With great power comes great responsibility. Since his debut in August 1962 in the pages of Amazing Fantasy, Spider-Man has fought crime and villainy with his beloved Uncle Ben’s words guiding his way. But now in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, young Peter Parker (Tom Holland) has found himself a father figure in a world-weary Tony Stark, played famously by Robert Downey Jr. In the forthcoming Spider-Man: Homecoming, the invincible Iron Man plays a more significant role in Spidey’s life than he ever has before, in any medium. Finally, one of the oddest and seemingly unlikely friendships in comics has found a thematic groove in the movies.
Unlike the more recognized duos in comics history — Batman and Robin, Luke Cage and Iron Fist, Deadpool and Cable or Wolverine, depending on Wade Wilson’s mood — Spider-Man and Iron Man isn’t a given. That’s because the first time they teamed up was in 1973, eleven years after Spidey’s debut, in issue #9 of the aptly-titled Marvel Team-Up. In the story titled “The Tomorrow War,” Spidey and Iron Man joined forces to rescue the Avengers from Kang the Conquerer with the help of Zarrko the Tomorrow Man, whose plan is more hazardous than they know.
When the three-issue “The Tomorrow War” ended, it was no Casablanca between Spider-Man and Iron Man. They didn’t put on fedoras and celebrate their beautiful friendship. Instead, they acted like cordial colleagues, sharing panel space only during major crossover events, like Secret Wars or The Infinity Gauntlet, if at all. Any other time of the year, the two had their own challenges: Spidey would spend the ‘80s and ‘90s fighting Venom and his clone. Iron Man fought the Mandarin and alcoholism.
Things began to change in the mid-2000s, when Peter and Tony entered a weird (and funny) new level to their relationship. After becoming an Avenger in 2005, a fight with the Molten Man burned down the Parker home which forced Peter, Mary Jane, and Aunt May to move into Stark Tower. From The Amazing Spider-Man #519 until #545, when Peter defected from Iron Man’s side to join Captain America in Mark Millar’s Civil War, Peter and Tony lived like a bizarro Jack/Stanley from Three’s Company. And it was here when a beautiful friendship really began.
As Civil War loomed in ‘05, Tony and Peter bonded over a mutual love for science, but grew closer as Tony found a constant source of ego-stroking from Peter. Meanwhile, Peter — who by this time was in his late twenties/early thirties — still yearned for a father figure and found one in Stark. It was here where Tony built Peter a fancy new costume (coined by fans as the “Iron Spider” suit), which he wore into battle until the end of Civil War. And it was through Stark that Peter found the courage to unmask himself to the world, a decision that would have dramatic ripple effects — until it didn’t. But that’s another story.
It’s been more than a decade since the fight over superhuman registration, but while Tony and Peter aren’t as close as they were they’ve had some moments. In Jonathan Hickman’s Avengers, when Tony and Steve Rogers offered Peter Parker a spot (“We have money”), the poor webhead broke down in a panel that went viral on social media. Even without context, Peter crying on Iron Man’s shoulder over his money makes sense to even the most casual fan.
In 2015, everything was upended in a new Secret Wars that softly reset the whole Marvel Universe. While friends and faces disappeared, Peter Parker and Tony Stark remained as a sort of old guard, though their places in life had switched. Peter Parker is now an affluent tech billionaire while Stark Industries has fallen sharply on hard times. And the two have crossed paths, in both Dan Slott’s The Amazing Spider-Man and Brian Michael Bendis’s The Invincible Iron Man.
In Invincible Iron Man #8, Stark enlisted the help of Spidey to fight ninjas in Japan and rescue Rhodey. But in The Amazing Spider-Man issues #12 to #15, Iron Man’s cockiness led to a minor scuffle between the two, until they were forced to work together to save New York from a new threat, the Regent. The situation was dire enough that Mary Jane even had to suit up — in Peter’s old Iron Spider getup.
Based on the trailers, Spider-Man: Homecoming is close to perfecting this weird pairing of science nerds. Their comic book history is spotty, but in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, it’s appropriate Pete finds a mentor in the same individual who not only started this whole continuity, but also went through similar challenges of responsibility in his own superhero career. The superfans of MCUExchange on YouTube highlighted this in a succinct 20-second video edit, embedded below.
Still, as Homecoming approaches, fans are expressing doubt over Tony Stark’s significant presence in what should be Peter Parker’s movie. After all, it’s Uncle Ben and not Tony Stark who mentored Peter into his life as a superhero. The lack of Uncle Ben in Homecoming — which, frankly, is a relief — says enough about the importance of Tony Stark. To a select group of fans, that’s disappointing, and those feelings are not entirely unjustified as these characters never really had that kind of relationship except for one time in 2005.
Spider-Man: Homecoming will swing into theaters on July 7.