No matter what world Tony Stark typically hails from, Iron Man is usually one of the greatest heroes in the Marvel Multiverse. However, there are some very deadly versions of the character, who became more villainous figures – with perhaps the worst becoming the most powerful villain in his world.
As Exiles, which followed a group of X-Men-related heroes from various alternate realities, toured the multiverse, the comic revealed the most evil version of Iron Man to ever step foot in any of Marvel’s universes, and he ruled his world with an iron fist.
Emperor Stark was introduced in 2003’s Exiles #23, by Judd Winick and Kev Walker. On Earth-42777, the world took a seriously dark turn at the beginning of the Age of Heroes. Tony Stark became Iron Man, as he often does across the multiverse. However, this version of Stark was a far crueler and more ambitious figure than most versions. Tony planned to take over of the world by reducing it to a weakened state where he could be given control by a desperate public. Stark secretly funded Magneto and his Brotherhood, which led the Master of Magnetism to rally a much larger force of mutants to his cause. He eventually fully attacked humanity, which led to the Mutant War.
This caused the death of Captain America and many other superheroes, and it also cleared the field of any internal threats to Stark. Iron Man then turned on Magneto, killing him to cement himself as a national hero. But as soon as the war ended, that famine swept the world. Secretly, Stark had developed a new strain of Mad Cow Disease and Fungai that wiped out most of the food sources across the world. Millions died until Stark revealed his “cure” for the disease, and he quickly became President. He also built devices that caused “natural” disasters around the world, forcing the nations of the world to turn to him, paving the way for him to become Emperor Stark.
His last threat was Doctor Doom, his other conspirator in his various plots. Doom assassinated the remnants of the American justice system, which left room for Stark to take complete control of the country. However, Doom betrayed Stark and tried to claim his power for himself. Although Stark had his face seriously burned in the battle, he was able to overwhelm Doom and kill him, taking his distinct green cloak as a trophy after the fact. In Stark’s new United States — which now encompassed all of North America, only a handful of other superhumans remain.
Wonder Man survived a bomb tailor-made for the Hulk by absorbing the gamma energy exploding from the dying Hulk. The former Avenger proved too powerful for Stark to contend with, and he was essentially allowed — along with his companions Scarlet Witch and Doctor Strange — to enter self-exile on a tropical island. One thorn still exists in Tony’s side though: Attilan, home of the Inhumans, remains the one part of the world that Tony can’t claim.
During his rise to power, Reed Richards discovered the truth about Tony’s actions. Before Tony had him killed, Reed was able to tell his wife Sue and to warn the Inhumans of Tony’s ambition eventually turning towards them and their genetic potential. Using them, Stark could create a new race that could help him conquer the entire galaxy. Sue hid with the Inhumans, taking Reed’s final invention with her, an energy shield capable of fending off Tony in almost any scenario. Along the way, the widowed Sue found love again in the arms of the Inhuman King Black Bolt, who also lost his wife Medusa when Reed was killed.
Despite his best efforts, Stark is just unable to break through the barrier created by Reed. However, this is also when Weapon X arrives. This reality-hopping team was the brutal counterpart to the Exiles, and they were often given the deadly and destructive missions that the more heroic Exiles would likely balk at. They reveal their mission is to help Stark jumpstart his conflict with the Inhumans. The Tallus that guides reveals the only key to the barrier rests with Wonder Man, leading the team to attack him and use a miniature portal to the Negative Zone to trap Simon – and accidentally their own teammate, She-Hulk. Claiming the key, Weapon X agrees to be the vanguard in the attack on the Inhumans.
Aware of what has happened, Black Bolt a quiet and silent solace in the story of Masada, wherein an ancient Jewish community chose death at their own hands rather than be forced into the bondage of the Roman Empire. Meanwhile, Stark assembles many of the last remaining superpowered beings — including Thing, Ghost Rider, Daredevil, Spider-Woman, and Strong Guy — who’ve become mercenaries in these dark times. In the ensuing battle, the Inhumans defense quickly falls, which is exactly Black Bolt’s plan. After luring Stark’s army into the battle, Black Bolt unleashes his most devastating scream possible, annihilating everything and everyone except Weapon X, who are warped to another reality.
In his Presidential Rose Garden, Stark bemoans the loss of the Inhumans and their potential, unaware that the Invisible Woman was able to save some members of the species. However, instead of going into hiding with them, Sue decides to gain revenge for the deaths of her two husbands by using her powers to sneak up on Stark and kill him with a knife through the throat. Sue is promptly killed by his security, but with Stark bloodily removed from power, the world can adjust. Eventually, Stark’s crimes are revealed to the public, which was secretly the true mission Weapon X had been on.
While Iron Man might be one of Marvel's greatest heroes, Emperor Stark ruthlessly ruled his world with an iron fist in one of Marvel's darkest worlds.