By Teague Bohlen
In the Iron Man movie, there are three (sort of) armors made by Tony Stark: the Mark I, the crude prototype he makes under duress; the Mark II, which is a streamlined silver suit with a few bugs to work out; and the Mark III, which solves some of those bugs and puts Tony in the familiar red and gold. But comic fans know that in terms of armor, three is most definitely not the magic number.
Of course, those same fans–even fabled Marvel zombies–would be hard-pressed to come up with a full list of the Iron Man armors that Tony Stark has put together. Like software, there seem to be both edition and version changes to the various suits, which makes understanding the armor family tree sort of difficult. And in any family tree, there are bound to be some rotten apples. Here, then, the 10 silliest suits Tony Stark made.
10) Original Grey
Okay, so it’s not exactly fair to judge a suit of armor that was originally built in a Vietnamese prisoner of war camp, under threat of death, by a near-dead inventor. But still, this suit had virtually nothing going for it except that it stopped bullets. In the movie, at least it was some offensive capability, but the original was just a strong, hulking, slow pile of scrap welded together. It did have the chest-beam, but it was pretty weak at first. And it had a hacksaw hidden in one finger, which sort of turned it into a giant swiss army knife. Knowing Tony, it had a corkscrew and bottle opener in there somewhere, too.
9) Golden Armor
Building on the “success” of the Mark I, the Mark II was the first suit crafted out of captivity, and with the Stark fortune at full disposal. And mainly, what all that money accomplished was…to paint it gold. That’s more a solution you’d expect to see in a Richie Rich comic, isn’t it? This new color scheme was ostensibly done to make it less threatening to the public, as though the skull-mask wasn’t the main problem there. Yeah, there were some other improvements, too. Better collapsibility (it could fit in a briefcase, remember?), all that. Stuff to make storytelling a little easier. But it still looked like a big walking pile of Vietnamese junk.
Setting aside the idea that this armor sounds like something that Tony Stark would rather his girlfriends wear for kinky Iron-sex, this armor isn’t so much on this list for its own merits, but rather because it’s a complete artistic cop-out. Flexi-armor that’s stronger and more durable than the previous hard-shell, but contours to the body in liquid-fashion? Here’s the way I see the conversation between writer Stan Lee and penciller Gene Colan:
Gene: Stan, I can’t draw Iron Man crouching. He’s a robot with human eyes. There are physical limitations to the suit.
Stan: So take some liberties, Gene “the Dean”! The kids won’t mind!
Gene: Really, boss, can we save the nicknames for the title pages?
Stan: Cool your boot-jets, true believer! I’ll just make the armor flexible, but somehow even stronger than before! The kids will eat it up!
Gene: Flexi-armor? That doesn’t make sense.
7) Prometheum Armor
Sometimes, visual appeal trumps realism. This is just the way it works in comics. This Jim Lee-created armor was popular with fans, but it’s pretty much the height of form over function. It’s got tailpipes up the back (there’s a pseudo-scientific explanation for that, I’m sure, but I’m past caring), and most of the joints of the armor reveal snaking clusters of metal tubes and wires that power the suit. Again, sort of techno-cool, but it makes the suit pretty vulnerable at the same time, doesn’t it? I mean, even a moron like Paste Pot Pete could tug out one of those armpit-coils, or stick a banana in one of those tailpipes, and all of a sudden, Iron Man is toast and Pete’s a badass.
6) Hulkbuster Armor
Not specifically an armor unto itself, but rather an exoskeleton for the Modular Armor of this era, this special suit was nonetheless created to take on the Hulk and try to match his strength blow-for-blow. In this, it seemed to work, as Stark was able to fight Hulk to a standstill. He’s been reticent to do so again, however, because of its massive power requirements, and the fact that “chicks don’t dig guys with no neck.” (Also, Juggernaut threatened to sue for copyright infringement.)
5) Thorbuster (Asgardian) Armor
I have two words that perfectly explain how stupid this armor is, created as it was to battle Thor in the same old way Tony once sought to battle the rampaging Hulk: enchanted repulsors. Wow. That’s some divine suckage, right there.
4) Remote Control (Encephalo) Armor
An “armor” created for use when Tony was out of commission, this suit begged the question as to why Tony wouldn’t just move to this model permanently. Sure, it might not be as much fun, but it’s sure a heck of a lot less dangerous. Instead of being at risk for eventual (and probably painful) death, crushed inside a crippled machine, Stark could send out remotes to do the work. If one goes down in a fight, Tony would just shrug briefly mourn the fact that he’ll now have to shell out $2 billion more for another suit, and call Pepper for his morning rubdown. Yeah, that sounds awful.
3) Extremis Armor
It’s questionable as to whether or not this counts as an “armor” at all, since it’s not really a suit in the traditional sense. Instead, it’s an internalized system that’s resident within Stark himself. Aside from being a lot less interesting and way too overpowered, the suit also boasts “vectored repulsor fields to tessellate its ‘memory metal’ designs,” which I’m pretty sure is just Star Trek style techno-babble like “warp drive profusion nacelle” or “tertiary impulse integrity matrix”. And speaking of Trek, “Extremis” also makes Tony Stark essentially a cyborg, which means that he’s one step closer to a potential future in which he runs around in a giant square spaceship and talks a lot about assimilation. Which, I’m guessing, is secretly what Stark’s “Avenger Initiative” is really all about.
2) Stealth Armor
This armor looked cool, but was actually one of the weakest armors made. And I’m including the one Stark made in a cave with a paperclip and a wad of chewed tobaccy. Made to be virtually invisible (at least to radar), it was painted black so as to give visual cover at night, and to attract the attention of coed Goth girls. But here’s what makes it so lame: it had no weapons. There just wasn’t room, according to Tony. Well dammit Tony, make room. A walking arsenal without offensive capability? What is that? What will you do when you sneak up on those East German soldiers? Say “boo” and run away? This suit was
also so power-hungry that it couldn’t fly very far on a charge–so Tony fit these two huge 6′ by 9′ booster rockets to the back of the Mark II version of this armor. Way to be subtle there, Mr. Stark. Very stealthy.
1) Iron Boy Armor
This armor was made by Tony Stark when he was reverted back to a teen-age state (don’t ask). He took electronics from around the Avengers Mansion (a blender, a toaster, a lamp…no joke) and cobbled together this armor, MacGyver-style. Somehow. (Again, better not to think too hard.) This armor was stupid for so many reasons that it’s tough to really explain, but probably the biggest reason has to do with the storyline (if you can call it that) in which Tony Stark was written at the time. Teen Tony was created in response to another crappy storyline called “The Crossing” and ended with yet another crappy storyline called “Onslaught”, at which point the Marvel universe admitted that it sucked, only slightly imploded, and reset everything back to (sort of) the way it had been. Even the House of Ideas has to do some spring cleaning now and again.