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Iron Man: When Did Tony Stark Stop Selling Weapons?


Summary

  • Tony Stark initially sold weapons in comics until writer Mike Friedrich had him stop in 1972’s Iron Man #50 due to changing reader sentiment.
  • Stan Lee claimed that he conceived Tony Stark as an anti-weapon hero, but that doesn’t seem to be the case
  • Stark International stopped selling weapons and focused on space research and anti-pollution technology following Tony Stark’s decision in the comics.



In “When We First Met”, we spotlight the various characters, phrases, objects or events that eventually became notable parts of comic lore. Today, we look at when Tony “Iron Man” Stark stopped selling weapons through his company, Stark International.


Recently, I did a Movie Legends Revealed about how the United States government forced Marvel to change a fairly major plot point in the original plans for the 2008 film, Iron Man. Originally, the plan was that Tony Stark not only didn’t sell weapons through his company, but that he actively was ANTI-weapon (you know, something like “My dad sold weapons, while I now save lives instead”). The government didn’t like the implication that selling weapons was something bad, so it insisted that Stark Industries DID still sell weapons (and instead, the film cleverly juxtaposes Tony’s cavalier attitude towards people hurt by the weapons he builds against what happens when he is captured by the people his weapons were being used on).

What’s interesting is that that positon of Tony Stark as someone who DOESN’T build weapons is very much in tune with the Stark of the comic books nowadays, but it wasn’t always that way. When did Tony Stark decide to stop selling weapons in the comics?


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What was Tony Stark’s original position on selling weapons?

In 2013, Stan Lee said of Tony Stark:

“I think I gave myself a dare. It was the height of the Cold War. The readers, the young readers, if there was one thing they hated, it was war, it was the military. So I got a hero who represented that to the hundredth degree. He was a weapons manufacturer, he was providing weapons for the Army, he was rich, he was an industrialist. I thought it would be fun to take the kind of character that nobody would like, none of our readers would like, and shove him down their throats and make them like him … And he became very popular.”


This is one of those weird ones where, well, I can’t exactly get into Stan Lee’s head at the time, of course, but at the same time, there sure doesn’t seem to be the case at the actual time that Tony Stark was invented. In fact, Lee’s point here goes AGAINST the realities of the time period. When Tony was introduced in 1962, yes, it was the height of the Cold War, but the pop culture sure wasn’t against the military. If Tony Stark had debuted in the LATE 1960s, when the United States was fully entangled in the Vietnam War, I think there was something to be said for Lee’s point, but he wasn’t. Here’s Tony’s debut in 1962’s Tales of Suspense #39 (by Stan Lee, Larry Lieber, and Don Heck)…

The notion that this was anything but a traditional heroic depiction of a weapons manufacturer at a time when the “Commies” were the go-to enemies for heroes to fight against is just silly. There is not even the slightest indication that we aren’t supposed to like Tony Stark due to his riches and his weapons manufacturing.


Of course, Tony then builds an armor with a life support system, and becomes Iron Man (I hate sharing those pages, so I won’t, as the villain’s depiction is just so…rough, from a racial caricature perspective).

From the next issue (by Jack Kirby, Lee, Robert Bernstein and Heck), look at this opening page, how can you possibly try to argue that this is showing Tony Stark’s weapons manufacturing in a NEGATIVE light?

Tony is a man of many talents

Clearly, it is intended to be a POSITIVE attribute of Stark. Tony’s weapons work continues pretty normally throughout his run in Tales of Suspense (most of which is scripted by Lee).

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When did Tony Stark decide to stop selling weapons?

By the early 1970s, though, Lee was correct, and the general readership WAS no longer exactly thrilled with the idea of following the adventures of a weapons manufacturer during the Vietnam War (Dylan wrote about “The Masters of War” almost a decade earlier, but suffice it to say that a lot more people were agreeing with Dylan by 1972), and I imagine that Mike Friedrich was one of those people, as he was a very peaceful guy, and so it comes as little surprise to learn that it was Friedrich who decided to have Tony abandon Stark Industries’ weapons production in 1972’s Iron Man #50 (by Friedrich, George Tuska, and Vince Colletta), deciding to concentrate on space research, and anti-pollution technology…

Tony Stark stops selling weapons


(and yes, Iron Man does, in fact, fight a python in the issue and somehow doesn’t win instantly)

Tony then re-named the company from Stark Industries to Stark International to sort of celebrate the change in direction for the company. Interestingly, S.H.I.E.L.D. later tried to take over Stark International specifically to force it to start making weapons again (but that’s a story for another day). When Tony himself became the head of S.H.I.E.L.D., you’d have to think that he made some weapons for them, right? And he obviously continued to produce Quinjets for the Avengers, so I suppose it was a bit of a nebulous thing as to what a “weapon” was. Still, his main company has maintained its “no weapons” position ever since (and when he learned that the technology in his Iron Man armor was being used by people, well, that became a whole thing, as well).

If anyone has a suggestion for a future When We First Met, drop me a line at brianc@cbr.com! If you e-mail me the suggestion, it has the extra bonus of being searchable later, so I can properly credit you if I take a while before I write about it!




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