Iron Man is a very interesting case in the world of comic books. Even though he is one of the first ever Marvel characters, going all the way back to the 60s, he never really became an extremely popular or iconic comic book character, much like Spider-Man, X-Men, Hulk or Captain America were during large portions of the company’s existence.
But Robert Downey Jr.’s iconic portrayal of billionaire industrialist Tony Stark in the Marvel Cinematic Universe has led the character of Iron Man to become one of the most popular superheroes in the whole world and one of the most recognizable brands in cinema–not bad for a character that was usually deemed a B-lister for most of his existence!
This has led some people to check the source material to get to know the character a lot more and even though most people usually recommend the same two or three iconic storylines, the reality is that there is a lot to like about Iron Man comics and today we are going to give you a list of the ten best comics you can find about good ol’ Shellhead. Let’s get started.
The best Iron Man comics that you MUST read!
10. War Machine (Iron Man Vol. 1 from issue #280 to issue #291)
This is not a single storyline, but rather a combination of stories with the overarching plot being how Tony Stark’s longtime best friend, James Rhoades (commonly known as Rhodey), starts to take over as the superhero War Machine.
Sure, it is not an Iron Man story per se, but these issues play a lot on what it takes to be this superhero, the responsibility of running Stark Industries and many different things Tony Stark has to deal with on a regular basis. It also explores Tony and Rhodey’s relationship, which is one of the most underrated friendships of the Marvel Universe.
The artwork is really good, the stories are action-packed and it tells the story of one of the most important heroes of the Iron Man comics, so this is something that is really worth your time in that regard.
9. The Iron Age (a two-issues miniseries of the same name).
Writer Kurt Busiek had a huge period of success in the late 90s, when he was working to get many classic Marvel characters back to the spotlight after years of decline in that particular decade. And one of his biggest challenges was bringing Iron Man back to the basics and he started to do that with this miniseries, The Iron Age.
This miniseries is a retelling of Tony Stark’s origin from the perspective of his assistant, Pepper Potts (mind you, if you are more familiar with the MCU version of the character, you have to understand that she has a different role in the comics in Tony’s world), and we get a much more modern approach to the story, streamlined for more updated sensibilities.
Overall, it is a very good example of how you can update a classic comic book origin story and still stay true to the original story, so this one is a very good buy for you in that regard.
8. The Five Nightmares of Tony Stark (Iron Man series Vol. 2 from issue #1 to issue #7).
Writer Matt Fraction is a very divisive figure in modern day comic books and it is true that his output is usually quite hit and miss, especially in recent years, but you have to give credit where is due: he did have a solid Iron Man run and this storyline, The Five Nightmares of Tony Stark, is a very good example of what you can do with this character.
Fraction introduced a much more likable version of the character based on Robert Downey Jr’s good performance in the MCU movies that have been so well received by fans. In this story, Tony Stark is still suffering the consequences of his actions in the now legendary Civil War event, which saw him supporting the government’s decision to create a system to register superheroes.
The name of the arc comes from five nightmares that haunt Tony throughout the story, the first connected to his fear of relapsing into his alcohol problems and the damage he has caused as a result of his creations. The other nightmares are based on other of his fears, that someone else can improve his armor or his technology, with the major concern that there is someone else besides him and Jim Rhodes who can use the Iron Man suit.
This is how Ezekiel Stane appears. Son of longtime Iron Man villain Obadiah Stane and the villain of this story who makes these nightmares come true and he is ahead of Tony both in the technological aspect and takes that man and machine relationship that Iron Man always represented to a new level. Fraction develops the plot with a very good mix of action and dialogue that allows us to have a much better understanding of Stark’s feelings and sensations.
Modern day Iron Man comics are not that great, but this is one of those storylines that are definitely worth your time and one of the few high points of Fraction’s career in comics.
7. The Mask in the Iron Man (Iron Man series Vol. 2 from issue #26 to issue #30).
Many of the best Iron Man stories are centered around Tony Stark protecting his armors and making sure that they don’t fall in the wrong hands. Well, The Mask in the Iron Man makes a very interesting proposal: What happens when the armor itself comes to life?
This storyline is all about how Tony’s armor becomes sentient and starts to make its own decisions, obviously resulting in catastrophic results and Stark having to wrestle control back, which makes for some really good moments and some really good action.
