Since March of 1963, Iron Man has been one of the most influential characters of the Marvel Universe. It’s true that he hasn’t always been an A-list character, despite his current popularity, but Iron Man has been a true workhorse, helping to bring the House of Ideas from the Silver Age to the Bronze Age, and eventually to the modern age of comics.
The quality of Iron Man stories, like those of any character, differ immensely from writer to writer, so regardless of the shellhead’s appeal, it’s no secret that not all Iron Man stories are created equal. However, if you’re looking for the best ones to add to your collection, you might want to start with these. Here are the 10 best Iron Man stories of all time:
Director of S.H.I.E.L.D.
Creative Team: Daniel Knauf, Charles Knauf, Roberto de la Torre
Director of S.H.I.E.L.D. is a short, four-issue story that spans across Iron Man Vol. 4 #15-18. Taking place immediately after the events of Civil War, the plot centers around Tony Stark and his newfound role as Director of S.H.I.E.L.D., as Stark tries to impart his brand of corporate culture onto America's premier spy agency while tracking down dangerous terrorists who appear to be arming various militant groups with highly sophisticated weapons. It strikes a nice balance between politics and superheroics, and offers a refreshing interpretation of S.H.I.E.L.D. that’s more Tom Clancy than James Bond, but the best part of this story is that while we see Tony struggle with the burdens of command, we also get to see him do what he did best in the Avengers: lead.Advertisement
Creative Team: David Michelinie, Bob Layton, John Romita Jr.
Iron Man and Doctor Doom have a long and tangled history, but arguably the best encounter between the pair takes place in Doomquest. Collected in Iron Man Vol. 1 #149-150, we see the Armored Avenger sent back in time, with a magical mishap resulting in both him and Doctor Doom being transported back to the days of King Arthur and Camelot. Battle lines are quickly drawn, with Iron Man aiding King Arthur's knights in a war against Doom and Morgan le Fay. It's a story loaded with magic and treachery, and despite a noticeable measure of ‘80s comics cheesiness, it still holds up quite well today.
The Iron Age
Creative Team: Kurt Busiek, Patrick Zircher, Bob McLeod
If you’re looking for the Batman: Year One version of Iron Man comics, look no further than The Iron Age, in which we revisit the early days of Tony Stark’s time as Iron Man and witness his transformation from arrogant playboy to outright hero. It’s a fairly accurate exploration of the original origin of the character penned back in 1963, but with far greater detail. We get to see the death of Tony’s parents, meet many of his friends and foes, and see the development of some of his demons that would come back to haunt him in later tales. Busiek incorporates so many things from the early Iron Man comics and even Tales of Suspense, where Iron Man first debuted, but in a modern, more story-oriented way, which makes The Iron Age not just an essential read for longtime fans, but a perfect starting point for those new to the character.
World’s Most Wanted
Creative Team: Matt Fraction, Salvador Larroca, Frank D'Armata
Matt Fraction and Salvador Larroca's Invincible Iron Man run had a number of highlights, but none stand out more than World’s Most Wanted, which unfolds in the pages of The Invincible Iron Man Vol. 2 #8-19. In the aftermath of Secret Invasion, Norman Osborn had replaced Tony Stark as head of S.H.I.E.L.D., and one of his first acts is to put out a warrant for Stark's arrest. The drama culminates in a climactic final showdown that features a barely functioning Tony suited up in the Mark I armor, beaten within an inch of his life by Osborn’s Iron Patriot. Tony has rarely appeared quite as desperate and as human as he does in this story, which was absolutely necessary to redeem the character following his actions in Civil War.
