All things considered, the currently contentious relationship between Steve Rogers and Tony Stark is a sad statement on our partisan times. Marvel Comics has been happy to present its characters as often squabbling among themselves or even coming to blows, but for most of their publishing history, Steve and Tony have been pretty tight. They're two alpha males who oftentimes find themselves isolated from the world: Steve by the decades he spent on ice and the feeling that somewhere in his heart, it's always 1945; Tony by a brilliant mind that's always carrying him five or twenty years into the future. Through most of their history, their similarities and differences drew them together, but in the 21st century, things got uglier.
Here are the 11 Best Captain America-Iron Man Fights.
12 Avengers vol. 1 #4 (1963)
The very first Steve-Tony throwdown, though, came early. Barely minutes after being thawed out of the ice, Steve found his very identity questioned. The Avengers who rescued him (Thor, Iron Man, the Wasp, and Henry Pym as Giant-Man) suggested that this might be a false Captain America, meant to play upon their sympathies and lure them into an attack. It's not an altogether unreasonable suspicion, especially since they'd fought their first shape-shifter two issues earlier.
Steve then proved his courage and belief that there's no problem a fight scene can't solve, fighting every single Avenger (even Thor!) to a standstill until briefly stopping in his tracks rather than hit the Wasp. By then, they were convinced — or simply too intimidated to debate the point any further.
11 Tales of Suspense #58 (1964)
Curiously, the next time Tony took Steve for an impostor, Steve's fighting prowess didn't immediately convince him otherwise. Undoubtedly though, Steve was holding back quite a bit. The Chameleon, a master spy who (arguably) peaked with his debut appearance in 1963's Amazing Spider-Man #1, wore a Captain America suit long enough to trick Tony, and when Tony went after Steve, Steve showed that he'd used his year out of the ice to keep up with then-current popular culture: "I'll probably see this later on Candid Camera!"
Steve's determination not to be punk'd and Tony's early dependence on battery power to keep his injured heart going drew this fight out to unlikely lengths, but it dissipated as soon as Tony realized that this was the real Steve and he was the one being punk'd here.
10 Iron Man #127 (1979)
This is a rare example (especially in the comics) of Steve and Tony fighting exclusively with words. In the middle of "Demon in a Bottle" — a well-known comic detailing Tony's complete breakdown into alcoholism — Steve paid him a visit in an effort to shake some sense into him. His effort seems a little clumsy by 21st-century standards, now that the idea of an intervention is far more commonplace, but it ended with a startling admission: "What you're saying is not new to me, Tony. My father - God rest his soul - was an alcoholic. We tried to help him. But a man has to want to be helped. Let me know when you do."
Tony's battle with alcoholism, one of the biggest draws to the character for some fans, has long been rumored to be on its way into the Marvel Cinematic Universe iteration of the head of Stark Industries. Unfortunately, considering the younger audience that the Disney-owned MCU has to take into account when creating their films, we'll never likely see his complete descent into alcoholism, though the issue was touched on in the first two Iron Man films. It was even (essentially) replaced with an anxiety disorder in Iron Man 3.
9 Iron Man #228/Captain America #341 (1988)
Having spiraled completely out of control at the end of the Swingin' Seventies, Tony closed out the Reagan era by swinging in the opposite direction — toward total control. He had always felt guilt over his early days as a weapons designer, but now went on "Armor Wars," a quest to destroy any technology based on his Iron Man suit, including that used for defense by the Russian and U.S. governments.
You can see how that might not sit well with Steve, even though at the time, he had less reason to back up the U.S. government than usual. A few months earlier, bureaucratic pressure had forced him to give up the Captain America identity and shield, and he was wearing a white costume and substitute shield that Tony had designed. Even so, Tony's arguable treason angered Steve so much that he refused to use that shield while trying to bring in Tony, a point of honor that ultimately cost him the battle. The two wouldn't be on good terms for a good five years afterward.
8 Captain America Annual #9 (1990)
Though published after the "Armor Wars" showdown, this fight may have taken place before it. Avengers writing veteran Roy Thomas and his wife Dann penned this story, and they have some very respectable credentials (Conan, All-Star Squadron, and of course, Captain Carrot and His Amazing Zoo Crew), but this was not one of their better efforts. It's not even retro; it's just flat-out bonkers.
When Tony, along with a group of local villagers, got his mind poisoned by bad fish (no, really), Steve taunted him into a battle and broke the seal on his suit long enough to cure him with the cold air. Because cold cures food poisoning, sure, why not. The battle also contains this particularly memorable title: "You Are What You Eat," one of the truest lessons we could ever hope to learn from such a silly comic.
7 Civil War vol. 1 (2006-2007)
When low-level superheroes and villains started a fight that blew up an elementary school, the government moved to put more restrictions on hero operations, putting Steve on the side of individual liberty and Tony on the side of national security, leaving the remaining superheroes of the world forced into picking a side.
