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The long-awaited big-screen showdown between Captain America and Iron Man is almost here, but Captain America: Civil War is far from the first time that the two Avengers have found themselves at loggerheads. Instead, the heroes have been on opposing sides through much of their comic book careers, stretching back all the way to their very first meeting.
With that in mind, it’s time to revisit their most memorable fights, trying to root out the cause of their disagreements and seeing if there’s a clue to be found in their comic book histories as to which side will prove victorious in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Spoilers abound — especially for those wondering if an unfortunate culinary decision has ever led two grown men to fight.
Avengers No. 4 (1964)
When the Avengers awakened the star-spangled sentinel of liberty after decades of ice-imposed sleep, both parties were understandably suspicious of what was happening — suspicious enough, in fact, that it led to an impressively short-lived fight. Admittedly, it was less of a straight-up fight and more of a “Cap jumping around until he realizes what’s going on,” but this is nonetheless technically the first time Cap and Iron Man are at odds in the comics — and it’s the first time they meet. Start as you mean to go on …
The Winner: Common sense.
Tales of Suspense No. 58 (1964)
The first real fight between the two characters was the result of a misunderstanding: Iron Man was led to believe (by a fake Captain America) that the real Captain America is actually the fake, who’s intending to cause trouble. After an initial skirmish that Captain America wins thanks to Iron Man’s armor not being fully charged, the two meet again and fight before Giant-Man and the Wasp break things up to reveal what is actually going on. Don’t worry, the fake Cap was captured.
The Winner: Although the fight was ended earlier, Captain America definitely had the upper hand.
Iron Man No. 172 (1983)
The next significant clash between the two came during one of Tony Stark’s lowest points, as his descent into alcoholism earned him a lecture from Captain America that was intended as a friendly pull-yourself-together but comes across far more judgmentally: “Just tell me why, you’re an intelligent man. You must know what you’re doing to yourself. You must realize that you’re destroying yourself,” Cap sermonizes. Although things come to blows — well, one blow, as Captain America smacks a bottle out of Tony’s hand — this is less a showdown between heroes as an intervention that doesn’t quite land.
The Winner: Captain America.
Iron Man No. 228/Captain America No. 341 (1988)
As part of an ongoing storyline called “Armor Wars,” Iron Man — in an attempt to reclaim technology based on his own inventions from outside sources — has a showdown with his fellow Avenger, who at this point was calling himself “The Captain,” having been temporarily fired as Captain America for reasons best left unexplained for now. In a story that went through one issue of each hero’s comic book series, the heroes ended up fighting twice, with both skirmishes ending badly for Cap. Guess he really needed the “America” part of his name to succeed.
The Winner: Iron Man.
Captain America Annual No. 9 (1990)
Surprisingly, it wasn’t until 1990 where the two heroes would fight as the result of mind control. In the admittedly goofy “You Are What You Eat,” Iron Man temporarily goes bad after eating fish infected with a virus, which pushes him into a rage-fueled rampage that can only be stopped by Captain America. Yes, that is really the plot. (Amazingly, it’s just the first chapter in a four-part storyline. Who knew there was such mileage in bad fish?)
The Winner: Captain America, in that he had better dietary choices.
Civil War Nos. 1-7 (2006-07)
Any and all potential bad feeling between the two Avengers came to a head in the 2006 comic book event storyline that forms the basis for the next Captain America movie. Following an accident involving superheroes, the authorities decides to impose new sanctions — a move supported by Tony Stark, but opposed by Steve Rogers. Rather than try and talk out their problems, they decide to form massive super-powered gangs to sort things out, leading to a number of fights between Cap and Iron Man (One of the best happens in a spinoff book, Civil War: Casualties of War) before a final showdown between the two ends with Cap surrendering after coming to realize how much damage the two have caused along the way. That turns out to be a bad move: Captain America is later killed by Crossbones while in custody. (He gets better; it’s superhero comics, after all.)
The Winner: Iron Man, in that Cap surrendered. But Captain America would almost certainly claim a moral victory.
X-Factor No. 231 (2012)
In an alternate future where humanity is an endangered species, an aged Iron Man has to defend himself against a Deathlok cyborg that used to be Captain America. The transformation hasn’t just made Cap even more of a super-soldier; it had also made him more dangerous, more bloodthirsty and into someone that the original Steve Rogers wouldn’t recognize in the slightest.
The Winner: The fight is never concluded — the main characters of the series leave the timeline while it’s still ongoing — but there’s no way to see the cyborg Captain America as a winner in any real manner. This one, by process of elimination, goes to Iron Man.
Avengers Vol. 5 No. 29 (2014)
As part of a long-running storyline, Captain America discovers that Iron Man (and a number of other superheroes) are hiding a secret that could have grave implications for the fate of reality — spoiler: it did; it eventually led to the reality-ending Secret Wars series of last year — and, when he confronts Iron Man about it, things very quickly devolved into a fistfight. They don’t get much further than that, however; due to a cosmic event, Cap is thrown into the future almost immediately after the first punch.
The Winner: The readers; this standoff set in motion a sequence of events that would eventually lead to the “Time Runs Out” storyline that saw a quasi-Civil War revival with Cap and Iron Man switching sides as heroes hunted heroes once again.
Avengers Vol. 5 No. 44 (2015)
One for the nihilists in the audience, the final issue of the most recent Avengers series to date sees Captain America and Iron Man literally pummel each other to pieces while existence collapses around them, setting up the cosmic reset of Secret Wars that was to follow. The final words of the series: “Everything dies.” Still, at least the two went out fighting, just like in their early days.
The Winner: Entropy.
Civil War Vol. 2 No. 1-5 (2015)
During the Secret Wars event, a number of spinoff series revisited fan-favorite storylines and ideas via an alternate world setting; the Civil War series imagined a world where the 2006 conflict had continued for decades, and ended up tearing the United States in two. In a break from the established mythology, it was revealed that the two sides had been manipulated by aliens in an attempt to make Earth weaker ahead of a planned invasion, and the two heroes ultimately come together in order to save the day — although they both die in the process.
The Winner: Let’s call this one a draw. They would’ve liked it that way.
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