Iron Man has become so much more than a superhero.
Like Mount Rushmore, he’s become an irremovable and well-loved cultural artifact. Mainly it’s because of Robert Downey Jr.’s show-stealing performances in the Iron Man films, but it probably also has something to do with the fact that Iron Man, like Batman, is not a superhero in the sense that his powers do not come from mutated genes, failed experiments or alien civilizations. They come solely from the head, heart, and the unlimited power of the imagination.
Iron Man is a hero we can all relate to, and it also helps that Tony stark is one cool dude. No one would have guessed that Marvel’s lower-tier hero would one day be as big, if not bigger than Spider-Man. It’s not been an easy ride for Tony Stark as he’s made the journey from the obscurity of the superhero B-list to world domination, but it’s sure been an interesting one.
So in honor of the upcoming release of Captain America: Civil War, which will feature Stark in a fairly substantial role, let's take a peek at 10 Facts You Didn’t know About Iron Man.
11 HOWARD HUGHES WAS THE BLUEPRINT FOR TONY STARK
Out of all the superheroes in the Marvel cannon, Iron Man is one of the only characters us mere mortals have a shot at emulating. Why? It's simple! Our Tony is not a mutant and doesn't have any any special powers he can call his own, but what he does have is a very special suit that could potentially transform even the geekiest of geeks into an iron plated god and emperor of the skies.
Yet at the shrapnel ravaged centre of his heart, Tony Stark is but a mere human. That’s not to say he isn’t a bit fruity and more eccentric than an upside down house. So it’s not really surprising to learn that the character is based upon a man Stan Lee has described as, “One of the most colorful men of our time. He was an inventor, an adventurer, a multi-billionaire, a ladies’ man and finally a nutcase.” Lee, of course, is talking about billionaire recluse Howard Hughes. Like Stark, Hughes was also an industrialist who developed new weapons technologies. Fortunately Iron Man has yet to manifest the mental health issues which blighted Hughes’s latter years in a big way.
10 TONY STARK OWNS AREA 51
In the Iron Man comics Tony Stark has done a lot of crazy stuff, one of the more insanely outrageous things was his casual purchase of Area 51. This juicy little titbit was revealed by the man behind the iron mask in an extremely off-hand manner in the pages of Avengers #19, when Stark confesses to the Avengers, “The government quietly put it up for sale and I bought it.”
Area 51 is, of course, the United States Air Force facility in Nevada which has a secret purpose open to much speculation. It could be used simply for the development and testing of experimental aircraft and weapons systems, or as the more outlandish claims suggest, it could be home to crashed extraterrestrial craft and an alien named J-Rod. Either way, it’s definitely the sort of place that would trigger the interest of a billionaire, playboy philanthropist like Stark.
The Armored Avenger once used it to hide the Reality Gem, but aside from that, Stark’s real reason for purchasing Area 51 from the government has yet to be revealed. However, if Steven Spielberg does eventually decide to film a sequel to E.T. Expect Iron Man to make a guest appearance y’all.
9 IRON MAN HAS MADE ROBERT DOWNEY JR INSANELY RICH
Playing Iron Man has seen Downey top the Forbes highest paid actors list for three consecutive years. This year, Downey’s $80 million payday came courtesy of having a chunk of the profit share of blockbusters like Avengers: Age of Ultron, and the speculated $40 million he was paid to reprise his Iron Man role in Captain America: Civil War.
It’s safe to say Downey has a lot to be grateful for when it comes to superheroes, but not everyone believes he’s worth the money. The insanely rich film star has been been criticized by his fellow Iron Man co-star Gwyneth Paltrow for not justifying the cash. Paltrow recently snapped that, “Nobody is worth what Robert Downey Jr is worth.” She’s also gone on record as moaning about the disparity between what she earns from being in the same movie and said, “Your salary is a way to quantify what you’re worth. If men are being paid a lot more for doing the same thing, it feels shi**y.” Ouch!
