Some weapons become more iconic than the fictional characters that use them. Others are a vital aspect of a character’s personality. In this column, we take a look at some of the greatest fictional weapons of all time.
There may be no hero more closely associated with his weapon than Iron Man. After all, while Tony Stark may be a billionaire, playboy, philanthropist under all that steel, that won’t help him defeat The Mandarin or the countless foes that have developed their own dangerous tech.
The nature of Iron Man is that he is constantly upgrading and modifying his armor. What started out as a means to support his damaged heart and escape his captors quickly became a way to battle evil across the continents, under the ocean, and even into the far reaches of outer space. In both the movies and the comics, Stark has a consistently rotating wardrobe. And while they haven’t all been winners, so many have left a long-lasting impression on viewers and readers.
So here are some of Iron Man’s greatest armors. You may have your own favorite, but you can’t deny that these getups from page and screen are classics.
Best Feature: Pointy Mask!
This is the first real iteration of Iron Man as we know him today. Gone is the clunky, monotone armor of his first appearance. In its place is a sleek, form-fitting, red and gold armor that is far more heroic and visually dynamic. Personally, I’m a bigger fan of this one that the official classic armor. But that’s just because I’m a sucker for the points on the mask. They make no sense, but they look cool!
Starting with this armor, Stark began to be more of a super hero, nimbly battling enemies and flying through the sky. Faster flight speeds from boot thrusters, repulsor rays, the chest-mounted unibeam, and powerful electromagnets were all introduced at this stage. Much of the suit was control by wrist-mounted switches, as well as controls on the inside of the faceplate, which were activated by Tony’s tongue! Thankfully, these were eventually replaced by cybernetic controls.
Best Feature: Sleek Design
This is the official Iron Man that we all know and love. Combine its sleek look with its use in the first issue of The Invincible Iron Man and it quickly made a major impact on the consciousness of readers everywhere. Keeping the red and gold color scheme but making changes to faceplate, shoulders, chest, and boots, this became the look by which all subsequent armors were defined. And because of the 3-D knitting and force field structure, the armor took on a skin-tight, super hero muscle look. Impractical. Unrealistic. Classic.
There were also dozens of upgrades made by The Armored Avenger at this stage. While these were all relatively minor, they also helped to show Tony’s constant focus on advancement. Additions included a tractor beam, gyro-stabilizers for better flying, a hologram emitter for confusing enemies, and a sonic emitter to mask Tony’s voice. This is the Swiss Army Knife of Tony’s armors, a time before he specialized dozens for countless unique situations and the most important of all suits.
Best Feature: Pointy Shoulders!
When Tony hit rock bottom due to a hostile takeover by Obadiah Stane (played by Jeff Bridges in Iron Man), he came back in a big bad way with this beauty of a suit. First of all, it’s a striking change in appearance. The silver replacing gold, the pointy shoulders, and the heavily-helmeted head make it visually striking and a person favorite for many readers. And because of its stronger design, built-in force field, and solar power batteries, the Silver Centurion was a major leap in power.
This thing could fly up to 750 miles per hour through the sky or 180 miles per hour underwater. The chest-mounted Unibeam was stronger than ever and able of emitting many different types of energy, wrist-mounted repulsors were stronger than ever, and the suit’s ability to blend in with surroundings all made this a hugely powerful weapon. Time and changing stories eventually left this suit behind, but it has never been forgotten, even making a brief appearance in Iron Man 3’s climactic battle sequence.
Best Feature: Flying Assembly
Some people were mad that the Mark XLII armor in Iron Man 3 seemed to be so much weaker than the previous armors on display in all of the previous movies. But that’s the point! The Mark XLII isn’t 42 times better than the suit Tony built in a cave, it’s the product of his PTSD-sparked armor building obsession. It’s a step forward with its modular design, but it may actually be weaker than the rest. But because of the timing of the helicopter attack on Tony’s mansion (so awesome!), he’s stuck with it while on the run.
Because of its piecemeal makeup and decreased durability, the Mark XLII makes for some awesome action scenes in Iron Man 3. Tony’s escape from The Mandarin’s stronghold in particular highlights the narrative strengths of this suit. With most of the pieces still on the way, Tony blasts his way out using only one gauntlet, one boot, and a gun. It’s really cool, and it gives the suit some extra personality as well.
