Tony Stark has done it all. Once a multi-billionaire super-scientist who saw the pain and death he was inflicting on the world with his weapons, he turned his genius intellect around and stopped in place of becoming a superhero known as Iron Man. Since then, he’s been everything from a founding member of the Avengers to a diplomat for the U.N., all the way to being Director of S.H.I.E.L.D. Battling both a failing heart and alcoholism, he’s proven the resiliency of the human spirit. He’s the true meaning of a renaissance man, excelling at everything he’s put his mind to.
But just because he’s great at being Iron Man, doesn’t necessarily mean he’s the best. Since he first created the armor, several men and women have surfaced that have been every bit his equal…and his superior. Of course, not everyone who’s donned the suit can make the same claim. For this list, CBR counts down the 8 people who were better at wearing the Iron Man armor, as well as 7 more who worse. With a single exception, this list stays away from the "What-If?"/multiversal characters, so as to both keep the number reasonable and to keep from comparing the original Shellhead to versions of characters in idealized worlds that show them in a better light than normal.
15 WORSE: DEADPOOL
In Deadpool #7, part of a series of retro-focused parody issues by Brian Posehn, Gerry Duggan, Scott Koblish and Val Staples, Deadpool ever-so-briefly donned the Iron Man armor. Having signed a demonic contract with a being named “Vetis” to keep Iron Man drinking, Deadpool instead managed to talk Stark out of his alcoholism only to take a spin in the armor himself while completely plastered to fulfill the contract.
Now, although Wade managed to save Tony Stark in the story and technically stop a nuclear plant from overheating, he also ignored a bank robbery and tossed a bunch of nuclear rods into the ocean -- reckless behavior that would put even Tony’s worst moments in the armor to shame. So yeah, it’s safe to say he isn’t quite as good as the original.
14 BETTER: HAPPY HOGAN
Initially serving as Tony Stark’s driver/bodyguard, Happy Hogan first wears the Iron Man armor in Tales of Suspense#84, “The Other Iron Man”, in order to keep Stark’s identity a secret after people start to wonder why Iron Man and Stark are never seen in the same place at the same time.
Happy is certainly not the best person to wear the armor besides Stark, hence his low placement on the list. But at the time the fact that he didn’t need the armor just to keep his heart going already made him a better choice than its creator. Combine that with his natural toughness, fighting ability from his time as a boxer and the picture becomes clearer. Having met Stark by pulling him from the wreckage of one of his experimental race cars, he’s also used to risking his life for others, so he’s a natural hero.
13 WORSE: VICTOR VON DOOM
One of the most surprising entries on this list, Victor Von Doom first decided to become Iron Man in Brian Michael Bendis and Alex Maleev’s Infamous Iron Man #1, after Tony Stark was left comatose at the end of Civil War II. Already having tried the literal god route during Secret Wars and finding it unsatisfying, Victor decided instead to make the world a better place.
He’s certainly got the power and resources to be a better Iron Man than Stark, but power alone doesn’t make the hero. In truth, Doom’s a selfish bastard who’s only helping after having already gotten the chance to rule all of reality and learning he hated it. And it feels like he’s only doing this because saving the world is the most challenging thing he can do without his nemesis Reed Richards around to keep him busy.
12 BETTER: EDDIE MARCH
Something of a lesser-known character in Iron Man lore, Eddie March first popped up in Iron Man #21, and was very nearly Tony Stark’s replacement! A boxer who quit after a doctor discovered a blood clot in his brain, March kept this information hidden when Tony approached him to become the new Iron Man after feeling like his synthetic heart couldn’t take being a superhero.
Despite his limitations, March was still capable of going toe-to-toe with an improved version of Crimson Dynamo, one of Tony’s most dangerous opponents. Much like Happy, March’s time in the ring make him a better fighter than Tony -- but unlike Happy, March was actually trained to use the armor, and was even given a copy of the Iron Man suit after Tony decided to continue the job himself.
