BY MATT TUCK
With Armor Wars on the Disney+ horizon, many fans are wondering who will suit up as the MCU’s future Iron Man. Let’s take a closer look at the contenders and place our bets.
There has been a void left in the MCU since Endgame. Alas, poor Tony Stark.
For the first ten years of the MCU, as Marvel Studios claimed the box office as its playground, Robert Downey, Jr.’s turn as Iron Man was a surprising success. Before RDJ turned his career around and became one of the biggest names in Hollywood, fans were skeptical of him bringing Tony Stark to life. Not only did he win over the skeptics, but his performances would be the centerpiece for the next decade of the MCU.
Along with some of his Avengers co-stars, RDJ hung up his arc reactor, and Iron Man was given a heroic death as he used the Infinity Gauntlet to vanquish Thanos and his legions. Gone but not forgotten, Tony’s memory has lived on through the Spider-Man: Homecoming franchise, but it just isn’t the same without him. Enter: Armor Wars.
The upcoming Disney+ series, due out later this year, will center on the Iron Man armory falling into the wrong hands. By the series’ end, many fans believe a new Iron Man will be crowned. The big question is who will it be?
Here are five candidates with a chance at taking up the Shellhead’s mantle, and there’s even odds for each one that I completely made up.
FIRST APPEARANCE: W.E.B. OF SPIDER-MAN #1
One of the big announcements from Marvel was this summer’s debut of Harley Keener into the comics. If you recall, Harley, played by Ty Simpkins, was created specifically for the Iron Man 3 screenplay. The film portrayed him as a child genius not unlike Tony Stark. The two bonded over the course of the movie, with Stark serving as a father figure for Harley.
The curious part with Harley is that he was written and drawn as a young adult in W.E.B #1. That makes him old enough to believably serve as a superhero, and the most logical fit for him would be as Iron Man. It doesn’t hurt that he is featured as part of Disney’s California Attraction, and that may help Marvel to elevate him in the comics and possibly give him a return to the MCU. If that were to happen, then it would almost be a lock for him to succeed Tony Stark.
Another factor is whether or not he will become part of the canonical Earth-616, where he could have a larger role in the main storylines. That appears to be a when rather than an if, and that could have major implications for his character.
FIRST APPEARANCE: INVINCIBLE IRON MAN #7 (CAMEO), INVINCIBLE IRON MAN #9 (FULL)
From the moment Brian Michael Bendis created Riri Williams, the comic world braced for impact. Straight from the start, the character was meant for big things, and the perception at the time was that she would take over the Iron Man role.
For a time, she did just that. Riri Williams constructed her own red and gold armor and headlined the Invincible Iron Man title in 2017. Marvel would soon transition Ironheart to her own self-titled series along with having her join the Champions, which helped carve out an identity of her own.
On the surface, Riri would appear to be the odds-on favorite to be Tony Stark’s replacement. In a sense, that will be the case. She is confirmed to star in the Ironheart Disney+ series, and the hot rumor is that RDJ will return to the MCU as the voice to her suit’s A.I., basically serving as her J.A.R.V.I.S. While that has not been confirmed, it seems like a likely possibility and would give the perception that she is the MCU’s new Iron Man. However, as the series’ title suggests, Riri will take on a role all her own as Ironheart. That leaves the door open for another character to speed across the globe as Iron Man.
With Armor Wars in the works, the plot will likely feature an adaptation of Riri’s early story. By the end of the show, it will probably align with Ironheart.
FIRST APPEARANCE: IRON MAN #118
It’s easy to forget that Colonel James “Rhodey” Rhodes has been in the Marvel Cinematic Universe since the very beginning. Initially played by actor Terrence Howard, Iron Man 2 saw a rare Marvel Studios recast when Don Cheadle took over the part. Now Cheadle is set to star in the upcoming Armor Wars, which should set the table for the future of the Iron Man legacy.
What is interesting is how Rhodes’ comic book history aligns with the current state of the MCU to a degree. Before Rhodey became War Machine, he secretly took up the title of Iron Man, operating the suit after Tony’s alcoholism put him on the shelf.
Obviously Tony’s MCU demise ups the emotional ante, but the core of that story - Stark’s best friend taking up the fight in his stead - is very much on the table. That could be adapted for the screen, and Rhodes could transition from War Machine to Iron Man by the conclusion of Armor Wars. This would follow the current precedent of hero swaps on Disney+ after Sam Wilson became Captain America in The Falcon and the Winter Soldier and Kate Bishop will inherit the title role in Hawkeye.
If it were not for Cheadle’s age - he will be 57 in November - then I would rank Rhodes as the clear favorite for the job. To Cheadle’s credit, he is fit and does not look his age, but at nearly 60, it is hard to imagine him playing a superhero for much longer. I predict that Rhodes will suit up in the Iron Man armor during the course of Armor Wars, but he will hand it off to someone younger by the show’s end.
DOCTOR DOOM AS THE INFAMOUS IRON MAN
FIRST APPEARANCE: INFAMOUS IRON MAN #1
An argument could be made for Norman Osborn to don an Iron Man suit and take on his Dark Avengers guise as Iron Patriot. However, that is not the same as someone becoming the hero, Iron Man, which is why Norman is being left off today’s list. Instead, the role could fall to an unlikely successor - Victor Von Doom.
For a time, Doom switched roles from authoritarian dictator with a literal iron fist to an anti-hero. Under the Infamous Iron Man title, Doom took up the Iron Man armor and became his own brand of hero. The series proved successful, although relatively short lived. In recent years, there has been a Marvel Legends figure, and it would appear that the company at times uses the toy line to test the market with various characters.
The other idea behind this would be Marvel Studios looking to distance itself from the Fox Fantastic Four movies. All three films tragically misused all the characters, specifically Doom, and longtime FF fans are hoping Marvel washes away that blemish on Latveria’s favorite despot. One way to do that in a radically different fashion is to debut Doom as the Infamous Iron Man, and Armor Wars would be the perfect place to do just that.
FIRST APPEARANCE: YOUNG AVENGERS #1
Before you scoff at this idea, here me out. I concede this is a highly unlikely choice, but the Multiverse and time travel make all things possible in the MCU.
With a name like Iron Lad, it is apparent that his origin is tied to Iron Man. This particular would-be sidekick hails from the future, and he is a Kang variant. Instead of being a conqueror, this version of Nathaniel Richards patterned himself as a hero after Tony Stark, hence the name. He would debut as a Young Avenger and assemble the team, though Iron Lad would later travel back into the timestream and adopt the name “Kid Immortus.”
On the MCU side of things, Loki made it clear that the future of the MCU will heavily feature Kang and his variants. While there are many Kangs for the screenwriters to choose from, Iron Lad would be logical to put in a Disney+ series or a movie. That is mostly due to his connection to the Young Avengers, which Marvel Studios is building from the ground up, one character at a time in true Avengers fashion.
Since the company is not recasting its most iconic roles once an actor leaves the franchise, it would seem that Kevin Feige is aiming to use these teenage characters as the next generation of stars. That could mean that the future Iron Man may not be introduced until the Young Avengers show or movie is officially in the lineup.
THE MCU FUTURE
It is an exciting time in the MCU. There’s so much change happening, and it will continue into the foreseeable future. The old guard is being remixed for a new generation, and it lends to plenty of creative storytelling. Couple that with the Multiverse and practically everything Marvel has ever published is on the table. Who’s to say a Tony Stark variant won’t arrive on screen?
Matt Tuck is the author of the novel, Lost Bones of the Dead. He is a professional writer, avid comic collector, former teacher, and an international man of mystery. You can follow him on his Facebook page, The Comic Blog.