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Armor Tours: The Many Armors of Marvel Comics Iron Man

Updated on November 9, 2015

"I went from being a man trapped in an iron suit to being a man freed by it..."

I'm a bit of an Iron Man fan, as you've probably gathered; even more so if you also read my Top Ten Iron Man Graphic Novels page. Big comic book fan in general, but something about Iron Man has always worked for me.

We all know Tony Stark gives Iron Man its heart but hey, clothes maketh the man. Its the cool suit we all love. Or should I say SUITS. Because he has had a whole load of 'em. What I've always liked about Iron Man, and its something that makes him quite unique, is his ability to constantly reinvent himself. Upgrade or die. Stay one step ahead of the competition. Be the best. Strive to improve constantly.

This has left us with a fantastic visual legacy of Iron Man suits, and the creation of a new modern pop culture mythology. Come on a little stroll down memory lane, and take a look at the many armors of Iron Man...

...don't forget to check out my companion page, Iron Man top 10 Graphic novels. It's good!

. Images are used under Fair Use (Comic Single Panels)

Grey Armor
Grey Armor

The original Mark 1 Grey Armor

Creators: Jack Kirby and Don Heck

First Appearance: Tales of Suspense # 39 (1963)

Tony Stark's original grey armor was specifically built to prevent the piece of shrapnel he'd received in Vietnam from traveling to his heart and killing him. (later updated to Afghanistan by Warren Ellis)

The armor, made from ordinary iron, provided limited protection from attacks, including small arms fire, and boosted the strength of the wearer by about 10 times. Air pressure jets in the boots allowed for extended jumps, but not true flight. Weaponry included a chest-mounted monobeam , a miniature saw that extended from the glove's fingertips, and magnetic field components that enabled Stark to magnetically deflect or attract metal. Sensors were basically a short-wave radio.

None of the suit functions were automatic, all were manually operated by Stark. Stark constructed at least one updated, form-fitting version, still rigid, upon his return to the United States.

Tin Can Alley... - come spend a dime!

Gold Armor
Gold Armor

Mark II Gold Finish/ Golden Avenger Armor

Creators: Jack Kirby and Don Heck

First Appearance: Tales of Suspense #40 (1963)

This was the Mark II Armor, which saw a few upgrades. The most obvious was visual, the iron grey replaced by shiny gold, something Stark did so as not to scare the general public! (the real world reason was that keeping a consistent shade of grey was difficult for newsprint press, so Stan Lee changed it to gold, yellow being much easier)

A few technical upgrades were made - new force field generator, more powerful monobeam, integration of solar power tech as well as electrical, boot jets allowed 'proper' flight, hand drills added, and use of collapsible technology to allow the suit to be stored in a briefcase.

This was the armor Iron Man sported when he first joined the Avengers.

Red and Gold Mark III
Red and Gold Mark III

Mark III original Red and Gold Armor

Creator: Steve Ditko

First Appearance: Tales of Suspense #48 (1963)

Stark was a relentless perfectionist, and spent endless hours upgrading, reworking and redesigning his armor. The first major revision resulted in the first version of the famed red and gold suit, after a battle against an opponent (Mr Doll) made him realise his suit was too cumbersome. The new armor was sleeker, lighter, and more efficient.

This armor featured new gadgets as full flight boot thrusters and repulsor rays that became common features in later models. Control of the armor was slowly shifted from buttons to cybernetic controls, which could sense and interpret the wearer's own brainwaves and respond accordingly. The pacemaker function of the chest plate was also eventually abandoned, as Stark's heart was repaired using artificial tissue.

While Stark continued to upgrade this particular design, the general appearance of his armor changed very little over the following 20 years. The Ditko version had the 'horned' helmet which would later change, but the rest of the suit remained visually intact.

