×
Cookies help us deliver our Services. By using our Services, you agree to our use of cookies. Learn More.

Weaknesses you didn't realize Iron Man had

The character of Tony Stark has seen a huge boost in popularity since 2008's Iron Man started up the Marvel Cinematic Universe. We now live in a world in which more than just a few hundred comic book nerds have strong feelings about Ego, the Living Planet, so you can imagine what the movies have done for ol' Shell-Head. In the last decade, both the comic book and film versions of the character have had ample opportunity to show how Tony puts the "super" in super-heroic. Endless ingenuity, building Vision, designing dozens of Iron Man suits, leading the Avengers, working with nano-particles, the Hulkbuster armor… the list of his super feats could fill a whole article.

But what about his weaknesses? As it turns out, the frequent leader of the Avengers (and slightly less frequent CEO of Stark Enterprises) has quite a few vulnerabilities that his more superpowered friends don't. Read on to find out the weaknesses that you didn't realize that Iron Man had.

Looking for a heart of... palladium?

We'll start with the most obvious (and most visible) weakness: Tony Stark doesn't really have a strong heart. Well, figuratively, he does, since he spends most of his movie appearances accidentally mentoring Spider-Man and trying to make up for his past mistakes. But in terms of biology, his heart has usually been about one beat away from a real brush with death. In the MCU, Tony builds his arc reactor in order to power the electromagnet that's keeping shrapnel from piercing his heart. In the comics, it's pretty much the same deal. In short, one EMP blast or faulty wiring quite literally could spell the end for everyone's favorite reformed weaponsmith.

In fact, Tony's desperate need to make sure that his arc reactor stays working was a major plot point in Iron Man 2, as the palladium core of the arc reactor was starting to poison his body. Until Tony could synthesize a new element, he was looking down the barrel of a gun — either slowly let his body be poisoned by foreign material or die by shrapnel piercing his heart. That being said, this is one of the few weaknesses that both the comics and the movies have largely gotten rid of. Iron Man 3 saw him undergo surgery to remove the last of the shrapnel, while comics-Tony cures his ailment off-panel during Warren Ellis and Adi Granov's 2005 "Extremis" arc on Iron Man (which was a big influence on the movies).

Look at the size of that ego!

One of Tony's biggest weaknesses — and the one he's unlikely to shake off anytime soon — is that he's got a massive ego. That's a bit unsurprising, considering what he's accomplished in the Marvel Universe and the way that people in the real world tend to fawn over tech billionaires who haven't actually saved the world… despite what their PR would imply. 

Anyway, it makes sense that Tony wouldn't exactly be the most humble guy. The Avengers even showcases him in a pissing contest with Steve Rogers over who's a more impressive man — that's the scene where Tony utters his infamous "genius, billionaire, playboy, philanthropist" line. Keep in mind, that's after a scene in which Tony tries to pick a fight with Thor, the actual, literal God of Thunder. What's that old saying? If all you've got is a suit of armor that shoots repulsor blasts, every problem looks like it can be repulsor blasted?

The ego that tells Tony that he's the only one who knows what problems are coming down the road is exactly what pushes him to create Ultron in The Avengers: Age of Ultron, try to take down Captain America and his crew in Captain America: Civil War, and ignore Spider-Man for most of Spider-Man: Homecoming. While he might have come a long way from being the guy who raised his arms in a Christ pose as bombs exploded behind him in Iron Man, a big ego is always going to be Tony's Achilles' heel.

Once a jerk, always a jerk

Speaking of the beginning of Iron Man, have you ever noticed that Tony's kind of a jerk for most of that movie? It's pretty in-character, to be fair. Stan Lee famously claimed that he wanted to challenge himself by creating a character that fans could never love — who, of course, becomes beloved anyway. That's how Tony Stark, the warmongering playboy with a massive ego, came about in the first place. But while Tony's mostly stayed out of the warmongering game since he reformed in his first few years of being Iron Man, his history of rude behavior has been a persistent flaw ever since. MCU fans saw it in Homecoming when Peter Parker assumed that Tony wasn't interested in actually saving the day.

Meanwhile, comics fans got one of the biggest examples of how Tony's past behavior troubles him in the present during (and immediately after) 2014's AXIS event comic series. In the comic, most of the Marvel universe's heroes and villains get their "alignment" switched — heroes become villains and vice versa. In Tony's case, he just becomes a big selfish jerk focused on making money selling tech and weapons. By the end of the series, he's one of just a small handful of characters whose alignment doesn't switch back, which leads to the rest of the Marvel universe immediately recognizing that they need to help Tony be good again. 

Just kidding. In fact, no one really notices, except to note that Tony seems to have regressed to being a self-obsessed jerk.

Demon in a bottle

True dyed-in-the-wool comic fans will likely know this one, but Iron Man's greatest battle wasn't against Justin Hammer, Whiplash, or even Thanos. Instead, it was Tony's battle with alcoholism in one of the many socially-minded comics to come out of the seventies and eighties in the industry's efforts to deal with real-life problems like homelessness, drug abuse, and government mistrust. In "Demon in a Bottle," Tony has to battle Whiplash, Justin Hammer, and alcoholism. With Iron Man's status as a superhero in the Marvel universe relegated to B-list, the arc was one of, if not the most, well-known Iron Man story for decades.

That long-lasting popularity might have contributed to it being the basis for the early drafts of Iron Man 2. As you might have gathered, Hammer and Whiplash both make appearances in the film as they do in the comics, but Tony's alcoholism is relegated almost entirely to subtext. Why wasn't it more of a core for the story? Well, as screenwriter Justin Theroux said when asked about it, "A thirteen-year-old does not want to see a drunken Tony." 

