December 3, 2023

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Slightly Misplaced Comic Book Characters Case File #414: Superior Iron Man

There was a time when Tony Stark was an amoral tech bro, and I don't mean from before his time as Iron Man.

Normally when I write up these columns, I go with some obscure or forgotten character, or at least a lesser known one or one that used to be popular but went away.   But this entry is different.  This time around, I’m going for a character that has always kinda been around but in this instance was temporarily like a new character and then that phase was quickly and conveniently forgotten about.

Yeah, this time, I cover the period when Iron Man sort of turned evil.

In 2014, writer Rick Remender was working on a title called Uncanny Avengers.  The idea was the series would follow an “Avengers Unity Squad,” a team of Avengers made up of both regular Avengers and some of the X-Men as a way for Captain America to show some support for the mutant community after the (temporary) death of Charles Xavier.  However, if Captain America does one thing, the Red Skull will do something else.  Or a clone of the Skull will.  It was kinda vague and I forget.  Regardless, the Skull swiped the dead Xavier’s brain and grafted it to his own brain, giving him Xavier’s telepathic powers.  And since the Skull is odious enough hating on everyone else a good Nazi is supposed to hate on, he started hating on mutants too.

The climax to this storyline, intended or not, was a big event story called AXIS.  By this point, the Skull had set up mutant concentration camps, and when Magneto finally got pushed far enough, he killed the Skull.  The Skull was then reborn as “Red Onslaught,” and that was bad enough to call in for help, leading to a whole lot of heroes from the Avengers, X-Men, and a handful of others to attack the Skull.  However, Red Onslaught had a secret weapon:  he had used his telepathy to coerce Tony Stark to create specialized Sentinels designed exclusively to take out the world’s superheroes and then erased Tony’s memory of that act.  These giant Sentinels had a special attack that basically hit the different heroes with a beam that teleported them into specialized cells inside the Sentinels themselves, all of them shrunk down with Pym Particles or something, so it didn’t matter if Thor, the Hulk, or Wolverine were attacking the giant robots.  The machines knew how to counter all the heroes, and while Dr. Strange knew a spell that could turn Red Onslaught back into the Red Skull with the Scarlet Witch’s help, that doesn’t work when a Sentinel captures Strange and Wanda too.

But Magneto had a new plan and came back with help the Sentinels couldn’t fight:  a team of bad guys.  Including the likes of Deadpool, Dr. Doom, Sabertooth, Loki, the Enchantress, the Absorbing Man, and Carnage, the Sentinels had no way to counter those guys, and as the villains ripped into the Sentinels, the heroes started to come out again.  Doom found Wanda and offered his own magical assistance to revert the Skull to normal, and they did cast a spell that did that.

The spell also did something else, namely it inverted everyone present for the battle.  All the heroes started becoming villainous while the villains became more heroic.

That may have actually been the best part of the whole crossover.  Not every character in the Marvel Universe was there, so there were instances of a dumbfounded Spider-Man discovering Carnage had been saving lives without killing anyone, but also Deadpool became the more pacifist Zenpool, Thor became a drunken gambler with an anger streak, Loki could only tell the truth (and at one point was worthy of Mjolinir), the Hulk was timid until he got riled up enough to turn into the “Kluh” or the Hulk’s Hulk, Dr. Doom was preparing to make Latveria a democracy, and the X-Men started sounding like the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants with talk of mutant separatism.

Anyhoo, here’s where Iron Man comes into play:  Tony remodified his armor with Extremis tech, making it behave something like the Venom symbiote, and set up shop in San Francisco, where he figured there were enough people willing to pay him a whole lot of money to make themselves perfect specimens of a human being using said Extremis, and the lone hero in the city at the time, a visiting Daredevil, tried pointing out how wrong this was only for Tony to both restore and take away Matt’s sight just for spits and giggles.

And somehow, Tony got his own spin-off series for this.  The Iron Man title was replaced with Superior Iron Man to show just how much of a douchebag Tony could be.  Not only was he selling Extremis enhancements at a huge price without considering the moral or safety implications of such a move, but he also even picked up an enemy here and there in form of some kid called “Teen Abomination”.

This guy.

So, obviously Marvel didn’t keep all their heroes as bad guys.  What happened?  Well, the Inverted Avengers decided to set a Pym Particle trap for all the uninverted Avengers reservists, but Spider-Man’s spider-sense told him something was wrong, allowing him and the young Nova to get away.  Those two found the elderly Steve Rogers and his son (?) Ian “Nomad” Rogers, also unaffected, and they figured the thing to do was to recruit all the inverted bad guys to battle the inverted heroes long enough to reverse the spell, and that is what more or less what happened, with the temporarily good bad guys even releasing a video taking the fall for everything the Avengers and X-Men did while evil so the heroes wouldn’t lose their good reputations.  However, Tony Stark saw what was happening, and he actually liked the new him, so he managed to toss a shield up to keep himself from changing back, something that also kept the two people standing closest to him from changing back too.  That was a now-evil Havoc and a benevolent Sabertooth.  Tony flew away.  Havoc kidnapped the Wasp and fled.  And Sabertooth very briefly joined the Avengers.

Well, that seems like something that would be hard to change back.  What made Tony (and Havoc and Sabertooth) go back to their old selves?

That would be when the most recent Secret Wars essentially wiped out the universe and later restarted it.  Never believe it when Marvel says they’ve never done a reboot.

But for a little while at least, Tony Stark was an evil Bay Area tech bro.

Man, this was weird since technically it was always the same character.