This is a job for ...Iron Man

Iron Man Mark IV
Iron Man Mark IV

Mark IV/ V 'classic' Red and Gold Armor

Creator: Gene Colan

First Appearance Mark IV 'protoclassic': Tales of Suspense #66 (1965)

First Appearance Mark V 'classic': Iron Man #85 (1976)

The classic 'shellhead' Armor that all Bronze Age fans know and love. There is very little difference between Mark IV and V so I've lumped them together.

The tech refinements continued, but all under the hood, and the suit mainly remained the same (Stark briefly added a nosepiece to the mask, but quickly removed it after public ridicule). Again, a smoother design overall, but more a tweak than any before.

This suit remained the one that was used all through the 1970s, and proved up to the task, until Stark realised he needed something more...

Space Armor
Space Armor

Iron Man Space Armor

Creator: John Romita Jr

First Appearance: Iron Man #142 (1981)

Space Armor Mark II : Iron Man #278 (1992)

During this period, Stark came to realize there were going to be times where his regular model armor, while adequate in most environments or situations ,would not be suitable.Stark began to develop numerous specialized suits for special missions, and the first was his Space Armor.

Powered by a small nuclear/ solar energy pack, this suit was designed for extended time outside Earth's atmosphere, up to two days in orbit (internal food supply and ,er, toilet friendly).Full life support came from an on-board supply of liquid oxygen.

The suit could achieve atmosphere level without external booster rockets, but was too bulky and heavy to operate in normal atmosphere.

Also worth noting is that later in his career, Tony designed an outer Atmospheric Armor, which improved on the Space Armor design, but required external boosters to launch into the atmosphere. This first appeared in Iron Man: Bad Blood #4 (min-series, 2000)...

...and the Ablative Armor , which was a prototype space armor designed for impact-heavy environments. It was used to battle an alien nanoplasm that had ruined the Tin Man Armor.(First Appearance: Iron Man vol.3 #71 ( 2003))....

....and the High Gravity Armor, designed to be used on board a spacecraft in increased gravity situations (Iron Man Vol 3 #83 (2004))

Iron Man Armors

Stealth Armor
Stealth Armor

Iron Man Stealth Armor

Creator: John Romita Jr

First Appearance: Iron Man #152 (1981)

Stealth Armor Mark II: Iron Man #229 (1988)

Stealth Armor Mark III: Black Panther #44 (2002)

Sometimes even a man in a super-powered armored suit needs to get sneaky. The Stealth Armor was designed for those missions when Iron Man doesn't want his enemies to even know he's coming.

The original Stealth Armor has the same basic design as the red and gold 'classic', only with a dark coat of black/ navy blue. Using magnetic fields and other tech , Tony rendered the suit undetectable by nearly all forms of surveillance. Only the heat from his boot thrusters offered any indication of Iron Man's presence, and theses have been modified with liquid coolers

Though Tony has upgraded the Steath Armor several times,Stealth Armor Mark II and Mark III, its weakness is that it lacks the firepower and defensive capabilities of other models. But as long as the Stealth Armor fulfills it primary purpose, Tony doesn't need weaponry.

Silver Centurion
Silver Centurion

Mark VII Silver Centurion Armor

Creator: Mark Bright

First Appearance: Iron Man #200 (1985)

Just as a note for completists, prior to the Centurion Armor Tony did wear the Mark VI 'Recovery Armor', essentially a recreation of his first Mark I Grey Armor, on his return from alcoholism. It was symbolic of his fresh start. It debuted in Iron Man 191 (1985).

The Mark VII Silver Centurion was a huge upgrade, with vastly improved weapons systems and brand new abilities, such as a holographic projector and the ability to manipulate magnetic fields. The armor was field tested in the battle against Obadiah Stane's Iron Monger armor, which it passed with flying colors.

The most memorable attribute of the suit, however, is its unique red and silver color scheme, the first such radical change to the 'classic' armor since 1967

A Man of Many Armors....

Hydro Armor
Hydro Armor

Hydro Deep Sea Armor

Creator: Mark Bright

First Appearance: Iron Man #218

The third of Tony's situational armors, The Hydro Armor's function is obvious from the name. No matter how strong Tony designs his armor, the crushing pressure of the ocean depths would destroy theml. The Hydro Armor is designed specifically to withstand thisspecialist environment.

