A future episode of Marvel’s What If…? is already confirmed to undo one of the biggest mistakes in Iron Man 3 that led directly to a problem in Tony Stark’s fight against Thanos. That much has already been confirmed by a LEGO leak of a forthcoming new Iron Man armor – the Sakaarian Hulkbuster – that will debut in What If…? beyond episode 5. And importantly, it returns the playful but important aspect of Tony’s resourcefulness to his character.
In Iron Man 3, Tony Stark was shown to have created an almost obscene number of Iron Man armors as a reflection of his PTSD in the wake of the Battle of New York. Ultimately, those armors were destroyed in the Clean Slate protocol as part of his healing process – and the short-lived decision to retire from active heroism – but the House Party protocol was about more than Tony’s general fear of an attack he wasn’t suitaly prepared for. It was also a reflection of his genius and his ability to evolve dependant on all sorts of circumstances.
The Sakaarian Hulkbuster is a reflection of that too: thrown into a whole new world, Tony Stark has clearly evolved his armor to suit his environment, adding in the adding ability of making the Hulkbuster a Transformer. By the look of the Hulkbuster LEGO set, there have been other design changes beyond the color scheme and the capability to turn into a car: it appears sturdier than the Mk 1 original Hulkbuster LEGO equivalent, has heavier duty hand weapons (perhaps for the fighting pits) and there are wings (perhaps to improve flight). And crucially, the very fact that the evolved suit exists because of its environment – and as a response to a specific threat – calls back to when Stark made suits specifically for environments and enemies. The Hulkbuster itself existed to fight (or contain Banner), and many of the other suits were made for stealth, underwater, power-efficiency and even construction. But despite that precedent, Stark never made a suit to fight Thanos.
The Sakaarian Hulkbuster armor is a reminder for MCU fans that Tony was always capable of making suits to cater to the most specific requirements. It was always an oversight that Tony didn’t even design a suit capable of fighting the Mad Titan based on what was learned on Titan. It could be that Tony was simply bereft of hope after Infinity War, and that he never expected to be able to continue the fight against Thanos, but his creation of the RESCUE armor – his most powerful Iron Man armor – as protection for Pepper Potts suggested that he both expected another threat and for himself not to be there to help. In other words, he did expect to join the fight again. In that respect, it never quite made sense that Tony wasn’t prepared, particularly when Iron Man 3 proved part of his psychology was to be over-prepared to a dangerous extreme.
To have What If…? embracing that part of Tony Stark feels like a fix of a contradiction in his arc: he made all of the House Party variant armors because he feared each would be needed. Of course he then cherry-picked the best parts for his main Iron Man armors, but the impulse for resourcefulness was never a symptom of his trauma, it was a product of his intellect. And reinstating it, even in a fun way, is a great move.