Stan Lee said he was surprised to learn that Iron Man was the favorite Marvel superhero of female readers, but it makes sense, really.
Tony Stark was rich and handsome and brave, all familiar ingredients for romantic fantasy. And he had another advantage. Literally, Stark had “a broken heart.” He had all the qualities to be some girl’s perfect mate, but he nobly refused to commit himself to any of them because he might die at any moment.
That poor, poor rich guy. Irresistible.
By the time Lee, Larry Lieber, Don Heck and Jack Kirby debuted Iron Man in Tales of Suspense 39 (March 1963), the outlines of what would become the Marvel Comics universe had emerged.
That same month, Ant-Man was battling the extra-dimensional tyrant Kulla and Thor was corralling the mobster Thug Thatcher (Funny. You’d have thought it would be the other way around). The Incredible Hulk, battling the Metal Master in his last issue, also crossed over to the Fantastic Four title to fight them. Meanwhile, in his first issue, Spider-Man also dropped in on the FF to put in a job application (after fighting them, of course). In his solo feature, the Human Torch got conned by criminal Carl Zante, the Acrobat, into leaving the FF briefly.
This interconnected Marvel universe, now established, was expanding into both future and past. Zante would return shortly with another con, disguising himself as a long-vanished hero named Captain America.
Each Marvel superhero was distinctive — a monster, a myth, a miniature man, an alienated teenager and now a knight in technological armor. Even the character’s initial bulky, robot-like armor was intriguing. Though hardly stylish, it was the opposite of the customary cape and tights.
Iron Man hit the ground running. By his third adventure, he was already proclaimed as world famous. He’d even repelled an alien invasion by the time-tested Silver Age method of convincing the invaders that everyone else on Earth was like him.
I liked Iron Man from the first, and years later came to realize that he was among the most morally admirable of the superheroes, who are all pretty good eggs, after all.
Like Batman and Adam Strange, Tony Stark had powers, strategies and solutions that came entirely out of his own head, that were created solely by his own determined efforts. Stark was American know-how on steroids.
That’s why the plot of the third Iron Man movie did not entirely work for me. Tony Stark would be the last superhero on Earth to fear that he’s being “taken over” by his heroic identity.
His abilities are not arbitrary. His fate is not accidental. Tony Stark was not bitten by a radioactive spider or blinded by radioactive chemicals. Iron Man is entirely his own conscious creation, his tool, and Stark knows that fact better than anyone.