WARNING: The following contains spoilers for Iron Man 2020 #3, by Dan Slott, Christos Gage, Pete Woods and VC’s Joe Caramagna, on sale now.
The Marvel Universe might have to contend with the loss of a founding Avenger… again. At the beginning of Iron Man 2020 #3, Arno Stark defends his plan to instill an obedience program within all A.I. on Earth while fighting a bevy of classic Marvel robots. Arno also battles his adopted brother, Tony Stark, who’s become the leader of all artificial intelligence in their fight for freedom. Arno attempts to reason with and convince his brother to join him with the help of their recently resurrected parents. Unable to listen to reason, Tony continues to fight, resulting in Arno blasting Tony out of the sky. But the image of Iron Man, dead and surrounded by friends and allies, is one that has become a familiar sight to Marvel fans.
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Iron Man’s first notable death was in Avengers #395 during “The Crossing.” After the death of Yellowjacket, it’s revealed that the time-traveling Immortus had been manipulating Tony and slowly turning him into a villain. In the story, Tony is responsible for killing Yellowjacket, among others. In response, the Avengers pluck a young Tony from the past to help them. After realizing what’s happened, the older disgraced Tony Stark perishes in an attempt to undo his mistakes, leaving the young Tony to take his place.
The story of the young Tony Stark leads up to a death that has become quite common for Iron Man: the collapse of a universe. This is first shown in the battle against Onslaught. With many heroes dead at the villain’s hands, Franklin Richards rebuilds the universe, effectively killing the young Tony and restoring the original one. Another instance of this type of death comes in the buildup to Secret Wars. With the multiverse coming to an end, both Iron Man and Captain America are killed while fighting over past grievances.
Tony has also effectively taken his own life. During the Dark Reign of Norman Osborn, Tony is dealing with the consequences of his failed time as the director of S.H.I.E.L.D. After deleting information on the world’s heroes from the Superhuman Registration Act, Tony’s mind is the only place that holds these critical secrets. Knowing that Osborn is closing in, Iron Man wipes his mind to remove any chance of this intel falling into the wrong hands. Weakened, Osborn is able to beat Iron Man into a catatonic state, leaving him brain-dead. For a short time, the Marvel universe is left without a Tony Stark as other heroes work to bring him back to the fight against Osborn.
Finally, we arrive at the death that continues to affect Iron Man. During Civil War II, Tony finds himself opposed by Captain Marvel in a fight for the future. As a futurist, Tony hates the idea of allowing others to be judged for possible future crimes. This battle of ideologies comes to a head after the Inhuman Ulysses predicts Captain America’s death at the hands of Miles Morales. The ensuing fight once again leaves Tony in a catatonic state—thanks to a blast from Captain Marvel. While it should have killed him, Tony’s body modifications allow him to survive in a fashion. This death remains unresolved as the current Tony Stark is seen as more of an artificial copy of the original Iron Man, which bodes dark things for the future.
Of his many deaths, Tony’s greatest sacrifice was seen around the world in Avengers: Endgame when Tony is able to save the multiverse and defeat its greatest threat. Unlike his other deaths, this is not a Tony that’s on the run, disgraced or defeated. This is a victorious Iron Man that has corrected his previous failings, and it’s a moment of sadness and celebration for Marvel fans.
It’s clear that Marvel has made a habit of killing Tony Stark, but there are a few reasons why. For one, Tony Stark’s origin is built around the notion of cheating death. As his technological prowess has developed, his many deaths have allowed him the opportunity to reveal new means of resurrecting himself. After all, it makes sense that Iron Man has multiple ways to return from the dead. And since anyone can take on the suit, Tony’s deaths allow others to take his place and serve as the Armored Avenger. Most recently, Riri Williams suited up as Ironheart, something that could happen in the MCU as well.
Still, the question remains: how long will Iron Man’s latest death last. Arno Stark has shown his superior abilities and intellect in the battle for supremacy between humans and machines, so this death could stand as one of Iron Man’s greatest failures. But if Tony Stark has taught us anything, it’s that no problem is without a solution—even his own death.
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