A Modern History of Iron Man

We tell you everything you need to know to prepare for Iron Man's Heroic Age.

Whether or not you're a comic fan, you're likely well aware that Iron Man 2 is due to hit theaters in a couple weeks. Marvel is taking full advantage of the Iron Man hype by introducing a ton of new Iron Man books and trades on the market.

Perhaps the single biggest Iron Man comic release this spring is Invincible Iron Man #25. Hitting stores next Wednesday, this issue is the start of a major new era in Tony Stark's career. It also happens to be a particularly nice jumping-on point for new readers.

While new readers and fans of the movie shouldn't have too much trouble venturing into the series with issue #25, there are probably many readers who want to know what's been happening in the Iron man books lately. We're here to help. In this feature, we trace the modern history of Iron Man beginning with the popular Extremis storyline and leading directly up to Invincible Iron Man #25. We also point out what trades to snag if you want to see what happens for yourself.

As seen in: Iron Man: Extremis HC

Most readers look to Warren Ellis' "Extremis" as the definitive beginning of Iron Man
's modern comics career. The overarching theme of the story involved Tony Stark struggling to reinvent Iron Man for the 21st Century. And with an extended look back at Iron Man's origins, there is no better single story for new readers coming into the comics.

As the story opened, Stark had recently vacated his position as Secretary of State after a public embarrassment. With the Avengers disbanded, Iron Man would have to go it alone. But when a new breed of super-soldier emerged that proved to be too powerful even for Iron Man, Stark realized he would have take desperate measures to keep pace with the times.

The super-soldier in question was a test subject enhanced by a nanotech delivery system known as Extremis. Like a technological version of Captain America's super-soldier serum, Extremis enhances the body in random and unexpected ways, providing it doesn't kill the subject first. At great personal risk, Stark injected himself with Extremis and began a painful process of forced evolution.

After waking from the process, Stark found that his mind could now directly interface with machines and computer networks. His body now directly carried the gold undersheath of his armor by storing it in the hollows of his bones. He quickly designed a new Iron Man armor that took advantage of these new abilities. The so-called Extremis Armor was lighter, stronger, and faster than anything before it.

The all-new Iron Man made short work of the rogue Extremis patient. In doing so, Iron Man immediately reestablished himself as one of the most powerful and capable heroes on the planet. These new abilities would soon be put to a much greater test.

As seen in: Civil War HC/TPB, Civil War: Front Line Vols. 1 & 2 TPB, Civil War: Iron Man TPB.

Ever the futurist, Stark knew the day would come when someone in the superhero community made a mistake that cost innocent lives. That day came when the city Stamford, NY was ripped apart by a battle between the new Warriors and the supervillain Nitro. Hundreds of civilians died, including a school full of children. Suddenly, millions of Americans were crying out for justice. They wanted superheroes to register their identities with the government, submit to training, and be held accountable for their actions.

The creation of a Superhuman Registration Act divided the heroes down the middle. Stark, who knew better than most the damage an uncontrolled superhero could cause, came out in firm support of the SHRA. Leading the underground resistance was Stark's former ally Captain America. The opposition between the two factions quickly turned bloody thanks to the death of former Avenger Goliath.

Stark and his allies developed 100 new plans for saving the world. The 42nd plan became Prison 42, a maximum security facility located in the Negative Zone where superhuman fugitives could be held captive. The final battle between pro and anti-Registration forces took place when Captain America tried to liberate his friends from Prison 42. Ultimately, Cap realized the damage his crusade had caused and willingly turned himself in. With that act, the resistance scattered and Iron Man's forces were victorious.

In the aftermath of this superhuman civil war, Stark was named the new Director of SHIELD. He helped spearhead the 50-State Initiative, a program that aimed to supply every state with a team of trained heroes.

The most unfortunate casualty of the war was Captain America himself. Cap was assassinated on his way to trial, robbing the country of one of its most beloved figures. A distraught Tony paid his final respects to his friend. Feeling the grief and hardship of the previous few weeks, Stark admitted that the sacrifices simply weren't worth the cost. But he had no choice but to move forward.

As seen in: Mighty Avengers Vol. 1 HC, Iron Man: Director of SHIELD TPB.

Stark quickly fell into his role as protector of the free world. He outfitted SHIELD with numerous Stark tech enhancements. He continued his task of bringing legitimacy to the 50-State Initiative, even as men like Norman Osborn began abusing the new world order for their own personal gain.

