Tony Stark. The original renaissance man of the Big Two, the former weaponsmith has managed to be an entrepreneur, playboy, and genius engineer all while piloting a suit of powered armor that’s let him be a superhero. And over the years, as the villains have become more dangerous and the adventures more dire, he’s had to upgrade his suit countless times -- sometimes in minor, barely noticeable ways, other times as obvious leaps in technology that included vast changes in the suit’s visual design. He’s created dozens of suits in order to not only keep up, but excel beyond his own enemies as well as the rogues in the Avengers.
This time, CBR decides to rank 20 of Iron Man’s most notable armors from the comics. This ranking is based on a number of factors: recognition, number of years Tony continued to use it as his primary Iron Man suit, the overall power of the suit from a technological aspect and accomplishments he achieved while using it, and lastly, it’s actual visual design of the armor itself. Do you fancy yourself a fan of the Armored Avenger? Well then, get ready for a detailed trip through Tony Stark’s hallowed Hall of Armors.
20 THE CROSSING (MODEL 16)
Created by Terry Kavanagh and Tom Morgan, The Crossing suit debuted in Iron Man v.1 #319, and was one of the last armors we got from Tony before the whole "Heroes Reborn" reset started. The Crossing armor isn’t all that visually different from Tony’s classic suit of armor (the Model 4), but stands out from other alterations to that base design due to the suit’s large, distinctive gloves and large rivets on the shoulder cuffs.
This suit isn’t really bad and is actually visually cooler than some other suits on this list. However, it also helms the start of that awful period of time where Tony was revealed to be evil and a double agent for Kang the Conqueror, eventually leading to his death and the rise of Teen Tony. So for the dark memories it dredges up for any long time Shellhead fan, it lands at the bottom.
19 ARCTIC ARMOR (MODEL 14)
Created in the very last issue of Iron Man scribe Len Kaminski’s run, Iron Man #318, the Arctic Armor made only one appearance before we started down the unfortunate hill towards "The Crossing". Best known for its unique, contrasting blue-on-silver color scheme, the entire point behind the Arctic armor was that it was capable of withstanding the harsh weather of sub-zero temperatures.
…And that’s what places it so low on the list to begin with. Tony invented many suits of armor that were only good in certain situations, and the vast majority of them make sense: Space, Hydro, Stealth. But an armor that’s only benefit is that it can take the cold? Unless it’s some weird near Absolute Zero conditions, shouldn’t all of them be capable of doing this?
18 HEROES REBORN (MODEL CE1)
Debuting in Iron Man Vol. 2 #1 by Scott Lobdell, Jim Lee, and Whilce Portacio, this was meant to be the suit Tony wore as we introduced Iron Man to a new generation of comic book fans. Tony found himself trapped in this armor after an attack by Hydra on one of his bases left him near death, and forced to don his newest invention, the Prometheum Armor, just to stay alive.
Functionally the Heroes Reborn armor was pretty useful, even allowing Stark to go toe-to-toe with the Hulk with absolutely zero experience and not get squashed like a bug. But overall, the suit is one of the few armors Iron Man’s ever had that’s visually hideous. Fortunately, since the Heroes Reborn era was viewed as something of a misfire, and only lasted one year before it was ushered out and the excellent Renaissance armor made an appearance instead.
17 PROTO-CLASSIC ARMOR (MODEL 3)
In between the original gray suit of armor and the iconic Classic Suit was this mess of a half-measure. Created by comic book legends Stan Lee and Steve Ditko in Tales of Suspense #48, this suit was first debuted after his gold-painted original suit was damaged by the “This Guy Could Have Only Existed During the Silver Age” villain, Mister Doll.
Deciding that his original armor was far too bulky and cumbersome for him to continue wearing it and being a superhero, Tony created a much smaller, lightweight suit of armor that could be worn around anywhere. This suit was another short-lived upgrade for Stark before he eventually found his way to the far superior Model 3 that became a staple for Iron Man comics for decades.
