Monday, October 5, 2015

Mike's Top Ten Favorite Iron Man Armors!

Marvel's new Invincible Iron Man series by Brian Michael Bendis and David Marquez will launch this week as the centerpiece of the company's latest soft reboot. Tony Stark's newest suit, as designed by David Marquez, will possess the ability to convert into different specialty armors and alter its shape and color scheme accordingly.

Hmm...does that sound familiar to anyone?

(Wailing metal guitar riff)

In whatever case, I thought I'd take this opportunity to list my top ten favorite Iron Man armors as of this date and time! My only criteria for this list was that Tony Stark had to have a hand in developing it to count, but otherwise anything else goes!


10. Ultimate Iron Man
First Appearance: Ultimates Vol. 1 # 1 (2002)

I'm not the hugest fan of the Ultimates, but I must admit I found Mark Millar's schlocky antics entertaining on the first go-around. Nowadays, I look back at his first Ultimates run and kinda cringe at the topical references and what my fellow Fanhole Derek would label as Millar's “shock jock” storytelling. However, one thing that has remained impressive to this day is Bryan Hitch's art.

I've always liked Hitch's primary Ultimate Iron Man armor design. I guess the best way to describe it is “familiar but different”. All the basic elements of an Iron Man armor are there, but Hitch reinterprets them in new and interesting ways. I especially like the more rounded helmet and the blocky, less human foot-shaped boots. I was disappointed that the Marvel Legends figure just gave him more standard boots, but at least the Marvel Select figure reproduces them faithfully.

Thankfully, Tony being covered in weird goo after removing the armor was NOT reproduced for those toys.

Can you believe that Tony drinks twenty-two martinis and designs seventy-eight new armors while inside this thing on a Tuesday afternoon?  Oh my friggin' god!  Incest!!!

9. “Neo-Classic” Iron Man 
First Appearance: Iron Man Vol. 1 # 231 (1988) 

Tony upgraded to this suit at the end of the classic Armor Wars arc. Its color layout and basic design cues clearly evoke the original red-and-yellow armor, but it certainly looks much more intimidating and modernized.

It looked especially great being drawn by John Romita Jr, who rendered it as being much bulkier than previous artists. I don't think Armor Wars II is that great of a story, but the art in it certainly left an impression on me, and that's assuredly because of Romita Jr.'s rendition of the Neo-Classic armor. My fellow Fanhole Tony Jackson is fond of referring to this suit as the “Boots Armor”, and you can definitely see why in Romita Jr.'s interpretation of it.

I'll stomp you, caption!!!

8. “Overload” Iron Man
First Appearance: What If? Vol. 2 # 64 (1994)

I like to call this the “Liege Maximo” armor, having been designed by legendary Transformers artist Geoff Senior. It does not resemble your traditional Iron Man armor AT ALL...but it worked for the story it appeared in. It is so huge that Tony can actually use it as a HOUSE if he wants, which is basically what happens at the end of the single issue it appeared in. The Overload armor positions itself in orbit and becomes a satellite, with Tony watching over the Earth forever as its guardian.

The scene that made me think this armor was super-badass was when Tony grabbed Magneto's force-bubble between his mitts...and popped it like a zit.

Maybe this armor is made of wood.

7. Marvel Now! Iron Man 
First Appearance: Iron Man Vol. 5 # 1 (2012)

Whenever a superhero gets a new, black costume, it almost inevitably looks sleek and cool, and Iron Man is no exception. The “Now!” armor takes many elements from the movie version of Iron Man's armor, to the point where the Marvel Legends toy of it is just a redeco/retool of the Iron Man 2 Mark VI release. However, different artists tended to emphasize or de-emphasize the movie aesthetic based on their own personal tastes.

Much like Spider-Man's symbiotic costume, this armor also takes on a liquid form and can cover Tony's body at his mental command. It was a slight improvement over the Extremis armor, except Tony himself was no longer superhuman.

He still carries it in a briefcase, so is that really an upgrade?
6. War Machine (Original)
First Appearance: Iron Man Vol. 1 # 282 (1992)

This is what I like to term the “proto-War Machine” armor. It is distinguishable from the version James Rhodes first wore by its lack of chest “uni-beam” projector. It looks a bit boxier and more unrefined than Rhodey's armor, which I actually find more appealing. Its weaponry just seems more...apparent in this version than later iterations. It also has a light saber built into the gauntlet, which is frickin' cool.

