Obadiah Stane is remembered as the first supervillain of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but Ultimate Iron Man gave the Iron Monger a strange makeover.
Essentially an extensive version of What If…? storylines, the Ultimate Universe was the most long-lived alternate continuity in Marvel Comics. Featuring new and more modernized takes on classic Marvel heroes, the universe recognizably updated some characters while radically changing others. Such was the case for both Iron Man and one of his most notorious villains.
Obadiah Stane, a.k.a. Iron Monger is most well-known for being the villain in the first Marvel Cinematic Universe movie, but he was quite different in the Ultimate Universe. Diverging from his classic 616 incarnation and the later movie version, this universe’s take on Stane and his armored persona were emblematic of the former popularity (or lack thereof) for some Marvel properties. Here’s how Tony Stark’s first villain in the MCU changed tremendously in one comic book series.
Ultimate Iron Man Introduced a Much Different Obadiah Stane
Ultimate Iron Man (by Orson Scott Card and Andy Kubert) was much different than what many might expect from an Iron Man story. From his origin to the armor itself, this incarnation of Tony Stark was a radical departure from what had come before. This included the series’ take on Obadiah Stane, a villain who had vexed Iron Man in his comic books during the ’80s. Instead of an older rival business partner (or the semi-father figure turned rival in the MCU), this Obadiah Stane was a murderous yet intelligent acquaintance of Tony’s at the Baxter Building (in this universe, home to a government/military think tank).
Obadiah is the son of Zebediah Stane and Loni Stane, the latter of whom had been the first wife of Tony’s father Howard. A vile young man, Obadiah ruthlessly murdered two fellow students and made it look like they committed suicide. Later, Obadiah would work with his mother in secret to try to kill Howard Stark, also trying to frame him for the death of Zebediah Stane. Despite almost killing him and his father several times over, Tony and Obadiah eventually “made peace,” with the latter claiming that they’re even for the times Tony had saved his life. This Obadiah was a younger and unassuming man, a far cry from the bald business mastermind created by Denny O’Neil and Luke McDonnell.
A pawn in the schemes of his mother, he was ultimately nothing like the villain he had been in other comics. His further actions and if he ever became a version of Iron Monger are unknown, especially since the events of Card’s two Ultimate Iron Man titles being retconned as an in-universe fictional adaptation of Tony Stark’s life. An Ultimate Universe version of Armor Wars did put Tony Stark’s grandfather in a suit similar to the Iron Monger armor, however. These differences from the original universe showcased one major recurring element of the Ultimate Universe.
The Ultimate Universe Made Massive Changes to Unpopular Characters
While they certainly had their fans, it’s not controversial to state that the Avengers heroes, namely Iron Man, Thor, and even Captain America were far less popular before the cinematic blockbusters in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. A lack of consistently great stories or media adaptations saw them lacking the fanbase of Spider-Man and the X-Men, with their unpopularity reaching a nadir with Heroes Reborn. Thus, when the Ultimate Universe created new versions of Marvel properties, it was mostly accurate to what had been done with Spidey and the X-Men, while wholesale restructuring other properties entirely.
Iron Man was an example of the latter, with the character having little in common with his mainstream counterpart’s history. His being seen as a “second-tier hero” means that Orson Scott Card could do as he wished with the character, resulting in two miniseries’ that took him and his supporting cast in far different directions. The same went for Obadiah Stane, who simply wasn’t the same threat as the character that had engineered a derelict Tony Stark’s downfall in comics prior. Given his lack of a suit of armor and his appearances later being retconned, it’s no surprise that the “Ultimate Iron Monger” never amounted to much in the comics.