The Hydro Armor is a large, bulky suit that can fit around Tony's standard armor. Like the Space Armor, it's unwieldy on land, but undersea it allows Iron man to reach areas few men have a hope of reaching. Useful for salvage missions

Worth noting is that during the Civil War arc of Wolverine , Wolverine borrows Stark's Hydro Armor to pursue Namor who is undersea in New Pangea. A newly designed Hydro suit is used by Wolverine that fits the style of the modern Iron Man suit.

First Appearance: Wolverine vol.3 #45 (2006)

Neo-Classic Armor
Neo-Classic Armor

Mark VIII 'Neo-Classic' Red and Gold Armor

Creator: Mark Bright

First Appearance: Iron Man #231 (1988)

Once again, Stark found himself outgunned when faced with the government sanctioned assassin Firepower: the Silver Centurion Armor was destroyed, so again Stark set about designing something even better.

This Mark VIII suit is commonly known as the Neo-Classic Armor because of its resemblance to the Classic Armor. The red-and-gold scheme returned. Visually, the suit is distinguished by the fact that only a portion of the torso is colored red. The boots and gauntlets are also significantly bulkier, indictive of this suit's greatly enhanced weaponry systems.

The new suit was so powerful, Stark considered destroying his new armor out of fear of its potential;he didn't, and this became the dominant suit for several years.

Iron Man Armors

War Machine
War Machine

War Machine Armor

Creator: Kev Hopgood

First Appearance: Iron Man #281 (1992)

The 90's was a time of big guns, and Tony decided that sometimes the best way to defeat evil is to blow a really large hole into it. He created the "Variable Threat Response Battle Suit.", or War Machine.

Stark designed the War Machine armor with pure offensive firepower in mind. Unlike all his more recent suits, this armor was too bulky to fold away into a suitcase. The War Machine suit makes up for a lack of portability with a more durable shell and a complete armory of Gatling guns, rocket launchers, and other goodies.

Stark wore the suit himself when he clashed with the Masters of Silence. But since then, the armor has been passed onto his friend Jim Rhodes.

Modular Armor
Modular Armor

Mark 11 Modular Armor

Creator: Kev Hopgood

First Appearance: Iron Man #300 (1994)

Worth noting that prior to the Modular Armor going operational, Stark created the Telepresence Armor, a suit of armor that he could operate remotely when he was incapacitated. With no wearer required, it could accommodate more weaponry and power.

The Modular Armor was a complete rethink from previous armors. Instead of a complete suit of armor, each piece of the armor is a stand alone subsystem that can be interchanged at will. As such, while the overall unit is still referred to as the Mark 11, the actual configuration at any given time will vary, as individual pieces can change.

Although a relatively short lived design in comics (about 2 years worth of stories) This armor was the first to receive a good deal of mainstream exposure. This is the armor that Tony Stark wore in the Iron Man animated series of the mid 1990s, and also in the Marvel Super Heroes and Marvel vs. Capcom series of console fighting games.

Iron Man Armory, P1


Hulkbuster/ Thorbuster Armors

Creator: Various

Hulkbuster: first appearance- Iron Man Vol. 1 #304 (1994) Creator: Kev Hopgood

Thorbuster: first appearance - Iron Man Vol. 3 #64 (2003) Creator: Alan Davis (I think!)

There have been times when Tony has had to make specific changes to his armor to fight specific foes, or even friends. These two armors were a case in point:-

The Hulkbuster Armor was an exo-skeleton designed to fit over a normal suit of armor and greatly enhance Iron Man's abilities. Theoretically, the Hulkbuster Armor puts Stark on a level playing field.

The Hulkbuster's first test went well enough, but Stark has rarely used it since. In the storyline World War Hulk, the stronger than ever Hulk returned to Earth and came for Stark. The Hulkbuster Armor was destroyed.

