Genius, billionaire, playboy philanthropist Tony Stark is a man of many, many suits. Since the character debuted in 1963, Stark has constantly tinkered with his original Iron Man suit design and made some truly weird and wonderful variations to combat specific and unusual threats. He’s sported some pretty slick armors over the years, including powered up models designed to take down his fellow Avengers, as well as some downright bizarre designs that provided Stark with unnecessarily enormous boots and weird, blond ponytails.
However, we’re not here to just talk about his suits as a whole, as we’ve chosen to focus on his various helmets. When it comes to the superhero game, looks are important. Nobody’s going to be interested in reading a superhero comic if the lead crime-fighting hero looks lame. Iron Man is not only meant to seem intimidating to his enemies, but it’s also intended to be a symbol that regular people can get behind and root for. As one of the founding members of The Avengers, his iron mask is the public face of heroism, and as such, he needs to look good. From the comics to the movies, here are Iron Man’s 15 Best Helmets Ever.
15. Model I Mk. III
The first few Iron Man armors were upgraded versions of the original suit he used to escape capture. In Tales of Suspense #40, Tony finds himself in an unusual predicament. He takes gal pal Marion on a date to the circus and the show’s big cats break loose, causing pandemonium under the big top. Tony sneaks away, suits up and returns to save the day. However, he soon learns that people both hate and fear his metallic alter-ego, calling him “dreadful looking” and hurling abuse his way for scaring children. Marion hits on the idea that Iron Man should be golden instead of gray to reflect his heroic intentions.
Stark resprays the armor with shining golden paint, and the Mk. III made its official debut. Thanks to the Iron Manual, we know that his helmet also received a bunch of upgrades, like liquid cooling and a voice changer to disguise Stark’s identity. Both features would become standard in later models. As far as looks go, it’s not the best, but it’s a start. The big question is this – if Tony is so concerned about keeping his identity secret, why do his earlier masks have clear lenses through which his eyes can clearly be seen?
14. Model III Mk. IV
Tony eventually ditched the clunky Model I and started experimenting with sleeker and more elegant armors. The Model II debuted the famous red and gold look, but for some reason, the faceplate stuck out from the rest of the helmet, giving Iron Man a weird horned appearance like he was some kind of metal devil. The look didn’t last very long, as Tony soon hammered it flat and riveted it in place. At this time in the comics, the Iron Man armor was in a state of flux, with Tony tweaking the design many times over.
The Mark IV, appearing in Tales of Suspense #66, ended up being the design Stark settled on. Tony kept the coin slot eyes and mouth and made the helmet look more like a missile casing. Due to this, Iron Man soon got his famous “Shell-Head” nickname from the other Avengers. The Model III stuck around for an impressively lengthy stint as Stark’s go-to armor before being retired in Iron Man #85.
13. Hydro Armor
Before Iron Man #218, Tony found himself at the mercy of Obadiah Stane. Stane seized control of Stark Industries and demanded that Iron Man hand over his armor. In a desperate move to prevent his multiple suits from falling into the wrong hands, Stark destroys his armory altogether. When Issue #218 rolled around, Stark is forced to use a prototype deep sea model to prevent a dangerous chemical leak from the wreckage of the Titanic (!).
To be honest, this one is here because it’s exactly the kind of comic book goofiness that’s both ridiculous, brilliant, and endearing in equal measures. The Hydro Armor was a newer, bulkier design. Stark clearly wasn’t going for subtlety, as the spectacle of a huge shiny golden diving suit is really something to behold. Best of all is the helmet, which is a transparent bubble with the Mark IV Iron Man helmet inside. The suit has made several appearances since, but it’s mostly regarded as one of the wackier designs Tony has ever created.
12. Model 39
We may never know what would happen if the world of Tron met the Marvel Universe, but it’d probably look something like this. Tony Stark officially gives up being Iron Man in Invincible Iron Man arc The Long Way Down. As part of his plan, Tony helps James Rhodes fake his death and creates a brand new suit for Rhodey to carry on the Iron Man name.
The Model 39 made its debut in Invincible Iron Man #517 and is basically an amalgamation of both Iron Man and War Machine tech with added glowing bits. Tony pulled in parts and technology from all sorts of sources to give Rhodey the best possible head start in his superheroic career. The classic gold faceplate remained, but the rest was painted black and white with circuit pattern highlights. It’s a cool looking suit, but it only made a handful of appearances before it was unceremoniously replaced with the Model 40 in Invincible Iron Man #523.
11. Iron Tech Armor
Tony’s Iron Man suits usually come in one of two flavors. They’re either sleek, aerodynamic metal suits or huge, wearable tanks. The Ultimate universe’s Iron Tech Armor definitely belongs in the latter category. It’s not the easiest suit to get in and out of, as Stark needs an entire pit crew of people to help him suit up and remove it, making quick changes an impossibility. The suit is a modification of one of Tony’s earlier designs and includes some unique features like an insulating liquid inside.
