In the comic book world, there are many heroes who are some type of superhuman creature, forces of nature from other planets or other worlds that are brought to earth to fight crime. There are also heroes who are regular people who are given some type of power that transforms them into an unstoppable heroic force. And then, there’s Tony Stark.
Stark is really just a brainy businessman with a penchant for beautiful ladies. He sits at the helm of Stark Enterprises and runs the multi-billion-dollar company with finesse, and he spends his time playing around with technology and constructing new toys. One of the things he constructs when he needs an escape route from a tricky situation is a crazy Iron Man suit, and the rest is history– he dons the suit, gets out of the sticky situation he got himself into, and subsequently transforms himself into a hero: Iron Man.
Now, while the fact that Tony could create such a highly sophisticated, technologically advanced suit is absolutely incredible, there’s no denying that he’s a lot different from the other heroes because, well, he’s just a regular guy– a businessman with a really, really cool tool. In the comic book world, though, that’s enough to get him included in countless storylines and battles against villains– and even, in one storyline, other heroes.
So, has Tony Stark always been your favourite hero in the Marvel universe? Are you curious to know a little bit about the smooth-talking sex symbol? Well, here are 15 things you might not have known about Mr. Tony Stark.
15. His character is based on Howard Hughes
All of the superhero world’s heroes have different origin stories, and it can be baffling to imagine how on earth the creators were able to dream up such fascinating characters. That holds particularly true for Tony Stark, who is an interesting sort of hero– a human, but with no giant origin story for his powers like many of the other humans-turned-heroes. He quite literally created his own powers. Sure, he was smart, but there was no radioactive accident going on. Well, it turns out, Stark’s character is based on the legendary American entrepreneur, Howard Hughes. Stan Lee described Hughes as “an inventor, an adventurer, a multi-billionaire, a ladies’ man and finally a nutcase.” While the nutcase part may not apply to Tony Stark (although he has struggled with a few demons throughout his appearances– more on that later) the rest is pretty spot on, and it’s kind of cool to know that such a legendary fictional character was inspired by a real man.
14. He was quite the prodigy
Tony Stark is known best for one thing (apart from his crazy charisma with the ladies), and that’s his intelligence. He’s a really, really smart guy, one who is able to craft crazy powerful, technologically advanced gear. So, it might not come as a surprise that he went to school at an early age– but you might not realize just how early. According to the comic book universe, Stark started his undergraduate degree in electrical engineering at the prestigious Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) when he was just 15 years old. Four years later, in the time it would take most people to earn one undergraduate degree, Stark was walking away from the school having graduated with two Master’s degrees. Stark is probably lucky he was attending at such a young age– if he was in college in his early 20s, he may have gotten a little sidetracked by the gorgeous women around him and lost some of his focus.
13. He inherited Stark Enterprises at just 21
The concept of a son inheriting his father’s successful business and going on to become a wealthy, successful businessman isn’t too farfetched– it’s a plot that’s been featured in countless movies and television shows. However, Tony didn’t take the lead at Stark Enterprises in his 30s or 40s, which is generally the age that a young son takes over the firm that his father founded (after being groomed for the position for years, usually). Tony became the boss at Stark Enterprises when he was just 21 years old, due to the fact that both his parents were killed in a car accident (well, ‘accident’– it was actually a secret plan by a rival corporation, but we won’t go into that). It just goes to prove that there’s more to Tony Stark than meets the eye. While he might seem like just a fun-loving playboy, he’s definitely someone who knows how to work hard and excel in the business world.
12. He had a big female following
Okay, this fact is a little bit hilarious considering Stark’s reputation as a ladies’ man. Now, while female fans are becoming a larger population of comic book fans lately, due to all the films coming out that encourage them to check out the original comics, there’s no secret that it was once a fairly male dominated world. And it’s no surprise. While there were some female heroes and villains, a large majority of the really popular characters in the comic book universe were male. Though Tony Stark might seem like the hero men would be drawn to the most, given that he’s basically an alpha male with brains and plenty of beauties surrounding him, it turns out that Stark’s biggest fans in real life were actually women– Stan Lee has said that the majority of the fan mail that Marvel got from female readers was about Tony Stark. The ladies just love him, whether in the real world or in the comic book world.
