Iron Man is the world’s most successful supervillain. He’s head of a gigabilion dollar corporation, owns multiple high-tech secret lairs, goes on a drunken/sexual/robotic rampages whenever he likes, and gets away with it because he was smart enough to make friends with the good guys first. But he’s also an intense dude, and when writers zero in on his best qualities, they get…a little too intense for his own good.
This is a man whose response to a heart attack was inventing at it. Then building a machine which inverted normal rehabilitation therapy: instead of gradually learning to walk again, he rapidly made other people lose the ability.
But even the smartest man in comics has his off days. The days he was being written by an idiot.
6) Efficiency: Roller Skates
The Iron Man system is the coolest metal object since the T1000 got drenched in liquid nitrogen. Tony Stark worked out how to make a suit of armor badass again in a world with guns and magnets in it. Then he worked out how to make it stupid again. Possibly because he drinks a lot.
He fitted roller skates to his armor back when he dressed like a giant Oscar. Maybe there’s an award for “Stupidest Looking Superhero” and Stark knew he was going up against men who wore their panties on the outside. This is a man who owns a flying super suit, and several flying regular planes, and when he had to move short distances he decided he’d rather commute in a skintight sweat box.
The only time they were ever cool was when he used them to blatantly take the piss out of Captain America.
5) Optimism: Teen Tony
The ’90s were even worse for comics than they were for fashion.
In “The Crossing” Marvel revealed that Tony Stark had secretly been mind-controlled by Kang the Conqueror for years, because apparently you don’t need to write good things to get a job as a writer. They later rewrote this to be Immortus, an alternate universe Kang, pretending to be Kang controlling Tony pretending to be good, because screw you for ever caring about their comics, that’s why.
This is when the Avengers proved that they could be even stupider than their own writers, using their emergency time machine to
a) go back in time and retrieve a Teen Tony to fight Evil Tony
b) make everyone wonder why they never used a damn emergency time machine for every single threat they’d ever faced.
This is the exact opposite of the point of having a time machine. Instead of going back to prevent past mistakes, they created a brand new and worse one: the “Crossing” storyline. Though it was a nice way of every Avenger admitting that even teenage Iron Man is more powerful than the rest of them put together.
A teenager inverts everything cool about Iron Man. A teenager getting drunk and chasing chicks with poor impulse control is an annoying a*****e. This is Tony Stark without any likability or even a moustache.
He was so stupid Marvel ended up destroying an entire parallel universe to get rid of him, merging him with yet another parallel Tony Stark in order to pretend that none of this ever happened. Or in an effort to simply overload their readers’ “parallel self bulls***” sensors to render the entire story arc invisible.
4) Intelligence: Ultimate Iron Man (Orson Scott Card)
The Ultimate universe was about freeing characters from decades of backstory so they could kick ass. Orson Scott Card did the exact opposite. He burdened Iron Man with a brand new backstory which destroyed everything cool about him. Instead of being a badass genius taking on a universe of gods and aliens with nothing but sheet metal and a welding torch, Tony was now the result of a genetic experiment accident and made of “biological computronium”. Which is how you become really smart while still sounding really stupid.
This arc gave us another era of Teen Tony, because that worked so well in the original universe. The way his body was stuffed with neural matter meant he was in constant pain (even though the brain itself can’t feel pain), turning his alcoholism into justifiable medication. Surely it’s impossible to write Iron Man when you turn his drinking into a sympathetic condition, because when you miss points that hard your pen would keep stabbing the ceiling instead of the page. The Mandarin has never annihilated Iron Man so thoroughly. An Ent would have been a better Iron Man. Which is why every subsequent Ultimate writer promptly ignored the hell out of this BS and just kicked ass.
3) Reinvention: Heroes Reborn
Heroes Reborn is what happened when ’90s Marvel decided they weren’t ’90s enough yet. We would remind you:
They destroyed their entire universe and rewrote everyone into a brand new grim and gritty universe. At which point they out-’90s-stupided even Vanilla Ice. When your most popular characters soar through the sky in gleaming Gryffindor colors or actually wear a star-spangled banner, grim and gritty is not your deal. There are grittier My Little Ponies.
