Tony Stark, better known as Iron Man, is one of America’s favorite superheroes right now alongside Captain America, Batman, and Superman. Played by the snarky smart aleck Robert Downey Jr., fans relate to his quick wit and narcissistic tendencies in hilarious and, frankly, unsettling ways. He’s one of our favorite Avengers, despite his chagrin at working as a part of a team, and his movie series has made absolutely ridiculous amounts of money.
Marvel writers have tried to give Tony Stark a very good and complex story arc. Initially, Iron Man’s greatest foes are vague terrorists. Then, he has to defeat a man he considered to be his ally (Obadiah Stane). In Iron Man 2, he’s confronted by one of his first foreign villains: Ivan Vanko (aka Whiplash). His battles in this movie are a mix of international political conflicts and corporate fights. In the first Avengers movie, he got his first genuine and visceral taste of fear when he essentially flew into the heart of battle, sacrificing himself to end it. Things got even scarier when Pepper Potts’ life was threatened in Iron Man 3 by Aldrich Killian. Then, in Avengers 2, he was essentially battling himself and his own creations with Ultron. Finally, in Captain America: Civil War, he seems to be confronting the battles within himself and the ghosts in his subconscious. Iron Man has a lot of formidable foes to face down.
But which of his foes are the most powerful, the most deadly, the most terrifying? Let’s go back to his comic roots and count down some of the biggest tough guys that could someday find their way to the screen. Here are Iron Man’s fifteen most powerful villains:
Ghost has not been featured in any of the movies, whether you’re thinking of the Iron Man or Avengers’ series. However, he’s very similar to one of the greatest Avengers’ villains of all time: Ultron- at least the way he was portrayed in Avengers 2: Age of Ultron. This robot isn’t really a robot, but is a sentient program that is able to jump between machines. Sound familiar? This is why he can be physically destroyed and beaten many times but never truly be defeated. He’s always able to find a way back! And unlike Ultron, who always assumed the form of another imposing robot, Ghost likes to use his anonymity to his advantage. He could be anywhere and anytime, which makes him an incredibly powerful and daunting villain. It’s too bad Age of Ultron was such a good movie- it’ll be hard to ever bring Ghost to the big screen without giving people flashbacks to Ultron.
14. The Controller
Okay, you’re right. He doesn’t really look that awesome, does he? But trust us: this guy is pretty tough and comic writers were smart enough to make his abilities just vague enough that he can become fairly omnipotent, with the right writing. Born Basil Sandhurst, this character started his story arc as a total obsessive compulsive nut job. One day when working in the lab, a temper tantrum over his O.C.D. leads to a dangerous explosion (of course) and, to save his life, his brother builds him an exoskeleton that makes him extra strong. Basil’s real power comes in the form of these slave disks that he mentions, which essentially give him ruling domain over whoever he wants to control (very few people are able to resist the power of the slave disks). Because The Controller was written with just enough ambiguity, he can be in turn very powerful- and his severe and violent fits of O.C.D. make him downright lethal.
So if you thought The Controller looked silly, you’re looking at this guy thinking “What the hell is that?!” It’s okay, we totally understand: M.O.D.O.K. is not the most attractive villain in the bunch. But it can be argued that he is one of the absolute most powerful to ever go toe to toe with Iron Man. The Mechanical Organism Designed Only for Killing (also known as M.O.D.O.K.) was an invention of the always slightly wicked Advanced Idea Mechanics. An employee of the corporation underwent genetic mutations to become a super smart, part computer, psionic, super logical brain case. He’s able to control groups of people, solve difficult logic problems at the drop of a hat, and he wields a hover chair equipped with various automatic weapons. Honestly, this is one tough guy that creates a lot of trouble for Iron Man as well as The Avengers- it’s just a shame he looks like a brainiac.
12. Living Laser
Maybe he doesn’t have the coolest or most subtle name, but The Living Laser was a very real threat to Stark and his compatriots in the comic books. Born with the name Arthur Parks, a scientist interested in the transformation and transfer of energy. He was never a very good guy: his first inventions were gauntlet mounted lasers that he used for selfish reasons in criminal acts. He’d even joined up with the Lethal Legion at one point in attempts to take over the world, but was foiled by the Avengers. Well, one day this villain was shot into space and thought to explode- but he didn’t. His body was somehow transferred into photon form, turning him into… A LIVING LASER (dun dun DUN). He comes back to battle The Avengers and specifically Tony Stark on many occasions, set to dismantle the superhero team and destroy Tony Stark- and he almost succeeds.
