“I am Iron Man.” With those simple words, the Marvel Cinematic Universe was born, but more than that, the power fantasies of people everywhere went from Bruce Wayne to Tony Stark practically overnight. Rather than want to be Batman or Spider-Man, folks wanted to embody the genius, billionaire, playboy, philanthropist lifestyle of the smooth-talking Avenger first portrayed by Robert Downey Jr. nearly a decade ago.
Since then, Iron Man has starred in three solo outings, two Avengers movies, a Captain America movie and a Spider-Man movie, all while acting like the coolest superhero ever. A big part of why he’s such an enviable character is that awesome suit of armor, one that changes every time you see him, adapting to Iron Man’s every need and allowing for the best entrances and sweetest fight scenes. His Hulkbuster armor alone is one of the greatest parts of Avengers: Age of Ultron. It’s not all fun and games being Tony Stark though. Being cooped up in a suit of armor may look cool, but there’s actually a lot about being Iron Man that’s just flat out disgusting. Here at CBR, we’ve collected the 15 grossest facts about Iron Man’s armor, to make you rethink whether old Shell-Head is as enviable as he appears!
15 TONGUE OPERATED HELMET SWITCHES
Tony Stark has always been at the forefront of technological breakthroughs, especially when it comes to his superhero outfit of choice; however, you have to understand that the dude’s been around for over 50 years, and what was considered cutting edge back then is very different to now.
We’re so used to seeing Iron Man’s every move and command being governed by an onboard AI, that it’s hard to imagine him without it. Back in 1963, however, that didn’t come as standard, meaning that every action Tony Stark made was possible through a complicated series of wrist actions or switches inside the helmet that he operated with his tongue. Depending on how you look at it, that’s either gross, impressive, or impressively gross. It’s difficult to come out with quippy one-liners when your mouth is trying to activate repulsors boots, and we don’t even want to think about cleaning it afterward.
14 IT CAN GO INSIDE HIM
Since his early days, Tony Stark has made significant advancements in the Iron Man armor. Gone are the days when the biggest drama in his life would be whether he’d find a power outlet in time to plug in his suit and save his life -- which happened more often than you’d think -- and instead he’s more concerned with the suit that can go inside him when he’s not using it.
For a while at least, it seemed like the most sensible way to get Tony Stark in and out of the Iron Man armor was to have it live inside the hollowed out bones in his own body. Known as the Extremis armor, the Model XXX suit was worn for a while before this unusual method of storage was presumably found to be too icky and he went back to keeping it in a suitcase.
13 SPACE ARMOR HAS A CATHETER
When Tony Stark decided that he was eager to explore the stars with the Guardians of the Galaxy, he wasn’t going to stop a little thing like not being able to breathe in the vast and deadly void of space stop him from achieving his dreams, so he built himself a fully functioning space suit, capable of withstanding the pressures of interstellar travel.
Of course, being just one insignificant speck on the grand cosmic canvas means traveling even as far as our own moon would take a long time, meaning he’d need a way for nature to take its course whenever it called, which is why the space suit comes equipped with a catheter allowing him to relieve himself whenever he likes. You can’t say that the billionaire futurist hasn’t thought of everything, but that suit must smell delightful when he finally steps out of it.
12 IT RECYCLES HIS WASTE INTO SOMETHING DRINKABLE
With all of this talk of relieving himself in the suit, it’s time to check in on perhaps one of the most memorable moments of an entirely forgettable MCU movie (a rarity, thankfully) -- Iron Man 2. While merrily allowing those pesky demons in a bottle to overwhelm him, Tony announces that if he pees in the suit, he’s set it up so that it makes it entirely drinkable.
From one simple statement, there’s a lot to unpack. Firstly, he must need to pee in the suit so badly, so often, that he decided to design entire functionality around it. Secondly, that he’d want to drink his own pee so badly he incorporates that into the suit, to begin with. Thirdly, if he gets that thirsty, why not just install a vending machine in the thing, then he could at least have a Capri-Sun rather than reuse his own waste.
