Alternate Cover: Iron Man – from films to comics

Just seen Iron Man, and interested in finding out more? James explains how to make the leap into reading comics

So, by now, you’ve probably seen Iron Man, and you’ll be aware that it’s undoubtedly one of Marvel’s better superhero films, standing shoulder-to-shoulder with the X-Men and Spider-Man movies and leaving the flawed, if diverting, Fantastic Four, Ghost Rider and Daredevil films in its dust.

There’s a fair chance that you weren’t really familiar with the character before this weekend. A dim awareness of the cartoon aside, Iron Man hasn’t really entered into the public consciousness in the same way Hulk, Spider-Man and Captain America did. That’s certainly set to change now, especially with a sequel days from being made official.

Still, any sequel is a couple of years off. You might be wondering where you can go next with Iron Man. On DVD, there are some dodgy (if nostalgia-inducing) cartoons from the 60s and 90s, as well as a very poor animated film released more recently. There are some horrendous computer games, based on the movie, which you should definitely stay as far away as possible from. And, as you might expect from the focus of this column, there are a bunch of comics featuring the character.

Anyone looking to get into Iron Man will be aware that the comic and movie versions aren’t going to be identical. Sure, the essence of the character is the same, but there are half a century’s worth of stories behind the comics. It’s sometimes hard to just pick them up and start reading. Consider this article a primer, to put you in a position where you can do just that.

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Let’s start with the basics. In the movie, Iron Man is Tony Stark, a billionaire arms-manufacturing playboy with an electromagnetic heart implant that stops him from dying. He built the Iron Man suit to escape imprisonment and uses it to prevent his weapons falling into “the wrong hands.” His personal assistant is Pepper Potts, and his best friend is James Rhodes, a military man in weapons development. Jarvis is his artificial intelligence computer.

In the comics, that was pretty much the original setup, but things have moved on. Stark is a recovering alcoholic, no longer reliant on a heart implant to stay alive. Nano-technology in his body allows him to interface directly with his latest armour. One of the world’s premier superheroes, he is currently the head of covert-ops organisation, SHIELD, a member of the Avengers, and one of the people running The Initiative, a super-human registration program that trains superhumans and outlawed “vigilante” heroes such as Spider-Man and Daredevil. Pepper Potts, Stark’s former PA, is the super-heroine “Hera” and a member of The Initiative, and James Rhodes is War Machine, a training instructor for The Initiative with his own Stark-designed armour. Jarvis is Stark’s (non-computerised) butler, though recently he was replaced with a shape-shifting alien infiltrator as part of the “Secret Invasion” storyline.

Not quite a simple explanation is it? Well, if that wasn’t enough to catch up with, here’s the next hurdle: Which Iron Man comic should you actually buy? (Assuming, of course, you don’t just go straight for one of the collections featured in last week’s column.)

There are several Iron Man comics you might encounter in your local comic shop. Ultimate Iron Man features an alternate “updated” version, a spin-off from parent title “The Ultimates” and should probably be avoided by new readers (and, let’s face it, old readers.)

Marvel Adventures: Iron Man is an all-ages (read: child friendly) version of the character, with a focus on single-issue stories that’s perfect for kids, but will likely leave anyone older than about 12 a little underwhelmed.

The title called simply Iron Man is at issue #28 and shows Stark in his capacity as head of SHIELD. It’s the “main” Iron Man title, though it’s not actually the best choice for starting out, because:

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For once, Marvel’s publishing division has their act together to do something decent that’ll capitalise on the release of a movie. Released this week are Invincible Iron Man #1, a new ongoing series that will feature Stark in more traditionally superhero-based stories, and Iron Man: Viva Las Vegas #1, the first part of a 4-issue limited series written by the director of the Iron Man movie, Jon Favreau. If you’re looking to get started with Iron Man, then either of those is likely to be your best bet – chances are they’ll not rely too heavily on any continuity that’ll confuse new readers, and they should both be available fairly prominently from Wednesday in the US, Thursday the rest of the world and Friday in the UK.

Now, I’m aware this is starting to sound a little more like a press release than an article, so I’ll wrap it up here. Fact is, comics are so great that I’ll take every opportunity to encourage people to pick them up, so consider this my good deed for the month. Normal raving will be resumed next week.

James Hunt will be back next week; in the meantime, read his last column here.