The Classic Armor

A Classic Never Goes Out of Style


While the basic look was adopted around TOS #66 with the Post-Proto/Pre-Classic, Model III, Mark III, the true classic Iron Man armor design finally came together in TOS #85, with the Flexi Armor, Model IV. The traditional red and gold armor was such a strong look for Shellhead that it survived through three more models (Classic Red and Gold [Model V], Depolarizing [Model VI], and Neoclassic [Model VII]), remaining fairly consistent from TOS #85 to Iron Man #200. And while individual suits of armor had to be improved, revamped, overhauled, and repaired numerous times over the next twenty-odd years, the Classic has never truly been replaced—even by bulkier, stronger, or “cooler” Iron Man armors of later configurations. Today, the Red and Gold Classic Armor is still the most recognized and emblematic version of his costume—instantly recognizable as Iron Man in any age.

His frail heart an ongoing problem, Tony Stark needed more and more power just to keep living, let alone to fight as the invincible Iron Man. His body and armor was under a constant strain, and neither was able to give much more. Enter The Classic Red and Gold Armor, Model V, Mark I, first seen in Iron Man #3.

While the overall look of the armor was long in evolving, Model V represented cutting-edge technology down even in its very fibers. By this time, even Stark’s much vaunted miracle transistors were becoming outdated, the technology of integrated circuits was the wave of the future, and Stark blazed a path, building a new armor that replaced transistors with microscopic integrated circuits.

These micro-circuits were more effective and were able to produce the vast new power his heart demanded. Just to give you an idea of how powerful they were, each circuit contained 10 to 20 transistors and 40 to 60 resistors, all placed on a single bit of silicon a tenth of an inch thick. The entire interior of the armor skin was layered with silicon micro-circuits—the more circuits, the more power. Integrated circuits are also much thinner than transistors, making the new armor much lighter even as it had increased power.

The armor itself was an almost paper-thin steel mesh, wrapped with a tantalum film less than 250 angstroms thick that has been irradiated by a nuclear reactor to give the metal the right pitch and pliability. Built-in magnets ran throughout the material to pull/push metal muscles into place, giving Iron Man a more muscular appearance. Lighter and more flexible than even the Flexi-Armor, Model V’s fabrication process also gave it an ingenious power backup device: a permanent thermocouple.

The final step in the process was to bombard the armor in the Cobalt-Bombarder. The rays forced molecules of copper to fuse with the armor’s iron, creating a permanent thermocouple, which—in conjunction with the specialized Thermal Circuits—allowed Iron Man to draw power from intense heat or cold. (Always prepared, Stark included a mechanical thermocouple device as a backup.) Despite its radioactive origin, the armor could still be damaged by radioactive heat, which could both fuse the thermal circuits and overload the thermocouple. (Trivia note: This model was built by Happy’s hands under Stark’s direction.)

The surface of the armor was covered with a Refractory Coating to blunt and deflect lasers and other forced-energy weapons. The armor’s exterior could also magnetize, allowing Shellhead to stick to metal surfaces. The armor was still vulnerable to Spymaster’s disintegrator ray, however.

Besides being lighter, this armor is tougher as well. Flexible armor construction allowed easy donning or removal, while a polarization field transformed the suit to iron toughness. After testing it, Stark found that this suit could take more punishment than any of its predecessors. While the exact compounds and alloys are unknown even today, the armor did contain enough metal ore to be “sucked” into the magnetic weapons sometimes employed by Shellhead’s foes. (Damaged on one occasion—sliced, in fact—by Gladiator, Model V was repaired, resealed actually, via a fusion ray. Stark tested it in an underwater tank and a concussion pit. The thermocouple was tested then via heat beam induction.) The armor protected Iron Man against many blows, but in Iron Man #82, the armor was proven very protective. While wearing it, Happy Hogan was protected from a fall of several hundred feet onto hard concrete (from a penthouse to the pavement below).

The helmet and gloves were made of similar materials and design principles. Prior to polarization, they slipped on and off just like Spider-Man’s outfit. The helmet pulled on like a cloth mask, and then was locked into place. Then, by pressing a stud on the neck, an electronic field polarized the metal molecules, making it iron hard. As a safety factor, in case the depolarization stud failed to function, the face of the helmet could lift open upward—a design first that would be carried over into even present-day models. A release mechanism was designed to respond only to Tony’s touch. The helmet could also be removed in its polarized state. Built-in condensers maintained the electrical field when the helmet was separated from the armor. (The mask was also auto-sealing, which kicked on the 30-minute oxygen supply while also pumping out impurities, gas or liquid, clearing the helmet.)

The look of the Classic Armor was a long time in evolving, but it introduced Shellhead’s signature look. Nothing was new about the red and gold color scheme to be sure, but the overall refinements and adaptations, which had been evolving over some time, fell into (some would argue) perfect place with Model V. While the individual suits (and models [and even Iron men]) would change, this look remained for years and remains the bar against which all subsequent designs are measured.