11 IT GETS REAL SWEATY
This is something that’s less explicitly stated and more of an assumption on our part, but Peter Parker frequently mentions that his suit gets hot and smelly, and rides up in the crotch, and his costume is only made of cloth. So, imagine how a massive suit of heavy armor would get after a few hours of use.
Now, we could easily imagine Tony building some kind of air conditioning in that thing, but again that’s never mentioned, and at this point, he’s told us a lot about the suit -- including that it converts his pee into a tasty beverage -- so we’d surely know if it was cooled inside. So instead, we’re left to only imagine what a foul hotbed of bodily fluids goes on underneath that clunky, airtight armor.
10 IT’S SYMBIOTICALLY LINKED TO HIM
When Doctor Octopus took over Peter Parker’s body to become the Superior Spider-Man, the “villain turned hero” formula was so successful that Marvel decided to make a whole event around it. Called Axis, it inverted heroes and villains, making Tony Stark -- for a short while -- the Superior Iron Man, who was basically exactly the same except he had looser morals and a cool new symbiote suit.
Designed after the symbiotes usually associated with Spider-Man -- Venom and Carnage for example -- the Model 50 armor was a fully liquid smart metal, meaning it was linked psionically to Tony’s brain allowing for a closer bond between man and machine. Quite why he would base a suit on Venom -- whose symbiotic relationship with Eddie Brock is far from enviable -- is anyone’s guess, but allowing a suit access to your every thought was never going to end well.
9 FILLED WITH GOO TO PROTECT HIS SKIN
Much like a lot of the heroes in the Ultimate universe, the Tony Stark of Earth 1610 is vastly different to the one we famously know as the Invincible Iron Man. For Starters, the Tony of the Ultimate comics was born with a brain all over his body -- or rather: neurological pathways across his skin allowed for greater mental capacity but extreme dermal sensitivity.
Being a giant brain is pretty gross in itself, but in order to survive in any functional way, Tony’s father Howard Stark invented the Iron Man armor in order to protect his son’s skin from harm. Rather than load his son into a harsh metal suit (which doesn’t seem entirely helpful), Tony almost floats inside the armor in a gross yet protective blue goo that must just get everywhere.
8 HE’S OFTEN WEARING VERY LITTLE IN THERE
These days, Tony Stark has a protective “undersheath” that allows him to hop in and out of the suit with -- presumably -- very little chafing. It wasn’t always like that though, and over the years we’ve seen him wear a full tuxedo -- to allow for James Bond style quick changes ready for the cocktail party - to basically just his underwear.
Much like a Scottish kilt, the Iron Man armor looks great until the inevitable question pops into your mind -- “I wonder what that dude’s got on under there.” Once you think it, you can’t un-think it, meaning that for all of his high-flying super antics and effortless cool in a super high-tech suit of armor, there’s a significant portion of the audience imagining he’s flying around commando underneath.
7 HE THREW UP IN THE HELMET
Whether it’s because of his debauched drunkenness or horrific internal injuries, wearing a helmet comes with a high likelihood that at some point you’re going to get vomit right up in there. This is especially true when your suit is controlled by tongue operated switches; you have to imagine that a gut punch from the Crimson Dynamo, while you’re trying to turn on your laser gloves, could result in some nasty projectile disaster inside there.
One of the more recent occasions where Tony Stark barfed up in his helmet was when confronted with a city turned to stone in 2011’s Fear Itself. The sight of the population of Paris mummified in granite was enough for Iron Man to bring up his lunch right through the mouth-hole of the helmet, which was an effective and perhaps reasonable response if a little graphic for your standard superhero comic.
6 IT HELD ZOMBIE IRON MAN TOGETHER
At the height of “zombie-fever” (read: 2005-2015), Marvel decided to jump on the already-pretty-full bandwagon driven by George Romero and Robert Kirkman and produced multiple series set in an alternate universe where all of the heroes you know and love had been turned into undead nightmares.
