The invincible Iron-Man made his first appearance in April of 1963 in the pages of “Tales of Suspense” #39. Writers Stan Lee, Larry Lieber, and artist Don Heck brought Jack Kirby's character design to life when they told the story of millionaire playboy and industrialist Tony Stark and a fact finding mission to Viet-Nam, where Stark’s inventions were being used by the military. Stark is critically injured by a land mine and is captured by the Viet Cong. His captors demand that Tony create a weapon for them, but shrapnel near his heart leaves him with only one choice: create a weapon to defeat his enemies and save his life at the same time. With the help of fellow captive Dr. Ho Yinsen, Tony constructs the bulky, gray prototype of the Iron-Man armor (equipped with a powerful electro-magnet to draw the shrapnel away from his heart) and defeats his foes. Sadly, Dr. Ho sacrifices himself to save Tony the time he needs.
A story so tightly tied to a particular era of American history has a tendency to date the origins of the character, so the war in question has become more and more vague over the years. Added to the origin was a chance encounter with a wounded soldier, pilot James Rhodes, who becomes Tony’s life-long friend and confidant. Rhodes himself served as Iron-Man for a time before donning armor of his own as War-Machine. The Iron-Man supporting cast was rich with supporting characters appropriate to a wealthy businessman: a gorgeous red-head secretary in the form of Pepper Potts, a rough and tumble driver named Happy Hogan, and a variety of sexy super-spies on both sides of the cold war like Nick Fury and Black Widow. This jet-setting, character driven storyline made Iron-Man a hit. He was a founding (and long time member) of the Avengers and appeared in every corner of the Marvel Universe.
Like his allies, Iron-Man’s villains were almost always drawn from the front page news. Foreign agents, Femme Fatales and disgruntled inventors topped the list. The frustrated inventor turned assassin Whiplash is one such villain and will join Black Widow and War-Machine in the May 7th 2010 feature film sequel “Iron-Man 2” starring Robert Downey Jr., Scarlett Johansson, Sam Rockwell, Mickey Rourke, Gwyneth Paltrow, and Don Cheadle. The film is the second in a planned trilogy by director Jon Favreau. Iron-Man (and Robert Downey Jr.) are also to be featured in the ambitious 2012 release of “The Avengers.” - Brian Eason