Speculation is running rampant about the identity of the mysterious fiery person in the new Doctor Strange and the Multiverse of Madness trailer. Is it Captain Marvel gone full Binary? Is it Monica Rambeau powered up? The Human Torch’s first appearance in the MCU? Sunfire quitting the Illuminati? Or is it Vulcan, and DS2 is just a War of Kings adaptation? Probably not the last one.
But there is one very intriguing possibility, a version of Tony Stark that would fit the tone this movie appears to be going for…
SUPERIOR IRON MAN
Axis was Marvel’s 2014 summer comics crossover event, where, under attack from Red Onslaught (Red Skull with some of Charles Xavier’s brain grafted on), the Scarlet Witch casts a spell to “invert” Red Skull’s brain and bring Xavier’s forward. Unfortunately, the spell also inverted the morality of almost everyone there, including several Avengers, X-Men, and a special ops team of villains on a particular mission. So Tony turns evil, starts drinking again, and offers a stadium full of people a free download of his new Extremis app.
When Axis ended, everyone was reverted to normal except for Sabertooth, Havok, and Iron Man himself, who deployed a shield to protect himself from the reversion spell. We got several more months of Tony being an absolute bastard – he deployed his Extremis app and addicted millions to it, demanding a daily fee to keep it flowing into its users.
Eventually, Iron Man was un-Superiored, but only by the mass reset of Marvel continuity that was Secret Wars. Superior Iron Man spent the final moments of Earth 616 in a fistfight with Captain America arguing over their dysfunctional relationship as Earth 1610 crashed into it in the final incursion before the multiverse’s destruction.
Superior Iron Man’s armor was a fairly standard silver Iron Man armor from the neck down, with silver facial buttresses framing his exposed face and hair. And according to co-creator Tom Taylor, it was “designed to glow…when he was angry.”
So why does this version of Iron Man fit into a potential multiversal Illuminati? My theory mostly hinges around the fact that, at least as portrayed in the trailer, they’re all bad guys. Let’s look at the evidence:
1. In the comics, the Illuminati are bad guys.
Well that’s that, thanks for reading!
Just kidding, there’s more. But it is worth noting that the comics Illuminati suffer from sort of the inverse problem as most MCU villains. Call it the Flag Smasher problem: in the MCU, the villains actually read as good guys for much of the story, only because of narrative expediency they’re forced to do something theatrically awful to prove that we’re not supposed to sympathize with them. In the comics, we’re constantly told that Mr. Fantastic, Iron Man, Professor X, Black Bolt and the rest are actually good guys, only to watch them time and time again do OUTLANDISHLY terrible things like firing the Hulk into space because he got mind controlled, or blowing up the DC universe (see New Avengers #18-24, “A Perfect World”). So if you’re adapting a version of them into the multiverse, it would make sense to have them be just the pits.
And it looks like they might be! Everyone loves Patrick Stewart, so it’s going to be hard to see him as a bad guy, but putting Baron Mordo in the group certainly helps (that’s definitely him with the sword). And the Ultron laborers add a very sinister vibe to the whole affair, especially if the prison where Multiversal Christine Palmer looks to be working, where America Chavez is being held in a glass cube, is the same facility as where the Illuminati are holding court.
Speaking of the Ultrons, there’s more than a whiff of the Council of Reeds to this whole affair. The Council of Reeds is the interdimensional gathering of Reeds Richards from Jonathan Hickman’s seminal Fantastic Four run – Reeds from various dimensions got together to use their mighty intellects to solve problems across the multiverse, and one of those problems was Doom. Their solution? Capture and lobotomize them, and force them to work as the Council’s underclass.
If you’re not going to go through the trouble of introducing the Fantastic Four’s backstory to build out this Illuminati (which they’re not, it’s way too complicated), then the next best substitute here is the man who created Ultron. Superior Tony is just the right flavor of arrogant jerk to staff his new palace with lobotomized versions of one of the multiverse’s greatest villains.
ZOMBIE IRON MAN?
There’s also some speculation out there that this might be a zombified version of Iron Man. I can kind of talk myself into this – Marvel Zombies Iron Man can usually be seen with his face exposed, and I can definitely see an Iron Man armor lighting him up from the inside like a dorm room Snapple bottle. And with zombies from the What If…? episode already making a pretty substantial appearance in the trailer, it’s not totally outside the realm of possibility. Maybe the Illuminati are using Ultrons for menial labor, and zombies for battle? But I feel like if we’re going the bonkers cameo route (and Patrick Stewart as Professor X certainly qualifies for that), Zombie Iron Man seems to foreclose on an opportunity for a winky in-joke, like casting Tom Cruise or something.
Either way, it’s a pretty safe bet that the Illuminati will have AN Iron Man. The only real question I have is which one, and I think Superior Iron Man is a good option.