8 WITH SELECTIVE SHOPPING YOU CAN MAKE YOUR OWN REAL LIFE IRON MAN SUIT
Although a fully functioning suit as worn by Tony Stark is currently not on the market, the good news for Marvel movie fans is that with a bit of selective shopping you too can put together your very own Iron Man suit. The bad news is hardly any of us would be able to afford it. And if you were to try and purchase some of the components, the US secret services and military elite would be on your case quicker than you could say "Extreme terrorist threat!"
Iron Man wouldn't be any kind of contender if it wasn't for the awesome strength, maneuverability and titanic resilience that his exoskeleton affords him. And guess what? US defense giant Raytheon have been busy making the military's 40-year-old fantasy of creating mechanically enhanced troops a reality. Raytheon's XOS exoskeleton can enable the person wearing it to lift 200 lbs as if it were a feather.
Like Icarus of old, we all have dreams of flying, but old Tony made it a reality, and you can too. You just need $800,000, two jet packs and enough engineering knowledge to make them work inside your boots and allow you to soar, glide and hover like the man with the magic feet does. Strap on jet packs are as common as muck nowadays and everyone and their aunty appears to be flying across the English Channel on them. But flying boots? Now there's a different story. If you really want to look, feel and deceive the world into thinking you're Iron Man, then don't neglect your footwear my friend. You can tell a lot about a man by what kind of shoes he wears.
7 DOWNEY, JR. THINKS IRON MAN IS AN A**HOLE (KIND OF)
Let's face it, when he's not busy donning the Iron Man helmet and saving the world from super villains, the reckless playboy lifestyle of troubled billionaire alcoholic Tony Stark would alienate a fair few people if the rich boy with a fetish for iron wasn't so damningly charismatic.
Obviously, an actor of Robert Downey, Jr's calibre knows all about being a cheeky monkey and getting away with it. The star of Iron Man once said in an interview, “When I did the first Iron Man I had all the answers, because I was saying, 'this character is essentially an extension of myself.’” Over time Downey admits his approach to playing Iron Man changed, because to be an endearing and lovable rouge, you can't just have wit and bravado but you've got to have a sensitive side to. Downey revealed, "What I hadn't seen in this kind of a genre movie was someone with a certain naturalism and a confidence, but a vulnerability."
Although Downey has stressed he wants Stark to emotionally develop as much as a character who flies around in an iron suit casually killing people can, he's keen not to lose sight of what made our Tony such a larger-than-life character in the first place. Downey explained, “Stark was kind of an a**hole, but we really liked him and I didn't want to do the thing where the more of a 'solid guy' he becomes, somehow or another the more engaging he is."
6 IRON MAN IS A RAGING ALCOHOLIC, BUT DISNEY ARE IN DENIAL
In the Iron Man films, it’s quite obvious that Tony stark enjoys a tipple or two. In Iron Man 2 there was a suggestion that although Stark was no slave to the bottle, he was still a heavy drinker. But don’t expect Stark’s swagger and style to disappear into the bottom of a glass of whiskey anytime soon, because Disney are in denial about Tony’s long term battle with the booze.
Seasoned fans of the comic will know that Iron Man has a serious drinking problem. The Demon in a Bottle storyline has long been regarded as the classic Iron Man story and integral to a true understanding of the character. Stark’s alcoholism is and continues to be a defining part of what makes Iron Man popular. In the comic books Tony has fallen off the wagon on a number of occasions during the years, and Iron Man 3 screenwriters Shane Black and Drew Pearce were keen for Stark to battle something a little more deadly than the Mandarin in the last movie, but Disney felt alcohol doesn’t really make for the most memorable villain and it wouldn’t be appropriate for children to see Iron Man enslaved by the sweaty squalor and depraved desperation of addiction. Which is a shame because when it comes to such a topic, Robert Downey Jr would almost certainly have been able to bring something extra to the table.
5 TOM CRUISE ALMOST RUINED THE ROLE
Think how different Iron Man could have been if Tom Cruise had been allowed to pull on the famous helmet? It doesn’t bear thinking about in many ways, does it? Iron Man was not always the coolest cat in the Marvel universe, and it’s always going to be an uphill struggle making such a wealthy and privileged character popular, but Robert Downey, Jr. definitely helped move Iron Man up the Marvel pecking order simply because he possesses an unhinged and charismatic edge that Cruise lacks.
