of the “Mark 3″ version or whatever it’s called, love the pointy helmet.

“Mark 4″ is still the version I most associate with Iron Man. Never have cared for the Silver Centurion look, dropped the book shortly after he started wearing it.

Man, some of those designs are PAINFUL to look at. Why do some artist think that putting a million little noodly details on the armor makes it look better? To me, the simpler the armor the more powerful it looks.

Also: Any chance we might get a “When we fist met” for all the different permutations of Tony’s facial hair/haircuts?

@Ian Miller:

Yeah, Heck gets a bum rap. His stuff from the silver age is pretty good. He had a real knack for drawing people in “civilian” clothes. His later work doesn’t seem to hold up as well, his pencils take on a ruddy or splotchy quality that’s hard to describe, but it’s less appealing for sure. He’s not an all time favorite by any means, but he did some pretty nice work.

Why is Tony in space now?

Unlike some other Marvel Heroes (and even DC ones), Tony has always had a fairly “distinctive” look, albeit as mentioned very much of a Hollywood star of the era.

But its still a refreshing change from the blonde hair Steve Rogers, Clint Barton et al type.

I like mullet Tony a little bit only because it was featured prominently in the 1994 cartoon.

Seriously, the only good armor in the last 20 years was the one designed by Adi Granov.* As much as changing, updating and evolving all the time work for Tony Stark’s character, they should’ve stopped there and find a way to work with it for a couple of years, not come up with a new stupid idea every few months. I’d like to see Marvel commit to one armor design for at least 2-3 years before introducing an updated design.

* Fine, the one tony created with Reed was also okay, and the newest stealth armor is pretty cool.

Tomer Soiker

May 5, 2013 at 1:23 am

@Jax: He’s with the Guardians of the Galaxy, starring in their new series. Apparently, Marvel thinks it’s the best way to push the book and promote the team before their movie comes to theaters next year.

“It enables my expression to show – which will psychologically aid in instilling fear in the hearts of my enemies!”, he said, looking as bored as possible.

I’m an old school traditionalist when it comes to armors. My definite Iron Man is still the long-running version which Tony wore from issues #85, through Rhodey’s tenure, to about #199, although Rhodey wore it a few more times after Tony switched to the Silver Centurion.

That said, Iron Man #152 was my second issue ever so I also have a soft spot for the original Stealth.

My second favorite is Bob Layton’s post-Armor Wars take on the red and gold from the late 80′s. (Tony “sounded” more like Tom Selleck at the time while Robert Downey Jr. was doing stuff like Back to School and Less Than Zero. Who would have thought?)

Kev Hopgood’s modular armor was pretty cool. Showing up in the 90′s cartoon and toy line helped popularize it. Sean Chen’s Heroes Return design is also neat. Most of the others went into overkill, with the worst being from the Crossing and Teen Tony era. Same goes for the Image crowd’s contribution. Most of the ones post-Chen look hideous. I could never figure out why Tony used environmental ones for places such as the Arctic or deep sea if the 70′s/80′s version basically could take on anything …including the Hulk.

Any way you look at it, though, Iron Man is an awesome character and better “suited” to evolve with the times than far better known mainstream characters. He’s also proven to be the best superhero to translate into live action, more so than Batman in my book.

I’m remarkably confused by Rhodey’s comment of, “That stealth armor would DEFINITELY get noticed!” Doesn’t that go against the basic concept of stealth armor?

(I know it probably makes sense in connection with whatever Tony said in the previous panel, but it’s pretty funny to read it out of context like that.)

Purple Hayes

May 5, 2013 at 6:02 am

Iron Man, like Barbie, has an outfit for every occasion!
I would love to see something similar done with the Wasp!

@LouReedRichards- what happened to Heck was that Marvel had scheduling problems in the 1970s and Heck was asked to do a lot of work on very short notice. After Marvel’s scheduling problems stopped, editors refused to hire Heck because of the questionable quality of much of the work he did on short notice.