11. He took fashion advice (kind of) from an ex-girlfriend
Tony Stark is a fiercely independent guy, and while he might ask his trusty pal J.A.R.V.I.S. for sartorial advice, it’s not something he’d ask a woman, right? Well, not exactly. It turns out, when he first began designing the Iron Man armor, he opted for a metallic grey colour– classic for a robot suit, right? Well, one of his ex-girlfriends shared her advice that the colour was just too frightening and suited for a villain, perhaps, but not for someone who wanted to help people. She suggested he switch it to gold, a friendlier colour. Later, the suit became red and gold, and frankly, we can’t quite imagine the Iron Man suit in any other hue. It just wouldn’t seem right. The red and gold shade has become super well known, and a plain grey suit would just be boring in comparison– that ex was a smart lady!
10. He made the Forbes wealthiest list
Everyone knows the list that Forbes puts out annually detailing the wealthiest people in the world– it can serve as great inspiration to get your butt into gear and start clawing your way to the top of your industry because, while some of them possess inherited money, there are also many self-made men and women on those lists. And, it turns out, Tony Stark is one of them– well, on their fictional list, anyway. You see, Forbes crafted a list of the wealthiest fictional characters of all time, and Stark came in at fourth and fifth in separate years. Securing a stable spot in the top five amongst all the fictional characters is quite the feat– it proves that, while a lot of Stark’s wealth came from the fact that he inherited a company, his hard work to make it successful didn’t go unnoticed. So if the whole superhero thing ever gets to be too much, he could easily just live the luxe life of a billionaire.
9. He trained in fighting with Captain America
When he’s wearing his incredible Iron Man suit, Tony Stark is nearly unstoppable. After all, he crafted the suit to be able to withstand a ton of damage and inflict a ton of damage. It’s an absolute masterpiece. However, what would happen if something happened when he wasn’t near his suits, or if something happened to the suit and Stark had to engage in battle just as he was? Well, he wasn’t about to leave that up to chance– he enlisted Captain America’s help. Stark approached Steve Rogers– better known as Captain America– to teach him how to fight and defend himself (or others) if he were ever forced to do so without his suit. So, it makes sense that the Tony Stark we see in the movies is in shape, rather than looking like someone who spends all his time behind a computer screen– he trained with one of the best in the world.
8. He owns Area 51
Everyone knows about Area 51 and all the mystery and lore that surrounds that particular spot of land in Nevada, but did you know that, in the Marvel universe at least, Tony Stark actually owns it? And it wasn’t exactly a big reveal– it’s an off-hand comment in Avengers #19, where Stark reveals that he simply bought the piece of land from the military. So far, there hasn’t really been any explanation in the comic universe about why exactly he was so interested in the piece of land. Perhaps he thought it would be a good place to test new prototypes Stark Enterprises was working on? Perhaps it was just a whimsical purchase, because he liked the idea of owning a spot associated with supernatural creatures. Perhaps it was a smart investment. Who knows? All we know is that he bought it because he had the cash to do so, plain and simple.
7. He has a history of alcoholism
Robert Downey Jr. plays Tony Stark impeccably on the big screen, and has done so for many films now, but there’s another reason he can relate so well to the character of Tony Stark— both Downey Jr. and Stark have a history of substance abuse. In the late 1970s, the Iron Man comics had a big storyline wherein Stark turned to alcohol in order to deal with all the stress that his new life of fighting crime created. In fact, Shane Blake and Drew Pearce, the director and writer behind Iron Man 3, told ComicBookMovie.com that they had initially wanted to incorporate that facet of Stark’s character in the movie– the problem was, Disney shut the idea down because of complaints from mothers that alcoholism was being depicted in a movie somewhat aimed at children. Yet another instance where the slightly darker world of the comic book was cleaned up a bit for the big screen.
6. He served as U.S. Secretary of Defense
In some of the Iron Man comics, Tony Stark wasn’t exactly tight-lipped about his identity as Iron Man. He had no trouble revealing who was in that crazy, technologically-advanced suit that was basically indestructible. So, with that paired with the fact that he’s insanely intelligent, it kind of makes sense that Stark would serve as the U.S. Secretary of Defense. We don’t typically imagine comic book heroes holding positions like that, but hey, Stark is arguably more connected to the business world than any other superhero, so if it should be anyone, it would be him. Though he’s definitely smart enough to do the job, we imagine he might also bring a healthy dose of humour to the role– and would obviously bring Pepper along to be his right-hand woman. Perhaps screenwriters will revisit this storyline when they’re looking for some new ideas on which comics to bring to the big screen?
