Spirit of Iron Man

By day, Marietta resident Nick Arnold is a mild-mannered architectural designer at Pickering Associates in Parkersburg.

But every once in a while, he dons the armor of Iron Man.

The vacu-formed PVC costume looks like it flew right out of one of the movies featuring the Marvel Comics character. Arnold ordered it off the Internet and estimates he spent more than 500 hours assembling and fitting it.

But despite that dedication, Arnold, 25, admits he wasn’t really a fan of the character before 2009.

“I hadn’t paid much attention to (Iron Man) until the first movie came out,” he said. “I absolutely fell in love with it. … It really just struck a chord with me.”

Arnold isn’t alone in arriving late to the party for Iron Man, first introduced in “Tales of Suspense” No. 39 back in 1963.

“He’s always been a stalwart of comic fans, but you didn’t see him on kids’ T-shirts and lunchboxes and that kind of thing,” said Jordan Lowe, owner of Asylum Comics in Marietta. “Now he’s a household name. He’s right up there with Superman and Spider-Man.”

The armored Avenger returns to theaters for his fourth cinematic outing, “Iron Man 3,” on Thursday with special showings at 9:20 p.m. at Marietta’s Odyssey Theater and 9:50 p.m. at the Regal Grand Central Mall 12 in Vienna, W.Va. As it has for the last several years, the first weekend in May marks the kickoff of the summer blockbuster season with a comic book-based film and coincides with the annual Free Comic Book Day promotion on Saturday.

Arnold plans to set his suit up on a mannequin in the Odyssey lobby 8:30 to 9:30 p.m. today and 6 to 7:30 p.m. Friday to give movie-goers a chance to take pictures with it. He’ll be on hand to make sure it stays in working order and talk with anyone interested in the project.

Last year, he wore the suit at the theater during the opening weekend of “The Avengers,” in which Iron Man joined forces with other icons like Captain America, Thor and the Hulk.

In April, at a friend’s request, he took the suit to Huntington, W.Va., for the second annual Tri-State Comic Convention, posing for photos with attendees and entering the costume contest. Although he didn’t win, Arnold enjoyed the experience.

“It was rewarding enough just to walk around and take pictures with people,” he said.

Arnold took on the armor-building project in 2009 because he thought so highly of the movie and as a way to get back into a former hobby.

“(I) got a job where I wasn’t doing a whole lot of model-building and I missed it,” he said.

The armor consisted of thin sheets of plastic melted over a form, with the air then removed so they would take the shape of that form, Arnold said.

“I had to cut out each of the pieces and seam it together,” he said.

He assembled the armor over a body harness he built from scratch to make sure the armor would fit him. The pieces had some excess material to allow the buyer to cut them to the right size. He also painted the armor himself.

For a while, Arnold displayed the suit at his office, and it inspired the theme of Pickering’s entry in this year’s CanStruction event, a competition to design and build structures entirely out of canned food that is then donated to local food banks.

Pickering’s entry consisted of more than 4,500 cans and featured Iron Man’s helmet, Captain America’s shield, Thor’s hammer, a S.H.I.E.L.D. logo and the Hulk himself. It won two awards and was on display for a week at the end of March in the West Virginia Culture Center in Charleston.

Free Comic Book Day

Iron Man isn’t headlining any of the books for this year’s Free Comic Book Day, but he will be represented in the giveaways by a figure from the collectible miniatures game Heroclix. The annual event is meant as both a thank-you to longtime fans and a means to entice new readers.

It’s also the busiest day of the year at Asylum.

“From the minute we open, generally ’til closing time, it’s wall to wall,” Lowe said. “We’ve had more people attend every year we’ve done it.”

The free offerings generally do a good job of matching up with what’s hot in popular culture, he said. This year, there’s a “Superman” comic with an eye toward the “Man of Steel” film opening this summer, a “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” comic and an anthology of short stories from the comic-born “Walking Dead.” There will also be plenty of all-ages material, featuring characters from “Sesame Street,” “The Smurfs,” “SpongeBob SquarePants” and more.