Aside from the new tech contained within, one of the more noticeable changes is the helmet itself. The Ultimate version moved away from a humanoid head and looks more insect-like. If anything, it looks like a mix of Ultron’s face and the Ant-Man helmet, complete with metal mandibles. The armor chalked up an impressive 70+ appearances before being destroyed (along with most of the Ultimate universe) in Secret Wars #1.
10. Stealth Armor Mk. I
In Iron Man #152, Tony decides that his usual red and gold armor may be a little too eye-catching for its own good. He subsequently invents his first stealth suit, perfect for quiet reconnaissance missions. The armor is pretty similar to the Model IV, but he makes the wise decision to paint it black (although it appears blue in the comics due to printing limitations of the time).
The helmet is similar too, but the eye and mouthpieces glow red. Quite how and why this helps with stealth is a mystery, but it looks cool, and sometimes, that’s all that matters. It’s interesting to note that this is the issue that Tony’s lover, Bethany Cabe, reveals that she knows his secret identity and begs him to suit up to save her husband – another fun fact she hadn’t told Tony about. Awkward.
The Stealth Armor didn’t appear again for quite some time, but it has popped up occasionally since, most recently making cameos in Ultimate End #4 and Unbeatable Squirrel Girl #2.
9. Outer Atmospheric Armor
Prior to the mini-series Bad Blood, Tony had made several space suits. However, the one that appears in Bad Blood #4 is a big step up. It was designed exclusively for space travel and took inspiration from his Silver Centurion armor. Interestingly, the suit didn’t feature the usual booster jets and as such had to be launched into space with a custom built metal frame strapped to powerful rockets that propel him into the atmosphere at a bone-rattling 7 miles per second.
This armor looks genuinely mean. The helmet is like a cross between a hockey mask and a protective welding visor. If TMNT‘s Casey Jones were to build an Iron Man suit of his own, this is probably what he’d come up with. Like with many entries on this list, it made several scattered appearances after its debut, but was then forgotten in favor of better and less limited armors. That doesn’t stop it from looking badass, though.
8. Plastic Ghost Armor
Having a highly-durable metal suit protects Tony against most threats, but when he grapples with King T’Challa in Black Panther Vol.3 #44, he needed to re-think his game plan if he was to stand any chance of surviving the Panther’s vibranium claws. Stark’s solution was the Model 21, aka the Plastic Ghost stealth suit, which used no metal whatsoever. Instead, he makes the armor out of ceramics and flexible weaves.
The resulting look is somewhere between Shell-Head and the Silver Surfer, with the suit augmented by purple glowing highlights. This extends to the protective helmet itself, which is entirely silver save for purple/pink ear, eye, and mouth pieces. As this was a suit made purely to fight Black Panther, it wasn’t used after Tony and T’Challa managed to set aside their differences and get on the same page. Still, we felt it’s worthy of a shout-out purely for the aesthetics alone.
7. The Mark V
Iron Man 2 is generally considered one of the MCU’s weakest entries, and with good reason. It has a lame bad guy in the form of Mickey Rourke’s Whiplash and a whole host of problems ranging from a meandering story to a deeply uninspiring final fight. However, one thing most people can agree on is that the Mark V (aka the suitcase armor) is awesome.
When Whiplash confronts Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) on the racetrack of the Monaco Historic Gran Prix, Tony is suitless and terrified. Happy Hogan and Pepper come to the rescue and toss Tony a silver suitcase. He opens it up and the Mark V takes shape, satisfyingly clicking into place around his body while a shocked crowd looks on. The faceplate is silver and it’s much sleeker and lightweight than previous models. The way that the helmet clunks into place is cool too, although it’s so tight-fitting it does beg the question over what would happen if Tony had a stray hair or bit of skin out of place. It doesn’t bear thinking about too much.
6. The Silver Centurion
In terms of iconic Iron Man armors, the Silver Centurion suit is one of the most beloved. It first appeared in Iron Man #200, when Stark comes out of his retirement from the superhero business and dons a new suit he’d been working on for his replacement and BFF, James Rhodes. Stark calls out Obadiah Stane, and the two have a hellacious metal-on-metal fight as the new Iron Man takes on the Iron Monger.
The Silver Centurion suit was shown to be capable of many complex tasks. It featured an early version of Stark’s HUD (Heads-Up Display) and had several different lenses inside that allows for the recording of whatever Stark was looking at, all saved to the helmet’s memory banks. Aesthetically, it looks cool, but the odd band at the back of the helmet does have the unfortunate side-effect of making Iron Man look like he’s rocking a bob cut.