The first design difference to take notice of are the flaring shoulder epaulets, “collars” where the shoulders segments meet the arm joints. Additionally, the boots and gloves have much more prominent cuffs. The two, belt-like knobs on the chest piece were moved up from the abs to the nipple position. The belt buckle was also redesigned, and the groin segment morphed from a boxer-like pair of shorts to slim briefs.

For unknown reasons Stark dropped the ultra-charging power beams used to amp-up his Flexi-Armor, Model IV. This would suggest that he had refined his power cell technology once again—although subsequent troubles, his Achilles’ heal, would send him back to the drawing board again and again (and again). It is clear though, that Iron Man had a few early power supplements: Model V had an electric recharge cord located behind the chest beam (with a wall outlet attachment). There was also an extension cord, called the Jump Cable, pulled out of Iron Man’s right hip pod, which allowed him to share power with others. The armor had reserve power cells as a backup as well.

The radio system had an Amplification Unit with Sound Scan to pick up distant sounds and voices. The system was supplemented by Tunable Electronic Hearing, adjusted by touching the right earpiece (it assisted in picking up sounds, too). The gauntlets had a built-in wrist transmitter, while a radio jack cord came out of the right “nipple” knob.

The boot jets were improved and directed by enhanced flight relays, but Iron Man still didn’t have the fuel/energy to fly cross country (he still had to hitch rides on airlines). Also in the boots were Jet-Assisted Roller Wheels—a uni-wheel design with directional jets that allowed forward and backward motion.

Despite the armor’s power, brute force wasn’t Iron Man’s only option. The suit came fully equipped with an arsenal of Stark-invented labor-saving gizmos and problem solvers like: a Holo-emitter (on belt; created light-refracted illusions); built-in heating coils (allowed IM to turn water to vapor in just seconds); and the Cryogenic Freezing Unit (allowed Iron Man to counteract flames and other extreme heat; saw only limited use because of its power drain). On normal days, Shellhead was kept comfortable inside by an internal cooling system.

Because of limited storage space, Tony had to pick and choose carefully which extras to carry. Just a short list includes: Mini Fire Extinguisher (the size of a Bic lighter, but containing highly concentrated chemicals to dampen fires); Diamond-edged Drill Attachment (suction-cupped to right palm); Wave Screecher (small device that could block signals, jam them); Magnetic Tractor Discs (allow IM to lift up to two tons) and the smaller Magnetic Discs (they flew under IM’s control; in large numbers could lift a man); and a palm-mounted Spinning Saw Blade (pulled from hidden compartment, slipped onto the right hand).

Defensive measures included an Image Reproducer with Sound Duplicator, which allowed Iron Man to fool foes with multiple images of himself.

Known sensors include: Radar (including a hand-held scanner), sonic scan, and a radiation scanner, complete with a Vario-Beam Tracer for tracking radioactivity.

Special Feature on this Suit: Along with the Classic Armor, Tony Stark upgraded his trusty attaché case.

Specially constructed so that “no explosion could destroy it,” the new case was as invincible as the armor it held. It not only protected the armor, but it kept it “performance ready” with an internal power charger.

The depolarized armor folded nicely for storage into individualized areas, while the mask was stored in a secret slot on the outside of the case—ejected by compressed air at the touch of a button. (Since at this time Stark had to wear his chest plate constantly, his shirts and suits had special padding to conceal the chest beam.)

Armaments: Repulsor rays (integrated circuit design increased the power channeled into them; repulsors fired via a design whereby the weapon discharged when wrist was flexed into the correct position); Vario-Chestbeam (capable of shooting an infrared ray, a black light beam, and mighty doses of UV light, in addition to the high intensity spotlight); palm-based Tractor-Pressor Beams; Power jets with offensive capability; Cryogen Bomb Pellet (stored in right shoulder; freezes the very air, encasing the target in a sheath of pure, cold ice); Magnetized Bombs (small, but powerful); could also shoot high-frequency beams from palms.

It should be noted that Tony built another suit, Model V, Mark I-B, for Carl Walker’s use. Walker’s suit had a specifically configured two-way transmitter for direct communication between Stark and his Iron Man, other than that, the suit was identical. Stark kept his I-A suit and returned to using it when he resumed being Iron Man.

One last thing of note: Around this time Stark began to expand on his habit of storing his armors all over. Besides a storage space behind a secret wall panel in his office and another emergency suit in a hidden sub-basement in his lab (an early Armory), Tony kept a suit along with spare parts at the Avengers Mansion. He also kept suits in his many cars, most notably his specially equipped Montague. To avoid being seen coming and going as Iron Man, he had a secret airshaft and several hidden passages in and out of his private quarters at the SI plant.

After a fierce battle with Ramrod, Tony’s heart gave out. He had to go back to wearing the old pacemaker chest plate with a twist: Three small prongs shot out of the module now, sticking directly into his heart. Soon he had to install a power booster, but he was afraid at first to use it. Tony thought that it might cause his body to reject his synthetic heart. Eventually, he had to add an Atomic-Energized Pacemaker, his heart need it to withstand the strain of being Iron Man.