16 ORIGINAL GRAY (MODEL 1)
Businessman, engineer, and weaponsmith Tony Stark was on a trip to Vietnam/Afghanistan and taking a tour of one of his factories, when an attack by Vietcong/terrorist forces left him critically injured. Near death, enemy forces recognized Stark for who he was and repaired him just enough to allow him to build weapons for them rather than the United States. But rather than create more weapons of death for the opposite side, Stark and another scientist Professor Ho Yinsen instead invented a suit of armor that would allow Stark to live and give him the power necessary to escape from the enemy.
That suit, first introduced in Stan Lee and Don Heck’s Tales of Suspense #39, was the Iron Man Model 1 armor. Other suits may look cooler, and all of them are more powerful, but you’ve gotta respect the original.
15 HULKBUSTER (MODEL 14)
Debuting in Len Kaminski and Kevin Hopgood’s Iron Man v.1 #304, the Hulkbuster armor is exactly what it says on the tin. After several run-ins with the Hulk that often ended in the Shellhead walking away with more lumps than the hide of the Thing, Tony finally decided to design an armor specifically for dealing with the Hulk. An exo-exosuit, the suit fits on top of Tony’s usual armor, and came in handy when Stark acquired Stane Industries…and all of its problems, including a gamma plant that Ol’ Green Jeans wasn’t too keen on leaving standing.
The real trouble with the Hulkbuster armor is that it’s not terribly effective at stopping the Hulk. At best it’s only ever been able to stave the guy off until something else could be done, but in its various incarnations over the years, it’s been lucky to even pull that off.
14 HYDRO ARMOR (MODEL 6)
One of Stark’s numerous specialty armors, this one made its first appearance in 1987’s Iron Man #218 by Dave Michelinie and Bob Layton. Though most of Stark’s armors have been capable of traveling underwater by simply sealing off the eye and mouth slits in the helmet, they’re rarely designed for extended time under water, and traveling too deep could damage the armor’s integrity and systems.
But this suit, another of his many exo-suits that fit over his usual armor, was built specifically to withstand the pressure of water miles deep, and allow him to remain underwater for hours at a time. Also despite its bulkiness, the suit proved to be even more maneuverable in its intended environment than his normal outfits. This suit was a resounding success for Tony…too bad he rarely ever got to use it.
13 OUTER ATMOSPHERE ARMOR (MODEL 18)
This suit made a brief appearance at the end of a mini-series by legendary Iron Man writer-artist team Dave Michelinie and Bob Layton, Iron Man: Bad Blood. Meant to be the latest incarnation of his Space Armor, the Outer Atmosphere model was much smaller and sleeker than the versions of the suit he usually used for such a task, and its color design was remnant of the Silver Centurion armor.
The suit wasn’t nearly as durable as his normal armor, and not quite as combat capable either, but nevertheless Tony managed to fight off a group of other armor wearers using his own experience and the suit’s superior maneuverability. Unfortunately, this suit only appeared in a single issue before being shelved and forgot about forever, making it hard to let it climb further up the list.
12 STEALTH ARMOR (MODEL 7)
One of Tony’s very first specialty armors, this suit made its debut in 1982’s Iron Man v.1 #152 by Dave Michelinie and John Romita Jr. When Tony Stark’s lover/bodyguard Bethany Cabe found herself kidnapped and whisked away to East Germany, he donned this jet-black suit in order to avoid an international incident. The suit’s innards were stuffed to the brim with the latest in evasion and stealth components, and as such the original version had absolutely no weaponry in it -- even missing Iron Man’s signature repulsor rays.
Of course, since that’s quite the risk when you’re a superhero, future versions of the Stealth Armor would include at least some rudimentary offensive capabilities, but still mostly sticking to their function of keeping its wearer undetected by any people or machinery.
11 SUPERIOR IRON MAN (MODEL 50)
After Marvel’s "Axis" event, everyone thought all the personality inversions were done, but Tony Stark managed to protect himself from being changed back to normal, and for a short while, we had a version of the weaponsmith completely unfettered by his usual moral code.