5. Sorcerer Supreme Armor
1998’s What If…? #113 asked a compelling question: what if Tony Stark became the Master of the Mystic Arts? In the non-canon story, Dr. Stephen Strange severely injures his hands in a car accident like usual, but he was driving Stark’s Lamborghini after being encouraged by a drunken Tony at a party. Guilt-ridden, Tony tries everything in his power to fix the good Doctor’s hands, but to no avail. The would-be Iron Man turns to the mystic arts to fix his friend and studies obsessively, becoming the new Sorcerer Supreme and leaving Strange out in the cold.
Tony’s Sorcerer Supreme armor brings back the horned faceplate with glowing red eyes. The helmet has a computer read-out of what supernatural beast is attacking, what spells it is using, and even suggests counterspells for Tony to use. Sick of being sidelined, Strange bargains with Dormammu and gives him a heads-up on the armor’s weaknesses in exchange for his hands being healed. Eventually, Dormammu is defeated and Strange and Stark go their separate ways, ending the bizarre role-reversal tale.
At least Tony handled the Sorcerer Supreme powers better than the Punisher, right?
4. Thorbuster Armor
It was incredibly tempting to put one of Iron Man’s Hulkbuster Armors on here, but his Thorbuster Armor just pipped it to the post. Why? Well look at it – it’s badass. The trouble starts when the residents of Slokovia (no relation to the ill-fated country in Avengers: Age of Ultron) start worshipping Thor. The Slokovian dictatorship doesn’t take too kindly to this and orders them to be executed. Their desperate prayers are heard by Thor and he flies in. The God of Thunder’s involvement escalates things considerably and the neighboring countries, such as Dr. Doom’s Latveria, threaten to go to war, so the Pentagon asks Iron Man to intervene and talk to his friend.
It doesn’t go well. Thor refuses to let the issue go, and Tony is forced to create a bigger and better suit of armor to take him down. He uses a magical crystal once given to him by Odinson himself to power the suit, which takes inspiration from an Asgardian Destroyer. It’s undeniably cool looking and even has a crown. The crown isn’t purely for decoration either — it can be flipped down to provide extra shielding for the armor’s face, making it both majestic and handy in a fight.
3. Deep-Space Armor
We return to space with one of Tony’s more recent extraterrestrial excursions. After tirelessly hunting down the last traces of the Extremis virus, Stark suddenly feels trapped. Pepper Potts suggests he’s going through a mid-life crisis, but Tony insists it has to do with a lack of new horizons and inspiration. He decides to leave Earth behind for a while and joins with the Guardians of the Galaxy. To do this, he needs a new suit, and the one he comes up with is pretty freakin’ sweet.
He creates the Model 45, aka the Deep-Space Armor. It’s capable of traveling at warp speeds and comes equipped with everything you could conceivably need on an outer space adventure. On top of all that, the helmet gets a makeover, inverting the classic red/gold parts and redesigning the whole thing, with the end product somewhat resembling a samurai mask. Crucially, Tony uploads a new sarcastic A.I. he names P.E.P.P.E.R. to remind him of home and keep him grounded, which is genuinely quite touching and a reminder that Stark isn’t always a ridiculous egomaniac.
2. The Mark VII
Robert Downey Jr.’s Tony Stark has had a surprisingly large number of suits over the course of his MCU career. The number is bumped up considerably with Iron Man 3 and Tony’s entire army of Iron Man armors. However, the Mark VII, as seen in 2012’s The Avengers, is probably his most recognizable and iconic.
After the famous “I have an army/We have a Hulk” exchange between Loki and Tony, Stark gets thrown out of the window of his own tower and plummets to the ground. Luckily, JARVIS heard his strangled commands and sent the Mark VII after him, allowing him to suit up in mid-air and saving him from becoming splattered. Thanks to the sheer impact of The Avengers, the Mark VII is probably how most film fans picture Iron Man in their heads and how most kids will draw him, no matter how many other versions he goes through.
1. Bleeding Edge Armor
When looking at the best Iron Man helmets (and the armors they’re attached to) there are a number of factors that go into it. The looks, the capabilities, and their popularity are chief among them. Whereas some of the other list entries tick off one or two of these boxes, Tony’s Bleeding Edge armor safely checks off all three.
The Model 37 armor has the classic red and gold look for starters. The helmet especially is the perfect mix of the MCU and comic book versions. Secondly, it has the capabilities. As the armor is assembled from thousands of microscopic nanobots summoned by thought alone, it can be put on easily without any hassle. The nanobots don’t even have to form armor, as they can be commanded to take the shape of any kind of clothing or structure Stark can think of, which surely comes in handy in a pinch. Thirdly, the Bleeding Edge armor proved to be incredibly popular, becoming Iron Man’s default suit for many years and amassing a whopping 200+ appearances in its run.
Did we miss out on any of Tony Stark’s finest helmet designs? Sound off in the comments with your favorites!