Regardless, Tony's weakness for a martini to take the edge off wasn't just beaten back in one nine-issue story arc. It made a reappearance in 2011's Fear Itself, where Tony gives up his sobriety in order to convince Odin (Thor's dad) to intervene and stop his rampaging godly brother, the Serpent, from decimating Earth. Basically, Tony needed to drink a bottle in order to stop a demon. As George Lucas would say, "It's like poetry. They rhyme."

Just a man in a suit

Iron Man's had some pretty spectacular fight scenes on the big screen in the MCU. There was his property-destroying smackdown with the Hulk in Age of Ultron, his very first armor vs. armor fight against Iron Monger in Iron Man, and the multi-robot battle royale at the end of Iron Man 3. Most recently, of course, was his Kamen Rider-esque super battle against Thanos in Infinity War. In short, we've come a long way from seeing Iron Man roll up on foes on literal roller skates while shooting repulsor beams.

Still, all those different armors and cool CGI fight sequences do a lot to distract from the fact that Tony's mostly just a normal guy in a fight. Sure, he's a bit more ripped than your average moviegoer, and he's even been trained to fight by Captain America in the comics, but that still doesn't make him much of a physical match against actual fighters. There's a reason that Iron Man can only put up a decent fight against Cap in Civil War while his suit's still working — at the end of the day, if the most advanced computer in the world is turned off, it can't help Tony outfight a super-soldier, alien menace, or God of Thunder. Ultimately, despite his big brains, Tony can't do much without his tech.

A history of violence

A superhero is only as good as his villains, and the superhero genre, by and large, needs conflict. For many superheroes, their spectacular foes emerge after they take up the mantle of a heroic identity. They're brought out by the protagonist's presence in order to contrast against them in engaging ways. In Tony Stark's case, he spent the decades prior to his superhero career selling weapons and dangerous tech to the highest bidder, which naturally included governments, mercenaries, and (through the second-hand black market) terrorists. The first two Iron Man films used these facts as major plot points to build toward Tony's redemption, while the comics featured a similar storyline called "Armor Wars" that's one of the most definitive Iron Man stories ever.

Basically, Tony's past constantly comes back to haunt him. He's not alone in this regard, of course, but the people in his old line of work who are likely to hold grudges are the same people that usually carry rocket launchers and high tech suits of armor. That makes his past mistakes just a little bit more likely to carry into his present superhero career than the average Iron Joe.

Wealth doesn't last forever

Where would Batman be without his bat cave, or Green Arrow without his arrow cave? Following in the footsteps of those heroic, brooding billionaires, Iron Man also his a secret base, a company he should be running, and a (robotic) butler to help him solve super problems. However, money has a strange tendency to get spent, even in a superhero world. Tony Stark has lost control of his company and his wealth more times than you can count, to a variety of characters, heroic and otherwise.

To misquote a famous idiom: with great wealth comes the danger of losing that great wealth. If we consider Tony Stark's nearly bottomless source of income a superpower that lets him remain in charge of the Avengers, well… Captain America can't exactly lose his super-juice, and Thor can't stop being divine. Tony, on the other hand, is extremely dependent on the continuing existence — and profitability — of Stark Enterprises.

Abracadabra

The MCU has come a long way since Tony Stark built a metal suit of armor in order to shoot terrorists. We've had alien gods, intergalactic wars, and actual sorcerers who are messing around with demons. While the Iron Man suits get more and more advanced with every installment, it's hard for them to compete against the introduction of a time-traveling Sorcerer Supreme — and it doesn't help that Doctor Strange even swiped Tony's facial hair style. While it might be true that any technology sufficiently advanced is indistinguishable from magic, we haven't seen any of Tony's tech that's capable of teleporting across the universe or seeing every possible future.

Much like most of the tech-minded denizens of the Marvel Universe, Tony Stark just isn't really equipped to deal with magical threats. Granted, there's one comics story that sees him become the Sorcerer Supreme, but that was in an alternate future, and if there's anything that Marvel has plenty of, it's alternate futures.

Family drama

"Happy families are all alike, but each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way." That's the first line of Leo Tolstoy's Anna Karenina, but it could just as easily apply to Tony Stark. He's been dealing with family drama nearly since his introduction. It's not surprising, really. After all, the character was loosely inspired by Howard Hughes, the incredibly wealthy playboy inventor who didn't exactly have the healthiest relationship with his own mother. In the MCU's case, Tony's family issues have led to him trusting Obadiah Stane as a surrogate father figure and eventually almost killing Steve Rogers and Bucky Barnes.

In the comics, it's arguably even worse — his own family history has been retconned almost as many times as he's lost his fortune. Most recently in the 2016 series International Iron Man, Tony's mother was revealed to be Amanda Armstrong, a S.H.I.E.L.D. agent who'd gotten pregnant by an undercover H.Y.D.R.A. agent. Amanda stabbed the H.Y.D.R.A. agent and gave Tony up for adoption, where he was taken in by Howard and Maria Stark. Still, that's only the most recent in a long line of confusing family retcons, which is definitely enough to give a guy a bit of a complex.

His extra life is all used up

Speaking of International Iron Man, its sequel series, 2017's Invincible Iron Man, saw Tony Stark almost die at the hands of Captain Marvel during Civil War II (not to be confused with 2006's comic event Civil War or the 2016 movie Captain America: Civil War). While Tony does manage to recover from his death/coma, it turned out that it was only possible through a one-time-only "reboot" of his whole system.

Basically, Tony had been experimenting on himself and trying to upgrade his body to be able to do more as Iron Man. Like a computer that tries to run too many files at once, Tony's body shut down, and required a full factory-reset reboot that can't be done twice. That means that if he comes up against an especially deadly opponent any time soon, that "Get Out of Death Free" card isn't going to work twice.