Updated June 30, 2016: Just sayin'...
Updated June 24, 2016: The latest "Marvel NOW!" teaser added a possible new element to our theory Iron Man will be killed in Civil War II, as well as who could possibly take his place.
That teaser (seen at right, flipped) has Doctor Doom holding Iron Man's helmet. Since the end of Secret Wars, Victor Von Doom has appeared intermittently in Invincible Iron Man with a seemingly new take on life and his role in the world: a.k.a. he is not, for once, a villain. He has worked as an ally and sounding board to Tony Stark, melding his technical know-how with his magical abilities to fight alongside Iron Man - after some initial reluctance by Tony, we should add.
You're probably asking what this has to do with our theory that Iron Man is dying, so we'll just say it - what if the image of Von Doom holding Iron Man's helmet is symbolism for him becoming Iron Man? It's not like he hasn't worn an armor and an iron mask before.
Looking back at the five "Marvel NOW!" teasers thus far, each one features at least one replacement hero - someone who has taken over the identity of another hero in some form or another. Captain America, Captain Marvel, Ms. Marvel, and even Ms. America. And that's before you even speculate that Riri Williams could take on the name 'War Machine' to go with her War Machine look.
Other people have taken up the mantle of Iron Man in Tony Stark's absence - so what if Doctor Doom is about to do the same?
Updated June 20, 2016: Marvel has updated the previous solicitation information for Civil War II: The Fallen, which will now include a variant cover from none other than legendary Marvel artist Jack Kirby.
Of course, Kirby passed away in 1994, meaning that the cover will feature art that Kirby created prior to his death, limiting the characters that could be spotlighted on the cover. While Kirby didn't draw Iron Man much outside of Avengers, he did create several covers for Tales of Suspense, including designing Iron Man's original, bulky armor, seen in his first appearance.
Marvel declined to comment or identify what Kirby illustration will be used as the variant cover.
Original Story: Marvel has made it clear there's a major fatality coming in Civil War II #3. They're playing their cards close to the vest (sort of), even polybagging a special cover for the issue for a midnight release. But writer Brian Bendis says Civil War II #3's big moment will involve the Hulk, and, using his preferred hyperbole, will "break the Internet in half."
Marvel doesn't have many options left to totally shock fans - especially coming on the heels of the deaths that have already taken place in Civil War II. While Bruce Banner remains a distinct possibility, looking at the facts - and the subtle clues already available leading up to Civil War II #3 - we think we can make a strong case that Tony Stark is going to be resting in pieces by the time the dust settles.
Don't believe us? Here's the evidence:
1) Top This
If you’re going to make waves and headlines, killing the guy you just positioned as your flagship hero is certainly the fast track. On top of that, Iron Man is one of those characters who has come to have a status quo change nearly every year, and there isn’t much totally new ground for him to cover besides being dead.
And, like it or not, Tony’s easy to replace. Slap that suit of armor on someone else and you’ve still got Iron Man. The personality may be different, but Tony has been replaced before, with his substitute Iron Men even joining the Avengers for extended periods.
Marvel has already killed Rhodey and made it clear that they plan to top it. Captain America's recent HYDRA cliffhanger takes him out of contention. Spider-Man..? Again..?
There's only a few characters left that will pack the punch Marvel is promising, Iron Man being the most prominent.
2) The Easy Way
Marvel loves replacement heroes right now. There has been a long string of them recently, from Superior Spider-Man, to Sam-Captain America, to Jane-Thor, to Amadeus-Hulk ... and so forth. Putting a new character in the Iron Man role is even easier, thanks to the nature of his powerset. No story acrobatics or complicated explanation needed.
Of course, Marvel took some criticism they knew was coming to kill Rhodey in Civil War II #1 ... maybe because they had a higher purpose. With the most logical character to take Tony's place 'conveniently' out of the picture, Marvel can look elsewhere for a new hero to wear the armor, perhaps expanding their demographics (a recent publishing priority) by putting it on someone like Mary Jane Watson, who has a connection to Iron Man but no hero experience in the armor, or even Tony’s disabled adoptive brother Arno Stark.
3) Time To Pay the Piper
While Marvel has marketed their now-two Civil Wars as being ambiguous conflicts between heroes with no clear right or wrong, for the second time Marvel has subtly taken the non-Iron Man side.
Civil War II marks the second time Tony has driven a major superhero conflict with reckless action. Sure, he sort of came out on top (logistically) in the original Civil War, but even that victory came at the cost of his soul in many ways. Now, going off the rails and kidnapping the Inhuman Ulysses, sparking the start of a conflict he has admitted is a bad idea, Tony has pushed the limits once again.
Tony’s made a habit of pushing headlong into what may be the worst ideas possible. He may usually come out on top in the end, but there’s no way he can constantly act unilaterally and without oversight (an ironic trend, given his role in the first Civil War) and escape his comeuppance every time.
We're betting this time he won't.
4) The Fallen
This week, Diamond released information that sales discounts for the mystery Civil War II one-shot The Fallen would be tied to retailers’ previous orders of March’s Invincible Iron Man #7. Now, Marvel Executive Editor Tom Brevoort couldn't confirm to Newsarama any thematic link between The Fallen and Iron Man as a character, but he did clarify that Civil War II #3 would lead directly into both The Fallen and its sister one-shot The Accused.
Marvel either chose purposely or chose arbitrarily. You've probably figured out by now we're assuming the former.
And beyond that, just look at the cover of Civil War II #3. It’s got an image of the Hulk tearing Iron Man in half. Maybe that’s just powerful iconography, or maybe Marvel wants you to really know what it’s got planned even though they say they don't. The publisher has a history of revealing its major deaths in advance to spur sales. They may be playing this one as a mystery you need to read the story to find out, but leaving a trail of breadcrumbs would not be out of character.
5) Marvel NOW!
Marvel has promised a new iteration of Marvel NOW! in the wake of Civil War II, predicated on the major status quo changes that will come as a result of the new superhero conflict. If there’s one magic bullet, one major change that could ripple across the Marvel Universe like tumbling dominoes, it would be offing Tony Stark.
Tony’s death would leave a major power vacuum in the Marvel Universe, not just in the Avengers, of which he is currently the most senior member and de facto leader, but also in the world at large. With no Reed Richards to step up as Marvel’s top mind in Stark’s absence, there aren’t many choices to take that role. Bruce Banner or Peter Parker could step up – but given one of them may be the one responsible for Stark’s probable death, they may be off the table.
The candidate that makes the most sense to us? Rising star Black Panther. He’s got the pedigree as a hero, a leader, and as a brilliant mind. With big-screen plans along with his already warm reception in Civil War, and his hit new ongoing series, Black Panther is in perfect position to assume a major leadership role in the Marvel Universe if he’s willing to grab the reins.
Tony's death might just force his hand and usher in a whole new era for the character.