Once again, Steve was sticking up for his vision of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, even against the government who created him; and once again, Tony was going to extremes to protect ordinary people from anything with which he'd ever been involved, even the "living weapons" that make up the superhero community. The fight scenes involved a multitude of heroes, but the highlight of the comic was surely the battles between Steve and Tony, who went at it twice during the series.
Of all their battles over the years, this series is the most obvious inspiration for the upcoming film, Captain America: Civil War.
6 Civil War: Casualties of War #1 (2006)
What if two commanders of opposing forces met in secret and tried to end the war between them? The main Civil War series had all the fireworks, but it also sometimes failed to fully flesh out its characters. Steve and Tony came across as a lot more honorable and likable in this story than in that main series, with a long conversation and a brief flashback to the first time Steve trained Tony in hand-to-hand combat — a far more interesting throwdown than the no-shield, no-armor brawl they fell back on when words finally fail them.
The true standout moment came when Steve tried to tell Tony that experienced heroes like the two of them would never make a mistake that blew up a school. Tony's response? "I would have if I'd been drunk."
5 Avengers vol. 5, #44 (2015)
Tony and Steve started working together closely again after the war, but it wasn't quite the same, and it seemed like only a matter of time before they fell back apart. But in this story, they took the world with them. The aged Steve and a corrupted Tony, both wearing suits of Stark armor, fought over whether Tony knew the apocalypse they face was unavoidable.
That raises quite a few uncomfortable questions: If you're a brilliant futurist like Tony, when does probability become certainty? Does that even matter when you're fighting the end of everything? And if you're not a genius, can a mind far beyond yours ever be fully trusted? It's probably the longest fight on this list, and the saddest, as there was really nothing left to fight for.
Side note: we considered another fight related to that coming apocalypse, from Avengers vol. 5 #29, but despite a memorable threat from Cap, it was aborted so quickly that it really felt like just the warm-up to this awesome grudge match.
4 Civil War vol. 2 #1-5 (2015)
In an alternate future, the superhero war from Volume 1 not only never ended, but it ultimately split the country into two states, the laissez-faire Blue and the more restrictive Iron (recalling the Blue and Gray of another, slightly more real Civil War).
Reluctant leaders Steve and Tony assumed the roles of commanders-in-chief of their respective nations, and recent years had brought about a tense cease-fire. As the new series picked up, Tony and Steve's peace talks go awry when an unseen assailant kills their moderator, a woman with a strong connection to the events of Volume 1.
3 The Avengers (2012) and Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015)
The "genius, billionaire, playboy, philanthropist" exchange set the tone for Movie Steve and Movie Tony's relationship. Though Tony conceded Steve's philosophical point in the climax of the film by taking on the role of a self-sacrificing soldier, their mutual respect is hard-won and, in the sequel, sometimes fragile.
Tony couldn't even bring himself to concede that Steve is the leader of the team without adding, "I just build everything and pay for everything and make everyone look cooler," and they even briefly came to blows when the Captain discovers that Tony had not given up on his idea of creating an A.I. as he'd assumed he would. Again, the comics' Civil War was a breakdown in a long (slightly interrupted) history of friendship, but something like the fight in Captain America: Civil War feels downright inevitable.
2 Civil War meme (2014-current)
Because the general Steve vs. Tony plot of the new movie has been familiar to Marvel followers for some time, fans have come up with their own reasons for the battle to begin, memorably setting captions to a few screenshots from the movies, with the Captain America: Civil War title as the recurring "punchline."
Most of the triggers for the fight are pretty trivial (Kirk vs. Picard! The toilet paper goes over the roll! No way, under!), and a couple are some pretty legitimate burns (Tony: "My father never loved me"; Steve: "He loved me"), but in the end, at least they all make more sense than Captain America Annual #9. Sorry, Roy and Dann. Be sure to check out a few of these memes through your preferred internet search engine!
1 Bonus mention: Civil War II
In this comic series set for a June 2016 release, Steve Rogers is no longer serving as Captain America, and the new Captain (Sam Wilson) and Tony seem to be fighting on the same side as a new superhero with precognitive abilities splits the community on whether one can ever punish crimes before they happen. Sam and Steve don't always see eye-to-eye either, but Steve is the one who named Sam as his successor, so might the comic book Avengers be leaving their feud behind at the same time the movies get around to celebrating it? For the superhero community's sake, we can only hope so. Be sure to check out Civil War II when it drops later this year.
Those are our favorite showdowns between Steve Rogers and Tony Stark. While their upcoming fight on the big screen may not even be the most anticipated superhero fight of 2016, here's hoping it will live up to the pair's epic comic book history. Which Rogers/Stark throwdown was your favorite? Be sure to let us know in the comments below.
Captain America: Civil War opens in theaters on May 6th, 2016.