Model V, Mark I-C

After Firebrand melted the I-A, Stark built a replacement unit, the Mark I-C. While he added a few upgrades for good measure, this new suit wasn’t new enough to change “Marks.” The most notable improvement was the suit’s limited ability to repair shorted-out circuits (which sure came in handy when facing all kinds of super-powered villainy).

But the continued physical rigors of being Iron Man caused Tony’s power system to be taxed repeatedly, with prolonged weakness the result. Things got so dire that Stark added a life power gauge to the suit.

The boot jets continued to give him problems as well, even after they were upgraded to Blaster Jets. As a result, he upgraded the I-C’s existing jet-powered roller skates, giving them an independent control system with their own power/fuel sources. The skates were activated via a button on his boot cuff.

Model V, Mark II

Power, or the lack of it more specifically, became Stark’s number one concern. Not firepower or mechanized might, but simply electric current in sufficient quantities to keep his heart working. Tired of living recharge to nick-of-time recharge, Stark conceived the Mark II as one big battery, charged by sunlight. By adding revolutionary solar-charged integrated circuits to the steel-mesh fabric, Stark increased the power of Iron Man to record levels, all in an effort to never again deal with the hassle of a low-powered chest plate. (Tony also built the new suit because the Model V, Mark I, line was plagued by faulty equipment and mechanisms.)

In addition to the solar system, Mark II had two back-up power systems: (1) a Thermocouple that provided quick energy uptake from cold or heat (but this suit had a limited ability to transform extreme heat into energy [the thermocouple could be overloaded]); and (2) Reserve Generators that could produce power in seconds, even when jumpstarted by simple hand-held radio batteries (through a port in the chest beam device).

Other benefits of the solar adaptation included a more heat-resistant armor. The armor itself could ward off a certain amount of environmental heat by converting it to energy. Also, the solar system allowed the gauntlets to maintain a residual charge, enough to fire the repulsors—but not at levels as strong as when connected to the suit and the central power system.

Mark II’s boot jets were greatly improved in terms of lift off and total blast power. Built-in Jet-Assisted Skates provided incredible maneuverability and allowed for travel over long distances as his boot jets (for flying) still didn’t have a great range. Foot Blasters were added to the soles of the new boots as well, providing a great new offensive option. As with previous models, the boots could magnetize to stick to metal surfaces, while a new rubber insulation protected Iron Man from electric shocks of up to 20,000 volts.

Special telescopic eye lenses were added to the helmet mask, while tracking sensors were improved along with a full range of environmental monitors, including advanced radiation sensors with a radio-meter for tracking radiation trails. A power gauge was mounted on the wrist of the left gauntlet.

Model V, Mark II, was space-worthy for short times. Not only could it withstand the rigors of outer space, but the solar batteries filled up even faster in the unfiltered sunlight of space.

The suit also had limited underwater capability, complete with a system to flush water out of the armor if (when) it leaked in.

Special Feature on this Suit: It was after one of those undersea adventures, an underwater battle, during which his mask was damaged, that Stark designed a revolutionary new helmet. Built from heartier, reinforced steel mesh, the helmet was lined with the latest integrated circuitry, circuitry that translated brainwaves into useable electricity. When combined with a matrix of wafer-thin computer lines, the resulting system was Shellhead’s first cybernetic system. Iron Man was now able to mentally command his suit’s functions and weapons. (While improving the mask, he also added stronger plexiglass eye and mouth shields for sealing the suit. And despite its increased durability, the helmet could be depolarized via a hidden pressure point on the chin and removed like a ski mask.)

While famous for his cybernetic advancements, Model V, Mark II, is infamous for a rather poor design choice as well. While improving the strength of the helmet, Stark also modified the mask’s “skin” to show a bit more of his actual facial expressions in an attempt to make himself more fearsome. He also added a nose. Yes, a nose. Fortunately it didn’t last long, and Shellhead returned to his nose-less mask fairly quickly.

Armaments: improved Repulsors (could now melt steel in a third of the time and easily blast through a two-foot-thick wall); Laser Blaster added to chest plate searchlight (but it drained so much energy per blast that it was only good for one blast per battle); foot blasters (in boots); Unstable-Freon Mini-Bomb.

Besides the cybernetics and the nose, Tony Stark also experimented with the very underpinnings of this model near the end of its use-life. Technology continued its march forward, and Stark kept Model V ahead of the curve, replacing the suit’s outmoded integrated circuits with Large Scale Integration (LSI) circuitry.

Tony’s heart problems continued to dog him. This caused him to add a miniature nuclear-powered pacemaker to his chest plate. With a power source apart from the armor’s, the pacemaker had a better chance of regulating his ever-frailer heart.

It should be noted that around this time Stark added to his testing and training facilities, expanding his experimentation areas and even swiping the idea of the X-Men’s Danger Room. Iron Man’s training room included missiles, saws, and all manner of weapons and booby-traps to test his mettle.

This page is copyright 2006 Tim Rassbach.

Iron Man and all associated characters are the property of Marvel Comics.

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