Understanding What's Under Iron Man's SKIN Armor

...but it still needed Iron Man.

First, some background:

After his experience with the Sentient Armor, Tony Stark suffered an uncharacteristic bout of technophobia. Gunshy, and still in the dark about Ultron's role in the birth of his living armor, and under the behavior-altering affects of Ty Stone's psychic manipulations, Stark didn't want to take any chances. After going back to his roots by donning an old suit of Iron Man armor for a time, he soon gave up being Iron Man AND Tony Stark altogether. He gave away his fortune, adopted the persona of Hogan Potts, and disappeared into New York's Silicon Alley a faceless code monkey. But while he could change his name, Tony Stark could not stop being the man he was for so many years: Iron Man. To that end, Tony Stark took his time in building Model XXII, producing it in stages from scratch, examining every single chip and circuit he put in there.

The SKIN Armor, Model XXV made its first appearance as an incomplete protomodel when Hogan Potts (aka Tony Stark under Ty Stone's mind control) battled Shocker in the NY subway in Volume 3, issue 42. As it evolved over time, its dramatic style was a major change in Iron Man's look. It also represented one notable departure from Stark's usual micro-mesh alloys: The main component, SKIN—the liquid metal circuitry—was invented by someone else.

Model XXV, Mark I, the first stage of the SKIN suit, was made up of a helmet, a chestpiece with oversized gloves (that plugged into the chestpiece) and boots--all worn over a black body suit. This protomodel, Tony's "junkyard get-up," wasn’t without its defenses. Shields were capable of withstanding Shocker's low-power vibro-blasts. The high-powered were another story unfortunately.

Armaments: Repulsors (at this stage only the power for a single blast), however the armor has no Weapons Tracking software; a fragile Uni-Beam that was easily fried.

Special feature on this suit: Chestpiece held highly experimental energy absorption capabilities. It could suck in energy attacks, absorbing them, allowing Iron Man to return the blasts. Gloves also held energy absorbers.

Model XXV, Mark I-A: This raw armor finally began to take shape when Stark added the eponymous ingredient SKIN--the golden, liquid metal circuitry invented by Askew Electronics and improved by Stark himself.

To his basic erector set of helmet, chestplate, gauntlets, and body suit, Stark added a full body armor crafted from the revolutionary substance. Capable of shape-shifting into a nearly adamantium-hard shell, SKIN withstands lasers without a scratch and is strong enough to shatter omnium steel bars without a dent. In this still experimental version, Tony, wearing the black suit, helmet, and chestbeam, clasped both hands together, activating the SKIN sequence which then enveloped him creating the traditional red and gold look. The new sweeping, rounded look was accented by the oversized design of this model.

At this stage Tony communicated with his friend and A.I. computer system, Jocasta, via a signal watch.

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The SKIN Armor was upgraded in issue 42, to Mark II, as the tinkering Tony added a few more components, namely several pipes, hoses and tubes. Glowing ports on the palms, epaulets, shoulders, and knees appeared. The chestbeam also glowed.

Having overcome his fear of artificial intelligence by this time, Stark made a major stride forward in the armor's operating system. The armor's new OS was Jocasta. She was able to download into the armor when needed. Besides helping him out, Jocasta also monitored the status of the suit and Tony's health. And with Tony's approval, she could take over the armor, returning Iron Man home if injured or unconscious--although she also had the ability to activate wake-up gas to revive Stark when needed.

A communicator with speakers and a display on his left wrist allows for computer interface, including a display for Jocasta. The Mark II lacked internal sensors, but a self-diagnostic program was on-line at this stage. The boot jets are even faster than previous models, but the design had some kinks in it.

Defensively, a built-in holo-emitter provided visual deceptions to distract opponents. Additionally, though upgraded, shields proved to be a disappointment as they were easily blown out.

As in prior armors, the gauntlets can magnetize, aiding IM's grip--especially on heavy steel objects.

Armaments: Repulsors; probes (launched from wrist) act as smart bombs.

Special feature on this suit: (At least) six, small, robotic probes. Red, flying balls with sensors and spotlights, that were stored in a shoulder compartment, capable of sending back wireless telemetry. (For the record, they did not perform well on their first outing.)

The SKIN Armor came into its own with the Model XXV, Mark III, upgrade. Stark retrofitted his already stunning armor with an array of new dazzlers and old favorites. The armor's weapons, sensors, and all sorts of gizmos got tweaked and tuned, beginning with the armor-up process. To don his liquid metal armor, Tony utilized the chest-mounted SKIN distributor, a round uni-beam device that held and controlled the golden goo. By initiating a special frequency, Stark caused the golden SKIN to flow out and engulf him. Then from a secret wall vault he pulled the chestpiece, gloves, and helmet, snapping them into place to complete his suit.

The laser's edge engineering of the SKIN Armor was revealed when Shellhead met his old foe The Ghost. Although initially vulnerable to Ghost's phasing abilities, Iron Man was able to adapt the armor to withstand future phased attacks. Despite this, electro-magnetic pulses continued to be a threat to Iron Man. EMP cannons in the gigajoule range could overload and crash internal systems.

Mark III features the return of the Chameleon Effect, a cloaking device that reflects light and bends it around the armor. This new version requires a lot of power to compensate for the old version's dangerous health effects--but it is safe. The trade-off is that the cloak could not be used with offensive measures. It was disabled when Iron Man flew or was in combat, or whenever the armor needed the juice.

In terms of emergency systems, Mark III featured two interesting advances: an ejection system (that could jettison the occupant) and the new Emergency Shut Down Mode. Once activated the ESDM was designed to override every other protocol, find a place to hide, power down, and then cloak.

Another cool development was Iron Man's improved Energy Absorber, which gave him the ability to transform the energy attacks of his foes into a boomerang blast. The SKIN Armor could absorb external energy, focus it, and then blast it out through the uni-beam. That said, the armor was still vulnerable to many attacks. MODOK's new turbo-charged mental blasts hit Shellhead so hard that they knocked Jocasta off-line.

The armors standard top-of-the-line communications array was complimented by the addition of a Stark Card--a credit-card thin PDA that could be removed from the armor if need be. The device was capable of accessing wireless communications allowing Iron Man to interface with Jocasta or contact the Avengers. Other communications tools included: extension pins in thefingers that allowed for data transfer and computer interface; an additional port in the left forearm also allowed data linkage.

Tragically Jocasta was lost during Iron Man's battle with Ultron (Vol. 3, #48). Afterwards Tony had to install on-board computers and software to replace her.

Targeting arrays and improved aural and infrared scans augment the upgraded sensors. Heart-charging nodes allowed Stark to power up in his lab.

Armaments: Pulse Bolts; Repulsors; Uni-Beam; Smart Bombs (perform as weapon or sensor array); Sonic Array (can knock enemies out with sonic barrage); Missiles (stored in large ports on the chestpiece); Magnetic Ray (allowed IM to magnetize external objects and move them around).

Special feature on this suit: the Energy Blade. Based on the same design Tony Stark used to build Captain America's energy shield, this laser sword, emitted from his left arm, could also be flattened into a shield on his hands, or spread over the entire armor to encase Shellhead in a protective covering.

This page is copyright 2004 by Tim Rassbach.

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

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