“Why does Tony look like a 80s pornstar here?”

Why is it that people like you fail to understand that porn follows the trends of the time?

I Grok Spock

May 5, 2013 at 9:17 am

How about the time Tony and Rhodey each had matching mullet perms and coke nails because they were going undercover to infiltrate a drug ring?

Wow!! I knew there was alot, but I didn’t reliaze there was that many. Always preferred the classics(except for that 90′s one from the cartoon) over the modern Extremis models though the new Black & Gold does look prettty nice design wise.

Senhor Suíno

May 5, 2013 at 12:10 pm

@Mysstic101
The original Tony is dead and the teen Tony is also dead. What we have now is a original Tony created by Franklin Richards based on his memories of the original Tony.

So, there’s 4 “Tony Starks”:
The original, who died in “Avengers: The Crossing”
Teen Tony, who sacrificed himself at the end of the Onslaught to stop Doctor Doom from absorving Onslaught energy
And the Heroes Reborn Tony, who was replaced by the Heroes Return Tony Stark, the current Tony.

Pete Woodhouse

May 5, 2013 at 4:15 pm

Have today seen Iron Man 3 so it’s interesting to get this potted history of the many armours. Good work, Brian.
On a slightly-related note, Robert Downey Jnr’s casting was inspired. Has any other actor nailed a superhero role so well?

LouReedRichards

May 5, 2013 at 7:59 pm

@Michael – Thanks for the info. I knew Marvel had a bad habit in the 70s of running reprints when they couldn’t meet their deadlines. I didn’t realize the scheduling problems were the reason that Heck’s art started suffering so badly. It’s a shame that a solid professional who was able to help a company meet it’s deadline in a pinch ended up suffering for it. I know Shooter’s reign has it’s problems, but at least he started getting the “trains to run on time”.

Thanks again.

I actually think that while there were good actors given great super heroes that achieved some success, as in Tobey Maguire, and Christian Bale, and great actors given great super heroes that achieved success, like Christopher Reeve (wait, is Christopher Reeve a better actor than Christian Bale?)(ok, probably some level of qualification is in order)(cause probably not)(but maybe), I think Robert Downey Jr was a better than good actor given a basically good super hero that achieved success.

But that’s just me.

I’m saying, I guess, that Tony Stark was never this cool until Robert Downey Jr. came along.

Don Heck was one of the good ones.

I liked Don a lot but his art fared badly during the 70′s. I think one of his worst jobs was Giant-Sized Avengers #4. I finally read that issue in trade paperback form some years back and was truly disappointed with Don’s work. I couldn’t believe how it turned out because it didn’t seem like Don’s work at all, certainly not up to par with the beautiful TOS pages sampled here.

I’m certain that deadlines had a lot to do with it because my first exposure to Don’s art was his later tenure on JLA after George Perez left the series. Don did most of those early 80′s issues and Romeo Tanghal was his inker. It was great stuff! Don covered such classics as the Royal Flush Gang three-parter and the 1982 JLA/JSA/All-Star Squadron crossover.

Don Heck was a highly underrated artist. It is tragic that his self-esteem took such a heavy beating near the end of his career because he really was one of the greats.

The one you left out that’s a biggie…. IRON MAN 2020!!!

My favs always will be Silver Centurian and Bleeding edge.
The Fear Itself Destroyer armor was awesome too. To bad it wasn’t used enough.

Captain Haddock

May 6, 2013 at 9:05 am

As someone getting into comics at the time, Heroes Reborn and Heroes Return Armor are the ones I associate with Iron Man, and I don’t think they’re that bad at all. Certainly when handled by the right artist, they could be pretty fierce.
Is it established, then, in continuity, that the Tony we’re reading currently is teen Tony aged to mid-30s? Does that mean that for the last 20 or so years, we’ve been reading the adventures of Terry Kavanaugh’s Tony Stark? That makes me sad :(

Having read the list, I just want to say…

Good lord, Iron Man has been in some TERRIBLE storylines over the years! Like, WWF Attitude Era, Vince Russo bad!

