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Tony Stark’s Iron God Persona Is Proof That Comics’ Worst Trope Is Right

WARNING: The following article contains spoilers for Iron Man #16 and Iron Man #17, now on sale from Marvel Comics

Power is fun. Too much power, though? It gets boring.

Such is the situation Iron Man faces these days in the pages of his own title. To defeat Korvac in Iron Man #16 by Christopher Cantwell and Julius Ohta, Tony took on the Power Cosmic. It worked, and the hero ascended to a higher level, dropping his old nickname “Iron God.” But now what?

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reed richards, mister fantastic

While becoming so powerful that he looked like a deity, it was ensured that Korvac was “taken care of”, as Tony puts it, the point is that Tony Stark is not a divine being. As a result, even a mind as complex as his can’t help but create almost as much trouble as he solves with his application of the Power Cosmic to more problems than simply beating a cosmic villain. So, while the Avengers wondered if they would also have to “deal with” Iron Man, Stark came across a trope commonly referred to as “Reed Richard is useless”.

Simply put, this trope puts a name to a glaring problem in superhero comics. With all the power, wits, and incredible technology these heroes have at their fingertips, why do they still live in worlds where most people drive gas-powered cars or worry about food shortages? If anyone is as smart as Reed Richards in the Marvel Universe, how does Marvel’s New York City still look like ours? So with Tony the question is, if Iron Man has become Iron God, why can’t he create a utopia almost as easily as he trampled Korvac?

The honest answer, of course, is that it doesn’t make for compelling storytelling. As a result, creators have to dull the characters’ problem-solving abilities. They may save Earth from a giant purple-adorned humanoid who likes to gnaw on planets, but they’ll never discover the way to cold fusion. Having powerful characters unable to solve real-world problems makes it easier for readers to understand and relate to the fictional world. A Marvel Universe without common weaknesses or difficulties may be more realistic, but it would be far less interesting to the average reader.

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Iron Man fighting Korvac on the cover of Alex Ross' Iron Man 15

That said, the creative team behind Iron Man found a new way to represent this trope. In the book, it’s not that Tony can’t solve more common problems. Instead, it’s that its solutions cause more problems. Unfortunately, it turns out that the Iron God is pretty bad at calculating unintended consequences.

For example, one of Iron God’s first moves is to greatly increase the intelligence of everyone in New York. In the abstract, making people smarter seems like a noble and laudable goal. However, it ignores the fact that intelligence is not the only measure of a person’s ability to operate in the world. Making someone brighter doesn’t necessarily make them more devoted to necessary but unglamorous work. It doesn’t necessarily make someone “good,” either.

Dr. Doom, for example, is smart but constantly uses his intellect for nefarious or selfish purposes. New York City is a place where many individuals have, statistically speaking, committed violent crimes. Giving them more intelligence might make them so smart that they realize they shouldn’t commit crimes. On the other hand, it might make them so much better at evading detection and capture. Making everyone shiny quickly becomes a not-so-shiny idea.

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Who Deemed Iron Man 'Worthy' As Marvel's Most Powerful God

The story also centers around the idea that just because Tony is more powerful doesn’t mean he’s better either. Many of his usual flaws are compounded when backed up by the Power Cosmic. On a typical day, one could accuse Stark of having a god complex and being unreceptive to outside criticism. As an Iron God, this attitude becomes murderous. A pile of bodies now documents what it means to suggest Stark might be wrong.

It’s a simple but effective twist on the “Reed Richard is useless” trope. “Useless” stories cannot realistically reflect how the intelligence and inventions of a Reed Richards would change the world to almost unrecognizable levels. This twist suggests that one can’t have a utopia because Tony Stark can’t handle the power it would take to create this world.

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