Throughout the Infinity Saga, the MCU bid farewell to several major heroes, including Robert Downey Jr.'s Iron Man, Chris Evans' Captain America, and Scarlett Johansson's Black Widow. With the culmination of the Multiverse Saga now at the forefront of discussion following the announcement of The Kang Dynasty and Secret Wars, speculation is already rife as to how they could return in 2025.
Even with these heroes gone, their legacy continues to be pivotal to many Phase 4 and 5 projects. Ironheart and Armor Wars will dive into Tony Stark's legacy, Sam Wilson strived to succeed Steve Rogers' Captain America in The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, and Natasha Romanoff's sister Yelena Belova appears poised to become the next Black Widow.
Nonetheless, fans continue to call for the MCU's original heroes to return, and the topic continues to arise in interviews with these actors. All of them have followed a similar "never say never" theme, but most agree it would take the right story to make it happen, and the opportunities are now more clear than ever.
Now that the MCU has established time travel and the Multiverse, the possibilities are endless as to how the fallen Avengers could come back in the near future. Many have speculated the original Avengers will be back for Secret Wars, but one theory explains how they could return as soon as The Kang Dynasty in May 2025.
Avengers 5 Theory Explains How Dead Heroes Return
Diving into Marvel Comics offers an explanation for how Robert Downey Jr.'s Iron Man, Scarlett Johansson's Black Widow, and more popular dead heroes can return in Avengers: The Kang Dynasty and Avengers: Secret Wars.
Variants of Kang the Conqueror have previously formed a group known as the Legion of the Unliving comprised of previously deceased heroes and villains who had been either resurrected or pulled out of various time periods to combat the Avengers.
Members of the group have included Wonder Man, Human Torch, Captain Marvel, Drax, Iron Man, and many more over the five iterations of the team that existed from 1975 to 1998. Colonel Shadow more recently formed his own Legion of the Unliving in 2019 during an issue of Jason Aaron's Avengers.
The original formation of the Legion of the Unliving was done by Kang the Conqueror under the advice of his future self, Immortus. The team consisted of deceased characters that were pulled from time moments before their demise. The Legion saw some success as it led to the death of Iron Man and the wounding of Vision before eventually freeing itself from Kang's control to assist the Avengers.
Perhaps this could allow for an arc in The Kang Dynasty that sees the conqueror pluck heroes from time - such as Iron Man, Quicksilver, and Black Widow - moments before their death. This would allow for a psychological endurance test for the Avengers as they face off against their fallen friends before teaming up and being forced to send them back to their deaths to restore the timeline.
Arno Stark, aka Iron Man 2020, was the Variant of the armored Avenger to join the Legion in the third iteration. However, at the time, he had only served as a villain. This iteration of the team's goal was to distract the Avengers as Immortus attempted to use the Scarlet Witch to help him control all time.
Iron Man 2020 was a counterpart of the armored hero from Earth-8410 in the year 2020, which was 30 years in the future when that story first released. Arno is the son of Tony's cousin, Morgan, a male villain of Iron Man in the comics, as opposed to being his daughter in the MCU.
Will Iron Man Return in Avengers 5?
Robert Downey Jr. has made it clear that his potential return to the MCU would take the right story that doesn't harm his Avengers: Endgame departure. The Legion of the Unliving may offer the perfect opportunity for that, as Tony Stark is plucked from the timeline just before his snap to terrorize his former comrades and later unite with them, which would no doubt bring an emotional rollercoaster.
The Legion of the Unliving has only appeared six times over the last fifty years, but their recent return in 2019 makes it clear Marvel Studios is still aware of their place in the lore. Recently announced director Destin Daniel Cretton will undoubtedly be pulling from across Kang's history to form his villainous actions in Avengers 5 and this is certainly among the most intriguing of them.
Just as has always been the case with the MCU, there would likely be significant changes in the storyline and roster in order to bring this team to the MCU. Reflecting on those who have already departed the franchise, characters such as Iron Man, Quicksilver, Black Widow, Vision, Kilmonger, and Ikaris may be perfect picks to fill out a live-action adaptation.
Of course, that all hinges on the actors behind these fallen MCU characters being interested in returning to the franchise. But with an event on the level of The Kang Dynasty and Secret Wars, Marvel Studios will be pulling out all the stops to make it as big as possible to live up to Infinity War and Endgame.
Avengers: The Kang Dynasty hits theaters on May 2, 2025; Secret Wars will follow on November 7, 2025.