Like all long-running superhero characters, Tony Stark, AKA Iron Man, has seen his fair share of ups and downs. First created in 1963 by comic book luminary Stan Lee, Tony Stark was conceived with the idea of turning an unlikable archetype – that of a wealthy, capitalistic industrialist – into a relatable hero for fans of all ages and ideologies. He largely succeeded, although the character remained something of a “B-tier” hero until his game-changing appearance in the 2008 Iron Man film, starring Robert Downey Jr. Today, Iron Man is a cultural icon, right up there with the likes of Superman and Luke Skywalker in terms of recognition and universal adoration.
Over the years, Tony has done a lot of great things, but he’s also made some really bad calls. To put it mildly, he’s made some big mistakes! For this list, we’re solely going to look at decisions made in the realm of comic books; we’re not including movies, animated series, or video games. For some of his most cringeworthy moments in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, check out this other story. For now, though, let’s take a look at Iron Man: The 15 Worst Things Tony Stark Has Ever Done.
15. Created A Clone Of Thor That Went On To Kill Goliath
Marvel’s first Civil War was not Iron Man’s finest hour, to say the least. Tony Stark’s myriad poor decisions during that conflict alone could fill up a larger list than this, and there will be several Civil War (and Civil War II) entries on this story. First, and perhaps most obviously, he played God, and his friends paid the price.
As it went, Stark and his pal Reed Richards used a sample of Thor’s hair to create a clone of the Asgardian God of Thunder, since the real Thor was currently MIA, presumed dead. The clone of Thor, called Ragnarok, went on to fight alongside Iron Man, but quickly went out of control, and killed Bill Foster, AKA Goliath… All because Iron Man thought he could control the power of Asgard.
14. Kidnapped Ulysses
Civil War II brought Iron Man into conflict with Captain Marvel, AKA Carol Danvers, over what to do about Ulysses Cain, an Inhuman with the power of precognition. When one of his visions leads to the defeat of Thanos, everybody is happy… Except that the battle came at the cost of the life of James Rhodes, AKA War Machine.
Upon learning of his friend’s death, Tony freaks out and insists that the battle never should have happened – despite the fact that Thanos was defeated, an untold number of lives were saved, and Rhodes was a soldier, trained to fight and die in service of the greater good.
A grief-stricken Stark kidnaps Ulysses Cain in an effort to study his power, while earning the wrath of the Inhumans and escalating the tensions, ensuring that the budding conflict explodes into a full-blown Civil War.
13. Goes Rogue In Armor Wars
Who could forget Armor Wars, the storyline in which Tony Stark takes copyright protection to a whole new level? This tale sees Justin Hammer stealing some of Stark’s equipment and selling it on the black market to villains like Stilt-Man and Titanium Man, severely upping their damage potential.
Stark embarks on a one-man mission to take back what’s his, which sounds like a good idea, except he takes things way too far, even attempting to disable and destroy armors which he legally gave to SHIELD, and even some which he didn’t even design, like Stingray. During the conflict, Iron Man busts up a lot of rip-off armors, but also gets himself thrown out of The Avengers and blacklisted by the US Government. Maybe he should have just sent a cease and desist letter.
12. Faked His Death Without Telling His BFF
In a 1992 storyline, Tony went up against The Masters of Silence, a trio of magical Japanese samurai assassins. (Comic books are awesome!) Anyway, even the “Invincible” Iron Man is powerless to stop them, so he does what he always does: goes into his workshop and uses science to come out with something that can fix the problem.
He creates a modified, heavily armed version of his armor and uses it to kick their butts, but his ongoing health problems got the better of him. Combined with the stress of battle, it was all too much for poor Tony, and he died – or so James Rhodes was led to believe.
Tony had actually faked his death, but he didn’t tell his best friend, and their trust was broken. Upon discovering the truth of Stark’s survival, Rhodes broke up with Tony and joined the West Coast Avengers.
11. Killed A U.N. Ambassador While Drunk
Demon in a Bottle is arguably the most famous Iron Man story ever written. Alcoholism is no joke, and this story dealt with the sensitive topic in a way which was critically acclaimed and became one of the seminal comic book tales of the 1970s.
