Iron Man 3 opened in theaters Friday, so it's a good time to put the spotlight on Marvel's wildly popular, high-tech hero, Tony Stark. After making his debut in the March 1963 issue of Tales of Suspense, Iron Man has risen from relative obscurity to mainstream celebrity—particularly over the last few years, thanks to the success of Marvel's live-action movie universe.
Just in case you weren't an early adopter of all things Iron Man, here are 11 things you should know about Tony Stark and his armored alter ego.
1. While Stan Lee initially came up with the idea for a “quintessential capitalist” hero and many of the character's traits, he didn't write the story in Tales of Suspense #39 that introduced Iron Man to the world. A looming deadline forced him to hand over the scripting duties for that issue to Larry Lieber, and it was Lieber, cover artist Jack Kirby, and interior artist Don Heck who shared the bulk of creative duties for the issue. Kirby is credited with the design of Iron Man's first armor, while Heck is credited with the look of Tony Stark, Pepper Potts, and the other characters introduced inside the issue.
2. Lee modeled Stark on famed businessman Howard Hughes, with all of the real-world industrialist's playboy habits, but without the mental instability that characterized Hughes' later life.
3. Turning Stark into a popular hero began as a personal challenge for Lee, who saw the character as a direct contradiction of everything Marvel's readers usually looked for in superheroes. A wealthy businessman who made weapons for the military, the character was introduced at a time when the Cold War was at its peak and the publisher's readers were tired of war and the ills associated with capitalism.
4. Stark was one of the first Marvel superheroes to develop a relatively large following among female readers. According to Lee, an overwhelming majority of the fan mail Marvel received from female readers for many years was directed at Tony Stark.
5. While the attack and subsequent kidnapping that prompted Stark to create the Iron Man armor originally occurred during the Vietnam War, the incident has been retroactively shifted forward in time to the Gulf War, then again more recently to the war in Afghanistan.
6. According to his fictional biography, Stark was admitted to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology at age 15, and graduated only two years later with Master's degrees in physics and engineering.
7. The injury that initially forced him to create the chestplate of the Iron Man armor (in order to prevent a piece of shrapnel from entering his heart) has been repaired multiple times throughout Stark's life in the comics, only to have a similar injury—or something more debilitating—afflict him later, forcing a return to the life-sustaining origins of his armor. At one point, the majority of Stark's autonomous functions (breathing, heartbeat, etc) were controlled by the arc reactor embedded in his chest due to the extensive injuries he received over the years.
8. Stark initially changed the color of his armor from metallic gray to gold (and later to red and gold) on the advice of a former girlfriend, who said the color would make him less frightening to the people he's trying to help.
9. During the modern era of Iron Man adventures, Stark was appointed Secretary of Defense by the U.S. President, and spent more than a year in that role before resigning. He initially agreed to take the position in order to monitor how Stark Technology was being used by the nation's military.
10. Stark was ranked the fifth wealthiest fictional character of all time by Forbes in the most recent edition of the publication's annual “Fictional 15” list.
11. Iron Man was one of the five founding members of The Avengers in the Marvel Comics universe, teaming up with Hulk, Ant-Man, Thor, and Wasp to defeat Loki in The Avengers #1. (Captain America didn't join the team until several issues later, but was given “founding member” status.) The team's first headquarters was a New York City mansion given to them by Stark, and the team was funded through the Maria Stark Foundation, a nonprofit charity named after Stark's mother.