Hulk isn't the only hero Tony Stark has been forced to do battle with. When Thor became ruler of Asgard, Stark built a new specialist suit, in case Thor should ever prove too dangerous. The Thorbuster Armor was powered by a Asgardian crystal, which allowed the suit to absorb the enormous amounts of energy put out by Thor's hammer.

The design was based on The Destroyer, an ancient and indestructible armored relic. Thor destroyed it.

notice a pattern here ...!

Prometheus Armor
Prometheus Armor

The Crossing/ Heroes Reborn Armors

Creators: Various

Crossing Armor: Iron Man #319 (1995) Creator: Tom Morgan

Prometheus Armor: Iron Man, Vol 2 #1 (1996) Creator: Whilce Portacio

During the mid-1990s Marvel messed Iron Man up badly. I'll mention these armors, but will not give them their own listings, as I've still not forgiven Marvel.

In 'The Crossing' storyline Tony is mind controlled by Kang, and as part of this he appears in the 'Crossing Armor', essentially a more weaponised version of his armor. Tony was then killed by an alternate timeline teen Tony (I kid you not) who designed his own 'teen tony' armor. Thankfully Marvel got rid of this mess by rebooting...

...into Heroes Reborn. This was an alternate universe where everyone was born anew, new origins etc. This Tony built a Heroes Reborn/Prometheus armor.(essentially a 'what if Image Comics published Iron Man')

I mention all this for the sake of completeness, but don't have to like it...!

Renaissance Armor
Renaissance Armor

Renaissance/ Heroes Return Armor

Creator: Sean Chen

Iron Man, Vol 3 #1 (1998)

....and normal service, thankfully, was resumed. After Heroes Reborn's spectacular failure, Iron Man was restored to the regular Marvel Universe, and given a nice new set of duds, a cool fusion of retro and modern, the Renaissance Armor.This armor even brought back the horned mask of the Steve Ditko Mark III. That's not to say, of course, this suit didn't have the most up to date tech and upgrades at Stark's disposal.

Stark later had to give up this armor on medical grounds, as it was literally killing his living tissue, although he did briefly return to it during the Secret Invasion storyline (Iron Man, Vol 5 #10(2009))

Prototype "EM-safe" Armor: First Appearance: Fantastic Four vol. 3 #15 (1999)

The Prototype "EM-safe" Armor was an experimental armor incorporating new 'safe power systems, to safeguard and protect Tony's health. It was around for a brief time.

* First Appearance: Fantastic Four (vol. 3) #15 (March 1999)

S.K.I.N Armor
S.K.I.N Armor

S.K.I.N Armor

Creator: Joe Quesada/ Keron Grant

Sentient Armor: First Appearance: Iron Man (vol. 3) #15 (1999)

Worth noting briefly that, prior to the S.K.I.N armor, Tony wore an armor that became 'sentient', known naturally as the Sentient Armor. It was an armor that had started to malfunction, because the Ultron Imperative virus had been downloaded into it. It achieved sentience and its affection for its creator became obsession, leading to its wish to replace its creator. Ultimately it redeemed itself by saving Starks life.

First Appearance: Iron Man Vol. 3 #42 (2001)

Stark started the new millennium with a seeming urge to continually design and redesign new suits, and for a while, it seemed as if Iron Man sported a new armor every other month. This was in response to his fear of creating another sentient armor. Of these, one of the most popular and powerful is the distinctive SKIN Armor. (Synth-Kinetic Interface Nano-fluid)

This gigantic armor was yet another attempt by Stark to redesign Iron Man from scratch, going back to basics and opting for physical toughness.