In the story, Stark’s addiction to the demon alcohol leads to his beloved Jarvis resigning and selling his stock in Stark International, with SHIELD taking a “controlling interest” in the company and stealing Tony’s own company from under his nose.
However, even worse than this humiliation is when he is literally used as a weapon to assassinate a foreign diplomat. His armor is hacked by Justin Hammer’s forces and used to commit murder, which sends Tony on a downward spiral of depressive drinking. It’s not his fault, but if he wasn’t boozing, he likely would have been able to prevent the tragedy.
10. Built Roller Skates Into His Armor
Okay, this is a bit less dramatic than faking his death or descending into a vicious cycle of whiskey and self-pity, but…roller skates are built into Iron Man’s armor.
It’s true! Apparently, when flight is impossible, due to a loss of power or…other reasons, the Iron Man suit offers another way to move, and it’s with roller skates built into the shoes of the armor.
Why would Tony do this? When would he ever need to roll down a hill with all the grace of a shirtless frat boy in Venice Beach?
There is only one rational explanation: the skates were put in for storage purposes; instead of having to carry these heavy suits whenever they have to be moved, the maintenance crew can just roll them around and not throw their backs out.
9. Turned Evil Under Kang’s Influence
Kang the Conqueror is one of the most nefarious villains in Marvel canon. He may even pop up in Phase 4, if Fox and Marvel could only agree to share the rights, since Kang is actually Nathaniel Richards, a distant descendant of the Fantastic Four.
Anyway, Kang is not a fighter, and he has no physical superpowers. Instead, he is a genius, tactician, and time traveler. He used his gifts to tremendous effect on none other than Iron Man, turning him evil through artfully subtle manipulation, and Tony finds himself a pawn of Kang without even realizing it.
Sadly, the whole The Crossing storyline was universally reviled for having little in the way of internally consistent logic and its utter derailing of Tony Stark’s characterization. Ultimately, the decision was made to softly reboot the character in the Heroes Reborn story. Speaking of which…
8. Heroes Reborn
After the disastrous events of The Crossing, Marvel used the omnipotent powers of Franklin Richards to rework the origins of members of the Fantastic Four and The Avengers in his own pocket dimension before returning to their original 616 universe.
When it came to Tony Stark, he was subjected to cosmic meddling, essentially becoming a whole new character with memories and experiences of Tony Starks from multiple dimensions. This type of admittedly loony plot development is fairly commonplace in the realm of comic books, but it usually doesn’t happen to a (relatively) grounded character like Iron Man. Following Heroes Reborn, the changes to Tony Stark were generally ignored and quickly forgotten.
Basically, it was a really complicated way of restoring the character to status quo after The Crossing. The best way to put out a fire is to light an even bigger fire next to it… Heroes Reborn was big, messy, but a whole lot of fun, so Marvel succeeded in their mission to reboot Iron Man.
7. Considered Ending The Civil War By Starting Another War
Once again, Civil War failed to bring out the best in Iron Man. In fact, it had the exact opposite effect, showing how quickly a hero can become a tyrant who believes that the ends justifies the means, regardless of how much blood is shed.
In Civil War: Front Line, it’s revealed that Tony Stark came dangerously close to uniting both sides by staring a war with Namor and the kingdom of Atlantis, using Green Goblin to sow discord and build tensions to the breaking point. This scheme is insidiously close to that of Ozymandias in Watchmen, who seeks to unite the world against aliens (in the book) or Doctor Manhattan (in the movie). In the end, this plan was never enacted, but the fact that he had all the pieces in place makes it hard to look at Iron Man the same way again.
6. Banished Hulk Into Deep Space During Civil War
In yet another (but not the last!) example from Civil War, Tony’s attempts to “deal with” The Incredible Hulk come off as just plain cruel.
It’s a well-known fact that Hulk has a tendency to inflict collateral damage, what with his uncontrollable rampages and love of smashing. In Civil War, Maria Hill convinces Tony Stark that Hulk has got to go, and the billionaire industrialist reluctantly agrees. He convinces The Illuminati to send Hulk into space, tricking him into being exiled from his home planet and thrust upon a new world like an unwanted refugee, deported for reasons outside of his control.