With Cruise at the helm, Iron Man would have been a lot more clean-cut and wholesome, and a lot less wittier, troubled, and above all, appealing. Thankfully Cruise was turned down by the producers because the little diva insisted that if he were to play Iron Man, his famous face must be visible at all times. Hence the famous armor would need a transparent visor. In every decision in life, a line has to be eventually drawn and Cruise overstepped it on this occasion. He was given his marching orders and along came Downey, but not before Nicolas Cage, Timothy Olyphant, and Clive Owen were also considered for the role. The mind boggles.
4 IRON MAN WAS A FORMER SECRETARY OF DEFENSE
On the silver screen, Iron Man is the rebel’s rebel. He may be rich and successful but he’s a massive anti-authoritarian who cuts through red tape like butter, researches rules just to break them and delights in blowing bureaucracy out of the water like a dead weight. So it’s something of a shock to the system to learn that in the comic books Tony Stark was once in the pocket of the government and payroll of the state after being appointed the Secretary of Defense by the President.
Stark tries his hand at the role Secretary of Defense after turning down work as a contractor for the US Department of Defense. He uses his plummy role to oversee the military’s development and use of technology. However, it all goes pear-shaped for Tony when the Scarlet Witch, in her insane bid to disassemble The Avengers, exploits Stark’s alcohol problem by causing him to get belligerently drunk at a United Nations meeting (of all places!). Stark launches into a drunken rant against the Latverian ambassador and, alas, Tony’s tenure in high places comes to a lowly end.
3 IRON MAN JOINED GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY AND WAS DIRECTOR OF S.H.I.E.L.D
The Avengers aren’t the only superhero team that Iron Man has been associated with. Years after assembling an outfit that included the Hulk, Thor, Wasp, and Ant-Man, Iron Man joined Guardians of the Galaxy following Marvel’s decision to relaunch their comic book series on the back of the hugely successful 2014 movie.
In an opportunistic or cynical manner, depending on your point of view, Marvel introduced Iron Man to the Guardians of the Galaxy team to drum up extra interest. Speculation is rife as to a possible outer space team up between Iron Man and the space boys in Guardians of the Galaxy 2, though it's unconfirmed as of now. In 2007, Iron Man also became Director of S.H.I.E.L.D, proving once again what a very popular boy our Tony is. As of yet however, he has no plans to join One Direction.
2 MARVEL TOOK A BIG GAMBLE ON IRON MAN
It’s easy to forget now when we watch Robert Downey Jr all suited and booted, strutting around the place like John Wayne on steroids, whilst spitting quips that would sound pathetic from the mouths of lesser Marvel divinities, such as "No politics here, just good old fashioned revenge,” that Iron Man was a high risk figure for Marvel when he was created way back in 1963.
Stan Lee described Stark as the “quintessential capitalist”and he was created on a dare to see if an idealistic generation who loathed war and rampant materialism could warm to a character who was the complete antithesis of the prevailing counter-cultural spirit of the age and the exact opposite of the sort of figure the Marvel readership usually identified with. In short, could Marvel wave their magic wand and make a man who profited from war popular?
Lee once explained, “I think I gave myself a dare. It was the height of the Cold War. The readers, the young readers, if there was one thing they hated, it was war, it was the military....So I got a hero who represented that to the hundredth degree. He was a weapons manufacturer, he was providing weapons for the Army, he was rich, he was an industrialist....I thought it would be fun to take the kind of character that nobody would like, none of our readers would like, and shove him down their throats and make them like him....And he became very popular.”
When Robert Downey Jr was added to the mix, Iron Man became a poster boy for the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and it's probably safe to say that on Downey’s watch, Stark will remain starkly obnoxious and magnificently unreconstructed for a little while longer.
So there you have it. Iron Man is more than just a billionaire playboy with an addiction to adrenaline and fetish for gadgets, he’s also a troubled alcoholic who bucked the system and purchased Area 51 in the process. Feel free to join the party and add your own nuggets of information concerning the wonderful world of Tony Stark by sounding off in the comments section below.
Iron Man returns to the big screen in Captain America: Civil War on May 6, 2016.