If you want a somewhat disturbing yet fascinating insight about Tony’s relationship with his armor and the possible ramifications of AI, then The Mask in the Iron Man is a very good choice for you.
6. Iron Monger (Iron Man Vol. 1 series from issue #193 to issue #200).
Tony Stark has gone through a lot and there are very few challenges that have been greater in his life as Iron Man than the ones that were dealt by Obadiah Stane. This is one of the most iconic storylines in the Iron Man canon and a very good example of why Tony Stark is the quintessential Iron Man and what makes him tick as a superhero.
Obadiah has taken his company and has kidnapped some of his best friends, so now Tony has to deal with his own demons, overcome his alcohol addiction and come back as Iron Man once again. It is a long, overarching storyline that has been years in the making and it makes Tony not only face one of his greatest villains, but also his own inner monsters and deal with his own vices.
It is one of those storylines that have been instrumental in developing his character throughout the years and a very good example of long form storytelling.
The comic dates back to the beginning of the 21st century and is a turning point (along with the MCU movies starring the character) for Iron Man, taking him to popularity levels similar to those of Spider-Man or Wolverine, just to name two of the most important characters in Marvel Comics. The Extremis, the title of the comic, is a type of serum that is actually quite similar to the super soldier, a breakthrough in bioelectricity and robotic surgery, which is stolen and the director of that project is assassinated under suspicious circumstances.
This served as a starting point and almost as an excuse for writer Warren Ellis to show things like that the Iron Man suit could be obsolete and how Tony Stark handles that situation as well as many others where we can see many of the different contradictions regarding his character. He makes his money through the sale of weapons that causes death in the world and that on the other hand is a superhero that saves lives.
This comic served as the basis for other good stories that came out later such as Civil War or Winter Soldier and you cannot fully appreciate these storylines without the input of Extremis. In addition, it offers that ease of reading that gives the fact that it does not require that you have read anything before the character in order to be enjoyed in the maximum expression of it.
One of the most popular Iron Man comics in the market and one that went on to become very influential in the character’s mythos, even going as far as having a major impact in Robert Downey Jr.’s portrayal in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. And of course, where the third Iron Man movies was taken from…
4. Armor Wars (Iron Man series Vol. 1 from issue #225 to issue #231).
Definitely one of the best and more popular Iron Man storylines in the character’s vast and rich history, which emerged in the late 80s thanks to writers David Michelinie and Bob Layton, who came back to the title for the second time after a phenomenal run in the late 70s and early 80s. The authors pose a scenario where the design bases of the Iron Man suit are stolen and sold to villains or at least, people of very dubious morals who begin to misuse that information, with Tony having to fight to get them back.
Thus begins the plot that shows us the guilt of Tony Stark when he sees the damage caused by these machines created from his ideas and that he had thought to fulfill a completely different purpose. The character reaches a point where he just wants to end the situation by taking away anyone who has taken advantage of his creations, causing him to perform actions that can be considered to go beyond a line that a superhero perhaps should not cross.
Although, as we have already noted in this list, it is normal for Iron Man to have these ambiguities in his behavior that lead the reader to not know exactly if what he is doing is correct or not, especially when he takes an attitude that seems to say that the end justifies the means. By the way, it is even more advisable to read it having read The Five Nightmares of Tony Stark since references are made and more than striking relationships are established with that title.
An action-packed storyline that is also quite a remarkable analysis on the character of Tony Stark and the value of intellectual property, which is something that you should always take into account when wanting to know a lot more about Iron Man comics as a whole.
The Iron Man: Stark Wars Epic Collection includes not only this issues, but all the prelude ones and the Iron Man Annual 9. As I mentioned before, these Epic collections are great opportunities to get some of the best Iron Man comics for reasonable prices. And you might get the digital version to read on your tablet, too!
3. Doomquest (Iron Man series Vol. 1 from issue #149 to #150).
One of the best Iron Man comics of the 80s, which was also written by the dynamic duo that were David Michelinie and Bob Layton, so you can expect a lot of quality from this comic. This storyline might be something coming out of left field, but it is highly regarded as one of the best Iron Man stories out there due to the fact that it manages to be quite entertaining and builds a very interesting rivalry with one of the biggest villains of the Marvel Universe.
