Omaha 'iron men' build their own armor suits -
Published Thursday, May 2, 2013 at 1:00 am / Updated at 12:12 pm
Omaha 'iron men' build their own armor suits

Tony Stark, aka Iron Man, created his cutting-edge superhero suit out of made-up comic book materials.

Nick Hencke and Clay Cardwell, a couple of real guys, pieced together Iron Man suits with foam, plastic, metal, hot glue and paint.

All of them work out of a garage — Stark's more high-tech than the real ones. And they all serve the community — Stark saves the world and Hencke and Cardwell appear at community events.

The two Omahans, both Iron Man comics fans, spend their off-hours from work putting together several sets of Iron Man armor.

With “Iron Man 3” hitting theaters on Friday, Cardwell is expecting to don his costume of War Machine (Iron Man's armored partner) for a Free Comic Book Day event at Krypton Comics, and he may even show up for a screening in costume. Hencke will appear at Legend Comics & Coffee in costume as well.

The movie already earned more than $195 million last weekend. Reviews are pouring on praise, too. Forbes said the film is a “surprisingly satisfying adventure that flirts with greatness.”

The film will show Iron Man soaring through the sky and battling with powerful villains. Hencke and Cardwell's suits don't fly, and they don't shoot powerful energy beams, but fans love them. They swarm to take photos with the costumed heroes. Children love to see Cardwell's War Machine light up.

Cardwell, 42, enjoys appearing at comic book and sci-fi events and charity get-togethers, and visiting the Children's Hospital & Medical Center. His costumes were on display last month at the Omaha Children's Museum.

“It's a great, fun family thing to do,” said Cardwell, whose wife helps him out since it's hard to see out of the suit's helmet. Cardwell has built his own equipment and purchased other items to create his War Machine armor as well as an Iron Man costume, a couple of Transformers, a Darth Vader, a remote-control R2-D2 droid, Batman and Superman costumes and tons of other pieces.

“Sometimes it irritates my wife bcause I'll have the living room strewn with parts,” Cardwell said with a laugh.

He started making costumes when he was 11 years old. He made a Freddy Kruger mask for Halloween, and his father showed him how to weld so he could make the horror movie slasher's knife glove.

In the Navy, Cardwell made costumes and built a haunted house everywhere he was stationed. “The costume-making stuff is all home-taught,” he said. “If there's something I want to learn, like how to make molds, I look it up on the Internet.”

That's common for Cardwell and costumers like him. Hencke, 35, got started with patterns from a website called Replica Prop Forum.

The site has a program called Pepakura Designer that breaks down a 3D object (such as Iron Man's helmet) into simple patterns that are cut out and then glued together like a large, three-dimensional puzzle.

His costume of Ultron, a villainous robot and enemy of the Avengers, won a contest at Omaha's Legend Comics & Coffee. And when he wore it to Dragoncon comic book convention in Atlanta, he was deluged with people wanting to meet him.

“Everybody just stopped. I turned around and all I saw was flashbulbs,” he said. “The helmet, you can't really see out of. I met (famous comic book artist) George Perez and I didn't even know it.”

Hencke's Ultron also became something of a sensation online. People from all over the world text and write emails about the costume. Tweets of the costume have made it semi-famous.

“It's kinda cool to have something you made blow up like that,” Hencke said.

Right now, Hencke is building a brand new Iron Man costume, and he's also working on five more suits for his wife and friends so they can be Iron Man characters.

He's working hard to get them done for San Diego's Comic-Con International in July, which draws hundreds of thousands of sci-fi, comic and pop culture fans, many wearing costumes of their favorites. Hencke works at a financial firm, and his costuming skills don't translate to his day job at all. Some friends are pushing him to sell custom costumes for a commission, but Hencke said that is a long way off, if it ever happens.

Cardwell occasionally uses his knowledge of making molds of small parts for his costumes to re-create parts for older machines in his job as service manager for a computer company.

He also has built a few mascot costumes and other things for businesses, but it's mostly a hobby.

Costume-making is very time-consuming.

“I try not to have too many projects going at one time. You can't make any real progress on one if you're working on a lot of them,” Cardwell said. “There's only so many hours in the day, and I gotta sleep at least a couple hours.”

Contact the writer: 402-444-1557,,

Contact the writer: Kevin Coffey    |   402-444-1557    |  

Kevin covers music, whether it's pop, indie or punk, through artist interviews, reviews and trend stories. He also occasionally covers other entertainment, including video games and comic books.

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