This superhero was initially introduced in the series Tales to Astonish, under the villainous name The Human Top. Yeah, okay, not so intimidating… Whirlwind was certainly an improvement. Well however goofy the name may be, this guy was never kidding around. Whirlwind has superhuman abilities, specifically to spin at insanely high speeds (and never get dizzy) and to be able to move very quickly. He’s essentially a human Tasmanian Devil- except instead of being a fun Looney Tunes character, this guy decided to strap saw blades to his wrists and set his sights on killing The Avengers. He had a weird thing for The Wasp, which all of the avenging team was very protective of, but he certainly hated above many others Iron Man. But honestly, what villain wouldn’t especially hate Iron Man? He’s so sarcastic and dry and talkative and witty and downright annoying that most villains must get exhausted of his banter after just a few quips!
10. Titanium Man
Technically, there are actually two Titanium Men. The first is Boris Bullski, a Soviet Union KGB killer that wanted to win the favor of his government by shaming America- and he would do this by killing Iron Man with a suit bigger and better than his own. Though Boris built a damn good suit, Iron Man handily defeated Boris (on international television, no less). He went on to defeat Boris several times in fact. So it’s the second Titanium Man we’re going to focus on: Kondrati Topolov, a mutant formerly known as Gremlin. He was a Soviet Super Soldier that put on the titanium suit and was determined to defeat Iron Man. Well, clearly that didn’t work out- but he put up a spectacular fight before he was killed by an overheating of the core temperature of the suit. Titanium Man may not have ever defeated Iron Man, but whoever inhabited the suit stayed a constant nuisance to the hero.
9. The Blizzard
Though The Blizzard exists in the same comic universe as X-Men’s Ice Man and the two share innumerable qualities in the powers and abilities, the two are very different. For one, Ice Man is certainly one of the best good guys while The Blizzard is without a doubt a bag guy. Gregor Shapanka, the first incarnation of The Blizzard character (of three- you may have seen his successor, Donald Gill, the show S.H.I.E.L.D.), is a Hungarian scientist seeking the fountain of youth. Instead, he finds only trouble when caught trying to steal scientific insights from his boss Tony Stark. From that moment on, he adopts a personal vendetta against Stark, the man keeping him from immortality (or not… obviously Tony’s not living forever so why does he think he could?). He is a frequent kidnapper of Pepper Potts, constantly returns for rematches with Iron Man, even finds trouble with Tony’s young protege Spiderman.
8. Wong Chu
This guy, Raza, replaced Wong Chu in the first Iron Man movie. Wong Chu was, in the comics, the true original kidnapper of Tony Stark. He was the first true villain or enemy that Tony Stark ever really had to face and was the one to trap Tony in the dark and dank cave. Why did the movies replace Wong Chu with Raza in the movies? Well, part of it was about showing relevance to the current political position in The United States- currently, we’re at war in the Middle East and it made more sense to make the first bad guy a Middle Eastern bad guy. A cheap short cut on the part of Iron Man writers that further demonized cultures most Americans know very little about considering we’ve shipped our troops there.
Wong Chu, to get back to our point, was a Vietnamese communist that kidnapped the injured Tony Stark and tried to get him to build a super-weapon for his party. He was the first threat Tony ever faced and nearly succeeded at killing him for his own gain.
7. The Unicorn
No, we’re not talking about Deadpool’s unicorn. Don’t get any ideas.
This Unicorn has actually been the evil name for several different villains, including Milos Masaryk, Yegor Balinov, and Aidan Blomfield. Why did none of them opt to change the code name for this goofy villain after the first got laughed at and picked on so much? We cannot tell you, we’re just as clueless as you are. In any case, The Unicorn’s true sense of power lies in his helmet, where you can see a weird projectile launching slot that shoots energy blasts, can create force fields, and has magnetic properties. As a simple feat of science, his suit was a formidable foe- but then when he gained mutagenesis radiation treatments he gained super strength and endurance, as well as the ability to heal faster (and, hand in hand with that, the ability to withstand injury longer). He’s certainly no one to trifle with, despite his ridiculous name.
6. Madame Masque
Every male superhero seems to have a woman foe that is somehow their weak spot or proverbial kryptonite, if you will. Green Lantern has Star Sapphire; Wolverine has Dark Phoenix; Batman has Catwoman… and Talia Al Ghul… and Poison Ivy… actually, Batman has a lot of femme fatales in his life. He probably needs to lay off the ladies a bit.
