SPOILER WARNING: The following article contains major spoilers for "Civil War II" #8, on sale now
As readers saw at the end of "Civil War II" #7, Carol Danvers appeared to blast a cosmic-sized hole right through the center of Tony Stark's Hulkbuster armor, and by association, through Tony himself. Captain America (Steve Rogers) and Miles Morales' (Spider-Man) shocked reactions as they looked on even seemed to add some finality to the moment. The very same two-page sequence is reused early on in Brian Michael Bendis and David Marquez' "Civil War II" #8, but as the story proceeds, readers learn that Tony still has some repulsor-fueled kick left as the series jets towards its conclusion.
Tony's Not Dead - Reports of His Death Were Greatly Exaggerated
Two pages after Tony seemingly gets a hole blasted through his chest, his armor is clearly damaged and he's at a severe disadvantage, but he's far from finished, and in fact Tony himself seems fine as he continues to put up a pretty strong fight against Carol. Marquez seems guilty of a little deception here; the spread showing Tony's armor getting pulverized makes for a cool piece of art, but it portends an outcome that simply doesn't happen as implied. Bits and pieces of Tony's armor – and some pretty large ones at that – are seen creating chaos as they rain down around Washington D.C., but Tony seems to have plenty of fight left without the benefit of whatever functions these armor fragments once had.
As Carol and Tony hold steadfastly to their positions in the conflict, the battle continues; that is, until Carol unleashes an even deadlier blast that does nothing less than obliterate Tony's armor, sending his bloodied and apparently lifeless body careening through the skies before he's nabbed by Miles and brought back to the ground in a far gentler manner. As originally implied at the end of last issue, Carol does eventually and seemingly finish Tony off; it just took the bulk of an additional issue to complete the deadly task that was already thought to be carried out anyway.
Then Tony IS Dead, Right?
Miles is seen at Tony's side in the battle's aftermath, and the Michaelangelo-esque poses struck by the two imply that Tony, in fact, was killed by Carol. The very next page, though, shows that Tony has escaped death at Carol's hand for a second time in the very same issue. As Carol and Henry McCoy stand beside a stasis tube containing the comatose Tony, Henry reveals his findings after examining Tony's condition: that experiments Tony had secretly been conducting on himself not only saved his life, but that these experiments, whose nature remains unknown, are the only thing keeping him alive. The events belie what was implied to be Tony's outright death, as shown in the "final" moments between him and Miles in "Spider-Man" #10.
Of course, at this point, dead or alive are subjective conditions for Tony; the new "Invincible Iron Man" series has revealed that Tony's persona has been captured in the form of an interactive, holographic artificial intelligence, and is interacting with Riri Williams as though he were physically at her side. Meanwhile, his still-living self is residing in storage somewhere, so he's not going to be rejoining The Avengers or duking it out with The Mandarin anytime soon; in terms of his physical presence, if he's not dead, he might as well be. So, Tony's A.I. makes it seem as though he's alive, but his absence makes it seem as though he's dead; never has the life status of a major character been such an ambiguous and academic issue. Or perhaps it's not an A.I. at all, but Tony conversing with Riri while his body remains in stasis, elsewhere.
So Tony ISN'T Dead; But Who Cares?
To summarize: Tony appeared to be killed by Carol last issue, but was saved by liberal application of artistic license. Then he appeared to be killed by her again this issue, but was saved this time by an O. Henry plot twist. Despite surviving, however, he's treated as though he's dead by the rest of the Marvel Universe. But some of them interact with him as though he were still alive.
So, do we send flowers or not? In the past, major character deaths in comics were met with skepticism, and rightfully so, for nearly all such demises have eventually been reversed. In Tony's case, though, it only feels like he died, or perhaps more accurately, feels like he should have died. When he returns, as he likely will, it really won't be so much a grand resurrection as it will be a relatively routine discharge from a Marvel Universe hospital. And no one can rightfully complain about the implausibility of bringing him back, if he was never dead in the first place.
We're all supposed to pull for our heroes, but arguably "Civil War II" unintentionally postulates that Tony would have been better off dying as a hero, rather than implausibly survive certain death. Comic book deaths have become cheap, in an era when death itself has become the equivalent of an illness that one simply recovers from in time. In this issue, it's not even that severe; death came to Tony twice in the form to two cosmically-powered and rightfully fatal point blank shots, one of which he simply shakes off. If death can not only be recovered from, but now inexplicably avoided, then going forward it will take nothing short of Galactus devouring the entire world to convince readers that they're supposed to take a character's seeming demise seriously; even that may not be enough.
Tony Evokes The Crucified Jesus; Really?!
When Miles is seen cradling Tony after the battle, Marquez patterns the scene on Michaelangelo's Pietà, the iconic 15th-century statue depicting Mary holding the body of Jesus after her son's crucifixion. It's a strange evocation that doesn't draw any obvious meaningful parallels; Tony isn't dead, for one, and the notion that Tony is some kind of savior-figure for his cause is overreaching. Miles, who's younger than Tony, in Mother Mary's spot makes no sense whatsoever and defies any kind of logical allegory. The moment is intended to be poignant, but instead it just comes across as awkward; some might even call it blasphemous.
Tony Stark is put through the wringer in "Civil War II" #8, but survives only through storytelling trickery rather than through any kind of heroism. He might not be resting in peace, but he can at least nap in peace while others fill his role, until the next writer is ready to bring him back into the role of Iron Man.