Making its first full appearance in Superior Iron Man #1 by Tom Taylor and Yildiray Cinar, this is probably one of the most powerful versions of armor Stark’s ever made. Without the fear of creating something too powerful or dangerous, he invents a symbiote-like suit that can be completely controlled psionically, and boasts a variety of useful abilities like making his repulsors impossible to absorb and tendrils that can take control of other suits of armor and hack their AI. Fortunately the Marvel Universe “reset” before he did too much damage with this suit, as he only remained this way for around a year.
10 GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY ARMOR (MODEL 45)
For whatever reason (and actually fairly briefly), Tony spent time in outer space and joined up with the Guardians of the Galaxy. While he was out there, he invented a new version of his older outer space armor, far more advanced than his others and better capable of existing for long periods out in deep space.
Carrying with him a complete mini-workshop to repair the suit and add extra parts, this was definitely Stark at one of his most creative periods. It’s also one of his coolest looking suits, as it feels like it belongs in deep space, resembling strongly what he’d probably look like if Iron Man were to ever join the Nova Corps. He even improved on his old telecommunication invention to control a separate set of armor on Earth, pulling double-duty as a member of the Guardians and the Avengers.
9 THORBUSTER (MODEL 22)
Did you know that Thor was once imbued with the Odinforce after his dad “died”, and he and Tony got into a fight? That part might not be a surprise, but did you know Tony didn’t get stomped? It’s true. In a brief crossover in the early 2000’s between Thor, Iron Man, and Avengers called "Avengers: Standoff", Thor gave Tony a crystal from Asgard that was meant to be a way to effectively create clean energy for the planet Earth.
But thanks to manipulations from Dr. Doom, Tony was forced to use the crystal to create a reactor to power his Thorbuster armor, intentionally designed to resemble the enchanted Destroyer suit that’s often been a thorn in Thor’s side. Ultimately, Thor managed to win by finally ripping the exo-armor off Tony, but without being boosted by the power of Odin, the God of Thunder might have been in serious danger.
8 CLASSIC ARMOR (MODEL 4)
After five years of continuous slight improvements and minor upgrades in an attempt to build a better superhero, Tony Stark finally stumbled across a hit. When the Proto-Classic suit was damaged in a battle with Happy Hogan in his Freak persona, he created this iconic suit which debuted in 1968’s Iron Man v.1 #3.
This suit is by far Tony’s longest-lasting suit of armor, as it underwent several upgrades to its weapons, security systems, and even his armoring-up process, but maintained the same visual design for nearly two hundred issues and roughly two decades until finally upgrading to the Silver Centurion suit in 1985. If there’s a shortlist of Tony’s most iconic armors this would unquestionably be on it, right after the first movie suit.
7 BLACK AND GOLD (MODEL 42)
Immediately following "Avengers vs. X-Men", this was the suit Tony Stark made during the “Marvel NOW” period of Marvel Comics. First appearing in Kieron Gillen and Greg Land’s Iron Man v.5 #1, the Black and Gold armor was a twist on both the Silver Centurion and Stark’s Modular armor designs. It kept Stark’s usual gold color scheme on his arms, legs, and faceplate but swapped the usual scarlet for a sleek black paint.
At the same time, it was an improved version of his old Modular Armor, using a portable armory to allow Stark to swap between various weapons, reducing the need for specialized suits of armor outside of a few select cases. Unfortunately, this unique suit only stuck around for a couple years before being swapped for something more…superior.
6 NEW RED AND GOLD (MODEL 9)
It took Stark four models to get there, but the original Red and Gold armor is the most iconic thing he’s ever designed. Aside from being the suit he’s worn for the most issues, it’s also defined the Iron Man’s two-tone color scheme, and most of his upgraded armors since have been based on that outfit in one way or another.
Iron Man’s New Red and Gold suit is another such outfit. Introduced in Dave Michelinie, Bob Layton, and Doc Bright in Iron Man v.1 #232, the suit was created in order to defeat Firepower, an armored pilot who’d destroyed Stark’s last armor, and was beginning to systematically destroy Stark Industries on the orders of a jealous business rival. The suit was deemed so powerful that Tony nearly destroyed it to keep it out of evil hands, but ultimately kept it to continue being a hero.