However, the SKIN Armor was fluid enough that it could be stretched and molded to fit a variety of shapes. SKIN was easily one of Stark's greatest creations, but he ultimately had to ditch the suit when Ultron took control of its systems(its Artificial Intelligence was Jocasta)

Briefcase Armor History

Pentagon Armor
Pentagon Armor

Mark XXIX TinMan Armor/ Pentagon Armor (upgrade)

Creator: Various

First Appearance TinMan Armor : Iron Man vol.3 #50 (2002) Creator: Robert Teranishi/

First Appearance Pentagon Armor: Iron Man Vol.3 #74 (2004) Creator: Adi Granov

The first of the 'modern' Iron Man armor designs, leading to the now familiar movie look. With the demise of the SKIN Armor, Tony was once again back at the drawing board, where he created the TinMan armor returning to a more traditional look. However, it also blended in further design improvements, such as a steel mesh design. The downside was that TinMan was a bulky design, too big for a briefcase.

The TinMan Armor proved to be one of the toughest and most durable suits yet, for example able to withstand point-blank missile impacts with no obvious damage.. The TinMan Armor was the beginning of a general Iron Man 'look' that would continue for several years.

A little later, Tony Stark was elected U.S Secretary of Defense. A series of minor redesigns to the TinMan Armor led to the creation of the Pentagon Armor. (or Iron Secretary Armor)

The Pentagon Armor didn't differ greatly from the Mark XXIX. The suit was streamlined and some of the rougher edges eliminated. Adi Granov took over as cover artist shortly after the suit was introduced, and he gave the Pentagon Armor a more realistic edge than any model before it. For the first time ever, the Iron Man armor looked like a piece of equipment a real human might actually wear. 

Iron Man Armory, P2


Hypervelocity Armor

Creator: Adam Warren/ Brian Denham

First Appearance: Iron Man: Hypervelocity mini-series (2007)

This upgrade of the armor possessed the usual - enhanced repulsors, improved bootjets, improved structural integrity for the armor; an improved "chameleon/ cloaking mode" and a "energy spike", which created an energy "bubble" so that the armor can travel underwater at supersonic speeds. A massive amount of electrical power is stored in a spinning capacitor ring on the back.

The most innovative feature of this armor must be that its vastly increased computing power allows it to essentially make a "back-up" of Tony's mind, so that in the event of critical injury of the wearer, the armor can act as him, with all his knowledge, insight and experience. The effect is so complete that the armor, thus activated, referred to itself as "Tony 2.0."

After several hours of being in existence, the armor upgraded its programming to enable it to function at "hypervelocity" - thinking and moving at a much faster timeframe than everyone else.

Be aware that this armor pre-dates the Extremis armor, though the min-series it appeared in was published afterwards.

Extremis Armor
Extremis Armor

Mark XXX Extremis Armor

Creator: Adi Granov

First Appearance: Iron Man Vol. 4 #5 (2005)

When Marvel launched Iron Man volume 4 in 2005, the creative team were tasked with reinvigorating the character. Writer Warren Ellis explored the idea that the armor had grown progressively more complicated over the years, to the extent that now he required the suit to be airlifted in a crate wherever he traveled.

In the Extremis story arc , Tony was wounded by a terrorist enhanced by the techno-virus known as Extremis. Rather than seek medical attention, Tony chose to infect himself with the virus; literally choosing to upgrade or die. After emerging from a coma, his body was healed and his mind gained the ability to directly 'talk' with machines, satellites, and information networks.

The Extremis Armor is a streamlined version of the Pentagon upgrade armor. Its overall look is far more smooth, organic even. Many of the control systems were now redundant, and could be thrown out because Tony could operate the suit at the speed of thought. This allowed him to focus fully on making the suit as durable as possible.

The Extremis Armor remained Tony's suit of choice for several years, through major 'event' storylines such as Civil War and Secret Invasion. .

Shopping... - the Extremis!

