Agent of S.T.Y.L.E.: IRON MAN's Power Suits, Part 2

This continues our look at the evolution of Iron Man’s standard suits of armor. In Agent of S.T.Y.L.E. – Iron Man Part 1, we saw how Tony Stark made the original Mark 0 armor to act as an emergency defense and weapons system in order to free himself from captors and keep his heart stable. Years later, when his heart had healed, experimental surgery freed Tony from having to rely on a magnetic repulsor generator being attached to his chest. Despite this, he continued operating as Iron Man, now believing he had a responsibility to safeguard the world with his intelligence and resources.

We ended Part 1 with the 1996 Heroes Reborn armor. Now, we begin this segment with…



After the events of Heroes Reborn, Tony, the Avengers and the Fantastic Four all returned to their native Earth to resume their lives. Tony is a superhero, yes, but he’s a technologist first, so he wasn’t back home for long before he figured out a way to update his armor yet again, bringing forward a new look that called back to the proto-classic armor we saw in Part 1. And like his early suits, this one was able to break down and fit into a specially equipped briefcase.

After seeing the Heroes Reborn suit of many cables, this definitely emphasizes a simplified, back-to-basics approach. The horned faceplate is back, but the mouth no longer gives the impression of teeth and the horns now don’t rise so dramatically past Tony’s head. It gives a friendlier impression, though we are in danger of implying a widow’s peak.

The gauntlets and shoulder pads are a bit too bulky in comparison to the rest of the armor. The different plates making up the pads look like they inhibit movement, in fact. The cables on Iron Man’s chest plate give a similar implication.


Tony and the Avengers were only back home for a few days when they got into an adventure involving the witch Morgan le Fay. Using powerful cosmic forces, she altered reality so that the Avengers found themselves in a time and place similar to medieval England. The heroes were all given new memories to adjust to this reality, along with new costumes to match the environment. Captain America, for instance, was now a Yeoman America. The archer hero Hawkeye was now called Longbow.

In this reality, Tony Stark was still a man of wealth and importance, a familiar role that meant he had a tougher time than some of the others in realizing things were amiss. In Morgan’s reality, Tony was given a mystical helmet. Once he locked the helmet into place, he was magically suited up with red and gold armor, becoming the Iron Knight. This was similar to the renaissance armor and was a creative reinterpretation. I also find it kind of hilarious that the symbol for “man” (the circle with the arrow) was incorporated into the chest piece.


Reality and memories were restored, of course, and the evil sorceress was defeated. Iron Man continued wearing his renaissance armor but then learned that the energy fields it utilized were causing cellular breakdown in his body. So he adjusted the armor’s tech, rebuilding parts of it. As you can see here, the cables are gone and the shoulders and gauntlets are sleeker. Iron Man seems a little more free again.

Whether you like the angled faceplate is a matter of personal preference at this point. I personally have no objection to this version of it and actually liked the way it could slide upward when Tony wanted to show his face or grab a soda, as opposed to most of the previous helmets where the gold faceplate had to be detached when Iron Man unmasked.


This modified suit was constructed in such a way that it could no longer fit into a briefcase. To keep it easy to transport, Tony designed it to collapse into a briefcase-like box that could then be stored in the trunk of his car. A signal from Tony would summon the box to fly to him (thanks to that handy repulsor tech) and then this armor would expand and wrap around him, ready for action. This short-lived idea on a briefcase actually becoming armor was referenced in a scene in the film Iron Man 2 a decade later.



Now, here’s where things get weird. After being struck by lightning, Iron Man’s armor seemed to develop sentience, thanks to the lightning and a version of Y2K. If you’re too young to remember, Y2K was something that certain folks decided to go nuts about, convinced that at least half of the world’s computer systems would crash or go nuts when New Year’s eve hit and we went from 1999 to the year 2000. It turned out the solution to the problem was to sit back, shut up and relax, which amazing is the solution to several problems in life.

So anyway, Tony’s armor became alive. It could talk and developed a personality. And then it went evil, as robots and computers that develop sentience tend to do (unless you’re reading an Isaac Asimov story, since his 3 Laws of Robotics prevented that trope). Tony had to fight the living armor, leading to a battle where he suffered a massive chest wound. The armor realized it was evil and then decided to save Tony’s life by sacrificing it’s own. It ripped out vital circuitry and attached it to Tony, building him a new mechanical heart that needed to be repeatedly recharged and would shut down if Tony had alcohol.

Like I said, weird.

Tony wore his classic armor for a while after that. And then, in 2001, he tried on a new suit of armor made from a material that had been developed by a partnership between Askew and Stark technologies. The liquid metal that could be programmed to achieve different feats was called Synth-Kinetic Interfacing Nano-fluid or S.K.I.N. The S.K.I.N. armor went through a few different looks as it continually reformed and was upgraded.

And none of these looks really work. It goes from being too makeshift to too bulky. The way the shoulder pads are built, it looks as if Tony can’t touch his toes or lift his arms if he’s wearing this. Fortunately, the S.K.I.N. armor didn’t last long and Tony got himself a new suit. Since he had recently gotten his mechanical heart, folks have referred to this new suit as…


This armor debuted in March 2002. It isn’t bad, but it seems just a little bit more complicated than it should be. The cables seem unnecessary. The boots are fully connected, which is nice, but the gloves now seem to have an extra piece for no real reason. Once again, the shoulder pads present a small issue. Maybe it’s just me, but they look as if they’re sure to knock over lamps or get caught on a doorframe if Tony rushes too quickly.

The spiky design and many angled/segmented plates on the torso give an insect-like, almost alien, impression that doesn’t seem quite right for Iron Man. Again, not bad at all, but it definitely feels to me that there could be a little streamlining here.

