[Warning: Contains SPOILERS for Civil War II #8.]
Civil War II was always about ideology first and action second. That’s not to say that it wasn’t chock full of superhero on superhero clobberin’ time, but much like its philosophical predecessor and namesake, the super-powered infighting explored themes of predictive justice taken to extremes, i.e. the dangers of a Minority Report future. As a futurist himself, and one who already touched the fascistic edge during the first Civil War, Tony Stark was in the best position to understand what using the Inhuman Ulysses’ power of foresight could mean for their the world in general.
In essence, Tony isn’t railing against Captain Marvel as much as he’s combating against those who might not be as judicious with the power of prescience, those who would harm rather than help. In the long run, though, Tony’s beef with Carol erupts – over Spider-Man (Miles Morales) and whether he should be arrested for possibly killing Captain America in the future – into a heated battle above the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C.
The war may now be over… but where it leaves Tony Stark is still a question unanswered.
Carol Wins the War, Tony Clings to Life
As the civil war condenses down into its base pairing – Tony and Carol – Ulysses discovers a shocking link between Iron Man’s defeat and a possible future similar to the one experienced by Old Man Logan. The heroic forces scramble to stop the fight, but before they can separate the iconic heroes, Captain Marvel lands a massive energy blast that blows Tony clean out of his armor. Shortly thereafter, the Inhumans arrive and Ulysses predictive powers unravel the threads of time. His latest vision displays not merely one but numerous possible futures, including a moment from Monsters Unleashed, several unspecified post-ResurreXion X-Men and Inhumans events, the infamous Captain America: Steve Rogers death on the Capitol steps (which apparently still may happen), a vision of Ultron standing above the broken bodies of the Avengers (along with classic younger Wolverine), and Loki battling Thor Odinson with his robotic arm and classic hammer, Mjolnir, in hand.
In the aftermath of the battle, Tony Stark’s battered form is quickly put into a high-tech medical device and examined by Dr. Henry McCoy (aka Beast). As Carol and S.H.I.E.L.D. Director Maria Hill look on, Beast tries to figure out how to help the badly damaged Golden Avenger. Apparently, it won’t be easy, because Tony has experimenting extensively on himself over the last few years.
What the Heck Is Tony Stark?
The tail ends of Civil War II offer a few clues as to the extent of Mr. Stark’s extreme body modification. Beast admits to being unable to make sense of things – even joking about being “scared to even draw blood” from Tony. Although writer Brian Michael Bendis doesn’t go into much further detail (yet) about the specifics behind Stark’s personal enhancements, the rebooted series, Invincible Iron Man and Infamous Iron Man, both delve a little deeper into his new format.
Riri Williams and Victor Von Doom independently discover that Tony Stark is now an artificial intelligence. While the status of his body – on life support as of Civil War II #8 – hasn’t been elaborated on, apparently Tony programed his essence into the Stark International mainframe, becoming his own F.R.I.D.A.Y./Jarvis. Once more, it remains to be seen how long the former Iron Man will remain a computer-generated entity, as well as whether his body will recover or if he’s so tweaked that he’ll never be quite the same again.
Evolution Plays a Key Role in Civil War II
In essence, the underlying motif of the second superhero civil war is evolution. As the action progressed, readers watched as a normal college student became the Inhuman oracle Ulysses, a catalyst for change and strife alike. In the final issue, he advances to a state beyond which few comic book characters have achieved. His final bow, during the skirmish that resulted from his predictive powers, comes as he’s recruited into the cosmos by none-other than Eternity.
Evolution is truly what Ulysses, what Tony Stark, what Marvel in general, and what our species wrestles with most in the long run. As CG ghosts play a role in major motion pictures and digitized images and voices crowd our modern reality, what makes us human and where do we go from here? Does Tony represent a rung up on the ladder, a merger of human and technological (Cyberpunk) progression. Or does Ulysses’ deeper connection to the universe and ability to step outside past, present, and future embody our path to greater understanding on a cosmological and spiritual level? In the long run, our concept of the next step likely depends on the person and their cultural touchstones more than anything.
As far as the Marvel Universe goes, though, Tony Stark could be their first major AI character, depending upon how much time he spends with Riri Williams, and how long he spends haunting the lives of his friends and colleagues as a cloud-based specter. With Eternity under lock and key and universes potentially colliding, it also seems like fans haven’t seen the last of Ulysses – a character who began life as a Civil War II McGuffin and wound up a force of nature.
As a certain little green sage (now owned by Disney as well) put it, the future of Marvel, as with our own, is always in motion. The House of Ideas will continue to change and rearrange their worlds and characters to suit a shifting and evolving audience – all while trying to keep their longtime readers guessing. Heroes will rise and fall, villains will change their stripes, and the Omniverse will be destroyed, retconned, and rebuilt (assuming it actually was destroyed). In all hopes, the Marvel Universe will successfully evolve with the times and keep cranking out their own special brand of comics, beloved, frustrating, and groundbreaking alike.
Civil War II #8 is currently available online and in stores.