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The next few years don’t look too good for the movie version of Marvel’s Tony Stark, as played by Robert Downey Jr. Rumors about 2016’s Captain America 3 put him at odds with Chris Evans’ sentinel of liberty, and the trailer for next summer’s Avengers: Age of Ultron teases that his break with the rest of the team might be coming sooner than expected.
For comic book fans, none of this comes as a surprise. Tony Stark turned against the rest of the Avengers? We’ve seen that before. In fact, we’ve seen that a lot. In a fictional universe that likes to pit its heroes against each other, Iron Man may be the superhero most likely to turn against his fellow Marvel heroes. Here’s a quick guide to the many times he’s gone up against the Avengers alone.
Iron Man Vol. 1 No. 9 (1969)
This cover is actually a tease — that isn’t the real Hulk Tony’s facing off against, but instead a Hulk robot built by the Mandarin for
sales purposes… I mean, as a nefarious scheme to confuse everyone. But Iron Man had already faced off against the Hulk for real by this point; when the Avengers comic first launched, there was a brief period where the team tried to hunt him down, setting the two against each other.
Iron Man Vol.1 No. 66 (1974)
Tony literally wasn’t himself when he fought Thor, thanks to a rogue possession (you know how these things go). As you might expect, the God of Thunder makes short work of Iron Man, through the goofiest of strategies: he makes it rain so hard that the water makes Iron Man’s armor short out. Yes, readers: by 1974, Iron Man hadn’t thought to waterproof his armor.
Iron Man Vol. 1 No. 131-133 (1979)
When the real Hulk showed up in Tony’s series, it took a three-part storyline to tell the tale. Considering that the story revolved around a failed attempt by Tony to “cure” Bruce Banner’s condition — a nuclear-powered pacemaker engineered to keep him calm might have been involved, showing how flawed the attempt was in the first place — and the fallout that ensued.
Iron Man Vol. 1 No. 228 / Captain America Vol. 1 No. 341 (1988)
As part of an ongoing storyline titled “Armor Wars,” Tony decided to reclaim all bootleg versions of his Iron Man technology out there — a decision that brought him in conflict with Captain America, who was going by the name “The Captain” at the time. Needless to say, fisticuffs ensued, with a rematch happening in the Captain America series immediately afterwards.
Iron Man Vol. 1 No. 305 (1994)
While it’s tempting to write this quick clash between the Hulk and Iron Man off, this issue features the debut of the massive “Hulkbuster” armor that can be seen in the Age of Ultron trailer. Otherwise, it really is something that passes almost without note. By this point in the characters’ histories — three decades of it — this wasn’t really offering anything new.
War Machine Vol. 1 No. 8 / Iron Man Vol. 1 No. 310 (1994)
As the prelude to a longer storyline called “Hands of the Mandarin,” Tony and his protege James Rhodes worked through some long-festering issues in the best way they knew how: by fighting each other across two comics. You may mock, but by the end of it, they came out of things ready to take on the Mandarin together. Think of it like Fight Club for people who fight for a living and have amazingly expensive suits of armor at their disposal.
Avengers: The Crossing (1995)
Okay, this one might require even more suspension of disbelief than most. “The Crossing” was a nineteen-part story that ran through multiple Avengers-related series for a number of months, based around this not-so-simple concept: Tony Stark had been brainwashed, through a number of visits from a time-traveler that he didn’t remember, to assassinate the other Avengers. By the end of the story, he was dead — but his place was taken on the team (and in the ongoing Iron Man series) by a 19-year-old version of himself who’d been brought forward in time from the past. Suffice to say, this is very unlikely to be a plot that the movies will follow any time soon.
Thor Vol. 2 No. 58 / Iron Man Vol. 3 No. 64 / The Avengers Vol. 3 No. 63 (2003)
By the time of the “Standoff” storyline, Tony Stark had become the U.S. Secretary of Defense — it didn’t last long, don’t worry — which was what brought him into conflict with Thor, representing Asgard… which, at the time was floating above New York City. To no-one’s surprise, it was up to Captain America to play peacemaker.
Iron Man Vol. 4 No. 10 (2006)
Once again, Tony Stark wasn’t in charge of his own actions in the “Execute Program” storyline. Instead, his head had been hacked — he was technically a living computer by this point, so that would be the right term — and given a new mission to assassinate criminals around the world. Of course, SHIELD got involved, and called in the Avengers to help. Yes, this time around, it was Iron Man versus all of the Avengers, and somehow he still got away with it.
Civil War (2006/2007)
Likely the biggest Iron Man/Everyone else clash to date was the massively-successful Civil War event that ran across the entire Marvel line for almost a year. As the result of a massive accident resulting from a superhero battle that kills hundreds, Tony Stark leads a drive to get the superheroes of the Marvel Universe not only registered by, but working for, the authorities — something that many of them really don’t want to do. After a number of skirmishes, the story ends with a fist fight between Captain America and Iron Man that (spoiler alert!) Iron Man wins. If this is the route that the Marvel movies are going down, Robert Downey Jr. can at least be assured of knowing that he’ll come out on top (again).
World War Hulk (2007)
Within months of Civil War’s conclusion, World War Hulk — another event that crossed through multiple series for a number of months — saw the return of Bruce Banner to Earth, after having been ceremoniously shot off into space by a consortium of big brains led by Tony Stark months earlier. Hulk wanted payback — well, wouldn’t you? — which meant that, yes, Iron Man and Hulk got into it yet again.
Original Sin: Hulk Vs. Iron Man Nos. 1-4 (2014)
This year’s latest showdown between Bruce Banner and the Hulk at least had a good reason behind it: it was revealed that Stark was, in a small way, responsible for the gamma bomb that turned Banner into the Hulk in the first place. An impressive retcon that gave some structure and meaning to the many times the two characters had clashed over their half-century existence? Very possibly, and something that complicated an already uneasy relationship between the two.
This is literally just the number of times he’s fought fellow Avengers — I’ve avoided similar conflicts with the Fantastic Four, the X-Men, and solo heroes including the Beast, Daredevil and Jack of Hearts. For a genius, Tony Stark is definitely someone who likes to solve problems with his fists… well, really, his repulsor rays. Sure, that’s the kind of thing that good comics are made of — but does he really have to do it that much?
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