Armor Wars - what Marvel comic books tell us about the upcoming MCU film

Iron Man: Armor Wars art
(Image credit: Marvel Comics)

Tony Stark's technology in Marvel Comics and in the MCU is/was constantly being upgraded. Marvel Studios' upcoming Armor Wars project, which adapts the landmark '80s Iron Man story of the same name, has likewise been upgraded from a Disney Plus streaming series to a full-on theatrical film, featuring Don Cheadle as James Rhodes/War Machine in the lead role.

Aside from the understanding that the story will follow up on what happens to Tony Stark's Iron Man technology after his death in Avengers: Endgame, Marvel hasn't offered up much information about the now-movie version of Armor Wars.

But in comics, the story is one of the most formative events in Tony Stark's modern superhero career, establishing the consequences of what happens when Iron Man tech winds up in the wrong hands - a theme that has been central in much of Iron Man's recent comic history.

In an adventure that visits all corners of the Marvel Universe, Tony Stark must track down unauthorized Iron Man technology that has fallen into the hands of friends and foes alike, pitting him alone against numerous armored superheroes and supervillains.

Marvel's official description of the film suggests it will skew particularly faithful to the "classic" comic book source material, though it'll seemingly focus on Rhodey (who isn't the tech's inventor) as opposed to Tony. 

And that makes sense, as the comic book version of the story has plenty of meat on the bone for Marvel Studios to bring to the big screen while pushing the Iron Man movie mythos into a wider arena with new major players on the field.

And oh yeah ... Doctor Doom factors into the story, who fans have been waiting patiently to make his MCU debut.

What happens in Armor Wars?

Iron Man: Armor Wars art

(Image credit: Marvel Comics)

Armor Wars (opens in new tab) is an '80s story arc that ran in Invincible Iron Man #225-232, from legendary Iron Man writers Dave Michelinie and Bob Layton and artists Mark D. Bright and Barry Windsor-Smith (comic legends in their own right). In the story, Tony Stark discovers that the technology used to build the armored suits of several characters, including the aforementioned Doctor Doom, the Beetle (who later became Mach I of the Thunderbolts), Stilt-Man, Crimson Dynamo (a Russian contemporary of Red Guardian), Titanium Man, and more.

After hiring Scott Lang (Ant-Man) to track down how his tech was leaked, Tony learns that his data was stolen by long-running Iron Man villain the Spymaster and sold to his rival Justin Hammer - who is reportedly returning to the MCU in Armor Wars, with Iron Man 2 actor Sam Rockwell reprising the role. 

From there, he sets about tracking down each of the armor wearers suspected of using his stolen tech and neutralizing their armor with a special device that disables all the Stark technology inside.

(Image credit: Marvel Comics)
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First, he takes down C-List Daredevil villain Stilt-Man, who as his name implies wears armor equipped with massive stilts (talk about a one-sided fistfight). Then he defeats his longtime enemy the Controller, whose armor boosts his mind-control powers. But after discovering he can't use the courts to reclaim his stolen tech from the others who are using it via legal means, Tony resolves to keep hunting down those who are using Iron Man technology one by one.

Tony and Rhodey use their credentials to search out suspected Iron Man tech users, coming across some clues that Avengers ally Stingray, who mans the underwater facility Hydro-Base which was once an Avengers HQ, might be using some Stark tech in his own special underwater suit.

However, when Tony confronts Stingray, the underwater hero refuses to comply with Tony's scans of his suit, prompting Tony to take him down by force and scan the suit unwillingly - which reveals that Stingray is actually not using any Iron Man tech. This leads to consequences from the US government, who have a contract with Stingray, to end their relationship with Tony Stark and revoke his credentials, demanding he shut Iron Man down entirely.

Iron Man: Armor Wars art

(Image credit: Marvel Comics)

From there, Iron Man goes on a tear through several armored groups including SHIELD's armored Mandroid corps, and the armored security force for the Vault prison, the Guardsmen. 

In the latter encounter, he runs into Steve Rogers, who was at the time operating as 'The Captain,' having relinquished the Captain America identity and shield to John Walker (the current MCU US Agent). During the fight with the Guardsmen, Steve is injured and knocked into a coma by Iron Man.

After Steve's injury, Iron Man's fellow West Coast Avengers at the time confront him. Though he explains that his tech was stolen, the Avengers can't abide by his loose cannon actions, and Tony is fired from the team.

This doesn't stop Tony though, and he flies off to Russia to fight the Titanium Man and Crimson Dynamo, before being intercepted by the US government's new armored operative, Firepower, who is himself using stolen Iron Man tech.

(Image credit: Marvel Comics)
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In a final fight with Firepower in which he threatens to explode his own armor like a neutron bomb, Tony shows up with a brand new Iron Man armor, taking Firepower down and averting disaster. 

Though it's cost him his relationship with the government and the allies, Tony feels satisfied that he's done all he can to prevent his tech from falling into the wrong hands - though there are still other villains suspected of using some Stark technology who aren't accounted for in the story, notably Doctor Doom.

A sequel, Armor Wars II, was published in the early '90s, though the story focused on Tony losing control of his armor in a prolonged battle with his arch-enemy The Mandarin.

Armor Wars in the MCU

Armor Wars title card

(Image credit: Marvel Studios)

In terms of how Armor Wars could be adapted to the MCU, there are plenty of options - and almost all of them could carry through the theme of a quest to stop Tony's tech from falling into the wrong hands. With Justin Hammer's reported inclusion, we're assuming that the story will have at least a few direct similarities to the original comic book Armor Wars, though with Rhodey subbed in for Tony in the quest to defeat armored opponents.

And this might be a good time to mention that Pepper Potts' debut as the armored Rescue in the third act of Avengers: Endgame showed her as being quite adept at handling herself in battle, so another Gweneth Paltrow appearance can't be ruled out. 

Tony's daughter Morgan Stark and Iron Man 3 kid inventor/sidekick Harley Keener are still out there as well. 

Armor Wars could also be an opportunity to expand the Iron Man corner of the Marvel Universe in the wake of Tony Stark's death, both with the potential inclusion of new armored allies such as Ironheart, who debuts in Black Panther: Wakanda Forever before getting her own streaming series, and in possibly bringing in some new armored enemies that go beyond what we've seen before from Obadiah Stane/Iron Monger (Jeff Bridges) and Anton Vanko/Whiplash (Mickey Rourke).

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For one thing, Armor Wars could be a golden opportunity to bring in Doctor Doom as a primary adversary for Rhodey, potentially setting him up in the MCU ahead of the now-confirmed November 2024 Fantastic Four movie. He may have only had a minor role in the Armor Wars comic story, but few of the armored characters in the story have the profile that Doom would have with viewers.

Whatever happens, the possible implications of bringing Armor Wars to the MCU are obvious, if a little obscure as we wait to find out more. But for now, we can assume that something in the story was big enough to elevate Armor Wars from a streaming series to a full-on feature film.

Armor Wars is one of the best Iron Man stories ever.

I've been Newsarama's resident Marvel Comics expert and general comic book historian since 2011. I've also been the on-site reporter at most major comic conventions such as Comic-Con International: San Diego, New York Comic Con, and C2E2. Outside of comic journalism, I am the artist of many weird pictures, and the guitarist of many heavy riffs. (They/Them)