Summer is almost here, and that means one thing: roll out the superhero blockbusters. Last year, the buzz surrounded the mega-successful Avengers film and the finale to Christopher Nolan's Dark Knight trilogy, and this weekend kicks off with its own Avengers tie-in, Iron Man 3. Once again, Robert Downey Jr. dons the suit of space-age armor as Tony Stark, the billionaire alter ego of Iron Man, and this time he battles the Mandarin (Ben Kingsley) with the aid of War Machine (Don Cheadle) and the World's Most Beautiful Woman (Gwyneth Paltrow, as recently crowned by People magazine). Outside cinemas, Iron Man has a vast career in comics, and the below five stories mark significant moments in his life as a crime-fighter:
- Iron Man: Extremis by Warren Ellis and Adi Garnov: This redefinition of Iron Man influenced the films, from the look of the suit to Stark's origin. Ellis is a writer skilled with bringing even the most outlandish superheroes to Earth, and Extremis sheds a more human light on the character of Tony Stark as he battles a nanotech virus. This is a great start for new readers.
- Iron Man: Demon in a Bottle by David Michelinie, Bob Layton, John Romita, Jr., and Carmine Infantin As if that creator lineup isn't enough, this is probably Iron Man's most famous storyline. In it, Tony Stark not only battles evil and Nick Fury's ever-increasing involvement with SHIELD, but it's where the very human Stark faces his troubles with alcoholism. Iron Man 2 touched on this storyline, and no matter its compressed storytelling and sign-of-the-times narration and dialogue, it's still the most influential arc in Tony's career.
- Iron Man vs. Doctor Doom: Doomquest by David Michelinie, Bob Layton, John Romita, Jr.: Here, the aforementioned creator team pits Marvel's two most famous armor-clad characters against one another. It's surprising that this idea took even so long to reach publication, and this collection is strangely out of print (although copies are available in the third-party marketplace). Never fear, true believers, for the Doomquest and Demon in a Bottle arcs are both collected in this 900+ page omnibus.
- The Iron Age by Christos Gage, Rob Williams, Lee Weeks, and Ben Oliver: This criminally unsung stand-alone story is a treat not just for Iron Man fans but for fans of the Marvel Universe in general. Tony Stark travels into the past to thwart a present day extinction-level event. While searching for an answer, Tony collides with major storylines from Marvel's past, including The Dark Phoenix Saga and his own Demon in a Bottle days. See also our Omni spotlight on this gem.
- Iron Man Vol. 1: Believe by Keiron Gillen and Greg Land: As part of the Marvel Now! initiative, Iron Man gets a gentle relaunch here, so it's a nice starting point for new readers. Longtime fans will recognize the return of the Extremis virus, and while some of the finer points may feel like a re-tread, Believe sets the stage for the Iron Avenger's career moving forward.
After seeing Iron Man 3 in theaters, a worthy tie-in is Marvel's Iron Man 3: the Art of the Movie, which is housed in a fancy slipcase and a landscape trim format. It includes interviews with the cast, extensive concept sketches, and even a few spoilers, so avoid until you've seen the film this weekend (it publishes later this month). It's a fine behind-the-scenes keepsake for what's sure to be the bar-setting film of the summer.
P.S. Don't forget that this Saturday is Free Comic Book Day! What will you be shopping for tomorow, and what Iron Man stories did we miss?