Iron Man knew the world still needed the Avengers, particularly to combat Luke Cage's underground group of heroes. Iron Man assembled a new roster of Avengers that included Ms. Marvel, god of war Ares, and the unstable but immensely powerful Sentry. Their first battle came against a resurgent Ultron, who commandeered Stark's body and nearly succeeded in driving Sentry over the edge.

Still, despite numerous hardships, the 50-State Initiative grew in popularity. Average Americans were simply happy to have heroes they could trust and rely on. Uprisings by heroes like the underground Avengers and individuals like Punisher and Moon Knight only succeeded in further legitimizing Stark's position. Unfortunately, the Initiative's first great challenge was fast approaching.

As seen in: World War Hulk HC/TPB.

Prior to Civil War, Iron Man and his allies made a fateful decision. Knowing that Hulk would forever pose a danger to the human race as long as he roamed the planet, they chose to send him away. The six members of the Illuminati – Iron Man, Mr. Fantastic, Doctor Strange, Professor Xavier, Namor, and Black Bolt – tricked Hulk into boarding a spaceship and sent him rocketing away towards what was meant to be a peaceful, uninhabited planet. Instead, Hulk crashed on the chaotic world of Sakaar. He fought as a gladiator, became ruler of the planet, and formed a family.

Hulk's happy new existence came crashing down around him when his ship was sabotaged, killing his wife and, seemingly, his unborn child. Filled with a greater rage than ever before, Hulk swore vengeance on the six heroes who wronged him. And as anyone who has ever fought Hulk knows, the madder he is, the stronger he becomes.

Hulk and his Warbound returned to Earth and declared war on its heroes. It was the first serious test of Iron Man's 50-State Initiative, and it failed miserably. All of Iron Man's attempts to calm or de-power Hulk failed. He was defeated in open combat and imprisoned along with the rest of the Illuminati. One by one, the rest of Earth's defenders also fell before the might of Hulk and his new allies.

The planet was only saved from Hulk's eternal wrath when The Sentry was finally coaxed out of hiding to topple his old friend. After a pummeling from the Golden Guardian of Good and a blast from an orbital laser, Hulk was finally defeated. But after billions of dollars of damage and countless injuries suffered, faith in the Initiative was waning.

As seen in: Iron Man Vol. 5: Haunted TPB, Invincible Iron Man Vol. 1: The Five Nightmares TPB.

Life didn't become any easier for Iron man after the Hulk problem concluded. New and old enemies alike were emerging to take advantage of his overextended time and resources. The Mandarin, despite losing his hands and languishing for years in a prison cell, regained his ten rings and resurfaced with a deadly new scheme. In his guise as Tem Borjigin, Mandarin formed the Prometheus Corporation. His goal was to convert the Extremis process into an airborne virus that would infect the entire population of Earth.

Stark came to learn that Extremis was inherently lethal to over 97% of humans. He was lucky enough to have survived his exposure, but billions around the world would be less fortunate. In a climactic battle with his old foe, and with his own Extremis powers temporarily deactivated, Stark managed to prevent Mandarin from instituting his forced worldwide evolution.

Next up was an entirely unexpected foe. Years before, Stark had his empire, his fortunate, and his armor taken away by rival industrialist Obadiah Stane. He reclaimed it all, causing Stane to kill himself in retaliation. Now, Stane's son Ezekiel surfaced to take revenge.

Stane proved to be the sort of opponent Stark most feared. He was smarter, younger, and not bound by any morality. He reverse-engineered the Iron Man design and used it to outfit a new generation of super-powered suicide bombers. Stane morphed his own body into a living Iron Man that outclassed even the Extremis Armor. Stark was able to prevent Stane from unleashing his army of suicide bombers Stark International, but only by detonating an EMP bomb that crippled the company.

Ultimately, Stark knew that what he feared most from men like Stane was the desperate measures he would need to resort to to stop them.

As seen in: Secret Invasion TPB.

The final death knell for both Stark Enterprises and the 50-State Initiative came shortly thereafter. Stark became aware of a vast conspiracy by the Skrull Empire to infiltrate Earth's heroes from within. The Skrulls, having lost their power base to Galactus and the Annihilation Wave, saw Earth as a new home promised in their religious scriptures. For the Skrulls, the fight for Earth was a holy war they intended to win.

