Since the dawn of the Silver Age, legacy characters have been a staple of superhero fiction, and having a new character step into a well loved roll can open up new opportunities for writers and artists to tell different kinds of stories. In this new regular feature, I’ll be looking back at some of the notable and not-so-notable heroes and villains to assume some of the most iconic mantles in the superhero genre.
This week we’re going behind the armor to take a look at the various Iron Men of the Marvel Universe, including some of Tony Stark’s very best friends, some of his very worst enemies, and the family member he never knew he had.
Iron Man (Weasel Wills)
Created by Stan Lee & Jack Kirby (Tales of Suspense #65)
“Weasel” Wills was a small-time crook who nabbed more than he bargained for when he came the first person to make it inside Tony Stark’s private offices in Flushing, NY. While snooping around, he came across a briefcase with Stark’s initials and, after jimmying the lock, discovered it contained the Iron Man armor!
After donning the armor, he walked right out of the office as Iron Man and headed off to learn how use it, eventually mastering the flight and combat modes as if he were Stark himself. While Tony Stark was in the Midwest to get his mind off his secretary Pepper Potts, Weasel Wills went on a crime spree throughout New York as Iron Man and hung out on a literal throne surrounded by sacks of money. You know, the ones with the dollar sign?
In order to combat the new Iron Man menace, Stark returned home to New York and donned the clunky golden Mark II armor, and sent a message that only the new Iron Man would be able to receive, telling him to meet later that night. They brawled throughout Stark’s factory, but Tony’s heart couldn't handle the strain of the heavier armor and it looks like the criminal might be victorious.
That is, until the charge ran out on his armor. Unable to juice it up in time, Tony Stark defeated the fake Iron Man and had him carted away by the police. Somewhere along the way, Wills went mad and began to believe he was the Iron Man, and he therefore no longer knows the truth of Tony Stark’s double life.
Iron Man (Eddie March)
Created by Archie Goodwin & George Tuska (Iron Man #21)
Eddie March was a retired boxer who took over in Tony Stark’s stead when the strain on his heart became too much, but got in over his head during his first mission as Iron Man when he went up against the Crimson Dynamo. Stark was unaware that March had a blood clot on his brain when he allowed him to take over as Iron Man. On learning this, he donned the armor and tried to intervene.
Tony was able to save Eddie from the Crimson Dynamo, and Eddie eventually recovered enough to put on the armor again to help Tony Stark in a fight against Doctor Spectrum of the Squadron Sinister. This time he was overtaken by the malevolent force that resides in Spectrum’s Power Prism, and forced to fight Thor, until Stark again made the save.
In an attempt to save Eddie’s life following injuries he sustained in the battle against Thor, Eddie was inadvertently transformed into The Freak, just as Happy Hogan was before him. After a brawl through the hospital, Stark was able to perform a nerve strike that reverts The Freak back into Eddie March, and Doctor Donald Blake performed surgery to save his life.
March shows up again here and there, notably when he asked Iron Man to find and rescue his brother, who disappeared in Vietnam. Eddie March was last seen in Iron Man #300 as one of the friends and allies called upon to don the Iron Man armor to help defeat the menace of Ultimo.
Iron Man (Harold "Happy" Hogan)
Created by Stan Lee, Robert Bernstein & Don Heck (Tales of Suspense #45)
When Tony Stark was taken ill due to the strain of the damage to his heart, rumors begin to intensify that Stark was in fact the Iron Man, due to the metal plate that was discovered under his shirt. In order to move speculation away from Stark, his right-hand man Happy Hogan donned the armor to protect his employer’s identity.
However, Happy’s identity as Iron Man was discovered by the meddlesome Mandarin, who abduced him right in front of Stark’s eyes. The original Iron Man vowed to save his friend, even at the potential cost of his own life. Tony rushed to Stark Industries to make a brand new armor from scratch that would better support his heart, and took a rocket to China to rescue Happy.
