Little-known sci-fi fact: Stan Lee thought Marvel’s readers would HATE Iron Man (at first)

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Apr 30, 2013, 4:37 PM EDT

“Genius, billionaire, playboy, philanthropist.”

In this fan-favorite line from last summer’s mega-blockbuster The Avengers, Tony Stark describes how he is much more than just a man in a metal suit. Yet while Robert Downey Jr.’s delivery of the line demonstrates the character’s smartass charm, those qualities were originally written with a negative connotation for the character’s first comic-book appearance.

In the early 1960s, Stan Lee burst into the comic-book industry by creating superheroes out of everyday people with everyday problems. While Lee wrote complex stories about comic-book staples like soldiers and scientists, he also created dynamic heroes out of doctors, high schoolers and even warmongering industrialists. Basing Tony Stark on the erratic billionaire Howard Hughes, Lee -- along with his brother, writer Larry Lieber, and artists Don Heck and Jack Kirby -- introduced Iron Man in the 39th issue of Tales Of Suspense in 1963.

Stan Lee recalls in an interview for the first Iron Man film:

“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.”

In the years following his debut, Iron Man fought against the tyranny of communism, corporate crime, terrorism and alcoholism as a “second-tier” Marvel hero, despite always being a popular character amongst readers. However, in the 2006 crossover series Civil War, Marvel’s writers once more exhibited Tony’s conniving and abusive qualities, and the character’s veneration took a very big hit. It wasn’t until Downey's memorable portrayal of Tony Stark two years later in the Marvel Cinematic Universe that the character became both a household name and likable again.

While there are many interesting stories behind the creation of some of Marvel’s best-known characters, Stan Lee’s gamble of creating a character nobody should like is by far the most remarkable, and it paid off quite well in the end.

(Via Total Film)