Bleeding Edge Armor
Bleeding Edge Armor

Mark XXXVII Bleeding Edge Armor

Creator: Salvador LaRocca

First Appearance: Invincible Iron Man #25 (2010)

Not an upgrade from Extremis, but a completely different armor entirely. This armor is kept inside Tony's body until mentally commanded to appear as the Iron Man Armor. The armor is made up of Nano-Machines that can now be commanded to turn into any type of structure upon Stark's skin. For example, the nano-machines can turn into clothes, other armors, or even different beings completely, by having the nano-machines change their properties into whatever Stark wants them to. It can also transform into the Iron Man armor whenever Stark wishes. The armor and Stark's body are powered by the high-yield arc reactor mounted in his chest. The high output of the arc reactor has greatly augmented Stark's intelligence and provided him superhuman-level multitasking and learning capabilities.

The armor can also self-repair, using its Nano-Machine technology.

Mark XXXIX 'Mandarin' Armor

Creator: Salvador LaRocca

This was kind of a 'back to basics' armor, as it was built to fight back against The Mandarin, who had made Tony Stark work for him against his will. It was built without access to his normal cutting edge laboratory tech.

It was slightly unusual in that he had a co-designer for once, Zeke Stane; it still did the job nicely!

Want a better look at the armors?

Click on the Amazon links, and you will be able to see some detailed recreations of the armors, as well as a lot more Iron Man goodies. Have Fun!

Mark XXXX 'Putty' Armor

Creator: Greg Land

This armor was the new relaunch armor for Tony, with Iron Man Volume 5, issue 1.

After time spent off Earth with the Guardians of the Galaxy, Tony returned to Earth with renewed enthusaism, and set to work on, you guessed it, upgrading his armor. This he did, with an upgrade as innovative as the Extremis one.

The new armor is composed of a liquid 'smart-metal', which can be stored in a small briefcase, and in tandem with the Extremis virus can be combined to form the new armor exoskeleton. Pretty spiffy, and I love the nod to the 80's with the briefcase!

Thanks for stopping by. I have lots more good stuff on my other lenses so take a look!!

Re-synching.... - .... Important Query.

I love the classic red and gold shellhead armor from the 1970's, whats your favourite?

See results

Epilogue:Heavy Metal Fatigue

Phew, that's a lot of metal! (actually the suits aren't made from metal, but that would ruin my punchline!)

I've not even mentioned the myriad of alternate universe Iron Man armors out there, The Marvel Ultimates Universe Tony Stark, the other Armors that are based on Starks (Mandroids etc). I've even had to leave out some of the very minor, one appearance armors such as the Arctic Armor, Anti-Radiation Armor, Mystic Armor,Anti-Transformer Armor etc. Maybe at some point I'll get around to doing an appendix.

Tony Stark is both a vain man, and a perfectionist, and his urge to continually try to reinvent himself makes him the perfect American hero... long may it continue!

'The stronger I make my armor, the longer I live! And I must live on! There is so much unfinshed work to be done..'

Iron Man, a merchandising dream!!

Tony's Databank - ..or Guestbook Comments

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    • profile image

      stick-man lm 

      7 years ago

      Mark IV all the way! But the Hulkbuster is my second favorite. Wait...did you say THORBUSTER?!!

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      Well done!

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      tony i want to know that how you make your iron man suit please from kanwal from india

    • Projectlazy profile image


      8 years ago

      god that new armor is ugly

    • Scarlet Spider profile image

      Scarlet Spider 

      8 years ago

      Awesome lens. My favorite armors would have to be the original armor, the Mark IV/V, the Modular Armor, and the Extremis. But there's so many great Iron Man armor designs that it's very hard to pick which one is the best!

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      Classic Red and Gold and Original Red and Gold are the best Iron Man armors

    • goldenrulecomics profile image


      9 years ago from New Jersey

      Great lens! And yes, I was one of those readers who made fun of the short-lived nose in the 1970s!

    • mojoCNYartist profile image


      9 years ago from CNY

      Very nice lens.....I've always been a Marvel fanboy.

    • dahlia369 profile image


      9 years ago

      I had no idea iron man had that many outfits,,, ;)

    • FloridaDino profile imageAUTHOR


      9 years ago

      @Ernestaux: thanks! glad you enjoyed it.

    • profile image


      9 years ago

      Nice work! Very interesting and precise lens.


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