Helmut Gruler grew up in the carefree days of Germany at the turn of the twentieth century. He and his friend, Professor Franz Schneider, were childhood friends who became friendly rivals through their university years. After Germany's depression following World War I, Gruler believed that the only hope for his nation was in the rise of national socialism, even though he would admit Hitler to be an extremist and would never claim to be a Nazi. This nevertheless divided the friendship, as Schneider refused to follow the Nazi regime in any way. 
For seven years, the former friends never spoke to each other. Somehow, Gruler had come to feel the need to renew their friendship but discovered Schneider was missing, having fled to America. Gruler also discovered Schneider's hidden laboratory and an armored battlesuit of Schneider's design. Schneider had hoped the armor could be used by a German champion if Hitler was ever ousted from power, or, if necessary, by an anti-Nazi German who would fight against Hitler. Gruler decided to wear the armor himself, calling himself the Iron Cross, hoping to fight, not against the Nazis, but for his fatherland, right or wrong. 
Schneider had fled Germany before making certain improvements to the armor, improvements that Gruler wanted before truly embarking on his career. As the Iron Cross, Gruler kidnapped Schneider, hoping to force him in to making those improvements to the armor. The hero Miss America was investigating possible Nazi saboteurs in the area and stumbled on the kidnapping. The Iron Cross defeated Miss America and, when her teammates in the Liberty Legion came after her, defeated them as well. With the Liberty Legion as hostages, Gruler again tried to coerce Schneider. However, the Whizzer managed to contact the Invaders for help. The Invaders and the Iron Cross fought a prolonged battle, until the Human Torch used his flame-powers to affect the control mechanisms inside the Iron Cross armor. Gruler plunged into the ocean and was presumed to have drowned with the inert heavy armor encasing him. 
In reality, Gruler did not die. He was seen in recent years as a member of the inner circle of the altruistic covert organization known as the V-Battalion. Although the full details remain largely unrevealed, he had continued to wear the armor of the Iron Cross and professed to join the organization as a way to atone for his past crimes. Presumably, Gruler remained a member of the Battalion's inner circle, the Penance Council, for many years. 
More recently, the V-Battalion was discovered by the Thunderbolts when the Battalion abducted their associate, Dallas Riordan, who had been working for the Battalion at that time under the guise of Citizen V. Gruler was among those in the Penance Council when the Thunderbolts confronted them directly.
It was then revealed that Gruler was over 100 years old and relied on the Iron Cross armor to sustain his life. Nevertheless, Gruler remained a valuable member of the V-Battalion's inner circle, often participating in active missions such as their investigation into the activities of the terrorist organization Hydra, whose leader, Baron Strucker, was trying to take control of the the world using mind-altering nanotechnolody. In order to stop the satellite machinery controlling the nanotechnology, Gruler discovered that it required a very precise amount of energy to do so. Sacrificing the energy which powered his armor, Gruler triggered the satellite's override shutdown at the cost of his own life.
The Iron Cross possesses the normal human strength of a man of his age, height, and build who engages in regular exercise.
- Iron Cross Armor The armor provides protection from physical and energy attacks and enhances his strength, endurance and durability. His armor has boot jets which allow him to fly and has its own air supply and is capable of limited space travel.
- 17 Appearances of Helmut Gruler (Earth-616)
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