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Eventually, the shrapnel was removed, but Stark retained his Iron Man persona.
When Iron Man was created, he didn't really have superhuman abilities, per se. And unlike other human heroes like Batman, he doesn't even work out on a regular basis ... unless you consider lifting PBR tallboys "working out." The only thing that made Stark "super" back in the day was the high-tech armor he wore. When he was wearing his super suit, he was inhumanly strong, flew with the help of rockets in his boots, fired blasts of pure force (aka "repulsor rays") from his gloves and much more.
A few years ago, writer Warren Ellis concocted a storyline that actually caused Stark to be linked to his armor and gain a few superhuman abilities when he's not suited up. For example, these days Stark can "see through satellites" when he's butt naked. The movie version probably won't present these new powers, but if you pick up any current comic starring Iron Man, you'll see what I'm talking about.
On his first few adventures, Stark sported a suit of bulky gray armor (which was pretty damned ugly). It wasn't long before the character was outfitted with a shiny yellow suit (which was also ugly) and soon settled into his current red-and-gold getup. Over time, Iron Man's costume changes became a standard feature of the series; so, just like Apple releases new iPods every year or so, Stark upgrades the look and functionality of his armor on a regular basis.
Iron Man is linked to a trio of supporting characters who've been a staple of his life since the early days of his creation: Stark's chauffeur Harold "Happy" Hogan, secretary Virginia "Pepper" Potts, and helicopter pilot James "Rhodey" Rhodes.
Rhodes, played in the film by Terrence Howard, actually took on the mantle of Iron Man for a good long while after Stark became a full-fledged alcoholic. Stark eventually got it together and put on the armor again. But Rhodes dug being a hero so much, he kept on fighting evil in his own armor -- using the moniker War Machine. At one point, War Machine started wearing a suit of armor created by extra-terrestrials, but it was ugly and wack. At any rate, Howard has stated in several interviews that the only reason he took the role in the film was because he knew that Rhodey would eventually become a superhero. Anybody smell a sequel?
Iron Man is also a member of the all-star superhero team the Avengers, which he founded with other A-list superheroes like Thor and the Hulk. And in the new Hulk movie, which also hits cinema screens this summer, Downey (SPOILER WARNING!) makes a cameo appearance as Tony Stark. Will this pave the way for an Avengers film in the future? Damn ... I sharted again.
Being a creature of the Cold War, several of Iron Man's early foes were obvious manifestations of communist paranoia. He fought Soviet spies like the Black Widow (who later became a superhero) and the Crimson Dynamo as well as Chinese bad guys like the Mandarin. Most of Stark's enemies used high-tech weapons and wore "Iron-clone" armor. A few of his enemies, however, were pretty lame. One evil dude named Whiplash, for example, had the nerve to attack Iron Man with just an armor-shredding whip. What an idiot. Super-strong, invincible metal armor vs. moron with a whip; who do you think is going home with an armored foot in his ass?
Iron Man has starred in one comic book series or another since the 1960s, but not all of his appearances are worth reading. As much as I love the character, some Iron Man storylines -- such as the one where he was replaced by a teenage version of himself from the future -- were downright wack. Other Iron tales, however, were stellar. Here's a quick list of arcs that were iron-clad: