Why Iron Man’s MCU Armors Never Had An “Instant Kill” Mode
Despite building an Instant Kill mode into Spider-Man’s Iron Spider suit, Tony Stark never added one to his Iron Man armors. The reason for that speaks to several things about Tony’s personality as well as his dynamic with Peter Parker after the events of Captain America: Civil War and perhaps also his morbid fear of helplessness in the face of impending doom.
Introduced in Civil War by Tony as a battle nerf to try and de-escalate Captain America, Spider-Man was immediately burdened with Stark’s over-bearing protective instincts. He may have been presented throughout the MCU as “the next Iron Man”, but his self-appointed mentor went to great lengths to protect his young charge. The Iron Spider itself was just one part of Tony’s plan to keep Spider-Man as safe as possible, even as he intended to invite him to become an Avenger at the end of Homecoming. Significantly, Stark seemed to be more interested in the protection of Peter Parker than he did in self-preservation.
That protective compulsion is why Tony built an Instant Kill mode into Spider-Man’s costumes, but it doesn’t quite answer why Iron Man himself would overlook something that could protect him in the event that he was overcome or incapacitated while in danger. After all, the mode wasn’t an expression of murderous intent, but rather of desperate protection and taking that out of his own hands when faced with incredible odds. Tony, fundamentally, feared that Spider-Man was going to be in too much danger for him to handle, but his own perception was skewed by his PTSD and the weight of his belief that he was the one to protect the universe. Despite being “haunted by knowledge”, Tony never fully accepted the sanctity of his life until just before he lost it.
Tony Stark’s MCU arc was one characterized by arrogance – even when he learned the value of humility – and self-destruction – even when he learned the value of life. He created a weapon of mass destruction powered by his own body, effectively, and more than once put himself in seemingly life-ending situations for the greater good (once to beat Iron Monger, once to save New York, and finally when boarding Thanos’ ship in Infinity War). In short, his sacrifice in Endgame was telegraphed very early and part of the same logic applies to why he wouldn’t put an added level of protection like an Instant Kill mode in his own armor. He simply didn’t view his own life as paramount next to Peter Parker’s.
The Instant Kill mode was never about bloodlust, but more about Tony’s overriding fear – expressed in the Wakanda Files book – that Peter Parker needed more protection. The unwritten part of that logic is that Tony himself did not, which absolutely fits the idea of who Tony Stark was in the MCU. It also fits with Iron Man‘s behavior – much of which could be traced back to Captain America’s challenge that he would never be the one to lie down on the wire for other people. It says something tragic about Tony’s value of his own life that he developed something so useful – just as he developed the Rescue armor as his most powerful to protect Pepper Potts – and never thought to use it.