What to Read Next

Billion-Dollar Burning Question: Is Iron Man Now the Biggest Super Hero Ever?

Leslie Gornstein
Movie Talk
May 17, 2013
Iron Man 3
Iron Man 3

Settle a bet for me: Now that "Iron Man 3" has made a $1 billion worldwide, does that make him the most popular comic book hero of all time?
_ W. Emmett

Sorry, nope. Just because the world currently adores Robert Downey Jr.'s rapid-fire, eye-popping interpretation of Tony Stark — and all the CG explosions that he can deliver in a 130-minute span — does not mean that Iron Man always has ruled supreme.

For decades, in fact, the flying suit, and the bazillionaire inside of it, hovered somewhere in the middle of the superhero pack — at least, in the world of comic books, in which the Iron Man title first debuted in 1963.

Hard numbers for a franchise are tough to nail down, given the large number of ancillary titles and crossovers in the comic book world.

"But," notes John Jackson Miller, curator of the historical sales archive The Comics Chronicles, "'Iron Man' was never the perennial best-seller that 'Superman' and 'Batman' were for their publisher; 'Iron Man' only first approached the very top of the sales charts in 1996."

That year marked the debut of a reboot called "Heroes Reborn." Before then, however, the Tony Stark saga "had previously been a mid-range title, versus 'Superman' and 'Batman,'" says Miller, who himself wrote for the 'Iron Man' title for a year. "It really was that 1996 event that first made Iron Man a top-tier seller for Marvel; Marvel's 'Spider-Man' and 'X-Men' franchises were historically much larger."

So, to recap: Spider-Man, Superman, Batman, and the dozens of mutants who have appeared in X-Men comics over the years all enjoyed more popularity than the Iron Man character for a long time. (Again, just to hammer this home: For a while, mutants with names like Keratin, Squid-Boy and Bling! was part of a more popular franchise than Iron Man.)

All that said, the Iron Man movies have definitely skyrocketed the character to unprecedented heights. Box-office-wise, when it comes to sales, experts tell me that we're probably looking at a neck-and-neck contest between the Iron Man and Batman characters, adjusting for inflation.

"Batman has seven live-action films to his credit," Exhibitor Relations box-office analyst Jeff Bock tells me, "so I imagine Iron Man has a little ways to go still if you adjust for inflation. They're both around $3.7 billion unadjusted."

So why the relatively sudden popularity for the guy in the flying suit?

Look to — well, the guy in the flying suit.

"Before Robert Downey Jr. suited up, the comic book character really was one of Marvel's B-team members," Bock says. "Credit the infectious charm and charisma of Downey as Iron Man, who finally found the perfect vehicle to channel his manic energy and off-the-cuff zingers.

"In the same way that 'Pirates of the Caribbean' became a massive hit because of Johnny Depp's performance, it is Downey who deserves the lion's share of the credit for Marvel's success with 'Iron Man.' If they do go forward without Downey as the anchor of the franchise, they better replace him with, at minimum, three other 'Iron Man's."

Luckily, Tony Stark always seems to keep an underground bunker full of those suits ... just in case.

This Movie Deal Is Sure To Get Your Attention!

Get 4 Disney Movies For $1 With Membership. See Details. Exclusive Titles, Merchandise, Offers & Discounts. Plus, Free Shipping On Your Initial Order!

How to Choose the Best Student Loans

The fun of summer vacation is often dampened by thoughts of student loan debts. See which loan is the best for you.

Powerful Tactical Flashlight Flying Off Shelves!

This new tactical flashlight was just released to the public and is flying off shelves in the United States. Limited supplies left, act quick!

How To Make Sagging Skin Look Tight and Lifted

[Watch] The easy and effective way consumers across the country are improving the look of their wrinkled and sagging skin without cosmetic procedures.

Read This Before You Buy Medigap Plan F

Plan F is the most popular Medicare Supplement plan, but there's another Medigap option you should consider.

Military Mortgage Rates In 2016

Rates as Low as 2.75% (3.028% APR) 15 Year Fixed. Exclusive For Veteran & Military Takes 1 Min!

Starwood Credit Card

Earn 25,000 Bonus Starpoints®! Use toward Award Nights or Flights.

9 Cards for People Who Have Great Credit

What card offers up to 5% cash back? And which one offers 24/7 concierge service? See the best credit cards of 2016. Apply online, quickly & easily.

Help your customers on Facebook and Twitter.

Today's customers are social, so you should be too. Read this e-book to learn six things to consider as you plan your support strategy.

Compare rates. Save big.

We'll compare rates so you have more time for important things… like cats.

This $625 Intro Bonus Is Insane

A leading credit card issuer just raised its intro bonus to an industry-leading $500 cash or $625 in travel. And no annual fee the first year.

Banks Are Worried Homeowners Will Do This.

Homeowners are surprised and furious. If you owe less than $625,000 on your home, you better read this.

How Older Men Tighten Their Skin

Men, reduce the look of wrinkles, sagging skin and fine lines with this affordable and effective skin tightening treatment without leaving your home.

Insane Navy Seal Flashlight, should it be banned?

The Military has recently released technology that is now available to the public. Get yours before they run out - Limited Supply!