11 WORSE: WEASEL WILLIS
Weasel Willis is one of those lesser-known characters who appeared before Tony even had his own comic. Debuting in Tales of Suspense #65 by the legendary Stan Lee and Don Heck, Weasel was a nobody crook who just happened to steal Tony Stark’s attaché case after breaking into Stark Industries. After figuring out how to use it, he proceeded to go on a crime spree until he was shut down by Stark wearing the classic Mark I suit.
Weasel lands higher on this list because he’s really just an idiot with bad intentions who managed to make off with the Iron Man suit, and that’s terrifying. With its myriad ability set, the armor shouldn't ever find its way into the hands of some two bit hood. At least it was a fairly early-era suit before they got all tricked out.
10 BETTER: HAL STARK AKA IRON LANTERN
The only "What-if?”/Elseworlds type character on this list, Hal Stark is the merged form of Tony Stark and Hal Jordan from Marvel and DC’s all-too-brief series of one-shots that combined their two worlds together to form the Amalgam Universe. Granted a special chestplate from Oa the Living Planet, Hal Stark balanced being Iron Lantern with being a multi-millionaire who owned his own experimental airplane facility.
Though he’s only around for the one-shot issue, Hal supersedes Tony by being every bit as smart, resourceful, and rich as Iron Man…while being backed by the power of the Green Lanterns as well. If that statement alone isn't enough to convince you how awesome and powerful he is, we don't think we can help you. It's too bad that we most likely will never see him pop up ever again.
9 WORSE: IRON LAD
A member of Allan Heinberg and Jim Cheung’s Young Avengers team, Iron Lad is actually Nathaniel Richards, an alternate universe, younger version of Kang the Conqueror. After going on multiple adventures with the Young Avengers, a team he founded, eventually his dark future was revealed and he’s been battling with his future ever since -- even going so far as to kill a younger version of the Vision he created.
Iron Lad lands on this side of the list because he can’t quite make his mind up whether he’s going to fight for light or darkness, and he keeps endangering people or lashing out rather than letting people help him, even when he knows what road that eventually leads him down. He’s technically one of the greatest Avengers villains ever, so until he either undoes that or makes up for it, he’s a pretty terrible stand-in for the Armored Avenger.
8 BETTER: ARNO STARK
A reboot of the original Arno Stark, this version is revealed to be the only blood successor to the Stark line during Kieron Gillen’s 2013 run. First fully appearing in Iron Man Vol. 5 #17, Arno was born to Howard and Maria Stark with the help of an alien named 451, who genetically altered Arno’s DNA to allow him to defend Earth from potential alien threats with his vast intelligence.
Despite Arno being unable to walk or live without life support, the genetic meddling from 451 actually makes him even smarter than Tony, negating the one benefit he has over the vast majority of this list. As for moving, Arno invents his own suit that makes him just as capable as Tony -- who spent a good part of his early years unable to go any place without wearing his armor and seemed to do the whole superhero pretty well.
7 WORSE: ARNO STARK AKA IRON MAN 2020
Also known as “Iron Man 2020”, this Arno Stark was created by Tom DeFalco and Herb Trimpe in 1984, and initially more of a menace to the hero Machine Man. A future relative of Tony Stark, Arno took over Stark Industries, but rather than continue Stark’s legacy of heroism both in and out of the armor, Arno instead decided to use his futuristic Iron Man armor to be a mercenary.
Arno started the trend of gradually breaking down the decades of good Stark had done both in and out of the comics, ruining his legacy as a hero and as a captain of industry. That, plus the fact that despite having a far superior armor, he proved incapable of defeating him the one time they faced off in West Coast Avengers #61 by Roy Thomas, Dann Thomas, and Paul Ryan, makes him pretty terrible at the whole Iron Man gig.
6 BETTER: RIRI WILLIAMS AKA IRONHEART
Alongside Victor Von Doom, Riri Williams is the most recent of people to join the ranks of Shellheads. First debuting in Invincible Iron Man #7 by Brian Michael Bendis and Stefano Caselli, Riri is a teenaged genius who managed to reverse-engineer the Iron Man armor while working at MIT. Though not "officially" Iron Man, she has been granted an AI to help her operate her suit, along with access to Tony’s lab by Pepper Potts and Tony’s birth mother Amanda Armstrong.
