Wealthy, charming and a tech genius, Marvel’s Iron Man is perhaps one of the most popular superheroes of all time. His captivating appeal and wit has garnered a lot of attention ever since his debut in March 1963. Iron Man was co-created by Stan Lee and Larry Lieber, and designed by artists Don Heck and Jack Kirby, as a character in the Tales of Suspense anthology series. It was in 1968 that Iron Man eventually received his now iconic title. By then, he had already co-founded the Avengers, alongside Thor, Ant-Man, Wasp and the Hulk.
The premise to Iron Man’s character was well-constructed. The man behind the suit, Anthony Edward “Tony” Stark – a wealthy business tycoon, a masterly inventor and an absolute charmer with the ladies possessed a superhero aura, even without his ingenious suit. Stan Lee admitted that this was no random setup. In fact, they had been toying with the idea of a capitalist superhero. This seemed like a detour from the other comic heroes that were introduced around the time, and perhaps is also the reason why it became so popular. “I think I gave myself a dare. It was the height of the Cold War. The readers, if there was one thing they hated, it was war, it was the military. So I got a hero who represented that to the hundredth degree. He was a weapons manufacturer, he was providing weapons for the Army, he was rich, he was an industrialist,” Lee stated. The ‘love to hate him’ formula worked extremely well in the creation of Tony Stark, and Iron Man gained momentum. As a matter of fact, Lee shared how they received the highest number of female fan mails for Tony Stark’s Iron Man.
Tony Stark was the son of Howard Stark, founder of the giant Stark Industries. However, he lost his father very early on, having to take on the responsibility of an entire business empire at a young age. This early plotline gave Tony Stark’s character a strong background. He became likeable, earned a good amount of sympathy and was looked upon as a genius leader. After suffering from a chest injury during a kidnapping, and under his captors’ watchful eyes, Tony makes the most of his limited resources and builds an armoured suit, one which helps him escape captivity. Later, he gets consumed by the idea of the suit he developed, and creates a much higher and well-equipped version over the years, thus receiving the name of ‘Iron Man’. He was the right kind of eccentric, and this particular characteristic worked like a charm.
During the era of his debut, Stan Lee explored the then ongoing Cold War for Iron Man comics, especially the rise of technology in America. Going ahead, however, the villains Stark fought and the conflicts he was involved in, were kept rather contemporary, as is evident from the latest Iron Man films. The time of his kidnapping and injury have been updated with every era – beginning with the Vietnam war, which was changed to the Gulf War in the 1990s, and then changed again to the US invasion of Afghanistan in the 2000s. The war in Afghanistan post 9/11 was used as the background for the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s (MCU) first Iron Man film in 2008.
Technology and national defence have always been the underlying themes for Stark’s stories. In the early 1980s the writers explored a more vulnerable side of the invincible Tony Stark. They showed his personal battle with alcoholism and other inner demons, giving the readers a realistic window to his intricately developed character. Throughout the history of Iron Man, he has fought countless villains, less of the monstrous kind and more of the real, evil, powerful and anti-national kind. In the MCU, after fighting alongside the other Avengers over many years, Iron Man was killed in the final instalment of phase three Avenger films – Endgame, while heroically saving the world from the supervillain, Thanos. His death in the film is often described as one of the most painful moments in cinematic history.