Appropriately entitled Marvel Zombies, the cast of characters in these comics was vast, but Iron Man was always a part of the core group of nasty undead “heroes” who made their way across the cosmos, eating everyone in sight. As the series progressed, it was pretty clear that they were all deteriorating at a disgusting pace, meaning that by the end, the only thing holding Tony Stark’s rotting corpse together was the high-tech suit of armor he’d made in his previous life.
5 IT BECAME SENTIENT AND ASSAULTED HIM
The gift and the curse of building so many suits of armor is that eventually, they’re going to become so smart that they’ll have a ming of their own. When that day comes -- and if your name is Tony Stark -- you better hope that they have only the best of intentions towards their creator.
Unfortunately (for him at least) this is comics, where things never go as smoothly as the characters would like. Such is the case with Tony’s “living armor” which, while welcomed at first for it’s increased tactical acumen, soon turns into an indiscriminate killing machine, even going so far as to replace Tony altogether. Its desire to do no harm, however, is its ultimate downfall, as it sacrifices itself to save Stark when he suffers a heart attack. Quite why it waited until after it killed a bunch of people to get a conscience is anyone’s guess.
4 BACTERIA REGENERATES HIS LIMBS
We’re once again back in the Ultimate universe for this entry, and if a goo-filled suit wasn’t enough, the Tony Stark of Earth 1610 takes the concept of a protective armor to the next level, by having a piece of technology wrapped around him that’s so advanced, it can rebuild limbs and organs that are damaged in battle.
Wearing a sort of bio-organic 3D printer at all times seems pretty useful, especially in the high-risk line of work that is superheroism. While the blue liquid inside the suit not only protects Stark’s sensitive skin, it can also absorb kinetic impact and redistribute it, and aid in the swift recovery of any injuries occurred while wearing the suit, up to and including the regeneration of limbs and internal organs.
3 ULTRON ONCE USED IT TO CHANGE TONY’S GENDER
The longtime Avengers villain Ultron has made it known on multiple occasions that he doesn’t much care for the human race or its welfare, so taking over the Iron Man armor and reconstituting it to turn Tony Stark’s body into that of a naked Janet Van Dyne (aka Wasp) doesn’t seem like something that would phase the mechanical monster.
This is what happened in the first volume of Mighty Avengers, and although it’s never fully explained exactly what happens, Ultron infects the Iron Man armor and both it and Tony are morphed in a way that would seem entirely irreversible. Luckily, he’s back to his old self in no time, but when Ultron comes knocking, you’ve got to imagine that being a dude in a wifi-capable metal suit makes you nothing but a prime target for assimilation.
2 IT BONDED TO HIS SKIN PERMANENTLY (AGE OF X)
Earth 11326 -- aka, the Age of X universe -- carried on the merry Marvel tradition of having alternate universes in which life is completely miserable for the entire mutant species. In this dystopian world, anti-mutant hysteria is at an all-time high, resulting in millions of deaths and millions more confined to concentration camps.
In a confrontation with that universe’s versions of Madison and Lionel Jeffries, Tony Stark is exposed to a virus that fuses his suit permanently to his skin, causing the armor to slowly digest him until he’s being kept alive purely by the suit. Calling himself the Steel Corpse, Stark died while trying to stop his suit from killing mutant children. Steve Rogers shot him in the back of the head to prevent the murders.
1 IT WEAPONIZED AN ALIEN MENACE ON EARTH 691
When it comes to alternate earths, Marvel comics tend to only show us the ones that are extremely depressing. With all those infinite earths out there, you’d expect a couple that are happy places to be, but if there are we’ve never seen them. Take Earth 691 for example, a world in which the martian invasions have decimated the planet -- not exactly cheerful.
It gets worse for Tony Stark when he realizes that his Iron Man technology -- jettisoned into space to avoid detection by the Martians -- has fallen into the hands of another alien race, who call themselves The Stark after their new god and provider. This newly advanced race become a menace in the 31st century, where they frequently come to blows with the futuristic Guardians of the Galaxy.