The Skeptical Samurai’s Guide to Comic Books: Iron Man

Time for another instalment of…

The Skeptical Samurai’s Guide to Comic Books!

Featuring: Iron Man

Well, this is actually the 1st instalment of “The Skeptical Samurai’s Guide to Comic Books”, but I plan on making this a regular segment.

So you may be wondering to yourself, why on earth would you write a series of “skeptical” blog posts about comic books!?  I mean, comic books and the characters contain within them are fictitious right!?  What is the point of taking a skeptical look at something that does not even exist!

Well dear reader…

That is an excellent question!  Please allow me the opportunity to explain.

I have always loved comic books.  I love the art as well as the stories (or in comic book lingo, the pictures as well as the words).  I have always been fascinated by the characters and stories contained within the covers of comic books.  After getting into skepticism, that fascination took on a bit of a different approach, and I started to look at comic books in a new/different way.  Specifically, I started looking at characters and events within the books and wondering to myself, “Is there any plausibility to the characters and events in these stories?”  I also began to wonder that if some of the less then plausible characters did actually “exist”, what would they look like in the “real world”?  And with that, “The Skeptical Samurai’s Guide to Comic Books” was born!

Before we get into the meat of this blog post, I feel that I should point something out.  The world of comics is full of debates regarding the “real” origin of certain characters, the validity of certain story lines, how “the movies” incorrectly portray “our” beloved characters, or who would win between Superman vs. Batman (answer: Batman would win).  Although from time to time I may comment on these types of topics (again, Batman would whoop Superman’s butt!), they will not be the focus of this segment of the Skeptical Samurai blog.  If you want to “nerd out” (which I try and do at least once a day), on the details surrounding your favourite character(s) I suggest you check out any number of comic book forums.  There are plenty of heated debates going on there, and the contributors of those forums do a much better job of covering the specifics of characters then I could ever hope to do.  So with that in mind, please allow me the present to you, “The Skeptical Samurai’s Guide to Comic Books”.

This week featuring: Iron Man

Before I get started, allow me a moment to acknowledge Mr. Ryan Haupt.  He wrote an entry some time ago for Marvel Comics regarding the “science” behind Iron Man.  I got a lot of my info from his articles so Mr. Haupt, I tip my kabuto to you!  From the Marvel Website:

“Ryan holds two Bachelor’s of Science in Environmental Geology and Ecology & Evolutionary Biology from the University of California, Santa Cruz and is going back to school in the fall to get a Masters in Paleontology from Vanderbilt University. Currently, he helps research a variety of topics ranging from stable isotope geochemistry, mammalian paleoecology and oceanographic paleoclimatology. He hosts the podcast “Science… sort of” with two grad student friends where they hang out while talking about science and geek culture. He occasionally fights rabid and rogue elephant seals, but only for science.”


Iron Man, better known as Anthony (Tony) Edward Stark was first introduced by Stan Lee, Larry Lieber, Don Heck, and Jack Kirby in 1963.  The details have changed over the years, but the origin of Tony Stark/Iron Man is essentially as follows: Tony is a billionaire/playboy/genius who owes and runs Stark Industries, a multi-national corporation that build/creates advances weapons and defence systems.  Attempting to steal his weapons technology, a group of terrorists kidnap Stark, hold him captive, and force him to construct a weapon of mass destruction.  Ever defiant, Stark instead builds a powerful suit of armour with which he defeats his captors and escapes back to Stark Industries.  He then goes on to create new and more advanced suits of armour and uses them to fight crime on a large/global scale.

Iron Man is incapable of being Iron Man without one MAJOR component…the Iron Man armour.  Iron Man’s armour has under gone many changes over the years.  From the MK 1 suit which is the suit of armour that Stark built in order to escape from his terrorist captures

 The classic MK V armour 1st seen in the 1970s through the MK VIII versions seen to the late 90s

Extremis armour based on nano technology in the early 2000s

To the newest version which is the bleeding edge armour.