The plot is about how an employee of Stark industries who steals the company’s technology to later sell it to Dr. Doom, which leads to a conflict between Stark and Doom since the first, upon finding out what was happening, breaks with those transactions (in addition to firing the employee) and decides to go to the country of Doom to get his technology back. Upon arrival, they are both trapped on Doom’s Time Platform and sent back to the time of King Arthur. That is where this story takes place in an environment far removed from what is typical and expected for Iron Man.
The story has a lot of entertainment and fun that makes the reader stay focused as the battle between Iron Man and Dr. Doom continues in another time with other allies and enemies. It is also something that is quite original and shows two very technology-based characters in an environment that is quite different to what they are used to.
It may sound a bit campy, at least from the perspective of a summary, but the reality is that it is really well-written and shows you two of the biggest minds of the Marvel Universe having to work together to survive.
2. Deliverance (Iron Man series Vol. 1 issue #182).
Writer Dennis O’Neil brought us a story that focuses on the more personal side of Tony Stark and his problems as an individual and not so much as a superhero, something that is a common point in some of the best stories of the character. In this case, Tony had handed over his armor to James Rhodes (War Machine), had lost his company to Obadiah Stane, subsequently was left without his home and ended up wandering the streets, all this while he had fallen into drinking heavier and heavier as time went on..
Tony was out on the streets, in the middle of a snowstorm, looking for a pregnant woman he had met at that hard time in his life and with whom he had developed a friendship. Upon finding her, she went into labor, a very difficult one that resulted in the woman dying although the baby survived. The situation led Tony to contact Rhodes again to help him recover from his addiction and regain his old life.
More than an Iron Man story, it is a Tony Stark story since the philanthropist does not use his suit even once in the entire comic, which largely marks the approach that O’Neil wanted to give to the comic, a very sad one and at the same time one of those that leads us to reflect on many things in life in general.
It is only one issue, but it is one of the most powerful moments, not only in Iron Man comics, but in the whole medium as a whole, so this is one of those stories that you need to read if you want to understand what Tony’s demons were and how they affected him.
1. Demon in a Bottle (Iron Man series Vol. 1 from issue #120 to issue #128).
Once again, David Micheline and Bob Layton made a masterpiece set in Tony Stark’s beginnings as Iron Man, when the superhero was believed to be Stark’s bodyguard and not his alter ego. SHIELD was trying to take control of Stark Industries, the appearance of Justin Hammer, a millionaire who has been in charge of discrediting Iron Man and as if that were not enough, Tony is falling more and more into his alcohol addiction problems. All of this happens in parallel in Demon in a Bottle.
At the end of the 70s, the character was in a bad moment that seemed to end with the disappearance of Iron Man title, until the Micheline – Layton duo appeared with John Romita Jr delivering the art, and they revived the character almost from the ashes with this story that would begin what would be one of the problems that Tony Stark has faced in recent decades.
This comic served as several steps forward in the evolution of the character where, in addition to his problems with alcohol, a female character who was immune to Tony’s charms was introduced as well as James Rhodes who would later establish himself as War Machine and even as Iron Man. The reality is that it is a masterpiece that offers much more than what we have been able to summarize in these paragraphs and that any fan of comics should enjoy.
Another interesting aspect is that it manages to have an overarching plot when it comes to the alcohol problem. It is not something that you see being tackled head on from the get-go, but it is something that becomes a lot more notorious as time goes by because we see Tony falling deeper and deeper into despair, sadness and frustration. It also doesn’t have a one-size-fits-all solution, much like alcoholism in real life–Tony knows that there is a long fight ahead and that he has to give his 100% percent in order to become the best possible version of himself.
Also, a nice shout to the art made by John Romita Jr., who was just starting out in comics at the time and he was already delivering the goods. Despite the fact that he hadn’t developed the iconic art style he was going to become known for, he still did a phenomenal job here and deserves a lot of plaudits in that particular regard.
One of the highest points in the Iron Man comics and definitely one of the finest comic books that Marvel has ever produced, kick starting a very good era for the character of Tony Stark. A classic of the comic book medium.
Did you enjoy our list of the best Iron man comics that you MUST read?? Really hope so.
As we always say… keep reading good comics!!