I always thought it was funny that Tony specifically donned this armor to fight and then team-up with the Masters of Silence...a bunch of stealthy ninja types.

Ninja say- make bad joke and carry a bunch of firepower.

5. Hulkbuster Iron Man
First Appearance: Iron Man Vol. 1 # 305 (1994)

I ain't afraid of no Hulk.

Let's face it; the concept of Tony Stark getting into his armor, then getting into a BIGGER suit of armor will always be pretty badass. While he initially created this armor as a deterrent against the Hulk in the comics, the Hulkbuster can also be seen as simply one of the biggest guns in Tony's arsenal. In the 90s cartoon's adaptation of Armor Wars, this is the suit that Tony brings out in the end to take on Justin Hammer's anti-Iron Man drone, Firepower. It was quite the unexpected and badass reveal and a memorable scene from that series.

I'm off to take down big business with my BIGGER business. Rhodey, Julia...tape my shows.

There's obviously been a number of different versions of the Hulkbuster, and I wanted to narrow it down to one choice for this entry. I ended up deciding the movie incarnation of the Hulkbuster was the best representation for one main reason; it actually busted the Hulk! Usually, the Hulkbuster armor is portrayed as a delaying tactic at best, and the Hulk will eventually prevail over it. But in Age of Ultron, Tony apparently manages to finally score a KO with it! Or at least wins via cutaway...I think he'll take that.


I also dig the parts-swapping and replacement from its delivery system, and of course, its amusing code-name “Veronica”. Cuz ya see...Bruce Banner was in love with a girl named Betty and...well, you get it. Or wait...does that even make sense? It's not like Veronica was bad for Archie or...aaagh, don't think about it.

4. War Machine (Initiative) 
First Appearance: Avengers: The Initiative # 1 (2007)

 The “Initiative” War Machine armor was developed by Tony Stark for his good friend James Rhodes, and actually uses Stane technology instead of Stark. This little bit of foresight on Tony's behalf allowed James Rhodes to continue to operate even if all Starktech was disabled, which of course it WAS during Secret Invasion.

I always thought this get-up was a nice companion to Tony's Extremis armor, both visually and conceptually. You can obviously see the design elements in common with the Extremis armor, especially in the helmet design. However, whereas Tony's Extremis upgrade immeasurably improves his vitality and makes him more than human, this War Machine armor is basically a life support system for the man inside it. James Rhodes sustained near-fatal injuries and lost his arms and legs in a terrorist attack. His good pal Tony Stark saved his life and made him into a cyborg. Throughout Avengers: The Initiative and his solo series by Greg Pak, he was basically a pseudo-Deathlok. 

Hey, maybe I can get on Agents of SHIE- AHAHAHAHA, no.

Rhodey would eventually get better, being plugged into a cloned body of himself in perfect health by the end of that story, but I did find that setup ironic. At a time when Tony Stark had become more metahuman than ever before, Jim Rhodes was also distanced from his own humanity, albeit in a lot harsher and visceral manner. Rather appropriate for the two characters; Tony does things the easy way and Jim does things the hard way.

But I love this armor design, specifically how it was originally drawn by Stefano Caselli. I love the holo displays and targeting scopes that pop up with the weapons are live. And of course, when shit gets real, Rhodey can truly live up to his name.

I...I can see you're upset, Mr. Howard, but we still need to cut your pay for Iron Man 2.

3. Extremis Iron Man
First Appearance: Iron Man Vol. 4 # 5 (2006)

With its sleek, elegant design and updating of the classic Iron Man theme, you can see why it lasted awhile and enjoys a place in many cross-media portrayals. This was also the armor that most of the inspiration for the movie version was drawn.

As mentioned in the last entry, the man inside was changed as well, as Tony Stark had himself injected with the Extremis bio-enhancement. This gave him a healing factor, complete telekinetic control of his armor, and the ability to remotely access virtually any computer system.


It was such a massive upgrade to Iron Man's power set, and yet it seemingly hamstrung writers most of the time into coming up with ways to disable or screw with his Extremis abilities. Several of the following stories, like “Execute Program”, the return of the Mandarin, and Secret Invasion all had Tony's new powers go haywire, be suppressed or even controlled. Eventually, the Extremis was purged from his own system, although Tony would deal with Extremis-enhanced enemies several more times.

