For those keeping up with Marvel’s #1 technological hero in the pages of his monthly ongoing Tony Stark: Iron Man, they know there’s been one continuous plotline that’s been running since the early issues of the comic. Essentially, the creative team has been posing the question that thanks to many of the stories Tony has dealt with recently he may no longer actually be human anymore.
Though it might feel strange or out of place, the truth is this storyline continues a long-running theme of transhumanism that dates all the way back to the beginning of Tony Stark’s history as Iron Man. Read on to discover how Tony Stark has gradually transformed himself from man to machine.
10 THE ARMOR
Our journey begins with the armor itself. At the beginning of it all, Tony Stark was just a well-meaning war profiteer overseas, helping out his pockets and the United States military in presumably equal amounts, when he got attacked by terrorists. The attack left his heart pierced by shrapnel, and with limited time to live he was asked to design a weapon for the terrorist forces. The “weapon” in question wound up being a special chest plate which stopped the shrapnel from digging any deeper, but also functioned as the centerpiece for what the world would come to know as the Iron Man armor.
9 SYNTHETIC HEART
Tony spent several years dealing with the stresses of wearing an artificial chest plate just to keep himself going. It lasted through his five years in Tales of Suspense and on into his own solo comic, but by Iron Man vol. 1 #19, Marvel believed they’d gotten all the mileage they could out of this and wound up giving Tony a new heart. This wasn’t a heart transplant, but a literal new one crafted from synthetic tissue. Effectively, this meant Tony no longer had to constantly wear his chest plate, but he would continue to be concerned about whether his heart could take the strain of being Iron Man, retaining the fragility that was so common to the early Marvel heroes.
8 ARTIFICIAL LEGS
By the late 80’s, all concern of Iron Man’s “delicate heart” had been forgotten. Stark had bigger problems: alcholism, corporate espionage, and the ever-present concern of being mistaken for Tom Selleck. But David Michelinie and Bob Layton gave Iron Man a new concern to worry about, as his womanizing came back to bite him when the mentally unstable Kathy Dare shot Stark, paralyzing him.
But while Tony Stark could be incapacitated, that wasn’t an option for the Invincible Iron Man. With his company under attack by competitors who believed Stark Enterprises was “weak” due to his injuries, Stark figured out a way to allow the armor’s advanced servo-motors to move his legs for him while he was in the armor.
One of the things Michelinie played with during his run was having Stark believing “addicted” to the armor because of the power, the feeling of being “invincible”. But if that were true, then only being able to walk while wearing it made it worse. It became a chore to convince him to stop wearing it. But in Iron Man vol. 1 #248, they came up with a better solution. A company had developed an organic biochip which could order the body to reconstruct the torn nerves stopping Stark from walking. After a bit of work to find the right surgeon (and literally buying the company which produced the biochip), Stark was back in action in both parts of his life.
6 REWRITTEN NERVOUS SYSTEM
5 ROBOTIC HEART
Thanks to a number of Marvel events in the mid-90’s, Iron Man would take a turn away from going all cyberpunk. But you can’t keep a good theme down. Iron Man vol. 3 #30 would feature the close of the five part story, “The Mask in the Iron Man”, where Tony’s armor had become sentient. For whatever reason, it became incredibly jealous of anyone looking for Stark’s attention, and threatened Tony’s life if they couldn’t be together...permanently. But after they wound up in a fierce battle after the armor left Stark on a deserted island, Stark’s oldest problem resurfaced. Having a heart attack in the middle of their battle, the armor gave up its own developing heart to keep Stark alive.
By 2004, Marvel had gotten scribe Warren Ellis to work on the Armored Avenger. During his one and only story, Extremis, Stark goes up against someone that’s used the Extremis virus to rebuild their own code through nanotechnology. Refusing to be technologically outdone, Stark takes the Extremis virus himself and rewrites his own body, much as he’d once rewritten his own nervous system.
This time, the Extremis virus allows him to more closely link himself to his armor. This gives him the ability to summon his armor to him, have a greater connection to machinery in general, increase the processing speed of his own brain, and even regrow organs if needed.
3 REBOOTING HIS MIND
During Secret Invasion, Stark found himself and his tech hacked by the Skrulls. In the aftermath, Stark’s failings caused Norman Osborn to take control of SHIELD, turning it into HAMMER. Recognizing the dangers of this, Stark is forced to go on a quest to essentially “zero out” his mind, completely erasing all of the sensitive data he held as director of SHIELD, including everyone’s secret identities in the Iron Man story “World’s Most Wanted”. The story “Stark: Disassembled” sees him completely restore his brain from a back-up hard drive, though it happens to be missing years worth of memories.
2 STORING THE ARMOR IN HIS BODY
Thanks to Stark being hacked, he was forced to reject the Extremis virus from his body. Nonetheless, by the end of “World’s Most Wanted”, his biology still behaved completely differently from a normal human’s, and more akin to a living computer. So in Invincible Iron Man vol. 5 #25, he and Reed Richards work together to build a new armor that could take advantage of Stark having complete control over his mind and body. The Bleeding Edge armor is literally stored inside the hollows of Stark’s bones, making him literally the Iron Man at all times. It's worth noting the Extremis upgrade allowed him to store the sheath that connected him to the armor before, but the Bleeding Edge allowed him to put the entire armor inside himself.
1 REBOOTING HIS BODY
Finally, we come to the latest development in Stark’s journey from man to machine. During Civil War II, Tony wound up having a battle with Captain Marvel over the fate of a specific Inhuman capable of seeing the future. Tony pushed Carol to her limits, and she wound up...damaging him in such a way that his body went into shock. All the tinkering he’d done over the years came back to him, and in the end he wound up force rebooting his body back to “normal”. Effectively, he’s more human than ever, but with both his brain and his body completely rewritten...is there anything of the original Tony Stark left?