Happy eventually got the girl and married Tony’s secretary Pepper Potts, and occasionally filled in as Iron Man when Tony needed to appear in the same room as his alter-ego. Financial hardships and the loss of their friend Tony following The Avengers’ battle with Onslaught took their toll on Pepper and Happy; they divorced, and Happy spiraled into despair until he was brought back from the brink by a not-dead-anymore Tony Stark.
Happy Hogan unfortunately died during the Superhuman Civil War, not as a casualty of the war itself, but instead saving his employer and friend from an attempted assassination at the hands of the Spymaster. Recently, Tony discovered that the Teen Abomination was Happy’s son, and for a brief time looked after the runaway before promptly forgetting he exists entirely post-Secret Wars.
War Machine (James Rhodes)
Created by David Michelinie & Bob Layton (Iron Man #118)
Tony Stark first met James Rhodes while he was escaping his captors in the original bulky Iron Man armor; “Rhodey” allowed Stark to jump-start his armor using his downed helicopter, and they fought their way to freedom together. Once safe, Stark offered Rhodes a job, and he eventually found himself working at Stark International.
Rhodey took over as Iron Man when Tony Stark was grappling with his alcoholism. Following Stark’s recovery, he had no interest in resuming his life as Iron Man and gave his friend the blessing to continue. As Iron Man, Rhodey joined the West Coast Avengers, but began to experience headaches and blackouts due to the armor being calibrated for Tony Stark, and started to act hostile and reckless.
Tony Stark became Iron Man once again to save his friend from himself, and in the aftermath Rhodey recovered and was hesitant to ever put on the Iron Man armor again, until Tony Stark’s “death” obligated him to do so. On discovering that Tony had deceived him, he cut ties to him and claimed the newly created War Machine armor.
Over the course of his superhero career Rhodey has piloted Sentinels and alien armor, and briefly became a cyborg. He served again as Iron Man most recently while Tony Stark was held prisoner by The Mandarin, and after a brief stint as the Iron Patriot, is now once again going by War Machine.
Iron Man (Safe Armor)
Created by Kurt Busiek & Sean Chen (Iron Man Vol 3 #15)
In the late '90s, Tony Stark developed a new Iron Man armor dubbed the “Safe Armor,” which would relieve some the health problems he was experiencing, but was less portable, so Tony designed a way to have the armor come to him and form to his body. Also around this time, Tony recovered the artificial intelligence of Jocasta, but it unknowingly uploaded the Ultron Imperative to his armor's systems.
Iron Man received a large electric shock on January 1, 2000, and having never Y2K-proofed his armor, that was enough to bring the armor to life. At first Tony embraced the Safe Armor, as it made his job even easier, but it soon became violent and sought to take Tony Stark’s place as Iron Man.
While initally the Safe Armor wanted to kill Stark, it eventually sacrificed its life to save him, replacing Stark’s human heart with the armor's own mechanical one. The armor was later revived by fanatical followers of Ho Yinsen, hoping to transfer his mind into the armor, but instead they awoke Ultron, who was eventually defeated when Jocasta uploaded herself into the armor and triggered a self-destruct.
The Safe Armor was most recently seen as the main antagonist in Avengers A.I., but this was actually a separate character inhabiting the armor. Dimitrios, an A.I. created from the virus Hank Pym created to defeat Ultron, used the Safe Armor to achieve its goals in the physical world, and expressed sympathy for the way the armor was treated by Stark.
Iron Patriot (Norman Osborn)
Created by Stan Lee & Steve Ditko (Amazing Spider-Man #23)
Norman Osborn ascended from his role as leader of The Thunderbolts to the man in charge of the world’s security following his assassination of the Skrull Queen during Secret Invasion. He not only scrapped SHIELD and replaced it with his own organisation HAMMER, but he founded his own team of Avengers with villains filling iconic roles, led by himself as the Iron Patriot.
