The 7 Most Essential Iron Man Comics

Hey, did you know before the incredibly popular movies were made, Iron Man was a comic book character? It’s true! In fact, some of these comics were quite good! If the only Tony Stark you know has Robert Downey Jr.’s face, these are the seven Iron Man stories you need to read.

1) Extremis

Warren Ellis’ didn’t exactly reboot Iron Man with his "Extremis" storyline, but he certainly relaunched him. After a scientist releases a nanotech serum called Extremis and commits suicide, an insane militiaman named Mallen gets ahold of it, and mortally wounds Iron Man while on a deadly rampage. Stark is forced to inject himself with Extremis as well, which not only heals him, but allows him to control his armor mentally — just in time to stop Mallen from destroying Washington, DC. "Extremis" is the perfect starting point for new Iron Man readers, as it inspired all three Iron Man movies: his updated origin was used in IM1, the Extremis technology forms the basis of IM3, and if nothing else gave IM2 the idea for the suitcase suit.

2) Iron Man Vs. Iron Monger

Another inspiration for the first movie, Denny O’Neil’s lengthy run on Iron Man not only pits Tony Stark against his fellow armored industrialist Obadiah Stane, but arguably puts Stark at his lowest moment. Stane begins a corporate takeover of Stark Industrial, and Stark’s inability to stop it causes him to lapse back into alcohol abuse; he even gives the Iron Man armor to his fried James Rhodes so he can become a bum. After Rhodey prevents Stane from acquiring the Iron Man armor, Stane finds some of Tony’s old research notes and plans, and creates the Iron Monger armor, and then soundly defeats Rhodey as Iron Man. Tony has to pull himself out of the gutter — kind of literally — to create the new Silver Centurion armor, defeat Stane, and take his company and his life back. It’s the quintessential Iron Man tale.

3) The Iron Age

Looking for Iron Man: Year One? Then you have to pick up Kurt Busiek’s look back at the early days of Iron Man, which reexamines the original origin Stan Lee 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 later foes, and the development of some of his demons (which may or may not come in bottles). What’s coolest about “The Iron Age” is how 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. Basically, if you want the best-written comic that features Iron Man in his original gold armor, this is it.

4) Demon in a Bottle

And speaking of demons, no Iron Man fan can go without having this, Iron Man’s most famous storyline, in their collection, which was roundbreaking for both its unflinching portrayal of alcohol addiction and withdrawal. Although packed with supervillains, the real villain is of course the booze, which Tony turns to (well, turns to more) after his armor begins malfunctioning, even accidentally killing an ambassador. This flaw helped solidify the rich, brilliant inventor and industrialist into one of Marvel’s most accessible characters. Fascinatingly, writers David Michelinie and Bob Layton weren’t trying to write some afterschool special; this was simply the next Iron Man story arc to them. Which may be the #1 reason that “Demon in a Bottle” is Iron Man at its best.

5) Armor Wars

Writers David Michelinie and Bob Layton teamed up again for the 7-issue “Armor Wars” story arc, which might be Iron Man at its most fun. After the Spymaster steals Stark’s technology, he sells it to every Marvel villain he can. The result? Countless bad guys wearing their own armor as powerful as Iron Man’s, and Tony Stark’s technology again used to kill. Tony takes this very personally, and sets out to destroy them all, one by one. “Armor Wars” doesn’t have the pathos of a story like “Demon in a Bottle,” but what it lacks in drama it more than makes up for in pure power-armor-on-power-armor action.

6) Doomquest

“Doomquest” can be a hard story arc to explain: While trying to stop a sale of Stark tech to Latveria, Iron Man and Dr. Doom are sent back in time to medieval England, where Iron Man joins King Arthur while Doctor Doom teams up with the sorceress Morgan Le Fay, who create an army of undead knights to attack Camelot. It sounds goofy, and it kind of is, but watching the two armored titans of the Marvel universe, good and evil, square off is a delight in any setting; besides, Doctor Doom makes a better Iron Man foe than he does for the Fantastic Four. The hardcover collection also includes a follow-up, in which Iron Man and Doom are sent into the future by Merlin to defend the reborn King Arthur from Tony’s evil descendant and Doom’s cyborgized future self. Totally crazy, but totally fun.

7) The Mask in the Iron Man

Tony Stark has fought supervillains, aliens, sorcerers, and even booze. In Joe Quesada’s “The Man in the Iron Mask,” he faces his most dangerous foe… his own armor. The A.I. in the Iron Man armor becomes sentient, and sets about ruining Tony’s life in every manner possible. Besides just being a great read, “The Mask in the Iron Man” is a Frankenstein story that explores what the suit really means to Tony, both as a way stop his foes, and as a more metaphorical way of keeping others out.