Iron Man was left in a precarious position. He knew that Skrulls had infiltrated the ranks of the Avengers and the Initiative. What he didn't know was if he could trust even his closest friends and allies. His paranoia grew, and when the attack finally began, he was woefully under-prepared to defend the planet.

As Stark feared, The Initiative had been infiltrated to its highest levels. The Skrulls quickly crippled Earth's superhero teams from within. They unleashed a virus that destroyed every last scrap of Stark Tech on the planet. All of Stark Enterprises, all of S.H.I.E.L.D., even the Iron Man armor itself were taken down in an instant.

The Skrulls revealed themselves to Earth's leaders and promised their new rule would be benevolent. Luckily, the Avengers were able to muster a large fighting force. A final battle between both sides took place in Central Park. Humanity emerged victorious. However, it wasn't Iron Man or the Avengers that performed the killing stroke. Norman Osborn killed the Skrull Queen on national television. Iron Man, meanwhile, had been caught on film fleeing the scene of battle in order to replace his faulty Extremis Armor.

Iron Man and SHIELD were publicly disgraced. America had its new savior in Osborn. It needed a scapegoat to place blame upon. Iron Man and SHIELD bore the full brunt of a nation's anger.

As seen in: Invincible Iron Man: World's Most Wanted Books 1 & 2.

Shortly after the conclusion of the Skrull invasion, Stark was stripped of his titles as director of S.H.I.E.L.D. and leader of the Initiative. Osborn replaced him and changed the peaceable S.H.I.E.L.D. into the proactive H.A.M.M.E.R. Faced with public disgrace and a corporation in shambles, Stark did his best to turn his responsibilities over to Osborn.

Stark's worst fears were quickly confirmed. Osborn made clear his plans to abuse his authority and use the Initiative's superhuman registry to target old foes like Spider-Man. Knowing no hero would be safe if Osborn had access to this information, Stark unleashed a powerful computer virus on H.A.M.M.E.R.'s data banks. The only remaining source of the information Osborn craved was in Stark's own brain. Now a fugitive from the law, Stark went on the run to delete that information permanently.

With Pepper Potts and Maria Hill assisting him, Stark traveled to his hidden armories. At each location he further chipped away at his impressive mind and destroyed his old armors. Hour by hour, Stark's intellect diminished and he grew more helpless. Pepper and Maria could only watch as the Tony Stark they knew and loved degenerated before their eyes.

With the database destroyed and his mind in shambles, Stark finally confronted Osborn. Whereas Osborn had co-opted the Extremis Armor and built the powerful Iron Patriot suit, Stark was confined to his very first prototype suit. The two clashed in battle and Osborn beat his opponent nearly to death. But realizing Stark would never reveal what he wanted, and knowing his actions were being broadcast on live TV, Osborn was forced to abandon the fight.

In a way, Stark had won. The registry database had been saved. But the cost was terrible indeed. Stark lay in a coma that his friends feared he would never wake from.

As seen in: Invincible Iron Man: Stark Disassembled, Siege.

As it turns out, Tony Stark plans for every eventuality. Before beginning his final mission, Stark had recorded a video instructing his friends how to bring him back from the brink of death. To restore his body, he needed Pepper's personal arc reactor and the power of Thor. To restore his mind, he needed a special hard drive Maria had retrieved from a laboratory in Texas.

The process didn't go as smoothly as Tony's video self-predicted. His friends were forced to call in Doctor Strange to perform a last-ditch psychic surgery. Strange found Tony's fragmented consciousness to be a strange blend of symbolism and torment. Strange succeeded where the others failed and brought Stark's mind and body back from the brink.

Stark revealed that Maria's hard drive contained a backup of all his memories. Unfortunately, the backup had been performed just prior to his exposure to Extremis. Everything that had happened to Stark in recent years – the Civil War, the Initiative, the Skrull invasion – are now strange and unfamiliar to him. How will Stark react to some of the misdeeds he committed during that time?

For now, there isn't time for Stark to sit and reflect. No sooner did he begin recovering than did Osborn unleash war against Asgard. The moment the Avengers have been waiting for has arrived. Osborn has shown his true colors to the world. The time has come for the true heroes to rise again. In the aftermath of Siege, a new Heroic Age begins. Stark will be faced with the tattered remains of a once proud empire and a public that may still not fully trust him. But if Stark has learned one thing in his long career, it's that a hero can always build himself back up again stronger than before.

First things first – it's time for a new Iron Man suit...

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