This page is copyrighted 2001, 2002, 2006, 2007, 2009 Tim Rassbach. Iron Man and all associated characters are the property of Marvel Comics.

Iron Man’s Origin and Backstory

Iron Man's backstory is as follows:

While wunderkind weapons manufacturer Tony Stark was in Vietnam he stepped on a communist-planted land mine. The resulting explosion sent shrapnel ripping through his body. He was then captured by fiendish commies, led by warlord Wong Chu, and forced to use his inventive genius to build them a super weapon. Sick and weak, with the shrapnel working its way toward his heart, he constructed a chest plate to keep his damaged heart working. Luckily he was a man and didn’t also have to worry about breast reconstruction when doing this. Then, working with fellow prisoner Ho Yinsen, while pretending to build his captors a mighty weapon, he expanded the chest plate, devising a super-powered armor suit for himself-- which enabled him to fly and fire repulsor rays. After defeating his communist captors he returned to America to fight crime and the global expansion of communism as Iron Man, the Crimson and Gold Avenger lovingly referred to as Shellhead.

In the Marvel Universe, Iron Man is the bodyguard of Tony Stark, a bipolar cover, reminiscent of the Clark Kent/Superman dynamic. In addition, Iron Man acts as the de facto company spokesman and corporate symbol of Stark Industries/International/Enterprises, an international mega-conglomerate on the cutting edge of technological breakthroughs.

Iron Man is a technology-based hero. Unlike other comic book heroes, like Superman and Spider-Man, he is a mortal man, unendowed with the magical or mutative powers that usually surround super heroes. His strength and greatest asset (billions in the bank aside), is his brilliant mind. He has incredible equipment like holographic emitters and the repulsor rays built into his different specialty armors--but in the end, his success depends upon old fashioned American know-how.

The Iron Man movie logo, modified with rivets by Timothy Mezoff.  Thanks!

Iron Man’s adventures have been chronicled in more than 485 issues. His origin has been retold and reimagined over the years, most recently in Warren Ellis and Adi Granov’s relaunch of the character in Iron Man #1 (vol. IV, 2005). But from 1963’s Tales of Suspense #39 to today’s Invincible Iron Man, his basic origin story, his backstory, if you will, remains unchanged.  More importantly, Iron Man remains a modern day knight in shining armor.  To know where he’s going, it helps to know where he’s been.

In keeping with Marvel's character-driven comics of the Sixties, besides the ubiquitous super villain, Iron Man has also fought all sorts of personal battles as a super hero and as his mortal alter-ego. He's battled the Bottle and his own deteriorating body, having, over time, fought heart problems, paralysis, a neural virus that caused his "death", and cryogenic suspension. In addition, he has often had to fight for his good name as rival companies sabotaged his corporate holdings and interests.

Coming to prominence at the height of the Cold War, Iron Man’s first main villains were Eastern Bloc Reds, spies and armored Soviet tough guys.  Guys like Crimson Dynamo and Titanium Man, and femme fatales like the Black Widow.  All were either after his technological know-how or out to show they could defeat it--and sometimes both.  Later, Stark and Iron Man fought off corporate spies and mercenary assassins, super villains and aliens bent on world domination; and more than a few hostile takeovers from well-financed underworld types.  Iron Man has traveled through time and even had to shrink down to microscopic size, ala "The Fantastic Voyage," and enter the body of an ailing Captain America--where he had to fight off a monstrous viral infection. He also battled in cyberspace, when he downloaded his consciousness into the Internet to fight an artificial intelligence program that ended up stealing his body. And Tony Stark helped put an end to his Cold War involvement by coming full circle, opening a factory inside the old Soviet Union, and as Iron Man, finally defeating his Russian counterpart, Titanium Man, once and for all.

To keep the character fresh the writers have had to keep Iron Man moving ahead, evolving into a more and more advanced piece of weaponry while finding new hurdles for him to overcome. The armored suit that allows Stark to be a super hero is always being updated, keeping it on the cutting edge of real and imagined technology. Early models contained transistors, the "miracle" devices that allowed handheld radios and the like. Today, Iron Man's suit contains top of the line computer chips and micro-processors (and during the Extremis arc, Stark became a techno-organic computer, bonding with his armor at the microscopic level).

The Invincible Iron Man is science fiction, replete with its technospeak and fantastic devices. Each issue is chocked full of words like "bio-electrics package" and "magno-hydraulic pseudomusclature," but it is Stark's human qualities that drive the stories forward. While Iron Man is a mighty hero, he is also a slave to technology. As the storyline has played out over the years, his body has become more and more dependent upon his machinations, trapping him into the crimson and gold shell he uses to fight evil. The very armor and technology that he harnesses to make himself powerful is, ironically, his master-- since it keeps him alive.

Another early enemy of Shellhead's was the Mandarin, an arch-criminal who just happened to be an Asian communist, part of the Yellow Peril craze of characters of the time. Over the years, writers have shaped the Mandarin into Iron Man’s arch-enemy, the Lex Luthor to his Superman.  And what we see is that from his very start, going back to his creation in the jungles of Vietnam, Iron Man was juxtaposed to communism--a man of steel alloy representing Truth, Justice and the American Way, fighting for freedom and capitalism during the Cold War. But times change.  And as a matter of course, the Mandarin has evolved from a diehard Red into an Eastern mystical character trading in the Black Arts. Recent storyline aside, he also renounces all technology, again making him a perfect enemy for our hero.  And where does that put Iron Man?

Stark is, of course, a captain of industry, a hardworking American inventor. What better adversary is there for a techno-capitalist then a communist turned anti-technology nut.  The Mandarin refutes all that Stark/Iron Man is and stands for. There again, Iron Man has kept pace with the times. Where it was once very fashionable for our heroes to be capitalist commie fighters and for our villains to be "Godless Red aggressors," as the world changed so have our society's heroes and villains--as communism waxed and waned itself into the history books, so to did the villains of that era, only to re-emerge, redefined and ready to fight a new battle. The heroes, however, find themselves a bit unsure of where to find their next battles, now that the old ones have passed. Like America, Iron Man, a potential world policeman, is busy redefining himself in a world that is very much a different place from the days of the Cold War.