Stan Lee and Jack Kirby always had an eye to the future when creating Marvel Comics. There best example with that is the creation and the work of Tony Stark. The character was modeled on Howard Hughes and was to be just a weapons designer. After being badly injured in an attack, Tony built a suit of armor to survive and escape. He thus turned his life around to become a hero as Iron Man. For a long time, the public thought Iron Man was Stark’s personal bodyguard and company spokesperson. Tony would reveal his identity and has loved being in the limelight. What has remained constant is Tony always has an eye for the future and has used that while he creates his armor.
The big deal is, of course, the armor. Over the decades, there have been no less than sixty full sets of armor Tony has crafted for his Iron Man work. Some are specialty suits that he’s only used once or twice. Others are models he has used constantly and made famous. It’s not just Tony either, as others have taken up the armor now and have helped him out immensely. That includes a few folks who have proven themselves just as worthy of the Iron Man suit. There are a few suits that are notable for their special appearances, but there are a couple that stand apart from the rest. Here are, 15 Iron Man Armors Ranked Worst To Best (And 5 Who Wore The Armor Better).
20 ARCTIC SUIT
This armor only made a single appearance and it was in Iron Man #318. Tony had to journey to the Arctic in winter for a mission with a major storm coming in. He knew his usual suits might freeze up there. So he crafted a special suit with a very nice blue and white paint job and special alloys to handle the cold.
It was a good choice for that mission but its specific use is the reason it ranks so low. It was only used this one time and it seems like a waste to have to craft an entire suit for a specific environment. You’d think Tony could easily put those designs into all his suits. Thus, this has to rank as the least effective armor despite how (no pun intended) it looked pretty cool.
19 HYDRO SUIT
Usually, when he goes underwater, Tony can just dive right in and the armor protects him. However, in a few cases, Tony has to dive far deep under the ocean. The pressure could crush even a regular armored suit with ease. Thus, Tony has created a special armor built to withstand those pressures. Debuting in Iron Man #218, this is one of those cases where Tony has a special suit that can fit right over his regular Iron Man armor. The cool “bubble head” helps it stand out more.
The armor is treated with lights and a “bio-luminance” to allow Tony to see in the pitch darkness of the oceans. It’s also maneuverable enough for Tony to handle fighting whales, sharks or the Sub-Mariner. He doesn’t use it as often as other armors but this suit proves Tony can handle any environment well.
18 THE ORIGINAL
Historically, it counts as a huge deal. Captured by enemy forces while badly wounded, Tony Stark built this suit mainly to keep himself alive. It was after he used it to escape that Tony realized how much good it could do as a hero. It’s almost a toy compared to his future armors but it is still effective. It’s bulletproof, fire-resistant and enhances Tony’s strength majorly. Its weapons are almost non-existent but it served well enough for Tony to escape.
Originally grey, Tony painted the suit gold to stand out more. He added in boot jets and a few weapons as he began his heroic career. Tony soon realized this armor was just too big and shifted to the more streamlined suits. But he still breaks it out now and then to show that even his early Iron Man was an impressive force.
17 STEALTH SUIT
David Michelinie, Bob Layton and John Romita Jr. are generally considered the best Iron Man creative team ever. They created some terrific adventures that boosted Tony to huge success. Layton and Romita loved creating new suits for Tony to use. In Iron Man #152, Tony has to go on a secret mission to East Germany. He thus crafts this very cool all-black “Stealth Suit.” As the name implies, the suit is designed to avoid radar detection and various evasion devices. Tony even has an “invisibility” mode he can use to sneak past guards.
Tony has used this suit a few times on other missions such as going to Russia during his Armor Wars. While the suit looks great and terrific for stealth, it has a serious disadvantage. It contains almost no weapons whatsoever, not even repulsor rays. Thus, if Tony was to be discovered, he’d be hard-pressed to fight it out. The suit is good for sneaking but weaker compared to the more powerful armors on the list.
