Marvel Comics Reveal How 1 Dead 'Avengers: Endgame' Hero Could Return

Part of the journey is the end. Tony Stark (aka Iron Man) says these words in various teasers and trailers for Avengers: Endgame, but the line takes on a greater meaning within the context of Endgame’s ending. While the film delivers what’s ostensibly the end of several characters’ journeys, whether that means death, retirement, or something else entirely, this is a comic book-inspired universe. So is there ever truly an end for any of these characters?

Huge spoilers follow for Avengers: Endgame.

Yes, the Avengers kill Thanos twice in Endgame and succeed in undoing his Decimation, but Tony Stark has to sacrifice himself to use the Infinity Stones and secure victory. Iron Man is dead. However, there’s a way Tony Stark can live on, one that’s been seeded by several different Marvel Studios films (and comic storylines) in the past.

Before Tony Stark’s funeral, we see Robert Downey Jr. reprise the role in a brief goodbye scene. It’s a pre-recorded message scanned by his Iron Man helmet and projected into a hologram, so we’re watching Tony sit, talk, and crack jokes as if he’s really there in the room, offering us a touching bit of closure and a warmhearted message his daughter, Morgan, can re-watch for the rest of her life.

Tony Stark's BARF seemingly helped inform this hologram projection technology.

A similar hologram projection technology is used earlier in the film as a long-range communicator so that Black Widow, Nebula, Rocket, Okoye, Captain Marvel, and War Machine can have a conference call together from galaxies away. The same high-fidelity hologram tech was used before in Infinity War, and these various forms resemble Tony Stark’s BARF technology he presented in Captain America: Civil War.

This technological progression could be an indication that, in the future, artificial intelligence is incorporated with holograms and potentially even hard-light technology (the stuff Iron Man uses to make a body shield to cover himself and Hawkeye in Endgame) to give A.I. Tony Stark some sort of bodily form.

Even after death, Tony Stark can still play a transhumanist role in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, transcending death if he uploaded an approximation of his consciousness into an artificial intelligence. Not only would this make sense visually after everything we’ve seen in the MCU, but there’s a huge precedent for this in the comics that also helps introduce Ironheart, Iron Man’s spiritual successor.

Say hello to A.I. Tony Stark.

Ironheart Tony Stark A.I.
The A.I. Tony Stark in the 'Ironheart' comics.

In 2015, comics writer Brian Michael Bendis created a new character, Riri Williams, for Marvel Comics to continue Iron Man’s legacy after Tony Stark went into a coma. A young super-genius who designed her own Iron Man-style armor and eventually assumed the moniker Ironheart, Williams attracted Stark’s attention enough that he sent her an artificial intelligence bearing his own personality.

Imagine Iron Man’s A.I. assistants JARVIS or FRIDAY but with the voice of Tony Stark and his likeness projected as a hologram. In the comics, this Stark A.I. even piloted Iron Man suits of armor, which is pretty wild.

Should the MCU ever introduce Riri Williams/Ironheart as a new hero — and they totally should — it opens up the possibility of also incorporating this Stark A.I. into the mix. Robert Downey Jr. could lend his likeness to the role or even just his voice to the A.I., or perhaps Marvel can just use advanced special effects to fake the entire thing (we’re betting those Marvel contracts include some sort of hologram clause).

This would allow the Marvel Cinematic Universe to continue Robert Downey Jr.’s legacy moving forward, but might it also cheapen Iron Man’s sacrifice in Avengers: Endgame? The answer is probably yes, which is why Marvel will most likely wait at least a few more years before bringing Ironheart to the big screen.

In the meantime, the journey will continue, and for the first time in MCU history, Tony Stark won’t be there to guide us along the way.

Avengers: Endgame is now in theaters.

Media via Marvel Studios, Marvel Comics