5. He’s always stayed involved in his business– even as a superhero
For many of the heroes in the comic book universe, their regular jobs are something they used to do, or something they do in order to disguise their true identity. Or, perhaps they never really had one– they were given some type of power or mutation at a young age and have basically been a hero or hero-in-training for years. However, Tony Stark is a little different. He started out as a businessman whose tech acumen made Stark Enterprises a success, and he wasn’t exactly going to give up his years of hard work just to be a superhero. Even while he was Iron Man and while he was working with the Avengers, he kept growing Stark Enterprises bigger and bigger. His passion for his multi-billion-dollar company is part of the reason so many people love him– he certainly has enough to live a comfortable life, but he keeps clocking in at Stark Enterprises because he loves it.
4. He served as Director of S.H.I.E.L.D.
Okay, this fact may not be quite so obscure after the release of Captain America: Civil War, but it’s still a cool fact— Tony Stark once served as a director of S.H.I.E.L.D. For those who might not have seen the movie or read the particular comics where this storyline played out, there was a big issue where the government wanted superheroes to register themselves and their powers– essentially transforming them into agents for S.H.I.E.L.D. A lot of the heroes flat out refused to do this, while others figured it wouldn’t really change much, so why not just comply? The result was a big rift between the heroes, with Tony Stark leading the group that felt like registration was a good idea. And, to make his job easier, and because they felt like a hero would have the best shot at convincing the dissenting heroes, they made Stark Director of S.H.I.E.L.D. for a period.
3. His biological parents were agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.
It’s no surprise that Tony Stark got involved with S.H.I.E.L.D.– after all, it runs in his blood. You see, Stark’s biological parents, Amanda Armstrong and Jude, were actually agents for the organization in the comic book world. At one point, Jude rescued Amanda from an assassin, and the rest, as they say, is history– they fell for one another, had baby Tony, and began to live a life of happy agent bliss. Of course, things soured at one point down the road, because the two agents had some strife, but still, Tony Stark is often seen as a sexy, independent playboy who doesn’t really have strong family ties like some of the other superheroes, so it’s interesting to find out about his parents. Plus, when you have S.H.I.E.L.D. agent DNA running in your veins, it only makes sense that you would eventually turn to a life of fighting crime and joining forces with other heroes.
2. He was adopted
While Tony Stark’s childhood might not be quite as tragic as a hero like Batman’s, it still had a fair bit of drama. You see, as previously discussed, Stark’s biological parents were both agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., and a huge argument between the two of them led to his father’s death– at the hands of his mother. Crazy, right? After killing her partner and the father of her child, Stark’s biological mother, Amanda, asked S.H.I.E.L.D. for their help taking care of the baby– apparently agent-dom and single motherhood don’t quite mix. The organization responded by taking Tony to an orphanage in Bulgaria, where industrialist Howard Stark found him and brought him home to his wife Maria. The Starks became Tony’s parents, and though Tony’s relationship with Howard eventually declined, we’re not sure where he would have been as a character if he had been adopted by someone else– Stark Enterprises is a big part of what drives Tony to succeed.
1. He wasn’t designed to be loved
Creating characters is tough– you want them to be complex, ambitious yet likeable, heroic yet troubled by many issues that regular mortals face. Even villains are often made somewhat sympathetic to muddy the waters even more. However, when it came to creating Tony Stark, Stan Lee wasn’t too worried about creating a hero that the readers would love. In fact, he actually specifically created Tony as a character that readers were likely going to hate. He made his first appearance in the comic book world as an arms dealer who was profiting off the war in Vietnam– at a time in history when readers’ opposition to the Vietnam war was growing. So, it was kind of a tough sell, but Lee wanted to challenge himself to get the liberal readers to fall in love with the type of character that stood for everything they hated. It worked. Stark’s character endured over the years and now people absolutely love him.