Best Feature: That Awesome Introduction
While each armor introduction in the first Iron Man film is a fantastic reveal, the reveal of the Mark V in Iron Man 2 may have the best introduction. Also known as The Suitcase Armor, this is Tony’s emergency backup. When he’s attacked by Ivan Vanko during the Monoco Grand Prix, he’s basically defensely (besides his dashing good looks, naturally) since he doesn’t have something as advanced as the Mark XLII.
Luckily, Happy, Tony’s bodyguard, is on hand with a special briefcase. In actuality, it’s a suit of armor. Grabbing onto the handles and activating it, the suit expands around him in moments, giving him the chance to take out his rival. It isn’t nearly as powerful as his other armors and it may not even fly, but it really is one of the best pieces of tech in these films.
Best Feature: Insanely Over-Weaponization
The War Machine armor is most closely associated with Tony’s buddy James Rhodes, but it was first made and worn by the Armored Avenger himself and known as the Variable Threat Response Battle Suit. Designed by Tony as a last ditch effort when his other armors failed, this was eventually given to Rhodey after he briefly served as Iron Man. While the Iron Man armor is always ready for a fight, it looks like peanuts compared to this thing. While the design has changed over the years, the War Machine armor has always been decked out in heavy weaponry meant for serious battle. Shoulder-mounted gattling guns, a giant missile launcher, double barrel cannons, and even more make this a formidable piece of weaponry.
It’s striking black and white design has remained a constant, even as Rhodey changed its specs. No wonder fans were anxious for this armor by the time the first Iron Man ended, it’s an important part of the mythology and is synonomous with James Rhodes. While it wasn’t on screen long during Iron Man 2 and was upgraded to Iron Patriot in Iron Man 3, I’m sure War Machine will have a consistent presence in future enstallments of the Armored Avenger’s on-screen adventures.
Best Feature: The Ability to Take on The Hulk
For all of Iron Man’s upgrades and powers, The Hulk could rip him to shreds within seconds if they ever went head on. Being the genius that he is, Tony made a specific armor just for battling Hulk. This is actually an add-on to Iron Man’s modular armor, bulking him up, giving him extra protection, and increasing his strength by leaps and bounds. With this exoskeleton, Stark could lift 175 tons and was able to hold his own against an intelligent Hulk.
Stark later debuted a Mark II Hulk Buster armor in an effort to stop an enraged and extremely powerful Hulk who had returned to Earth from outer space exile to seek revenge on the men who had betrayed him during World War Hulk. This heavy duty exoskeleton was meant to control hulk and inject him with power-suppressing nanites. It failed. Tony had the stuffing beat out of him and Hulk collapsed Stark Tower on top for good measure. Better luck next time!
Best Feature: Human Physiology Integration
The Iron Man armor that came to define this Avenger for many years in the modern era of comics, Extremis saw Tony finally taking the next step in his technology. The Extremis virus modifies a person’s body to reach limits even greater than what Tony’s armor could do, but most do not survive the process. Confronted with such a foe and injured to the point of near death, Tony had no choice but to infect himself as well.
The result was a new level of strength and rapid healing, as well as an armor undercoat carried inside the hollows of his bones. The new abilities allow him to call his armor to him within seconds and interface with his suit to a far greater degree than ever before. Mind and armor became one, and Tony reached new heights of power.
First Appearance: Iron Man (Vol. 5) #25Best Feature: Liquid Formula
When the Extremis virus was purged from Tony’s system, he couldn’t just go back to the armors of old, he had to keep moving forward! And he did so by creating the Bleeding Edge armor, a liquid metal suits stored in the marrow of his bones that could be excreted and hardened around him at a moment’s notice. Rather than be made of whirring gears and servos, this one is entirely made of nanites, making it extremely light yet also durable.
The many nodes on the armor and its complete interface with his body gave him 360 degree vision and the ability to morph whatever part of the armor he wanted with a simple thought. While it typically looks like a standard suit, it can create giant guns, energies swords, and even boxing glove-like fists through mental command. Insanely powerful? Yes. Too far out there? Probably. Really cool? Definitely.
Those are just a few of the many armors Stark has had over the years. Add up both comics and film and there are more than 100 that have been used at some point in the character’s 50-year history. Have a favorite?