Inventing Iron Man: The Possibility of a Human Machine

Front Cover
JHU Press, Oct 1, 2011 - Comics & Graphic Novels - 224 pages

Tony Stark has been battling bad guys and protecting innocent civilians since he first donned his mechanized armor in the 1963 debut of Iron Man in Marvel Comics. Over the years, Stark’s suit has allowed him to smash through walls, fly through the air like a human jet, control a bewildering array of weaponry by thought alone, and perform an uncountable number of other fantastic feats. The man who showed us all what it would take to become Batman probes whether science—and humankind—is up to the task of inventing a real-life Iron Man.

E. Paul Zehr physically deconstructs Iron Man to find out how we could use modern-day technology to create a suit of armor similar to the one Stark made. Applying scientific principles and an incredibly creative mind to the question, Zehr looks at how Iron Man’s suit allows Stark to become a superhero. He discusses the mind-boggling and body-straining feats Iron Man performed to defeat villains like Crimson Dynamo, Iron Monger, and Whiplash and how such acts would play out in the real world. Zehr finds that science is nearing the point where a suit like Iron Man’s could be made. But superherodom is not just about technology. Zehr also discusses our own physical limitations and asks whether an extremely well-conditioned person could use Iron Man’s armor and do what he does.

A scientifically sound look at brain-machine interfaces and the outer limits where neuroscience and neural plasticity meet, Inventing Iron Man is a fun comparison between comic book science fiction and modern science. If you’ve ever wondered whether you have what it takes to be the ultimate human-machine hero, then this book is for you.


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CHAPTER ONE Origins of the Iron Knight
Original Gray Armor
Classic Red and Gold Armor
Telepresence Armor
The Interior Extremes of the Extremis Armor
Malleable Maps in the Mind
Phantom Limbs and Phantom Pain Syndromes
Is There Space in Shellheads Brain to Store a Skin of Iron?
Can Tony Really Become One with Iron Man?
Iron Man in Space
The Next Decades of Iron
CHAPTER SEVENTrials and Tribulations of the Tin Man

CHAPTER TWOBuilding the Body with Biology
Muscles Alive They Twitch They Contract They um Make Heat?
Muscles as MotorsHow Do Tony Starks Muscles Work?
How Can Iron Mans Motors Mimic Tonys Muscles?
Does Iron Man Have a Spring in His Step?
CHAPTER THREEAccessing the Brain of the Armored Avenger
Monitoring Muscle and Nerve to Make Motors Move
Using Nervous System Commands to Control Iron Man
Signals from Ol Shellheads Head
Creating Commands from the Cortex
Peeling off the Shell
Who Makes the Plan?
BrainMachine Interfaces Put Thoughts into Action
BrainMachine Interface and the Iron Man Neuromimetic Telepresence Unit
The First Decades of Iron
CHAPTER FOURMultitasking and the Metal Man
How Much Does It Cost to Pay Attention?
Is Tony Stark the Pilot Made or Born?
CHAPTER FIVESoftening Up a Superhero
It All Depends on Your Underarmor
Iron Man Puts His Feet Up
Out of This World
Enterthe Jelly Bellied Avenger?
Rehabilitation Robots
A Neuroplastic Iron Man
Intoxication and Iron Man Dont Mix
Alcohol Addiction and the Iron Man
Stimulating the Nervous System of a Human Superhero
Iron Man Suit for Protection
The RealLife Iron Man Heart of Darkness
What If Iron Man Goes Haywire?
CHAPTER EIGHTVisions of the Vitruvian Man
Accidentally on Purpose
And the Inventor Is
Yves Rossy
Underwater Exosuits and Deep Diving Pioneer Phil Nuytten
Yoshiyuki Sankai and Belief in the Benefit of a Robot Suit
Tony Stark Genius Inventor
Would the Repulsor Ray Be Repressed by Patent Law?
CHAPTER NINEDeal or No Deal?
Could Anyone Just Grab the Garb and Go out as the Golden Avenger?
Real Life Real Science Boy Iron Man Would Be Really Hard to Control
What Happens If Ol Shellhead Shorts Out?
What Is the Reality Check on Iron Man?
What Does Getting Whipped around by Whiplash Do to the Man within Iron Man?
Integrity of Implants in Iron Man
Training Keeps Tonys Brain from Getting Rusty
How Long Will the Iron Avenger Last?

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About the author (2011)

E. Paul Zehr is a professor of neuroscience and kinesiology at the University of Victoria, British Columbia, and the author of Becoming Batman: The Possibility of a Superhero, also published by Johns Hopkins. For more information about finding your inner superhero, visit

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