Iron Man Best Comics (1961-1971)
Updated: May 26, 2021
Iron Man. Tony Stark, genius billionaire who managed to build a suit of armor in a cave with a box of scraps and shrapnel in his heart, turning him into an armored avenger. He was the first superhero I was really introduced to. Sure, I'd heard of others like Spider-Man and the Hulk and X-Men and stuff, but as a kid I'd never read their comics or saw their movies or anything. That was, until I saw the first Iron Man movie. Not even in cinemas but off a DVD back in 2008 or 2009 with my brother. After that, I was hooked on all things Marvel. Funny thing was, I didn't even know he was based off a comic book character. I thought it was an original idea. It was only later that I realized he was part of larger Marvel Universe that I became such a huge fan of. Unfortunately, Iron Man's cinematic beginnings are in no way reflective of his comic book beginnings, mostly because Stan Lee didn't write them. It was only when he did that Iron Man found his groove and the stories became better. Still, Stan Lee was never able to rise the character to the heights of some of his other characters and so soon handed him off to Archie Goodwin who then took him into new directions with better stories, some epic, but most still just average. And then Gerry Conway came along, bringing in tales with such horrid writing that they should have been thrown in the garbage instead of being published. Oh well. I know some of the best Iron Man stories are coming up soon in my reading, but until then here are some of the best ones from 1961-1971:
10. Tales of Suspense Vol 1. 39: Origin of Iron Man
This is the issue that started it all. It is remarkable how much the first Iron Man film took from this 13-page story. Set in Vietnam instead of Afghanistan (since it was published during the Vietnam War), Tony Stark is attacked and ends up with shrapnel in his chest. He gets captured alongside a physicist Ho Yinsen who helps him create a suit of armor to break them free but dies in the attempt. From that, Stark swears to become the hero Iron Man. If you've seen the film, this issue is more like a watered down version of it, but it is still thrilling to see where it all began and how much it influenced the film.
9. Iron Man Vol 1. 10-11: Unmasked
The title says it all. Here, Iron Man is unmasked by his archenemy, the Mandarin, and is exposed as Tony Stark to the world. Now dogged by the press and by S.H.I.E.L.D., Iron Man has to face off against his greatest enemy while also doing his best to try and undo the damage. These two issues are fun and the premise is exciting but writer Archie Goodwin doesn't go all the way in on the story which is why it's ranked near the bottom. Still, a fun read that and one of the better stories.
8. Tales of Suspense Vol 1. 80, Tales to Astonish Vol 1. 82: Duel with Namor
Namor, commonly seen fighting the Fantastic Four, goes up against Iron Man just as the hero returns from a straining and tenuous battle. The two engage in a long and brutal duel that really takes its toll on them as neither can get the best of the other. This story is one of the few that crosses over as it starts in Iron Man's comic and ends in Namor's, featuring one of Iron Man's best fight sequences and keeps one guessing til the end at who will come out on top.
7. Tales of Suspense Vol 1. 84-86: The Other Iron Man
After a difficult battle with an old foe, Tony Stark collapses and is rushed to the hospital where they find his chestpiece. Instantly, people begin to speculate that he may be Iron Man so Tony asks his best friend Happy Hogan to fly his armor and pretend to be him for a little while. But, naturally, the Mandarin chooses this moment to attack and captures Happy, forcing Tony off his hosiptal bed to save him. This story emphasizes the best part of Iron Man and adds in the tension of a ticking clock as Tony rushes to save his best friend. Even if he's on his deathbed, Iron Man will get back up and fight on no matter what. Despite his overinflated ego, he is still a hero and he never quits.
6. Iron Man Vol 1. 12-13: The Controller
This story would make a perfect horror film. The Controller is one of Iron Man's deadliest foes. By capturing people and placing them in specialized pods, he can drain their cerebral energy and transfer it to his exoskeleton, making him stronger. By the time Iron Man faces him, he has gained the power of hundreds and is practically unstoppable. Thus comes one of Iron Man's greatest battles as he is constantly bashed around by the Controller all the while trying to prevent him from enslaving any more people.
5. Tales of Suspense Vol 1. 60-62: Suspected of Murder/Origin of the Mandarin
After a vicious battle leaving him grievously injured (this happens to him a lot), Iron Man is forced to constantly wear his armor or he will die. And when Tony Stark stops appearing, all his associates get suspicious and blame Iron Man. And during this, the Mandarin decides to attack again. It's in these issues that we get his origin story, at how he became so powerful to go toe-to-toe with the armored avenger. Stan Lee's writing shines here as he weaves together the suspense of Iron Man's trouble with his friends and the law as well as the threat of the Mandarin.
4. Iron Man Vol 1. 25: This Doomed Land -- This Dying Sea
Even though the cover shows Iron Man fighting Namor, the real villain of this issue is something more serious: pollution. Here, one of Stark's plants begins polluting the waters and Namor investigates. Stark is one of the few (only) industrialists who cares about the environment and informs his subordinate who caused the pollution, as he was trying to increase production value, that the cost is too great. When he tries to tell his fellow industrialists, however, it falls on deaf ears, an all-too common problem. Marvel isn't only interested in telling superhero stories but telling poignant messages as well.
3. Iron Man Vol 1. 27: The Fury of Firebrand
Speaking of poignant messages: this issue's cover said that their villain Firebrand was the most controversial villain and they weren't kidding as Firebrand is a man who is fighting against the oppressive government but has given in to his hatred and only uses violence. Here, Iron Man and his friend Eddie are trying to build a Community Center in a Black neighborhood to help improve lives but are held back by protesters who see this Center as improving white lives and not theirs. Turns out it improved the corrupt city councilman's life more than anything. One of the things Marvel Comics under Stan Lee pushed was Black equality, publishing many comics under many titles to show off their hatred of bigotry, this issue being one of them. Goodwin also shows off his storytelling skills as he approaches this subject with clearly a lot of research into the lives of Black people, showing how even though Firebrand is doing villainous things, he is not the true villain of this story. A great story that tells a very important message for readers, especially at that time.
2. Tales of Suspense Vol 1. 69-71: Duel with Titanium Man
Stan Lee's crowning achievement on his Iron Man run. The Titanium Man. A communist leader decides to build his own suit bigger and stronger than Iron Man's and challenges him to a public duel to see who is better, the communist or capitalist. These three issues are packed to the brim with armor on armor action as the two suits clash in one epic duel that the whole world is watching with anticipation to see who the winner is. This is one of Iron Man's greatest battles with one shocking ending.
1. Iron Man Vol 1. 17-23: The Beginning of the End
One of the greatest Iron Man stories that starts by breaking the character down to his basics, making him lose everything he has so that he can fight to take it all back by teaming up with some corporate villains, and leading to a duel with the new and improved Iron Man that almost kills him. And that's just the opening. Stark gives up the mantle of Iron Man and finds a replacement only to have to save him and winds up in a massive three-way battle with two old enemies that ends in tragedy. This was the story that showed the potential of how great Iron Man could be and was also one of the first superhero stories that truly broke the hero down so that he could build himself back up again, better than ever. Truly one of the best.
And that's Iron Man. Some good stories, some great, and some just average. But the really good stuff is coming up soon. Next: Spider-Man.