Thankfully, he has a taser now.

 So all in all, his Extremis powers were probably more trouble than they were worth. Still, it was a badass armor design, a faithful updating of the usual Iron Man theme, and one can see why it is ingrained in many people's minds as their mental image of the character.

2. “Renaissance” Iron Man 
First Appearance: Iron Man Vol. 3 # 1 (1998)

Tony traded in Rob Liefeld and smokestacks for this little number. At first, I didn't have any strong feelings about this design, but it certainly grew on me as I read more and more stories featuring it. I started to appreciate things like the return of the “pointy” mask, and the Tron-like detailing around the collar and arms.

I know my fellow Fanhole Derek doesn't much care for the story, but the Renaissance armor also served as an effective “villain” of sorts in Joe Quesada and Sean Chen's “Man in the Iron Mask” storyline. While the story gave the Y2K bug as the laughable reason the AI went rogue, it would eventually be retconned as Ultron having infected it with a version of its intelligence.

I had strings, but now I'm FREE-KING SCARY.

When portrayed like this, the design takes on quite the menacing air, and the story certainly left an impression on me when Tony had to break out his trusty old Modular armor to fight it.

Oh god, help me, Tron Bonne!!!

Eventually this armor became a shell that stored an AI essence of Tony's deceased mentor, Ho Yinsen. Yinsen's consciousness had been plugged into it by a cult that worshiped him, and aggghhh, I don't wanna get into it. Ho Yinsen's comic book history is pretty nightmarish and up there with Cable's in terms of convoluted, contradictory continuity. Try saying that three times fast!!!

But speaking of the Modular armor... 

1. Modular Iron Man
First Appearance: Iron Man Vol.1 # 300 (1994)

My favorite run of Iron Man comics features this armor, and it probably is the most recognized and iconic of the armors Tony used in the 90s. It showed up most prominently in the Capcom fighting games and appeared (after a fashion) in the 90s cartoon.

Like many, I was a bigger fan of the more stylized second season version of this design. I like to refer to it as the “Red Sky” cartoon Iron Man, after the similar slimming down and simplifying done to Batman's character design in the fourth season of Batman the Animated series. The loss of the dorky “mouth” slot certainly was a massive improvement and some might liken it to the elimination of the yellow oval under Batman's chest symbol. Just a simpler and more visually-effective look.

I like Robert Downey Jr.'s Tony Stark, as most people do, but second season Robert Hays is probably my favorite portrayal of the character. He was doing constant snark and sarcasm as Tony Stark LONG before RDJ. This, combined with the sleek look of this version of the Modular armor, left me with a lot of fondness for the second season of the 90s cartoon.

He lost a mouth, but gained a mullet.

The Modular armor does have the unfortunate “honor” of featuring in Force Works, the mention of which probably sends shudders down the spine of many long-time comic fans. However, I fondly recall many Len Kaminski stories featuring this suit in the main Iron Man title and especially enjoyed him taking a lot of shots at the “popular kids” of the day while wearing this armor.

Take that, Venom!

Take that, Wolverine!

Take that, Night Thrasher and Thundersr- hmmm...I guess they can't afford to be taken down anymore pegs...

So there we have it! My top ten favorite Iron Man armors! There are others I like, but these immediately came to mind. Comments? Questions?

- Mike

1 comment:

  1. My top 10 favorite classic armors is

    Number 10: classic armor/proto classic armor/post proto classic armor iron man.
    Number 9: neo classic armor.
    Number 8: scuba suit. (The original yellow version.)
    Number 7: space armor mark 1.
    Number 6: war machine. (With and without unibeam)
    Number 5: space armor mark 2
    Number 4: silver centurion.
    Number 3: remote control/ntu-1000.
    Number 2: hulkbuster.
    Number 1: modular armor.

    My top 5 favorite modern comic armors are

    Number 5: mark 42. (Marvel now armor)
    Number 4: mark 45. (Space armor mark 3)
    Number 3: extremis armor.
    Number 2: both bleeding edge and model prime. (Cuz why not)
    Number 1: superior iron man.