Heroes Reborn Tony Stark was a ruthless corporate raider, which would have been a fun single issue “what if?” As long as they didn’t do anything stupid like have him DARK and BITTER because the prototype Iron Man KILLED HIS BEST FRIEND. Hey, guess what this comic did in the first few pages? More caps than that, too. Later he’s mortally wounded and his only hope of survival is the murderous armor and, holy s***, was Liefield trying to actually make an Ironic Man suit? This leaves him CONFLICTED and QUESTIONING HIS CHOICES and this sentence STILL DOESN’T USE AS MANY CAPS AS THE COMIC. It’s about as subtle as you’d expect a walking tank to be, but about annoying things instead of actually punching tanks.
2) Seduction: That Time His Armor Fell In Love With Him
Iron Man romance stories tend to boil down to good girlfriends his enemies can shoot at, evil girlfriends who realize he has to take his armor off to bang, and workplace harassment lawsuits. One story got original with the formula, in the same way that drain cleaner and phosphorus is technically getting original with mixing a cocktail.
The armor is struck by lightning and immediately becomes sentient and evil, because ten million volts of direct current apparently has sophisticated reprogramming abilities. And electronics genius Stark has never heard of fuses. The armor becomes the the first sex offender to prove that “I want you inside me” is even creepier when it’s 100% possible.
The armor falls in love with Tony, starts murdering people (for psycho robots that’s a guaranteed first date strategy), then finally strands Tony on a desert island and starts building a robotic replacement which is only missing its skin. If this thing had met Hannibal Lecter they’d have been a perfect match.
Tony almost dies in the final fight against the armor, because that’s what’s meant to happen when fleshbags fight the Iron Man armor, when it suddenly goes double-reverse-psycho and sacrifices itself to save him. Because back then comic writers thought “love” was a codeword for crazy but had less experience with it.
1) Arrogance: Civil War
Civil War was Marvel’s stupidest way of getting heroes to punch each other yet, and this was a company that once used the reason “people from another world want to watch the fight.” (Which, technically, is the only reason comic heroes ever fight.)
The government realizes that if people with guns have to register, maybe people who can shoot infinite lasers out of their face should register too. Especially since face blasts can actually hit people in comics. Tony Stark takes charge of the registration initiative, because that’s the smart thing to do, then immediately becomes an idiot because “screw rich people” was a popular theme back then.
He goes into full megavillain mode. He hires teams of murderers to kill his friends. He clones a Norse god to copy his powers, which doesn’t make sense even in comics on so many levels it should have turned all the words in every issue into meaningless squiggles. He tried to prove that he could keep people’s secret identities secret by making Peter Parker publicly reveal his name at a globally televised press conference. No, don’t bother going back, that doesn’t make sense no matter how many times you read it.
A man who’d spent forty-three years handing insane genocidal maniacs over to the Federally Appointed Rickety Shack Prison (No Escaping Please!) suddenly built a Negative Zone ultra-catraz for his best friends. Then went up against a gang of rebels with an instant-electronics-disabling-super-robot by:
a) wearing an electronic suit
b) hoping they’d forgotten about that robot.
You want to know how it really would have worked? Iron Man would offer all heroes salaries and pension schemes. He’d go down to the Heroes for Hire and ask who wanted a government contract. Luke Cage would tell him to get lost. Then he’d ask “Okay, hands up who DOESN’T have impregnable skin and would like healthcare?”
He’d swing by X-Factor when they were at their most desperate, racing against time and the killer mutant du jour, and happen to mention that SHIELD satellites had picked up his signature. Here’s the address. Man, if only they were official, he could make sure they got this intel faster next time.
Hey, Spider-Man, wouldn’t it be awesome if the next time a villain went after your girlfriend, you could just call the police to protect her? And to close down all the bridges so she doesn’t get her neck broken?
Or hey, gain some respect back by reading The Best Iron Man Stories to Complement Iron Man 3.
Luke McKinney writes about games, drink, science, and everything else that makes life amazing. He’s a columnist on Cracked and writes for several beer magazines. He’s also available for hire. Follow him on Tumblr and Twitter @lukemckinney.
Luke proved The Dark Knight’s Dumbest Moments Come from His Best Bat-Qualities, and chronicled The Most Amazing (ly Stupid) Spider-Man Reboots.