Riri’s place on this list speaks more to her potential. She’s still out there helping people, fighting bad guys, but she’s doing it without all of Tony’s many mistakes on her record -- and she’s got the guidance of “Tony” (in AI form) and his friends, meaning she should achieve far greater heights than her predecessor ever could.
5 WORSE: CLARENCE WARD
Clarence Ward was a guy who somehow got a hold of one of Tony Stark's armors, enraged after being snubbed by Tony Stark when he proposed a business deal between his own company and Stark Industries while Tony was on a date with then-girlfriend Rumiko Fujikawa.
Setting out to ruin Stark's life before killing the man, he murdered Stark's board of directors before going on to kill both Rumiko and her friend Oshima, which led to a showdown between him and the real deal that he obviously easily lost. Ward isn’t a major part of Iron Man’s lore, but the massive damage he did to Stark as well as in his name leads to his high placement on the list. A remorseless monster, there are scarce few people worse than him who’ve worn the armor.
4 BETTER: PEPPER POTTS
One of the first members of Iron Man's supporting cast, Virginia “Pepper” Potts served as Iron Man's assistant-slash-gal Friday for decades. It wasn't until Matt Fraction's seminal run on Iron Man that she would take a much more active role, suiting up in a unique new suit of armor built specifically for her known as "Rescue" in Invincible Iron Man #10.
Pepper ranks highly on this list because ultimately she is what Tony Stark wishes he always could be. After his accident, he tried to distance himself from the weapons industry, but to continue to help people as Iron Man, as he wears his ultimate weapon every day. But the Rescue suit has no weapons, and is instead designed purely to help people rather than do battle.
3 WORSE: NORMAN OSBORN AKA IRON PATRIOT
In the aftermath of Brian Michael Bendis and Leinil Francis Yu’s Secret Invasion, Norman Osborn was suddenly given the keys to the kingdom and became the new director of SHIELD, turning it into the totalitarian HAMMER. After stealing some tech from Stark Tower, Norman managed to build a facsimile of Stark’s work to become the Iron Patriot, though found himself unable to master Stark’s repulsor tech so he was unable to make anything quite as powerful as Tony’s usual work.
Norman is unequivocally not on Tony’s level -- he couldn’t make the armor on his own, so he stole some of Stark’s, and even then couldn’t get it to work right. And all while being a murdering psychopath who oppressed heroes just trying to help the world. As both a member of the human race and a former Iron Man, Norman is just the worst.
2 BETTER: BETHANY CABE
Created by Bob Layton, David Michelinie and John Romita Jr. in Iron Man #117's "The Spy Who Killed Me", Bethany Cabe started off as one of Tony's many, many flings, but fortunately became so much more. A former private investigator, Bethany was both smart enough to deduce Tony's true identity and smart enough to pilot her own version of Tony Stark's armor in Iron Man #300.
Bethany ranks high on this list because she’s not just a one-shot character or someone who’s known for their fighting capabilities. Her cleverness and ingenuity combined with her not being as visible of a target as a multi-billionaire entrepreneur/scientist/playboy means she could be a far more deadly Iron Man that’s much less of a public figure and more of a stealthy powerhouse. A dangerous combination for foes who are used to the much more showy Stark.
1 BETTER: JAMES RHODES AKA WAR MACHINE
The most well-known person to wear the Iron Man armor besides Tony, Rhodey first appeared in David Michelinie, Bob Layton, and John Romita Jr’s Iron Man #118 as Tony’s pilot, but by Iron Man #170 he would become the new Iron Man when Tony decided being at the bottom of a bottle was more important to him than being a superhero.
If there’s any one person that deserves to be called Tony Stark’s better in the armor, it’s Rhodey. To start, he’s never handed the responsibility off to go drinking. Even being blown to pieces couldn’t stop him, as he spent the majority of War Machine vol. 2 hunting down war criminals. He’s got better natural control over the armor due to his time as a pilot, and he’s often faced with the same odds but far fewer resources than Stark since he’s not a billionaire or super-genius.
Do you still think Tony Stark was the best Iron Man ever? Let us know in the comments!