[quote]Is it established, then, in continuity, that the Tony we’re reading currently is teen Tony aged to mid-30s? Does that mean that for the last 20 or so years, we’ve been reading the adventures of Terry Kavanaugh’s Tony Stark? That makes me sad [/quote]

Captain – No, I don’t think it is. It’s kind of like, once all the characters were “reborn” on the fake Earth it was as close to the “real” Tony as we could hope for. It’s a lot easier to just think of that whole event as fixing the teen Tony issue.

Just because I didn’t include one before:

[img]http://www.marvunapp.com/Appendix/ironman20201.jpg[/img]

This is the first time I’m seeing most of these, as I haven’t read a ton of Iron Man comics. One of my favorite designs was the Heroes Return armor; I followed the book for Busiek’s run and a bit after he left, and I always really dug that design.

Am I seeing things, or did one of the suits on page one (in the pods/no pods part) have NIPPLES?

Senhor Suíno

May 6, 2013 at 6:33 pm

@Captain Haddock
As said to Mysstic101, we’re reading the adventures of a new Tony created by Franklin Richards based on his memories of the originl Tony, and the fourth Tony to exist in 616 continuity.

1-Original Tony, 2-Teen Tony from the past, 3-Heroes Reborn Tony, 4-Heroes Return and current Tony.

Pedro Bouça

May 7, 2013 at 6:59 am

“what happened to Heck was that Marvel had scheduling problems in the 1970s and Heck was asked to do a lot of work on very short notice. After Marvel’s scheduling problems stopped, editors refused to hire Heck because of the questionable quality of much of the work he did on short notice.”

So, it was EXACTLY the same that happened to Igor Kordey some 30 years later? Haven’t the guys at Marvel learned anything in all that time?

AverageJoeEveryman

May 7, 2013 at 12:02 pm

Not sure how stealthy that armor is with a rocket the size of a winnebego on your back. Also I have always loved that Thor Buster/Destroyer armor.

@Basara Yes. And I thought the Bat nipples in the movies were bad. Maybe should have combined that suit with the porn hair.

And I think the problem Marvel ran into was no self control. Back around 200, Iron Man changing suits was a BIG deal. Then they eventually got to the point that every new artist got to design his own armor (and at that point, usually badly), and then it wasn’t such a big deal anymore.

I would definitely rate Robert Downey Jr. above Bale as an actor.
And I’m glad I’m not the only one who prefers the older looks.
A First We Met on all of Tony’s gadgets (including the roller skates!) would be cool.
Marvel also did a lot of fill-in inventory stories in the 1970s. It was amusing and usually impossible to try and fit them into continuity.

Alexandre Juliao

October 2, 2013 at 10:16 am

Very cool article Brian! Actually, the hip pods are there in the first page of Tales of Suspense #56. The one at the left side is kind of hidden by the position of the Iron Man’s body and the one at right side was miscolored gray, as if it was part of the machinery behind him. They are much easier to spot in the black and white Essential Iron Man reprint.
In a interview in the old Comics Magazine, Don Heck said that the changes on the helmet were made because he was trying to come up with an design that was more comfortable for him to draw.

@Ian Miller In the interview I mentioned, Heck said that he based the look of Tony Stark on the actor Guy Williams who played Zorro.

@Clutch That’s really true. Don Heck was paired with much better inkers at DC, especially Brett Breeding.

Stan Lee has mentioned a few times that the character of Tony Stark was loosely based on Howard Hughes (when he was a young, handsome genius and ladies man, obviously, not the paranoid, deranged, anti-social, ancient but still incredibly wealthy wreck he was in the decade before he died!). Don Heck must have found it easier to find images of Guy Williams than of Hughes and that was close enough for Lee.

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