Iron Man and Spider-Man: The Complicated Comic Book Friendship

With Robert Downey Jr. set to appear in Sony's new 'Spider-Man' movie, revisiting the superhero duo's previous pairings.
Courtesy of John Romita Snr/Marvel Entertainment
With Robert Downey Jr. set to appear in Sony's new 'Spider-Man' movie, revisiting the superhero duo's previous pairings.

The news that Robert Downey Jr. will appear in Spider-Man: Homecoming underscores two things about Captain America: Civil War. Firstly, that Iron Man probably doesn't die in the movie (unless, of course, Downey Jr. appears in flashback sequences), and secondly, that the complicated comic book relationship between Iron Man and Spider-Man looks set to be brought to the big screen in some form. How complicated, you ask … ? Just read on.

The Early Years

Given the relationship between the two that developed in later years, it's perhaps surprising that Spider-Man and Iron Man managed to avoid each other for the first decade or so of their respective careers. Although the two shared a cover for 1964's Avengers No. 11 and an interior panel in 1969's Avengers No. 60, the two didn't actually properly interact until 1973, when the ninth issue of Marvel Team-Up — a monthly series that paired Spider-Man with a parade of other Marvel heroes — saw the two combine forces to deal with "The Tomorrow War," a time-traveling plot in which they got caught up in a battle between two 23rd century dictators. It's probably best if you didn't ask.

Things worked out well enough, however, that Iron Man became a recurring guest in Team-Up; he would go on to appear five more times in the series before it was called in 1985. (The two would also interact in 1984's Marvel Super-Heroes: Secret Wars series, although Iron Man at that time was Jim Rhodes — known to Marvel movie fans as War Machine — rather than Tony Stark.) Their relationship at this point would best be described as cordial; they shared a love of fighting crime, but they would hardly be described as friends. For that, comic book fans would have to wait a couple of decades.

The Avenging Years

2005 saw the launch of The New Avengers, a series intended to put the super team at the forefront of Marvel's comic book line once again after a number of years as a solid, if mid-level, offering. The method by which this aim would be achieved, it was decided, was to add big-name characters such as Spider-Man and Wolverine to the series — a method that created a whole new dynamic between Tony Stark and Peter Parker: landlord and tenant.

Due to plot developments in the Amazing Spider-Man series, Parker and his family were left homeless, forcing them to spend 2005's Amazing Spider-Man No. 519 moving into the Avengers' then-current headquarters, Stark Tower. It was a situation that brought Iron Man and Spider-Man closer, to the point where Tony Stark even designed a new costume for Spider-Man to wear when fighting crime (The "Iron Spider" costume, as it was nicknamed at the time, debuted in 2006's Amazing Spider-Man No. 529).

This burgeoning friendship — based around Stark's ego, Parker's need for a father figure and a mutual love for science — was cut short by the events of the first Civil War comic book series. The 2006-2007 storyline saw Spider-Man change sides from Team Iron Man to Team Cap, leading to not only a physical showdown between the two, but a subsequent period of estrangement that included, thanks to an external Amazing Spider-Man plotline, Iron Man's mind being erased of any knowledge of Spider-Man's secret identity. Again, don't ask, but know that reality was magically rewritten to give the Parkers somewhere else to live. The small stuff is important, after all.

Where Are We Now?

Recent years haven't left much chance for Spider-Man and Iron Man to repair their relationship; first Spider-Man had his mind swapped with Doctor Octopus for a year, then Iron Man was "morally inverted" by magical means for awhile before all of reality was recreated. So, you know; things have been a little busy lately.

In the current Marvel Universe, Spider-Man and Iron Man find themselves in somewhat switched circumstances. Tony Stark is on the defensive for once, down on his luck financially and dealing with a world that risks moving past him in terms of technology, while Peter Parker has become an international businessman thanks to the surprise success of his company, Parker Technologies. (To make matters even more related, Mary Jane Watson, Peter Parker's long-term love interest, is now part of the Invincible Iron Man supporting cast.)

The two are certainly friendlier than they've been, if not necessarily close friends. Will that change in future … ? Almost certainly, although for better or worse remains to be seen. After all, there is another comic book Civil War in the works

  1. by Carolyn Giardina , Aaron Couch