5 SILVER CENTURION (MODEL 8)
The Silver Centurion armor represented one of several major costume changes Marvel implemented in the '80s to freshen up characters that were by then decades old. The iconic Red-and-Gold color scheme that Stark had employed for decades was swapped for the cooler, more low-key Red-and-Silver pictured above. This represented Stark’s first return to the armor in nearly three years, after a protracted battle with alcoholism while Rhodey wore the armor.
Debuting in Iron Man v.1 #200 by Denny O’Neil and Mark Bright, the suit proved more than capable of handling the foe that had driven him to drink and stolen his company from him, Obadiah Stane. This suit is most well-known for the part it played during the "Armor Wars", where Stark hunted down people who’d stolen his designs, until Stark finally made one too many people mad, and it was finally destroyed in battle by the armored villain Firepower.
4 WAR MACHINE (MODEL 13)
Originally a suit worn by Tony Stark, the Variable Threat Response Armor was used in order to save both Rhodey and Stark from a group of techno-samurai known as the Masters of Silence, and debuted in Iron Man #282 before being used in the following issue to shut down Justin Hammer, the man who had framed Stark and convinced the Masters to go after him in the first place.
However, the armor was always designed for Rhodey, and after Stark’s then-failing health caused him to go into hiding to try and get repaired, Rhodes took over the armor and became the hero War Machine. Something of a precursor to Stark’s Modular armor, this suit was able to swap out several of its weapon systems for other weapons based on the circumstances.
3 MODULAR ARMOR (MODEL 13)
Before the movies featured the Extremis Armor, this was arguably one of the most recognizable versions of the Iron Man suit that was ever created, finding its way into the short-lived syndicated animated version if the Armored Avenger, Iron Man: The Animated Series. This two-year cartoon came with a massive toyline that featured this suit as the centerpiece.
Debuting in Iron Man v.1 #300 by Len Kaminski and Kevin Hopgood, this was Tony’s first time in the suit after an experimental procedure enabled him to walk again. Its key feature was its modular component system, letting him swap the helmet, boots, and gloves and add weaponry that fit whatever situation was at hand. The suit passed its first test swimmingly, helping Stark defeat the giant robot Ultimo after a legion of people wearing his older armors failed, cementing this suit as the true next generation of Iron Man.
2 HEROES RETURN (MODEL 17)
In 1998, the Hulk, Fantastic Four, and the Avengers finally returned from the pocket dimension Earth that Franklin Richards sealed them in after their battle with Onslaught came to a near-disastrous end. “Heroes Return” became Marvel’s second chance to re-introduce their core heroes to a younger audience…and fortunately, they nailed it.
While the Prometheus Armor was an aesthetic abomination, this suit, dubbed the “Renaissance Armor”, managed to incorporate everything that made the classic suit so iconic while also updating it for the then modern era. Tony would take on the greatest hits of his Rogues Gallery, and even beat a group of armor-wearing assassins known as the Death Squad, proving that his tech skills are unmatched. Worn for over two years, the suit was also iconic enough to make a comeback during Matt Fraction’s "World’s Most Wanted" arc where Tony was forced to pilot older suits as his intellect decreased.
1 BLEEDING EDGE (MODEL 37)
After Tony perfected the Extremis, powerful technology that allowed him to mentally summon his armor and making briefcases a thing of the distant past, many Iron Man fans wondered where he could go next with the Iron Man technology. Well in June 2010, Matt Fraction and Salvador Larocca gave us the answer in Invincible Iron Man #25. Powered completely by the repulsor tech running his artificial heart, the Bleeding Edge armor was pure nanotechnology that existed inside the bones of Tony Stark’s body, until he summoned it outward to cover his body like a living skin.
This suit takes Tony from “a guy wearing a suit of armor” into being a legit superhuman, with the arc reactor vastly increasing his intelligence and the armor being an extension of his body. It’s also one of the sleekest suits he’s ever built, making him truly seem like a man of the future.
What armor do you think should've been on the list? Be sure to let us know about it in the comments!