By the way, this armor was once again able to fit into a briefcase. Miniature anti-grav/repulsor units allowed the individual pieces to actually fly over Tony and connect around him when he activated the suit. Tony made sure this feature applied to the next suit of armor.


Did you know that Tony Stark temporarily acted as Secretary of Defense for the United States? It happened in 2004 in a very cool story called “The Best Defense” by John Jackson Miller and Jorge Lucas that was present in Iron Man vol. 3 #74-78. In fact, Tony served in this position for a while until the events of the story Avengers Disassembled.

When he was on his way to assuming this position with the government, Iron Man sported this slightly altered look. I like it better than the spikiness of the previous armor. With fewer plates connecting down the front and the cables being replaced, this suit seems sleeker and less busy than the previous one. The shoulder pads are now more closely fitted and seem a part of the armor again rather than just serving as decoration.

But I have to criticize the helmet. This design makes Tony seem like he has fangs. Or, at the very least, a nasty metal overbite. It reminds me a bit of the evil Arno Stark, the Iron Man of a possible future. And Tony shouldn’t look like the villain in his own comic. He’s not a sinister, dark avenger of the night. He’s the shining knight of tomorrow’s technology.



The Iron Man book was cancelled and then relaunched with a new series in 2005. The first story arc “Extremis” was written by Warren Ellis, with wonderful art by Adi Granov. The story began with Tony rocking out a newly designed suit that would later greatly influence the Iron Man films (not surprising since Adi Granov did design work for the movies).

This suit is, in many ways, a simplified version of Tony’s Secretary of Defense armor. The torso is large plates smoothly connected alongside each other rather than layered pieces, making Iron Man seem slimmer and lighter. Some accessories, such as the belt design and connection screws on the shoulder pads, have been eliminated. And the helmet has not only lost its fanged appearance, but it is sleeker and softer, giving a more human impression again by utilizing curves rather than harsh angles. A very nice design.

This armor was made out of memory metals, an updated version of the old collapsible suit that had to be polarized. When the armor was de-activated, the elements could compress to about 90% of their working volume. This was still not as compact as Tony’s old suits, so he built a much larger metal briefcase to accommodate this armor. When activated, an electric charge snapped the armor pieces into place and the molecular structure of the metal would collimate into super-hard planes.


During the opening story arc, Tony took a new step and became a true cyborg. Injecting himself with a technology called Extremis, Stark now had total control over his body and was able to mentally interface with technology. He could call your cell phone by thinking about it, upload satellite imagery to his eyes, and he improved his internal organs and nervous system (including getting rid of that limited mechanical heart he’d gotten a while back). This made him more powerful and efficient as Iron Man.

Since he couldn’t miniaturize the control systems, Tony compensated by using his new Extremis abilities to store the under armor in the hollow of his bones. When he wished, he could will the under armor to form over his body and then send out a mental signal to the outer armor, causing it to fly out of its briefcase and attach itself around him.



After losing his Extremis abilities and being rendered nearly brain-dead, Tony had to have a repulsor generator disc implanted in his chest in order to keep his body and brain functioning. Unlike the old magnetic field generator he’d worn on his chest, this disc had self-sustaining power so Tony wouldn’t have to worry about plugging in to recharge every night. The repulsor disc also enhanced his senses and intelligence in the same way that Extremis did, giving him a few new ideas on how to modify his armor. The new suit was a product of his new “bleeding edge” technology and was introduced in 2010.

With Extremis, Tony had moved beyond being a man in armor and had become a cyborg, a mixture of biology and technology. This has been taken a step further in his latest comics, where the entire Iron Man suit now miniaturizes and hides itself inside his body, coming forth when he mentally wills it into being. Writer Matt Fraction developed this idea because he wanted to emphasize that Tony Stark WAS Iron Man. Even if you gave someone else one of Tony’s old suits, they wouldn’t be nearly as powerful and efficient. The armor and Tony were now linked more than they had ever been even when Tony was first forced to create it to save his own life.


Because of this, the new design was intended to have a more “organic” look. Considering Tony’s current status, this makes sense and I can clearly see it in some ways. The red is almost the same layering as the gold pieces and the way they are divided reminds me of medical drawings when they highlight different muscles. On the other hand, the fact that there are so many independent pieces of red divided by yellow can make this armor seem a little complicated and less unified.

The various lights are different repulsor units, each one also able to act as an extra eye, giving Tony complete awareness of his surroundings. In a way, they also remind us that this is a character who is trying to symbolize the light of technology and a positive future. Not bad, but I do think there might be just a few too many of them, especially on his chest unit.


Since the armor responds to Tony’s thoughts, it often shifts and fluxes, creating new weapons or wing flaps at a moment’s notice. This has made some of Tony’s abilities seem more practical and again emphasize that he is, in the strongest sense of the word, a futurist.

And that about wraps us up, readers. We’ll continue looking at the evolution of certain Avengers as we count down to the movie. And in the next couple of weeks, look out for my annotations on Iron Man 2. Until next time, this is Alan Kistler, Agent of S.T.Y.L.E., signing off!

[Alan "Sizzler" Kistler is an actor and author living in New York City. He is the author of The Unofficial Game of Thrones Cookbook, The Unofficial Batman Trivia Challenge and The Unofficial Spider-Man Trivia Challenge. He is a creator and host of the weekly podcast Crazy Sexy Geeks, available on iTunes. Alan has been recognized as a comic book historian and a Doctor Who historian by various publishers and media outlets. He thinks Isaac Asimov should be required reading in all schools. He can be found on Twitter: @SizzlerKistler]

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