And this is just a small sampling of the armour that Tony Stark has worn over the years.  In addition to each individual model of armour, there are also a variety of different “modular” additions to many of the suits that meet the needs of specific missions/tasks.  Any attempt to try and analyze each and every version of the armour (along with accompanying “modular” attachments) would require a herculean effort that would result in enough written material to create a set of encyclopaedia volumes on the subject and although that may entertain a few, there would be a lot of repetition, and lets but honest, most of you would fall asleep at the keyboard!  But fear not dear reader, because the vast majority of the Iron Man armour is a variation on a central theme, essentially, a man inside a suit of armour.  For the purpose of this blog post we are going to focus on the “Classic Red and Gold” armour, the MK V through MK VII armour seen from the 1970’s through to the late 1990’s.  The main reason that I chose this armour is because it seems to be the most well known version of the Iron Man armour, largely in part because of the release of the “Iron Man” films.  So with that in mind, let us get to it!

Could Iron Man actually exist?

That is an extremely interesting question (at least to a nerd like me!) with somewhat of a less then straight forward answer.  The simple answer is, no, Iron Man could not exist.  Our current technology simply cannot duplicate or surpass the capabilities of the Iron Man armour as depicted in the comic books.  The less straight forward answer is that Iron Man could exist…well kind of.

There are many elements of the Iron Man armour/technology that are completely plausible and within the realm of current technology.  In fact, many of the parts of the Iron Man armour exist in isolation, but (for a variety of reasons we will get into in a bit) have not been brought together into a single suite of armour.  It is worth noting that a variety of different exo-skeleton suits have been designed by developers over the years.  While most of these suits are intended for single purpose use or are far from complete working models, this certainly leaves open the possibility for there to someday be a complete and functioning Iron Man (like) suit of armour.  So

Alright, so a suit of Iron Man armour is not currently feasible, but if it was, what would it be made of?

Well the most logical answer that comes to mind is iron.  Good guess, but you would be incorrect!

Although an extremely strong metal, iron is very dense and thus very heavy.  The density of iron is great when it comes to things such as protection, but the density (and thus the associated weight) quickly makes this material rather undesirable.  The main reason being is that excess weight means it requires more fuel to propel (which is an issue onto itself that we will get to shortly) and will make the suit more difficult to navigate.  It is also worth noting that as hard as iron is, it is not near as hard as some of its own alloys, such as steel, but Steel Man just does not have the same ring to it now does it (In reality Iron Man is named Iron Man as a tribute to the 1st Iron Man suite that Tony Stark created/wore when he escaped his terrorist captors in the original comic book series.  The original Iron Man armour was actually made of iron.  Subsequent versions of the Iron Man suite abandon the material iron, but the name was retained)!

So the Iron Man armour would not be made of iron, well then what would it be made of!?  Well it would most likely be made of a composite of a number of different materials.  The drawback of most single elements is that they are strong in some areas, while weak in others.  The benefit of a composite material is that it can be made and manufactured to maximize the benefits and minimize the drawbacks.  Alright, so we have established that Iron Man’s armour would be made of some sort of composite material, but what type specifically!?  Well there are a few potential candidates.

The 1st candidate is a titanium nickel alloy called nitinol.

Nitinol is, for a metal, relatively light, making it an excellent material for applications such as armour that must be capable of flight.  It is also extremely strong and has a very high heat resistance, which for obvious reasons is something that you would want in your Iron Man armour.  Another perk of Nitinol that if it is somehow deformed it can easily be reshaped and repaired, this is especially handy if say you have a suit of armour that needs to with stand all sorts of abuse!  So Nitinol would be a great material to use for the skeleton/frame/shell of an Iron Man like armour.

Another material that would most likely be incorporated into the Iron Man armour is some sort of multi changed carbon composite.  Carbon is a really cool (well cool to nerds like me!) material that can completely change its properties based on the types of bonds it makes.  Made properly it can be extremely strong and stand up to EXTREME temperature (in excess of 2300° F).  The main drawback of carbon composites is that they tend to be relatively brittle and thus are subject to increase wear and tear.  Considering the pros and cons the carbon composite they would function best on the boots of the Iron Man armour and around weapons systems that would all tend to generate higher temperatures.

The final material we would most likely see on a real like Iron Man suit of armour would be a new type of material that is composed of a single-crystal titanium.  This stuff is super cutting edge, and there is really not much information out on it (at least to the public).  However, it is making its way onto/into the newest high tech military jets, so if it is good enough for a top secret military jet I am going to assume that I would be a good candidate for fictional suite of armour!

Whooaaa!  We are just getting started!  Stay tuned for Part 2!

This has been the skeptical samurai

Working to serve…

Through the process of inquiry…






2 Responses to “The Skeptical Samurai’s Guide to Comic Books: Iron Man”

  1. awesome read

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