Why Iron Man Is the Best Avenger

When posed with the question of who the "best" member of the Avengers, the conversation has to start and end with Iron Man. Tony Stark was the first Avenger fans were introduced to, he's been front-and-center of every team-up film, his conflict with Thanos has been one of the series' longest-running ideas, and whatever winds up happening in Avengers: Endgame, he's almost certain to be at the forefront of restoring balance. But it's not because he's the best fighter, has the best quips, the coolest costume design, or because Robert Downey Jr.'s casting is one of the best in the history of the subgenre. What makes Iron Man the best Avenger is that of all the heroes in the MCU, his character is the one viewers are naturally inclined to latch onto. Because even with his status as a genius, billionaire, playboy/philanthropist, his character remains the most flawed and the most human.

Take a look at the other people around him when the Avengers first team up. Captain America was seemingly born with an innate sense of right and wrong, so instead of character arcs his films are about the world around him clashing with his rock-solid sense of morality. Bruce Banner is constantly at war with himself, and would much rather remove himself from any conflict if given the option. Thor's biggest character flaw, his arrogance, is usually played for laughs and often helps him push through challenges to achieve his own goals. Black Widow, Hawkeye, and Nick Fury are employed agents, they're given orders to complete an objective, and they follow through because it's their job.

But what about Tony? He's not a soldier, or a warrior, or a uncontrollable science experiment. Underneath all the suits and wealth, he's just a guy trying to do good. And he's willing to use all of his intellect and resources to achieve that goal, something that fans can easily get behind.

Unfortunately he's also got a laundry list of character flaws.

While his guilt complex was what initially drove him to become Iron Man, it also caused him to dive headfirst into supporting the Sokovia Accords because of his direct involvement in creating Ultron. His narcissism makes him difficult to work with, causing him to believe he's the only one with the means and intellect to create ways to protect the world as Iron Man. It also drives his plans to fail as he allows himself to believe something as nebulous as "peace in our time" can be realized as easily as changing a light bulb.

He's also emotionally stunted, causing him to lash out whenever the chips are down. He drunkenly gets into a fight with his best friend, he closes himself off when he's dying of palladium poisoning, he picks fights with terrorist organizations on a whim, and he shuts people out while suffering from PTSD.

Tony is not always a great hero. And based on how we see him treat people, he's not always the best person either. And yet despite every time he stumbles, he always learns from his mistakes. By giving him so many complex flaws from the get-go, Marvel was able to create it's most compelling character arc.

In Iron Man, we see him begin to shed his narcissism as he understands how destructive his business practices have become. In Iron Man 2, he opens himself up to the idea of partnerships, allowing himself to team up with Rhodey while also strengthening his romantic relationship with Pepper. By the time we get to The Avengers, we witness firsthand just how much he's grown as a person when, without hesitation, he attempts to sacrifice himself in order to save the lives of millions.

But his arc was far from over. In Iron Man 3 we see him burying himself in his work to give himself some sense of security, but by the end he finds a better understanding of himself by accepting that the suits don't define him. He then passes that same lesson onto Peter Parker in Spider-Man: Homecoming, saying, "If you're nothing without the suit, then you shouldn't have it."

In Civil War, we see him face his guilt complex and emotional baggage head-on. After throwing his support behind the Accords, putting half of the Avengers in prison and battling Cap and Bucky nearly to the death, Tony finds himself in the Siberian arctic with nothing but a broken suit and years of pent-up bitterness. Given everything he's been through in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, we can surmise that he realizes how he's allowed his anger to control him and how he allowed his guilt to drive his actions. So when Cap sends him a phone to contact him, Tony doesn't kick up a fuss or try to chase after him again. He just sits back and smiles, giving the indication that he knows he was in the wrong and that he needs to forgive himself and those around him. The Tony we met in that military convoy at the start of Iron Man never would've done that.

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In the end, Tony is like us. We generally want to be good and do the right thing, but our own character flaws usually wind up getting in the way whether we want to admit it or not. So when fans see Tony screwing up on a global (or even cosmic) level yet learning enough from his mistakes to grow as a person, it gives us hope that we can do the same. That's why he's the best Avenger.

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