Every year, Marvel runs through a sort of cycle. You get the annual event - this year it's "Civil War II" - that changes the shape of the Marvel Universe, allowing a line-wide relaunch. In early July, Marvel start to tease the shape of the next year's comics, in preparation for SDCC. That's just what's happening now; Marvel is drip-feeding information about the next relaunch, dubbed 'Marvel NOW', and so far the teasers seem to bode ill for Iron Man. Here's what we know so far...
1. TONY STARK IS IN TROUBLE!
"Civil War II" once again sees Tony Stark at the forefront of a superhero divide. This time round, it's over a new Inhuman who has the ability to see the future. Captain Marvel is leading one group of superheroes who believe this power should be used to prevent crimes before they happen; Tony Stark is leading up a faction who argue that the future should be respected, and that not enough is known about this Inhuman's powers. We're only two issues in, and #3 - released this week - promises to force superheroes to take sides, featuring a major character death (the most likely candidate is poor old Bruce Banner).
Whatever the outcome of "Civil War II", it looks set to leave Tony Stark in an uncomfortable place. As writer Brian Bendis told Time:
"We’re in the middle of a very big Tony Stark storyline — actually three storylines converging. His best friend died, his company is collapsing and he’s finding out who his biological parents were all at the same time. That’s stressful for a character who is wired the way Tony is wired and has dependency issues the way Tony does.
Tony is also a master at not paying attention to the thing that’s most important and distracting himself with Avengers stuff. How that all shakes out such that Tony is no longer in the armor? You’ll have to wait to find out for the end of Civil War II."
The solicit for Infamous Iron Man, released exclusively to CBR, contains a single line: "Where Tony stark failed, Doom will succeed." So to Doom at least, these stories will lead to Tony Stark being viewed as a failure.
2. WE HAVE TWO NEW IRON MEN!
This week has seen Marvel tease two new characters who will step into Tony Stark's shoes. The first is Riri Williams, a new 'Legacy Hero' - a 15-year-old genius M.I.T. student who successfully reverse-engineered the Iron Man armor, and even modified it substantially! Bendis told Time that she's a natural genius whose scientific acumen is "still raw but so ahead of where even Tony Stark was at that age". Her backstory sounds fascinating; as Bendis explained it:
"One of the things that stuck with me when I was working in Chicago a couple of years ago on a TV show that didn’t end up airing was the amount of chaos and violence. And this story of this brilliant, young woman whose life was marred by tragedy that could have easily ended her life — just random street violence — and went off to college was very inspiring to me. I thought that was the most modern version of a superhero or superheroine story I had ever heard. And I sat with it for awhile until I had the right character and the right place."
The second is more surprising. In the pattern of Superior Spider-Man, Victor Von Doom himself will be taking over the Iron Man mantle as the "Infamous Iron Man". Doom was a central part of last year's "Secret Wars" event, and has since been on a path of redemption. That's going to take him into this very surprising place...
3. THIS HAS BEEN COMING SINCE "SECRET WARS"!
Although Robert Downey Jr.'s Tony Stark is the MCU superstar, his comic book equivalent isn't anywhere near as successful. Marvel set to change that with last year's relaunch, the All-New All-Different Marvel Universe. Stark was positioned front-and-center, with the full might of Marvel's marketing department behind Invincible Iron Man #1. Sales haven't really been what Marvel would have hoped, so at first glance this latest move would suggest Marvel is doing something of a course-correction.
That first glance is wrong. Both these new developments are actually continuations of what Brian Bendis has been writing since Invincible Iron Man #1. That issue included a scene of Tony Stark reflecting on a MIT student reverse-engineering his armor:
It also introduced us to the post-"Secret Wars" Doctor Doom. Marvel has been playing the long game; Iron Man's comic book status has been increased precisely for the purpose of launching these two new concepts.
4. CONSPIRACY THEORISTS TAKE A HIT!
Marvel comic fans currently have a number of complaints against the comics, and ironically these new twists run counter to two of them. The first is the criticism that the comics are influenced by the movies, and that characters are being shifted to match their MCU versions. This argument has never held much water; for every similarity (such as the introduction of Agent Coulson), there has been a dramatic difference (in the Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. comic, Fitz is dating Agent May).
But this is a difference on a whole new scale. Robert Downey Jr. is the leading light of the MCU (although he may soon move into second place behind Tom Holland's Spider-Man). According to Variety, Downey received more than $40 million plus backend participation for Captain America: Civil War, with additional payouts due to the film outperforming Captain America: The Winter Soldier. He's already set to appear in next year's Spider-Man: Homecoming.
But in the comics, Tony Stark is out, replaced by Riri Williams and Doctor Doom. It's too soon to speculate whether or not Riri Williams will make an appearance in the MCU - after all, she hasn't even made her first appearance yet! Given that Marvel Studios has to be considering a post-Downey world, it may be that Kevin Feige is watching her debut with curiosity.
What's more, comic book fans typically complain that Marvel and Fox are in a feud that's leading to Marvel sidelining Fox properties, such as the X-Men and the Fantastic Four. The evidence is mixed - certainly the X-Men range is slimmer than it used to be, and Fantastic Four has been cancelled due to poor sales - but these announcements run counter to the conspiracy theory. After all, Doctor Doom is a Fox property. Fox shows no sign of being willing to let the rights to the Fantastic Four franchise lapse, and incredibly Simon Kinberg is even considering a sequel to last year's Fantastic Four.
Many fans had expected Doctor Doom to be sidelined - along with Reed Richards - in the aftermath of last year's "Secret Wars". Instead, Marvel has positioned him for superstar status.
So there you have it, Marvel fans! I doubt that we're going to get much more information until SDCC kicks off on July 21st, but the little we now know suggests there are drastic changes in store for Tony Stark. Stay tuned, True Believers - I'll keep you up-to-date as the facts emerge!