Created by Stan Lee and introduced in Tales of Suspense #39 (1963), Iron Man was originally created as a Cold War hero determined to protect Americans and defend the world from Communism. He was to explore America’s role in technology and business in the fight against communism. In early 60’s stories of Iron Man he fought villains like the Mandarin, Red Barbarian, and the Crimson Dynamo. All Cold War political battles, as he was the next war hero after Captain America’s exploits in World War II.
Beneath all his ramblings of politics and witticisms Iron Man captured America in its image of an arrogant and aggressive giant. We were a country that remained deeply suspicious of foreigners and domestic trouble. From his existence Iron Man stories are bedded with Cold War overtones. It’s no coincidence that Iron Man was introduced by Lee in the communist filled jungles of Vietnam in very early story arcs. A different take than what was in the newspapers and TV. He offered the ultimate superhero at the perfect time. These stories would eventually stop when the Vietnam War was being protested but what a way to be introduced.
Early battles with Wong-Chu, pro-typical Asian stereotype, were never really concerned about comic writing per se, just to put the point across that we aren’t afraid of our communist enemy and to let them know we were superior in every way (army, technology, etc.) The connection between historical moments and entertainment provides us with the understanding behind these stories. You can see the influences of Churchill and Truman in most Tales of Suspense stories at this time.
Iron Man’s stories painted the Soviets as all spies and ignorant bad people. This was Lee’s way to put real life communism into his books. This was a hot button issue at the time. Many Tales of Suspense were essentially telling Americans how the Soviets could defeat us, like The Crimson Dynamo winning the arms race. Instead of all out battle Dynamo basically held a Cuban missile crisis against America. Cleverly done indeed!!
Iron Man repeatedly saved America from communism in the 1960’s. The Iron Warrior who stood up to the Iron Curtain. This America, captured in these Tales of Suspense pages, showed an America that was disturbed and tried to hide its problems behind an arrogance and austerity like none other.
As much as he was a Cold War champion and built on this premise Iron Man evolved into something entirely different. Anthony Edward Stark became head of Stark industries at 15 years old. An original founding member of the Avengers, his stories started to take on the morality of supplying the US government with weapons from Stark industries. Arrogant and unethical, Tony begins to build his Iron Man suit from his own technology realizing that he can use his fortune and name for good.
He switches his focus to S.H.I.E.L.D. (Strategic Hazard Intervention Espionage Logistics Directorate) and building weapons for a better cause. While there are many story arcs of Tony fighting along side Earth’s mightiest heroes, I want to focus on one particular arc that doesn’t get many mentions.
“Demon In A Bottle” is a 9 issue story arc published in 1979 about Tony Stark’s alcoholism. Brought up by execs for the movies but never put to screen for fear it may turn viewers away, it’s the most important arc ever for Iron Man in my opinion. Instead of a bad guy, Tony’s fighting something so much tougher, the bottle. This is not something you can have a one on one battle with. It takes so much out of you mentally and physically. This is a man who is the head of a wealthy company, The Avengers, (who ask him to temporarily step down as a member) a hero in the world. All the pressure on him through this arc he drinks his troubles away. Choosing not to confront anything head on, it’s his way to escape all the stress. This is Tony Stark at his worst, the quintessential Iron Man story. While I don’t want to ruin the story arc for those who want to read it, the ending is gut wrenching!!
Iron Man is a enigma wrapped in a riddle for sure. I wanted people to understand why he was invented and the purpose of his creation. He has come a long way from the Cold War days to silver screen darling.