16 CLASSIC RED AND GOLD
For a generation of Marvel fans, this was the armor Iron Man was famous for. After his simple gold armor was stolen, Tony decided to craft a new suit with a new design to it. This was streamlined, allowing it to fit easily over Tony’s body and allow him to handle himself in flight and combat. The first versions had an odd “spiked” mask and even a nose but Tony went with the form-fitting helmet instead.
Tony would be able to fix the armor so it could be hidden in a suitcase and then donned in moments. It could even look like cloth but then become solid metal instantly. Tough enough to handle extremes of heat and a fight with the Hulk, the armor boasted slews of great weapons and other devices to save the day. Tony has gone back to this design now and then as fans just love how this suit works for the character.
15 HEROES REBORN
In 1996, Marvel created the controversial Heroes Reborn label. Tony was “reborn” in a new universe where he was even more of a selfish jerk than usual. Wounded in an attack, Tony took up a special suit of armor to become a hero. While the event wasn’t well-received, the armor itself was pretty impressive. Nicknamed “the Prometheum Armor”, it allowed Tony to handle a fight with the Hulk despite zero experience in combat. The weapons systems were good as well as terrific flight abilities.
The drawback is that the armor just wasn’t very attractive. It was way too bulky and the “wings” behind him served no real purpose. It really shows the attitude of the 1990s far too much. Thankfully, Tony stuck to better designs yet the powerful aspects of the armor make it an impressive suit all the same.
Debuting in Iron Man #304, this armor is pretty self-explanatory. For years, Iron Man had barely managed to survive battles with the Hulk and they almost always ended with his armor battered into scrap metal. About to face a more intelligent Hulk, Tony knew he couldn’t rely on his usual suits. So he built this huge suit designed to take whatever the Hulk could dish out. It’s actually an exo-suit that fits over Tony’s regular armor, so he’s basically running two suits at once.
Enhancing his power to new levels, the armor has been upgraded a few times. World War Hulk had Tony breaking out a suit nearly ten feet tall and utilizing a variety of weapons to try to bring the Hulk down. While it looks great, the reason it’s low on the list is the simple fact it’s never actually worked. No matter how impressive this suit can be, it’s yet to truly “bust” the Hulk and almost always ends up as a pile of torn metal.
13 SUPERIOR IRON MAN
In the Axis event, a blast of magic causes the moral compasses of various Marvel heroes and villains to be reversed. In Tony’s case, he was back to the person he’d been before becoming Iron Man: A self-centered, drinking playboy with no moral qualms over the use of his technology. Rather than wanting to change the world with his inventions, Tony was now forcing folks to pay to the utmost for life-saving innovations. He could also try to “fix” people without their permission and saw nothing wrong with using folks in selfish ways.
To match his new attitude, Tony crafted this new suit. It’s more powerful than other armors as it’s a “biological symbiote” attached to his nervous system. Tony can control it remotely and it has the ability to absorb energy to become more powerful. Its weapons are more lethal to fit with Tony’s new outlook. Thankfully, Tony snapped back to normal but one has to give props to one of his best armors ever.
As the 1990s began, Tony was in a very good version of his red and gold armor. A long arc had Tony affected by a techno-virus. To aid in his recovery, he broke out this new suit. Debuting in issue 300, it integrated aspects of past armors very well. It also had a “modular” touch to allow Tony to not only put it on in moments but swap out the gloves, helmet, and boots for specialized tools if the occasion called for it.
This armor became quite famous as it was used for the 1994 Iron Man animated series. That included one of the first serious Iron Man toy lines so kids could snap on various new armors for the character. The intriguing faceplate also helped it stand out. This was one of the better armors Tony put together to show he was ready to face a new decade in style.
11 GUARDIANS ARMOR
It’s rare for Tony to feel left out in technology. However, he did get that when (mostly on a lark), he decided to join the Guardians of the Galaxy. It was jarring for Tony to see how things like being able to travel faster than light travel and various space technologies that were centuries ahead of Earth were taken totally for granted by the Guardians. Tony thus loved the idea of using some alien tech to put together a new suit of armor. It looked like his classic armor but crafted with some special tech to not only survive deep space but also handle the various threats the Guardians faced.
