Is Tony Stark Selfish?

In my, albeit limited, career as a person who writes about comics, I happen to have written A LOT about Tony Stark. But in that time there is one facet of Tony Stark’s superheroic persona that has persistently bugged me yet I have not talked about in detail, and it’s that I think Tony Stark might be selfish.

More than enough to cover the Avengers, right?

More than enough to cover the Avengers, right?

Tony Stark is undoubtedly a hero; sacrificing his time, his wealth, and his safety in the service of others, which are not normally characteristics associated with a selfish person. However, we cannot deny that Tony is a bit of a suit hoarder, which is the crux of my argument. As near as I can tell, the trailers for Iron Man 3 have all but rendered Avengers 2 irrelevant. “What’s that? Thanos is attacking earth, good thing I have this army of autonomous armors to go and stop him. Enjoy futzing with your bow, Hawkeye.”

Iron Man 2, near as I can remember, dealt a lot with why Tony was uncomfortable sharing his technology with the US Government, which is understandable, but who in their right mind can deny a suit to Captain America? The idea of sharing suits with other Avengers is not without precedent, mind you. In an early issue of The Ultimates Tony builds the Black Widow her own suit, and she ends up betraying him with it. Yet I hardly think a double-cross by a super-spy (keyword being spy) is equivalent to the reputation of America’s only super-soldier.

Granted, Tony has shared suits with other more stalwart and trustworthy folks before. Namely, his buddy James Rhodes, aka War Machine, and more recently Pepper Potts with her Rescue armor. While these individuals are both clearly stand-up citizens worthy of the responsibility, I remain perplexed as to why Tony has failed to share his assets to other members of his superhero fraternity.

A "No prize" to the person who can explain why it only has 3 legs.

A “No prize” to the person who can explain why it only has 3 legs.

It’s not like I’m saying Tony should give away anything equivalent to whatever Mark he’s sporting at the moment. Starktech seems to exist so far beyond the present realm of technology that even an early version of his suit ought to increase almost any other hero’s skillset. And as we saw in the suit he built for Spider-Man, he has no qualms about putting in a few safeguards to prevent suits from being used for purposes outside his comfort zone. We’re talking about people he has fought besides for years, granted with the occasional squabble, but at the end of the day heroes all.

This seems especially relevant considering Tony is now off gallivanting in space, leaving earth without an Iron Man. Perhaps his suits are just as effective automated as they would be with a pilot, and thus Tony is for all intents and purposes irrelevant, but I still have to believe that a Black Panther with his own Stark-built suit is more effective than a Black Panther without.

I imagine there are some of you rolling your eyes at this point, so let me address what I imagine might be your refutation to my proposal. Yes, I fully acknowledge that as a story-telling device, giving everyone an Iron Man suit suited to their personal powers and style would be a boring disaster. It would mean that every character in the Marvel Universe would have basically the same weaknesses and limitations, which would not make for good stories. What I am more concerned with is the in-universe logic that would seem to dictate that most heroes would benefit from a bit of Starktech in their lives.

I’m not the only one whom has noticed this discrepancy. In the pages of Avengers #17 Noh-Varr takes control of the suits being stored in Avengers Tower. Carol Danvers astutely throws out a line saying “I would rather have the Red Skull chop my head off then tell Tony Stark I found a hole in his system and used it.” And follows up that comment with a lamentation that her own friendship with Tony doesn’t warrant access to his creations.


Ultimately, I get where Tony is coming from, loathe as I am to admit it. I have a lot of tech on or around me most of the day, and I have a very hard time relinquishing even a modicum of control over these devices to any other person, no matter how much I may trust them. I didn’t design nor built my laptop or iPad, but the idea of another person using them (and potentially messing them up) gives me crazy amounts of anxiety. I put a lot of thought into customizing my devices to suit my needs and giving someone the opportunity to mess with those carefully constructed interfaces is not something I take lightly. Then again, none of my devices have the potential to save the world (unless there’s a setting for that I haven’t found). However, I think if I had an excess of tech, and the ability to set it up in a way to protect my own interests, that I could get behind the idea of sharing with those it might benefit.

So yes, I think Tony is a bit selfish. His motivations make sense to me and the meta-textual reasons for it are sound. But maybe I just want to see Reed Richards in a stretchy Iron Man suit. Is that wrong? I certainly hope not.


Ryan Haupt has written about Iron Man before. A lot. Hear his discuss real world science and technology on the podcast Science… sort of.


  1. If it were any other character, it would probably bother me too. But selfishness is an essential part of Tony’s character. It’s funny to think that if Steve Rogers were Iron Man, I’d be like “What a douche.”, but since Tony is an egomaniac, I’m fine with it.

    That said, I’d love to see Iron Wolverine. Completely redundant, but awesome. Then again, Logan does hate to fly …

    • Wolverine briefly wore a suit of Iron Man armor in a terrible, terrible, story that tied into Civil War. Really, it was awful. One of the worst comics ever.

  2. Tony is very selective about who uses his tech. You’ve got to tenner the Armor Wars. They spent a good arc of story covering Iron Man taking all the stolen Starktech back from those who bought it on the black market after it was stolen. Besides, no one else would have the means to maintain the armor like Tony.

  3. Youve got to factor in need too, why would Reed Richards need Iron Man Armor? He could build a better one for himself probably. She-Hulk doesn’t need one, she’s a Hulk, Invulnerability comes with that right? Even Spidey didn’t “need” his, Stark gave it to him for piece of mind. James Rhodes tho is a normal man (kinda) like Tony, so yea, him and Pepper should armor up. I disagree that the world needs Tony or an “Iron Man” tho, there’s plenty of people to protect the Earth and War Machine is still active (I think). Also I don’t think it was until he had the neural upgrade that his mind could handle controlling a 1000 armies at once.

  4. I always wanted to see Stark, Pym, Williams, T’Challa & McCoy form an Avengers Tech Division.

    They could even have folks like Parker, Richards et al as adjunct members.

    There must be some female Avengers who are also super-scientists.


  5. One of my favorite “What If’ issues was #3, where instead of the Avengers hunting down the Hulk (and finding frozen Cap), they break up, Thor leaves, and Stark builds armor for Hank Pym, Janet Van Dyne, and Rick Jones(!). Kind of cool seeing Giant-Man fighting in Iron Man armor. Jim Shooter wrote, Gil Kane drew, and Tony Stark dies saving his Armored Avengers. At least Tony’s not selfish in alternate universes. So claims Uatu!

  6. Just because he wears armor I don’t think it’s fair to call him a crustacean.

    Oh, sorry, I thought it said “shellfish.”