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The Complex History of Comics Tony Stark and the MCU

Tony Stark in Avengers: Endgame

Sometimes changes have to be made to bring a character to life from page to screen and the Marvel Cinematic Universe is now different. As someone who decided to dive into some of the older runs of Tony Stark, I found that there were quite a few differences from the comics to the MCU and honestly, the changes are fine. Still, it is fun to look at some of the bigger changes throughout the franchise.

That being said, we can’t expect the MCU to include everything about Tony Stark (or any of their characters) in the movies, and there is so much content out there that it’s almost impossible to even start looking at every version of the character. So, in my journey, I started with the “Demon in a Bottle” storyline that never made its way to the MCU, but still explored the emotional turmoil of taking on the mantle of a superhero and what it meant to Tony to cope with that.

While reading, the differences became obvious and made it so the MCU version of Tony is his own entire being (while still having his connections to this comic run, especially). So, I want to talk about the five big differences between the Tony Stark in this comic storyline and the MCU because sometimes, you’ve just got to talk out your Tony Stark feelings.

Pepper Potts wasn’t romantically with Tony Stark.

Sorry to all, but Pepperony wasn’t really a thing in the comics until recently. In fact, she married Happy Hogan. (Wild, right?) I attribute the beautiful flirting we get in the MCU (and sometimes in the comics) to the chemistry between Robert Downey Jr. and Gwyneth Paltrow. But, there are hints that Pepper and Tony are going to have a family and remain together despite Pepper’s struggles with having kids with Happy Hogan (who died during the “Civil War” run).

Still, especially in “Demon in a Bottle,” Pepper is not even a blip on the Tony Stark radar. (The series starts with him aggressively flirting with the flight attendant, because it’s Tony Stark. When isn’t he flirting?) So, if you’re looking for that Pepper/Tony love affair, you might not want to look at this storyline.

Tony Stark was adopted.

Well, in some runs (including this one), but it’s a big change that many think was hinted at during Avengers: Endgame. (I think Howard Stark just doesn’t know how babies work, but that’s me.) Arno Stark, the biological child of Howard and Maria Stark, is born with a birth defect that, essentially, means he’s going to constantly need medical assistance to live. In fact, he wasn’t even supposed to survive childbirth, but Howard reaches out to extraterrestrial android Recorder 451 and uses alien technology on his son, though he worries that 451 is going to recognize that he intervened.

So, as a ploy, he and Maria adopt Tony Stark to be the face of their son to the world, and they vow to try to love him as their own, meaning that the Tony Stark/Iron Man we see in the comics is not Howard Stark’s biological kid (which kind of makes Howard Stark even more of a douchebag).

The argument that the MCU stealthily added this in at the end is, to me, a non-issue, because when you look at the stakes, the last thing Tony Stark is thinking about is running into his old man or whether or not he’s even born yet. So, when he sees Howard Stark and asks about how far along Maria is, I don’t think it’s confirmation that Tony Stark is adopted. If it is, MCU, do better. That would have been incredible to include.

Tony’s suit was often kept in a briefcase, and had eyeholes. 

Oh boy, imagine my joy when Tony Stark literally THROWS A WOMAN out of a bathroom to put on his Iron Man suit that … has eyeholes? That’s right, folks; back in 1979, they didn’t have the technology that we do now, so they probably didn’t think that Tony Stark’s suit could have repulsors or a HUD screen with all the things he’d need, or even FRIDAY.

So, instead, Tony’s high tech 1970s suit was carried in briefcases (think Iron Man 2, but like … a literal briefcase and a suit that Tony had to assemble without the cool hydraulics and effects). I tell you, reader, I laughed and laughed and laughed and loved it, especially when Tony Stark’s blue eyes were showing through the little slits.

MCU Tony copes in the lab. Comic Tony had different coping mechanisms.

“Demon In A Bottle” is a famous look at Tony Stark for his use of substances to cope—something that never made its way to the MCU. But, in the MCU, Tony’s coping mechanism was to often lock himself in lab for days without emerging. So, also not healthy.

It’s an interesting way to look at the character because it shows that, throughout the entire arc of Tony Stark, he hasn’t been great at dealing with his own mental health and wellbeing. The MCU did get that aspect of the character right, and the fact that they can manage to show Tony’s coping in different ways is an interesting aspect to the character.

He isn’t the kind of man who is going to sit and tell someone all his feelings. He’ll either flirt his way out of a situation or crack some joke and make fun of you before admitting anything. That’s why Tony’s struggle in Iron Man 3 is so interesting, because he finally starts talking to Pepper Potts about everything, and then … well, we know what happens to Pepper and Tony there for a while.

The playboy was … well, way more of a playboy.

Remember when Tony Stark is single and flirting with Aunt May (Marisa Tomei) in Captain America: Civil War? Well, for that version of Tony, it was probably because he was dealing with Pepper Potts being tired of his nonsense. But, in the comics, Tony loves to flirt and take his playboy antics that we got just a taste of in the MCU to the next level.

That’s the difference, I’d say, between Bruce Wayne and Tony Stark. Sure, they’re both seen as the orphan children of billionaires who use their money to be heroes, but Bruce Wayne puts on a front so people don’t expect that he’d be Batman. He’s not really the man who goes and sleeps around. Tony? That’s a completely different story—especially the MCU Tony Stark who just told the world he was Iron Man and shrugged.

Now, this is just my observation from reading some old comics. I know I have a world of reading ahead of me, but it’s interesting to look at this run, which is arguably one of the more famous Iron Man storylines, and seeing how it compares to the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Now, all I need is for the comics to introduce Morgan Stark (his daughter, not his weird cousin) so I can see my favorite new character existing in the  world of comics!

(image: Marvel Entertainment)

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Rachel is an I, Tonya stan who used to have a poster of Frank Sinatra on her wall as a kid. She loves superheroes, weird musicals, and wants Robert Downey Jr. to release a new album. She is Leslie Knope and she's okay with that. At least she gets to live in New York City though!