Our point is that Iron Man has one too, and it’s Madame Masque. Giuletta Nefaria, also known as Whitney Frost, is actually daughter to one of Iron Man’s other foes, Count Luchino Nefaria. While both in civilian wear, the two really fell for each other (step aside, Pepper Potts); that is, until Iron Man was faced by her masked villainous side in battle and due to an accident caused permanent scarring of her face. Thus the mask, and thus the permanent and never ending love/hate relationship between the two.
5. Iron Monger
“Finally!” you’re thinking, “a superhero I actually know!” Iron Monger is known even to the least invested of comic book or Iron Man fans, because he was the starring villain of the first Iron Man movie. Obadiah Stane, a business peer of Tony Stark’s but firm opponent of Anthony Stark (Tony’s old man), is The Iron Monger and he has harbored loathing and hatred for the Stark name for decades- long before Tony Stark fitted himself with an iron suit. Obadiah Stane was able to essentially hijack the designs for the Iron Man suit and have a similar, stronger one made just for him. The movie portrays Obadiah as simply a power hungry, villainous, greedy old man- but that’s not Obadiah. He is a brilliant man, perhaps just as much as Tony (if not more), and has been waiting a long and lonely life to usurp power from those who try to keep it from him. Iron Monger is no simple foe.
4. Zeke Stane
If you thought that Obadiah was bad, you have no idea: we’re just getting started.
Obviously, Tony Stark/Iron Man defeats Obadiah Stane/Iron Monger. It happened in the movies, it happened in the comics, no matter where you look: it happened. So what now? Of course the battle will continue, with Obadiah’s son! Ezekiel (Zeke) Stane of course harbored hatred and bitterness towards Tony Stark for causing the death of his father, so he secretly continued his father’s work, building and selling bio-weaponry to the highest bidders (and, to be clear, he started doing this at age nine). The greatest threat to Zeke is that he was so careful and particular about staying quiet and behind the scenes; he orchestrated attacks dismantling international branches of Stark Industries and has been pulling the strings of Stark’s villains for years. We may not know it yet, but Zeke could already be a major player in the current Avengers films!
We want to make sure you’re fully absorbing just how ultimate Ultimo is. See the guy on the left? You know, the one taking up the whole shot? Okay, that’s Ultimo. Now see the guy on the right? The itty bitty little speck of red and yellow hovering in the clouds at Ultimo’s eye level? That’s Iron Man. Yeah.
Ultimo, also known as “the doomsday device” is really just a giant robot. But we don’t mean like The Sentinels in X-Men: Days of Future Past, or some other pansy bull. We are talking giant, gigantic, enormous, “holy crap, what’s the skyscraper sized thing?” He’s a big guy that has actually destroyed entire civilizations on other planets. Manipulated by the Mandarin (who we’ll talk about more soon!) to take down Iron Man, Ultimo is a pretty ultimate weapon. How could Ultimo not defeat Iron Man?? That would take some damn creative writing!
We haven’t actually seen Mallen in the Iron Man or Avengers movies, but we’ve seen an interpretation of his character. In Iron Man 3, we see veterans that have been infected/injected with the Extremis treatment. Some are very successful and powerful villains with the ability to essentially ooze lasers (we’re not really sure how that works but it looked cool in the movie); others don’t really take well to the treatment and, instead of getting a rash or a flu, they blow up with the power of a small bomb. Well, Mallen is one of these types of guys. As an Extremis candidate, he is actually the one known as the most powerful Extremis. His resistance to Tony Stark actually forces him to become an Extremis candidate, and it takes all of Tony’s might to defeat him. Wouldn’t that story have been a bit more interesting than combining it with such another powerful one as…
The Mandarin! The Mandarin is without a doubt, unquestioningly, mercilessly Iron Man’s greatest foe. And, unlike the portrayal of him given in Iron Man 3, The Mandarin is no concept or idea that someone else can usurp. The Mandarin is a real villain, a true psychopath, set on destroying Iron Man, America, and quite possibly the world. He is the Green Goblin to Spiderman; the Joker to Batman; the Lex Luthor to Superman! The Mandarin is Iron Man’s greatest archenemy due to his power, his cunning, his insight, and his keen knowledge of Iron Man’s flaws and faults. And there’s so much more power to The Mandarin than any movie has ever communicated. For example, he has ten rings he’s salvaged from an alien crash site that he’s adapted for his own use which make him nearly unstoppable in any villainous venture. How do you stop a guy like that?!