5. Created An Armor Which Turned Sentient And Went Crazy
This five-issue run from the year 2000 (Iron Man Vol. 3, #26-#30) is a truly bizarre storyline, a pulpy page-turner with all the subtlety and nuance of a raging grease fire.
While fighting Whiplash during a thunderstorm, Tony fell unconscious after being struck by lightning. When he awoke, he found that his armor had gained sentience. At first, the pair were a decent crime-fighting team, but then the sentient armor developed feelings of love towards its creator… And then things got nutty.
Iron Man’s robot boyfriend got overly possessive, to say the least, kidnapping Tony and dragging him to a deserted island. It then goes full-on Single White Female on Stark, deciding to take his place in The Avengers with a cyborg body. After a week of abuse, Tony finally has a heart attack and begins to die, at which point the armor rips out its own cyborg heart to save the love of its life, at the cost of its own.
4. His Posthumous A.I. Form Is An Alcoholic
Tony’s issues with alcohol are well-documented. Even in the movies, his affinity towards drink is seen as an emotional crutch which he sometimes takes too far, like at his birthday party in Iron Man 2. Little did he know that his demons would continue to haunt him from beyond the grave.
Civil War II ends with Captain Marvel literally punching a hole in Iron Man’s chest. Tony Stark is functionally dead (though technically just in a coma), but he managed to upload his brainwaves into a computer, so he’s able to live on as an artificial intelligence, assisting young Riri Williams, AKA Ironheart, as something of a Force Ghost, like Obi-Wan Kenobi… If Obi-Wan was drunk.
Bizarrely, despite being a hologram, AI Tony appears disheveled, having literally programmed itself to be inebriated. It’s supposed to be dramatic, but, at this point, it really borders on parody.
3. Convinced Peter Parker To Go Public With His Identity
If there’s one Marvel Comics story which everybody hates, it’s…well, it’s The Clone Saga. If there’s another, though, it’s One More Day, in which Peter Parker makes a literal deal with The Devil to undo his marriage to Mary Jane in return for saving Aunt May’s life after she is shot. Why was Aunt May shot in the first place? Because Spidey’s enemies knew his identity from when he outed himself on national television. And why did Parker do that? Because Iron Man told him to.
It’s true: Tony Stark caused One More Day. During Civil War, in an effort to drum up support for the Superhero Registration Act, Iron Man convinced Peter Parker to reveal his identity to the world, essentially derailing the Spider-Man character for a few years.
2. Jacked Up The Price Of Extremis On The Open Market
AXIS was a storyline which saw the morality of heroes and villains turned on its head. Doctor Doom became a paragon of good, Deadpool became a Zen monk, Captain America became a fascist tyrant, and so on.
While corrupted by hate wave, so to speak, Tony Stark enacted a plan to make a big pile of money, as if his current billions weren’t enough already. First, he gave free access to Extremis 3.0 via a smartphone app. The formula granted physical perfection to its users, but then he pulled the rug out from under the masses by suddenly charging $100 per day for the serum, essentially forcing the population into poverty, and further widening the divide between the “haves” and the “have nots.”
Basically, Tony Stark, while under the influence of Red Onslaught’s “World War Hate,” became the Martin Shkreli of the Marvel Universe.
1. Prison 42
In case it wasn’t already clear, Tony Stark did not handle himself with honor and dignity during Marvel’s infamous Civil War. He straight-up tried to impose a police state on the Marvel Universe, complete with concentration camps for those who refuse to comply with the oppressive regime of the Pro-Registration forces.
Indeed, Stark and Reed Richards really indulged in feeding their “inner fascist” tendencies with the decisions they made during the war. The crown jewel of their regime was Prison 42, located in the Negative Zone. Conceived as a detention facility for superpowered criminals, it quickly became little more than a concentration camp for unregistered superheroes who were detained without trial or due process, like the Marvel version of Cuba’s Guantanamo Bay facility.
What do you think? Has Iron Man jumped the shark? Or is there no limit to the amount of times he can reboot himself in our fandom hearts? Share your feelings on Tony Stark, be they love or hate, in the comments!
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