Tony even managed to use the tech to remote control a suit back on Earth so Iron Man could help out there. The armor had a cool design and could also take on a huge “lunar landing” model for some missions. Tony didn’t work with the team long but he got a pretty nifty suit out of it.
10 SILVER CENTURION
In a long story arc, Tony’s drinking problems took over his life. Hitting rock bottom, Tony slowly pulled himself back up. When enemy Obadiah Stane attacked his new company, Tony decided it was time to hit back. He broke out a new suit he’d been building which was a major departure from his old ones. The color scheme was silver and red rather than the classic red and gold. It was also a bit bulkier but far more powerful. For a brief time, it had a “stealth” ability but Tony gave it up as it was damaging his nervous system.
It was a big move for Iron Man but it worked out as he defeated Stane. He continued to use this armor for a while as he worked on the West Coast and its terrific systems allowed him to succeed. When the Armor Wars went down, Tony had to sacrifice this armor. He thus returned to his classic red and gold design yet this armor is still a fan favorite.
9 WAR MACHINE
It’s an armor that ended up becoming more popular than its own creators intended. The 1990s was packed with Marvel trying to make their heroes “edgier” for fans. In Tony’s case, he decided that he needed to upgrade his armor for a dangerous mission. In Iron Man #282, Tony broke out a black and white suit designed for combat. Not only was the armor thicker but it had far more offensive capabilities, including a chain machine gun on a shoulder and cannons on the arms.
Tony had to fake his death in order to recover from an illness. Old buddy Jim Rhodes thus took over as Iron Man in this suit. When Tony returned, Rhodey (irate on not being told of this plan) took the armor to go on his own. He renamed it War Machine and since then that character has become a major hero in his own right. He briefly had an alien suit but this version showed how Iron Man could be a one-man army.
8 BLACK AND GOLD
Crafted for the “Marvel NOW” era, Tony decided he had to upgrade his suit once more following the Avengers’ war with the X-Men. It integrated parts of old armor designs and swapped the usual red and gold for a mostly black motif. It had the usual touches of thick design for protection, a variety of weapons and devices and other bits that would help out.
What made it stand out was the “modular” design which carried a portable nanotech armory. In seconds, Tony could pull out a new exo-suit that could allow him to fly into deep space, handle ocean depths or other specialized missions. It wasn’t used long but between its awesome design and excellent touches, this was one of Tony’s best armors yet.
7 HEROES RETURN
The mid-1990s were not a very good time for Iron Man. In a bizarre storyline, Tony went evil, was taken down and replaced by a teenage doppelganger. He also had to endure the infamous Heroes Reborn event. Thankfully, when the heroes returned, long-time fan Kurt Busiek returned Tony to glory. That included working with artist Simon Chen for what was called “the Renaissance Armor.” It reworked the classic red and gold motif but with some very cool design work, including the mask.
Its capabilities were terrific from high flying to combat. Tony even put in a long-overdue protection against mind control. He also added in wireless communication in a time period when that was considered science fiction. The armor was so good that it was brought back a decade later when Tony went on the run. That it worked just as well is a testament to one of the best armors ever.
6 BLEEDING EDGE
For most of his career, the biggest challenge for Tony with his armor was carrying it around in a briefcase. The Extremis technology solved that problem nicely. The nanotech exists under Tony’s skin, as part of his entire genetic makeup, which birthed the name, Bleeding Edge. At a command, it can seep through the pores and then form itself into an armor as strong as anything Tony has ever built. Naturally, Tony made improvements such as how the arc reactor increased his intelligence to handle this shift. He could also access communication satellites with his mind and the weapons system was top notch.
