For new fans who'll head straight from seeing Iron Man in theaters to their local bookstore to learn more about the character, Andy Mangels' tie-in book Iron Man: Beneath The Armor is exactly what they need to be picking up. Not just because it goes through each and every era of the history of Tony Stark's armored alter ego in detail, but also because it lets everyone realize just how bad some of Iron Man's comics have actually been.
Mangels' book - released by Ballentine Books to tie in with the movie's release next weekend - mixes behind the scenes interviews about the creation of forty years' worth of comics with fact files about all of the main characters from the series... and then some of the less than main characters, as well (Really, the Living Laser? We needed to know about his history?). In fact, if the book has a fault, it's that it's almost too exhaustive to find an audience - Casual readers probably don't care about half of what they'd learn here, whereas the hardcore fans already know everything the book tells them.
Where it definitely has value is in the history of the comics themselves; you can't help but realize how much the character has suffered in attempts to make him interesting to creators bored with the basic concept - He's been an alcoholic twice, he's lost and regained his company a few times, made his identity public then faked his death more than once, and even really died and been replaced by the teenage version of himself during the dark days of the '90s. His armor has even achieved sentience and gone on a killing spree. Almost no stone has been left unturned in the attempt to keep everyone's attentions, no matter how stupid, and Mangels pulls no punches in telling you just how dumb everything got before Robert Downey Jr. thought about putting on the armor.
While it doesn't do quite the job that Marvel may have wanted it to - You really won't be running to buy back issues once you've finished this - it's exactly the education that anyone could want after getting excited watching all kind of on-screen metal carnage. Just be glad that you didn't have to read all of those comics to do the research that he did.
Iron Man: Beneath The Armor [Random House]