Creative Team: Denny O’Neil, Luke McDonnell, Steve Mitchell
Every recovering addict, at one point or another, experiences a moment of clarity, and for Tony Stark, that moment came in Deliverance – a single-issue story that takes place in Iron Man Vol. 1 #182. Tony is at a point where his battles with alcoholism and his business rival Obadiah Stane have resurfaced, and with no money, armor, or friends, all Tony can do is wander the snow-covered streets of New York and reflect on his life. Although Tony doesn’t don his armor at any point during this issue, we do see him finally emerge from his shell to start the process of reclaiming everything he’s lost, marking a major milestone in the evolution of the character as we know him today.
Creative Team: Denny O'Neil, Rich Buckler, Herb Trimpe, Luke McDonnell, Sal Buscema, Mark Bright
Taking place shortly after Deliverance in the pages of Iron Man Vol. 1 #190-200, Iron Monger sees the lowest point in Tony Stark’s life finally come to an end, as he regains control and builds the iconic Silver Centurion armor to combat Stane's Iron Monger suit. It was the most significant change to Iron Man's look since the Silver Age, and it paved the way for the countless radical redesigns that would soon follow. More importantly, though, is the fact that we witness Tony defeat Stane and take back his company and his life after a rut that spanned nearly 40 issues. It’s a quintessential Iron Man tale, as well as the inspiration for the 2008 big-screen adaptation that kickstarted the Golden Age of superhero blockbusters.
Creative Team: Brian Michael Bendis, Alex Maleev
For many readers, the characterization of Iron Man throughout the Civil War event was off-putting, to say the least. Tony Stark came off far more villainous than he needed to, which made it difficult for readers to sympathize with him, especially in light of the death of Captain America. In this one-shot epilogue, Iron Man earns some much-needed redemption as the grief-stricken hero pours his heart out alongside the dead body of his longtime friend. Civil War: The Confession is a highly emotional story, and it culminates with the revelation that Iron Man does, in fact, regret the compromises he made in order to win the war. It’s one of the most humanizing moments in Iron Man history, and an essential component of Civil War and its aftermath.
Creative Team: Warren Ellis, Adi Granov
Collecting Iron Man Vol. 4 #1-6, Extremis marked a major relaunch that overhauled Tony’s origin story and reinvigorated the character for a new generation of readers. It’s a story that sees a mortally wounded Iron Man forced to inject himself with a nanotech serum called Extremis, which not only heals him but allows him to control his armor mentally. Extremis is the perfect jumping-on point for modern Iron Man comics. In fact, many elements from the three Iron Man films were borrowed from this story, but while the films made the character a worldwide star, it’s these six issues that made him relevant in the Marvel Universe again.
Creative Team: David Michelinie, Barry Windsor-Smith, Bob Layton, Mark Bright
Like his battle with alcoholism, Tony's fight to prevent his armor from being exploited and upsetting the balance of modern warfare is one that never truly ends. This is perhaps most evident in Armor Wars (Iron Man Vol. 1 #225-232), where Tony’s suits designs are stolen and filtered across the black market, leaving him with no choice but to defy international law and forcibly reclaim his property. Written in 1990, this story helped set the stage for Tony’s modern place in the Marvel Universe, as he employs questionable methods to aid him on a righteous quest. It’s pure, unadulterated, high-octane fun, plain and simple.
Demon in a Bottle
Creative Team: David Michelinie, John Romita Jr., Bob Layton, Carmine Infantino
Regarded by many as the definitive Iron Man story, Demon in a Bottle – which takes place in Iron Man Vol. 1 #120-129 – is one of the first notable examples of how Tony Stark is truly his own worst enemy. Justin Hammer has Stark Enterprises on the ropes, S.H.I.E.L.D. is threatening to take over, but it’s Tony’s personal demons that prove to be the biggest threat, as he retreats further and further into his alcoholism. Gone was the rich, happy-go-lucky playboy we knew and loved, and in his place was a man who threatened to give into his selfish desires and let his company suffer for it. It was the beginning of a struggle that has remained with Tony to the present day, laying the groundwork for countless iconic Iron Man storylines that have since followed.
What about you? Are your favorite Iron Man stories on this list? Let us know in the comments section!