While it was an awesome suit, this suit did have some disadvantages. A virus once shook up Tony’s body so he couldn’t summon his armor. Plus, just piloting the thing and controlling it was a challenge. Tony did have to give it up as he feared long-time damage to his body. However, when it was used, this was the most advanced Iron Man suit.
5 WORE IT BETTER: NORMAN OSBORN
True, he may be a psychopath, but Norman Osborn also proved he could pull off the armor quite well. The former Green Goblin had managed to land himself a gig as the head of the government-run Thunderbolts. In the Dark Reign event, circumstances made Norman head of all super-human affairs in the United States. Needless to say, this did not go very well as Norman misused his power. This included creating his own “Dark Avengers” with himself as the Iron Patriot.
While crazy, Norman was also a brilliant engineer. He thus was able to use his armor quite well and even stand up to various enemies within it. His ruthless streak also made him far more dangerous in combat. It all came crashing down with Norman finally exposed as the lunatic he was and taken down. Yet he does count as a guy who used that Iron Man armor pretty well.
4 WORE IT BETTER: PEPPER POTTS
Tony’s right hand woman for years, Virginia “Pepper” Potts had a big crush on her boss when she started out. She got over her feelings eventually, and she ended up marrying his driver Happy Hogan but kept up her great work with Tony. As time has gone on, Pepper has stepped up as the brains of Stark Industries and has kept making sure Tony keeps it running right. They’ve had a romantic connection but Tony relies on Pepper more as a true friend and business partner than a romantic one.
Eventually, Pepper got her own suit of armor to go around, and it was called the Rescue armor. She’s terrific with it, as she is a smart lady who prefers helping people rather than fight the bad guys. She can still call Tony out on his behavior even after all this time. Even without the armor, Pepper is integral to Tony’s life.
3 WORE IT BETTER: JIM RHODES
Tony Stark met Jim Rhodes right after escaping a dangerous camp in his original armor. After helping Tony out, Rhodey was hired as Tony’s personal pilot. When Tony fell into his drinking habit, he revealed his true identity to Rhodey. With Tony unable to handle the armor, Rhodey donned it himself to become Iron Man. He did well for a while and when Tony returned, Rhodey would still be there to help out if needed.
When the two had a falling out, Rhodey got his own suit of armor to become War Machine. He and Tony have had an up and down relationship since but they are back to being friends today. Rhodey still utilizes his own armor and his military background allows him to use it better than Tony at times. No matter the armor, Rhodey has proven himself worthy of the mantle.
2 WORE IT BETTER: DOCTOR DOOM
For a long time, Victor Von Doom was the greatest villain in the Marvel Universe. While he concentrated on the Fantastic Four, Doom also had some clashes with Iron Man. That included travels through time and Doom proving his superiority. Following Secret Wars, Doom’s face was healed and he decided he wanted to make up for his past. When Tony was lost following Civil War II, Doom decided to become Iron Man himself.
Doom’s armor was already top-notch. Now, he integrated it with further tricks, including magic. This makes him an incredible force in battle. He handled everything from various villains to even a demon attack. He also had to fight S.H.I.E.L.D. and others who doubted his turn. It ended with Doom once more scarred and ready to return to his villainous roots. But for a time, Doom did manage to prove himself Tony’s superior in terms of armor.
1 WORE IT BETTER: RIRI WILLIAMS
A creation of Brian Michael Bendis, Riri Williams is a once-in-a-lifetime genius. As a child, she was grasping at ideas and devices that experienced engineers could never handle. Completely on her own, Riri built her own suit of armor and decided to use it just to prove it worked. This got Tony’s attention as he was impressed by Riri’s potential. He thus offered her a chance to work in his labs which Riri gratefully accepted. She soon had her own suit of armor which she called Ironheart.
When Tony fell into his coma, Riri stepped up as a heroine. She took it to various villains and proved she could handle the armored life. Riri is now working with the Champions and a possible future shows she’s the Iron Woman everyone in the Marvel Universe respects. Tony himself has noted the future of his armor is in good hands with Riri.