With the first episode of Madhouse’s Iron Man on the horizon, some of you might be wondering, “What’s the big deal?” And I understand. Comics–with their high issue counts, many crossovers, and daunting pool of titles–can be tough to get into. I was once like you until I took the plunge. But now I’ve been buying comics every week for two years, and have acquired much knowledge of their characters. I pass this on to you, dear reader, so you may understand my excitement. Because, to be frank, Tony Stark is awesome.
Consider this a newbie’s guide to the life of Iron Man: everything you need to know (and more) before you watch Madhouse’s anime adaptation.
Tony Stark is a Genius
One day, Anthony “Tony” Stark, son of inventor Howard Stark and inheritor of weapons-developer Stark Industries, was injured by a booby trap and captured by Communist leader Wong-Chu. Wong-Chu forced Stark to build him a weapon in exchange for an operation that would keep the shrapnel lodged dangerously near Stark’s heart from killing him. Stark agreed, but decided against building what Wong-Chu wanted. Instead, he built an advanced suit of armor that also contained a device that protected his heart. Yes, you heard that right. Tony Stark built a cutting-edge suit of armor in a small laboratory under Communist supervision with only a Nobel Prize-winning physicist to help him. And it looked like this:
Okay, so aesthetically pleasing it’s not. Still, it kept Stark alive long enough to build even more armor variants, including a suit that was fused to his body and could be controlled with his mind (similar in origin to Samus Aran’s Fusion Suit). His latest armor, known as “Bleeding Edge,” is made entirely of nanomachines that are stored within Stark’s body when inactive. Yep, that’s right. Stark is a transhuman superhero.
Of course, armor isn’t all he’s good at. He eventually creates Stark Enterprises, a company that invents all manner of new technology and a worldwide security network. Oh, and did I mention he also becomes the director of S.H.I.E.L.D., essentially making him the guy in charge of protecting the United States and–to a certain extent–the Earth? Because that happens.
Tony Stark Gets the Girls
It turns out that being a superhero, an absurdly wealthy industrialist and entrepreneur, and a genius makes you popular with attractive women. Well, that and the incredible mustache-and-beard combo. His longest and most stable relationship is with Pepper Potts, who can be most concisely called Stark’s secretary but is responsible for far more than that title implies. He has, however, had flings with Maria Hill (former deputy director of S.H.I.E.L.D.), Black Widow (assassin and intelligence agent), Spider-Woman (superhero) and Rumiko Fujikawa (attractive Asian).
I mean, sure, Black Widow was just seducing him for her own purposes, but I figure that basically counts as a (very) brief relationship. And okay, yeah, the Spider-Woman that tried to make out with him was actually the Skrull queen in disguise (please don’t ask; it’s complicated) who intended to manipulate him, but come on! Don’t try and tell me it wasn’t worth it. Because you’d be lying.
Tony Stark is Troubled
Not everything in Stark’s life is perfect, though. First, he constantly struggles to overcome his alcoholism. Second, he’s arrogant, which more often than not leads to him overestimating his own abilities (or underestimating his opponent’s) and being punished for it. Third, he’s always afraid that someone is going to steal his technology and use it for evil (which has happened more than once). Fourth, he’s actually kind of difficult to get along with. Pepper’s loyalty speaks more for her patience and determination than it does for Stark’s charm. And finally, he’s directly responsible for causing the superhero Civil War, which eventually ended when Captain America, Stark’s former friend and leader of the rebellious superheroes, surrendered…and was assassinated shortly thereafter.
So why would I list his worst traits in a post that claims he’s awesome? Because they make for great storytelling opportunities, of course! That’s what’s most important to me when I look forward to the Iron Man anime. I don’t really care if it follows the comics. I don’t really care if he meets Thor or Captain America or Nick Fury or other Marvel characters. I don’t really care what armor version he wears. All I really care about is if Madhouse crafts a good story; and to do that, they’ll need to incorporate the good and the bad.
Consider my fingers crossed.
[If you’re new to Iron Man comics and are wondering about a good place to start, I suggest reading “The Five Nightmares” arc of Invincible Iron Man written by Matt Fraction. The story is very good and friendly to first-time readers. It’s available in both an individual volume and the first omnibus.]