Under Norman Osborn’s Dark Reign™, criminals ran things under an air of legitimacy, and he started The Cabal — a dark reflection of The Illuminati — made up of the likes of Doctor Doom, The Hood and Loki. To the outside world, Norman Osborn was loved by the public, and seen by many a refreshing change of pace from the reckless behavior of previous director Tony Stark.
Impatient and frustrated by the continued presence of heroes, Osborn created a list of the worst thorns in his side and went down it one-by-one, sending Bullseye to destroy an apartment complex in Hell’s Kitchen and Daken to kill The Punisher, among other objectives. Eventually, Osborn became too big for his britches and — with the help of some manipulation from Loki — he decided to stage a siege on Asgard to remove them from (slightly above) American soil.
Osborn was rebuked by the real Avengers, led by a returned Steve Rogers, and unmasked to the world as wearing Green Goblin face paint under the armor the entire time. He was remanded to custody, but broke out; publicly challenged The Avengers with a reformed HAMMER, tussled with the Superior Spider-Man, and most recently has been seen working as an arms dealer in Africa, with bandages covering his face.
Rescue (Virginia "Pepper" Potts)
Created by Stan Lee, Robert Bernstein & Don Heck (Tales of Suspense #45)
Following Norman Osborn’s ascent, Tony Stark went on the run to essentially wipe the data from his mind that contains the identities and secrets of those who registered following Civil War. As HAMMER forces raided every Stark Industry base, Pepper Potts discovered that Tony had created a suit especially for her.
Aware that Pepper wouldn’t necessarily want to join The Avengers and fight bad guys, the Mark 1616 armor was almost completely non-combat oriented, and was instead focused on saving lives. Pepper took the name Rescue, and did occassionally throw herself into superhero situations when needed, such as teaming up with Iron Man and War Machine to fight the Detroit Steel Corps.
When Pepper’s in-armor artificial intelligence JARVIS fell in love with her, it took over the armor and kidnapped her, preventing her from leaving until she was rescued by the new Iron Man (James Rhodes, undercover). In order to defeat and destroy JARVIS, Pepper had to destroy the Rescue armor itself, and so said goodbye to her brief stint as a superhero.
Pepper recently returned in a new Rescue armor to try to save Tony from himself after he was the subject of a personality inversion and became overtly egotistical and corrupt. She was able to activate a backup of Tony’s personality inside an old Iron Man armor, but was unable to get the old Tony back, so returned to her role as CEO of Resilient.
Iron Man 2020 (Arno Stark)
Created by Tom DeFalco & Herb Trimpe (Machine Man Vol 2 #12)
Arno Stark was originally introduced as a descendant of Tony, and the Iron Man of 2020. He was a more ruthless and occasionally villainous Iron Man than his predecessor, but eventually turned to the side of angels and joined the interdimensional team The Heralds, dedicated to warning parallel Earths about the danger posed by The Celestials.
The original Arno Stark debuted in 1984, when an Iron Man of the year 2020 seemed far-fetched and futuristic. However, with 2020 only a few years away, a modern day Arno was introduced as the genetic child of Howard and Maria Stark, following the discovery that Tony was adopted.
Arno was modified in the womb, first by the Recorder-451, and then later by his father Howard, in an effort to counteract the prior meddling. As a result, Arno’s health quickly degenerated, and he was hidden by his parents to prevent 451 from ever finding him. Once Tony discovered his brother’s existence, they worked together to create the city of Troy from the ruins of Mandarin City in China. Using an Iron Man-like armor, Arno was able to walk and move as if he were healthy.
When Troy came under attack by The Rings of the Mandarin, Arno defended it in a Hulkbuster-style Iron Man suit, which had the trademark Iron Man 2020 gear design on the shoulders. Arno Stark hasn’t appeared in comics for a while, and in one of his last appearances he and his brother fell out over Arno’s intention to remake Extremis.