‘Iron Man 3′: Trajectory of a superhero [Photos]

March 08, 2013 | 11:30 a.m.

A still from the "Iron Man 3" Super Bowl XLVII ad, showing off Stark's new suite of suits. (Marvel)

The Mark III armor is seen in the first "Iron Man" film. Tony Stark created Mark III due to flaws in his previous armor. (Marvel)

The Mark III armor in the 2008 "Iron Man" film is reportedly based on conceptual designs developed by Marvel artist Adi Granov. (Marvel)

Robert Downey Jr. helped turn Iron Man into a wider pop-culture phenomenon. (Marvel)

Obadiah Stane (Jeff Bridges) surveys the Iron Monger armor from the first "Iron Man" film. (Marvel)

Iron Man's origin story: “Kidnapped billionaire playboy builds armor to break free.” (Marvel)

With Robert Downey Jr., Iron Man has become the most bankable star of Marvel’s self-produced films, a trend that looks likely to continue with the release of “Iron Man 3” on May 3. (Marvel)

Tony Stark, in a poster from "Iron Man 3," is known for his strengths as well as his weaknesses. (Marvel)

The upcoming re-launch of "Guardians of the Galaxy," featuring Iron Man. (Marvel)

Iron Man's latest armor, as seen in the upcoming "Invincible Iron Man" No. 6.

Iron Man, about to get walloped by Dr. Doom, is featured in "Marvel Super Heroes," which was re-released in September 2012. (Capcom)

Concept art of Iron Man in "Marvel vs. Capcom 3: The Fate of Two Worlds," released in 2011. (Capcom)

Iron Man long sat near the heart of the Marvel Universe, leading his own series and often occupying a prominent spot among the Avengers. But ever since Tony Stark’s 2008 film debut, featuring Robert Downey Jr. in the title role, the character’s popularity has skyrocketed to the top of the superhero echelon.

Ignoring “The Avengers,” which featured Iron Man, only Batman and Spider-Man have topped Iron Man’s popularity at the box office. Each “Iron Man” film has grossed more than $300 million domestically, leading Marvel’s single-character cinematic efforts.

Not bad for a character that was once more commonly known for the seminal “Demon in a Bottle” storyline, in which Stark confronted alcoholism, and the Black Sabbath song “Iron Man.”

Iron Man’s first appearance came in March 1963 in “Tales of Suspense” No. 39. Created by Marvel’s luminaries of the time Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, Larry Lieber and Don Heck, his initial appearance began the familiar origin story “kidnapped billionaire playboy builds armor to break free.” The timing and details of that origin may have changed over the years, but the underlying premise has remained the same, no matter whether Stark was kidnapped in Vietnam, Iraq or Afghanistan.

Iron Man, his popularity quickly on the rise, was later featured as a founding member of the Avengers in September 1963. And Stark’s bulky  gray armor was quickly changed to a golden hue and would be phased out for his more familiar red-and-gold armor in December 1963.

It wouldn’t be until May 1968 that Iron Man would take a leading role in his own title, “The Invincible Iron Man.” Through that title, much of the now-familiar Iron Man mythos was constructed, including Stark’s friend, and eventual War Machine pilot, James Rhodes; business rival Justin Hammer; and arguably Stark’s greatest weakness, his dependence on alcohol.

But beyond comics, Iron Man had less pop-culture presence than the likes of the X-Men or Spider-Man. He had his own cartoon in 1966 and another in the early 1990s (complete with an awesome intro), as well as appearances in video games including “Captain America and the Avengers” and “Marvel vs. Capcom 2″ and “3.”

But with Downey Jr. commanding the role of Stark in 2008, Iron Man became the most bankable star of Marvel’s self-produced films, a trend that looks likely to continue with the release of “Iron Man 3” on May 3.

As for shellhead’s future beyond “Iron Man 3,” there’s always the upcoming Avengers sequel, the all-but-inevitable “Iron Man 4” (though Downey Jr.’s contract is up) and in the comics, Iron Man will be taking a decidedly cosmic turn in joining the newly revamped “Guardians of the Galaxy.”

Whether that link to the Guardians will bleed into the Marvel cinematic universe, with a Guardians film set for release next year, well, we’ll just have to wait until the end of “Iron Man 3.” Who knows, perhaps there will be a hint after the credits roll?

– Morgan Little


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