Tony Stark has been described as the “cool exec with a heart of steel,” and this has been especially true more than once in his life. As audiences will see in "Iron Man 2" this weekend, the Armored Avenger leads a life where unique health problems can (and do) often arise.
For those of you interested in this has played out in the comics, here’s a complete guide to Tony Stark’s medical history and the modifications he’s done to his body over the years.
As movie fans know, the events that led to him becoming Iron Man also involved Tony Stark getting a lot of shrapnel in his chest. Tony was forced to wear the chest-plate of his Iron Man armor at all times, using its magnetic fields to keep near-microscropic metal shards from piercing his heart.
Tony had to constantly recharge his chest plate, and if his armor or power cells were damaged in a battle as Iron Man, he faced possible death within moments.
After a few years, Tony’s condition worsened and one day he collapsed in public. The world learned that the injuries he suffered while a prisoner of terrorists had been far more severe than he’d ever said. Tony was rushed to a hospital and an experimental procedure gave him a new artificial heart. Tony no longer had to wear any part of his armor to keep himself alive.
The new heart, though, was not up to the strain and for a short time Tony gave the Iron Man armor to someone else so they could act in his stead. Tony eventually returned to his dual life as a superhero and businessman and simply adjusted to his new health condition.
You think YOU have annoying exes? Tony’s old girlfriend Kathleen Dare randomly showed up one day and shot him. Though he survived, Tony was now confined to a wheelchair. Refusing to let this stop him, Stark redeveloped the Iron Man armor so that he could walk while wearing it.
Eventually, he went one step further and developed a special chip that worked with his nervous system and restored his full mobility.
Months after regaining the ability to walk, Tony found out that enemies had caused an infection in his nervous system. He started wearing a neural-net suit to help him stay functional, but his condition only worsened. Tony was now a prisoner in his Iron Man suit, unable to move or function without the armor moving his limbs.
Realizing he needed to do something drastic, Tony faked his death and went into suspended animation as advanced technology and surgical techniques spent the next few months rebuilding his whole nervous system. No longer dying, he still had limited mobility for a while and during this time, he used a telepresence version of his armor — meaning that now “Iron Man” was a robot that Tony mentally controlled. With time and physical therapy, Tony was later mobile and healthy again.
A few years later, Tony was checked out by Dr. Hank Pym (a.k.a. the original Ant-Man, now calling himself “Wasp”) and Dr. Jane Foster (former nurse to Dr. Donald Blake, a.k.a. Thor). The two found out that the energy fields utilized in Tony’s latest armor were causing a cellular breakdown in his body. Fortunately, Stark was able to fix this by redesigning his suit of armor with new safeguards.
This new armor was bulkier and couldn’t fit inside a briefcase like previous models, so Tony designed it to actually transform into a briefcase-like package (which inspired some cool scenes in "Iron Man 2").
“If I only had a heart ...” During a weird story arc, Tony’s armor seemingly came to life and attacked him (it would later be revealed that the armor had been infected by the Avengers’ robotic enemy Ultron). During this fight, Tony received a serious chest-wound but then the sentient suit of armor sacrificed its life by using parts of itself to give Tony a new, robotic heart.
Similar to how his old chest-plate had worked, Tony had to constantly recharge his new heart. What’s more, it was pretty delicate and would conk out if Tony’s body took in certain substances, such as alcohol.
Believing there was no other way to beat a new, technologically-enhanced terrorist, Tony decided to upgrade himself from human to cyborg and injected his body with a nanite virus called "Extremis."
With Extremis, Tony Stark could now mentally tap into technology, giving him greater control of his armor and allowing him to do things such as “see” through the eyes of satellites and transmit data or cellphone message with his brain. Nanites in his bone marrow would create his under-armor around him at will. His body was fully under his control, allowing him to improve on his organs (enhancing brain power and doing away with his faulty, robotic heart) and giving him great healing abilities.
A couple of years later, the alien Skrull race infected all Stark technology with a virus, including Extremis. This robbed Tony of his new abilities, though the changes he had done to his body could not be undone now, so he was still not technically a normal human being.
REPULSOR POWER DISC
When Norman Osborn wanted to know all of Tony Stark’s secrets and all the information he’d learned about other superheroes, Iron Man responded by deleting his own brain. But Tony’s not suicidal, so he came up with a back-up plan to reboot himself.
The secret behind the Iron Man armors has always been Tony’s special Repulsor Generator Technology (known as “Arc Technology” in the film). Following instructions he’d left behind, Thor, Dr. Strange and Captain America were able to revive Tony’s body and mind to full health by using some mystical arts, psychology, radical medical procedures, and implanting a repulsor power disc into his chest. Now, like in the film, Tony’s body functions are powered by the glowing disc in his chest. What problems this might cause in the future have yet to be seen.
And that brings us up to speed on the various changes and problems Iron Man has put his body through.
Now go out and see what healthy problems arise in "Iron Man 2"!
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