November 21, 2012

Iron Man's 10 Biggest Status Quo Changes

Following the recent Newsarama slide show about Spiderman's ten biggest said changes. And what bigger expert on Iron Man is there other than yours truly, after all? (Well, I do know a few, but I won't say who they are ...!)


In the late 1990s the big brains at Marvel had the "brilliant" idea of making Tony Stark a teenager. You read that right -- an adolescent. Beginning in the volume one title's early #300s, Stark supposedly was "manipulated" by long time Avengers nemesis Kang into becoming a bad guy. The Avengers then decided the only way to beat Stark was to go back in time and retrieve his younger counterpart ... to essentially go "intellect-to-intellect" with him. Young Stark nearly perished in the climatic battle, and then adult Stark managed to break through "Kang's" influence long enough to thwart the time-villain's assault on Earth's Mightiest -- perishing in the process.

I put quotes around Kang's name above because continuity expert Kurt Busiek a few years later masterfully explained in his classic Avengers Forever magnum opus that it wasn't Kang who influenced Stark, but his other-self Immortus. Young Tony Stark recovered from his battle with his older self and eeked out the last few issues of the title's first volume. This whole ridiculous scenario is now almost universally loathed by Iron Fans (sans the Busiek retcon, of course).


In volume one's issue #85, writers Len Wein and Roger Slifer jumped WAY ahead of the technology curve by giving Stark an incredibly advanced method of "armoring up." Stark would wear what was basically a "cloth" version of his armor under his clothes, and when he activated his wrist bracelet and watch, they sent a signal to a "polarization" unit in his chest uni-beam (see above). This hardened the armor, with his sleeves and leggings then sliding up to cover his appendages.

This armor wasn't used for very long, probably because it was too advanced to take seriously at the time. (It was the mid-70s after all.) It was explained away as "not being as durable" (i.e. "safe") as the regular IM armor, so Stark went back to the 'ol attaché case.


The bane of Tony Stark's very existence since that fateful trip to Vietnam, Stark eventually got his damaged heart transplanted with a "synthetic" ticker in the crossover between Avengers (vol. 1) #69 and Iron Man (vol. 1) #19. Now gone was the need to constantly recharge his chestplate; however, for many issues after, Stark had to be wary of undue stress on the new pumper, lest it fail.


Volume one issue #200 witnessed possibly the biggest change to the Iron Man armor ever (at least at the time, for sure). Everyone associates the armor with a red and gold color scheme; Marvel then went for a red and silver design which didn't sit well with a lot of fans (I wasn't one, however). But what the color failed to do with fans, the armor's capabilities made up for. Nicknamed the "Silver Centurion," this armor that Stark designed to go after longtime nemesis Obadiah Stane was light-years ahead of his old suits. It was much more durable, had a force field, devastating "pulse bolts," and a "chameleon effect" aka invisibility cloak.

Alas, like #9's method of "armoring up," the Silver Centurion was eventually considered too powerful (advanced), and its capabilities scaled back (in particular the "chameleon effect"). Creators David Michelinie and Bob Layton were primarily responsible for this, but their introduction of a new red and gold suit in vol. 1 #231 made use of the best of the Centurion's capabilities (especially enhanced strength), and satisfied Iron Fans everywhere.


Beginning in volume 1 #233, Tony Stark began dating a pampered rich b**ch named Kathy Dare. She wasn't used to not getting her way, and when Tony had had enough of her, she didn't take it very well. In fact, she took it very badly. In #242, she broke into Tony's house and waited for him to come home ... whereupon she shot him dead in the chest.

Although he didn't die, Stark is paralyzed from the waist down. This incident leads to an incredible chain of events: First, Tony modifies his existing armor to accomodate his useless legs. Next, Stark unergoes a controversial operation where an experimental micro-chip is implanted in his spine, giving him the ability to walk again. However, the chip was designed by some devious business rivals, and results in a program rewriting Stark's entire nervous system! This gives these rivals total control of Stark's body, which they plan to use for dastardly purposes, natch! Stark manages to overcome the manipulations, but his new nervous system is shot -- he's dying. He manages to devise a "neuro-web" to assist his decaying nervous system for a time, but eventually he "dies." (He actually goes into cryo-stasis while his loyal techs develop a new nervous system for him.)


Another creation of the aforementioned Michelinie/Layton creative duo, James "Rhodey" Rhodes debuted in volume 1 #118 and has since become entrenched in Iron Man lore. He started as Stark's mechanic and pilot, and eventually became his best friend. How the two met is detailed in vol. 1 #144 (Rhodes encountered the recently escaped Iron Man in Vietnam), and as any Iron Fan knows, Rhodey would go on to replace Stark as Iron Man for a time, become the head of Stark Enterprises, and then go off on his own as War Machine. Immortalized in film first by Terrance Howard and later by Don Cheadle.


It's pretty much a moot point these days, but back in the mid-1980s Tony Stark was very concerned that his unpatented secret technology remain just that -- secret. Unfortunately, Spymaster had stolen many of those secrets and sold 'em to the highest bidders. Beginning in volume 1 #225 and continuing through #231, Iron Man goes off in search of his stolen tech, and zaps any and all armored foes -- and heroes -- who may have benefited from it. It's the highlight of the "Silver Centurion" armor era, and culminates with the return to the classic look red and gold suit. Trivia tidbit: then editor-in-chief Jim Shooter came up with the Armor Wars idea while having lunch with Iron Creators Michelinie and Layton.


The highlight of the first Michelinie/Layton era, the "Demon in a Bottle" storyline has Stark battling his alcoholism (with an assist from GF Bethany Cabe) in essentially one climatic issue (vol. 1 #128). However, roughly fifty issues later, writer Denny O'Neil took Stark's inner demons to a whole other level, having him succumb to to the bottle. Stark loses his company to Obadiah Stane, his fortune, and ends up living on the street. In the heart-wrenching issue #182, Stark fights to keep friend Gretl Anders' baby alive in a blizzard ... and himself from alcohol. The next eighteen issues detail Stark's struggle back, culminating in the final confrontation with Stane in #200.


The most recent occurrence on our list, it's very relevant due to next year's Iron Man 3 making use of its premise, not to mention the original film making use of the story's updated origin tale. In this brief volume four set, writer Warren Ellis and artist Adi Granov have the Iron Man technology become a part of Tony Stark so that he really is an Iron Man. If you can get past Ellis's leftist prattle in these issues, the tale is pretty cool. I haven't followed new issues of Iron Man in years, but it's my understanding that Stark has since lost the Extremis "virus" in his system.


Has to be in the top spot if not because the film The Avengers absolutely crushed box office records and expectations ... and it had the potential to be an absolute flop. Almost half a century ago in The Avengers #1, Tony Stark was one of the heroes who had picked up a radio call for help from Rick Jones. The evil Loki had planned for the call to only be heard by his half-brother Thor, but Stark, Hank Pym (Ant Man) and Janet Van Dyne (Wasp) also got it. All four appeared to do battle with the Hulk (the reason for Jones' distress call), and after defeating Loki all five decided to stay together. The Hulk boogied in the very next issue, but Captain America was resurrected two issues after that. And that, as they say, is history.

Posted by Hube at November 21, 2012 08:06 PM | TrackBack

Comments  (We reserve the right to edit and/or delete any comments. If your comment is blocked or won't post, e-mail us and we'll post it for you.)

I've often wondered if "The Crossing" is what gave Marvel Animation the inspiration for "Iron Man: Armored Adventures," which has to be one of the most critically stupid cartoons that I've ever seen.

Posted by: Carl at November 23, 2012 04:09 PM