In the year of a thousand years — also known as 2018 — you’d be forgiven if you’d already forgotten Avengers: Infinity War came out in April. Somehow that seems impossible. Surely it came out last year? Or the year before? But no. There will only be slightly over a year between when Infinity War hit theaters and when Avengers 4: Avenger Harder (not the official title, but we can dream) drops on May 3, 2019. Of course, that doesn’t mean details are easy to come by. When your film ends on one of the biggest cliffhangers in cinematic history, guarding the next few narrative beats requires secrecy on par with official governments. Hell, Marvel and Disney can probably keep secrets better than most governments.

Which means almost every piece of behind-the-scenes footage audiences will see are meant for our consumption. Yes, even when Tom Holland “accidentally” reveals something. But what about when a photo of Gwyneth Paltrow surfaces on Instagram? One where she appears to be taking on a new aspect of her character, Pepper Potts? A role that will be familiar to fans of the comic but probably not to anyone else? The role of Rescue.

Of course, that could also be Pym Particle armor with Pepper set to dive into the Microverse to fish Ant-Man out. But let’s pretend Marvel has finally realized the time is nigh for the Rescue Armor.

avengers 4 paltrow

Who is Pepper Potts?

Before we dive into the history of the Rescue Armor, let’s back up. First introduced in Tales of Suspense #45, Virginia “Pepper” Potts has always been a major love interest for Tony Stark. Originally a secretary who draws Stark’s attention for being good with accounting numbers, she has evolved over the decades from the middle of a love triangle between Tony and Happy (yes, Happy!) into the sardonic powerhouse Marvel Cinematic Universe fans know and love.

However, it wasn’t until the events of the comic book version of Civil War that Pepper really came back to the forefront as a character. Until then, she only popped up occasionally, having given up corporate life to settle in the suburbs and raise a family. Called back into service, Pepper would eventually become a member of The Order — a government-funded group of superheroes tasked with keeping the peace after Civil War. Going by the moniker of Hera, Pepper played the part of coordinator. Think the DC Comics’ The Oracle mixed with Nick Fury. But it wouldn’t be long before Tony lured her back to Stark Industries and their romance rekindled.

Despite several hundred appearances since her inception, despite an increase in her power levels until Pepper has picked up superpowers practically by osmosis, despite running Stark Industries, despite being a power player at the highest levels of government, Pepper had never had her own comic series. Not even a one-shot. This has made nailing down her personality difficult as Pepper gets filtered through the prism of writers who need her to fulfill different roles in the story she’s helping drive forward. So for all intents and purposes, Gwyneth Paltrow becomes the blueprint for who audiences see Pepper as: whip-smart and in love with a man whose shit she is entirely done with. A man who would do anything to see her safe, including encasing her in a protective suit of Iron Man armor. Hence, the Rescue Suit.

Okay nerd, What’s a “Rescue Suit” and Why Do I Care?

Created by Matt Fraction and Salvador Larroca in 2009, the Rescue Suit — also known as the Rescue Armor or Iron Man Armor MK 1616 if you’re pedantic AF — changed the game for Pepper Potts. Now, instead of merely a cerebral member of the team, she could go into battle. Designed by Tony without Pepper’s knowledge, in the comic she stumbles upon during the “World’s Most Wanted” story arc.

At first, the Rescue Armor was exactly what it said on the tin: a suit of Stark Armor created with defense in mind. Tony wanted Pepper to be protected since she runs with a crowd that tends to attract the attention of villains with powers far beyond that of any mere mortal. The Rescue Armor created powerful forcefields large enough to protect the team or catch a jet plane. Those same magnetic fields could also be manipulated into offensive tactics such as shockwaves and electromagnetic pulse explosions. It isn’t until the third model of the Rescue Armor that Pepper finally received offensive capabilities in the form of sonic beams in the palms of her suit.

Within the comic book universe, Pepper’s suit is powered by her own personal chest-inserted ARC reactor. During the events of Invincible Iron Man, Pepper took a great deal of shrapnel damage when a villain blew up Stark’s headquarters in Taipei. As a result, Tony was forced to create a bionic device similar to his own to keep the shrapnel from traveling to Pepper’s heart and killing her. It would be this near-death experience that would spur Tony to create the first version of the Rescue Suit for her.

Is Paltrow Wearing Stark Armor or Naw?

Man, I hope so. While events within the comic book continuity don’t always translate 1:1 ratio to the MCU, but you can always see the inspiration. For example, in the comics Pepper gained mild superpowers from the version of the ARC reactor Tony implanted in her chest to keep her alive. It gave her enhanced senses, the ability to levitate, regenerative properties, and the ability to pick up on electrical fields. Within the MCU, Pepper received powers in Iron Man 3 when she was injected with the Extremis serum. The genetic manipulation was unstable, but gave Pepper abilities on par with other super-powered people. At the end of Iron Man 3, Tony promises to cure Pepper before the Extremis kills her. The subplot has not been mentioned since. But there is absolutely no reason to believe “cure” is the same as “remove.” Especially since within the narrative of Iron Man 3, Tony fixes the formula off-camera, meaning those injected with the serum are stabilized but don’t revert to their pure human forms.

Should Marvel choose, it would be easy to map Pepper’s Extremis powers onto her ARC reactor powers within the comic. Both cause regeneration, both rewrite her DNA to give her heightened senses, and both give her the ability to generate heat scorching enough to kill. The only real difference is the ARC reactor allows Pepper to aim that energy via a unibeam in her chest while the Extremis is a more area of effect power. One that would be easy to harness with, say, a super-powered suit designed specifically to manipulate Pepper’s new abilities.

Why It’s Time to Give Pepper Her Suit

Pepper Potts is consistently one of the best parts of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Every second she is on screen, Paltrow knocks it out of the park. Witnessing that sardonic humor and will of steel in a setting outside of Stark Industries is long overdue. Her triumphant beatdown of the villain at the end of Iron Man 3 was but a mere taste. It’s time for more, especially now.

With Tony trapped on the other side of the galaxy and the world in literal shambles from Thanos’ snap, Earth can use whatever heroes are on offer. Watching Pepper step in to fill the void would be a poetic bookend to her relationship with Tony: both on the level of her continuing his legacy and as an “of course you made me a suit of armor in secret you dork I’m going to kill you if we live through this” flavor that fans of their relationship love.

Now may also be the last chance Gwyneth Paltrow has to stake her claim as more than a side character in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. With Phase 3 ending, many of the original Avengers team are reaching the end of the road. If Iron Man retires or is killed, what will become of Pepper? It’s possible she could step up to become the new Iron Man, but more likely Disney will want an actor or actress who is young enough to carry the franchise another decade if necessary. I’d imagine Ironheart is waiting in the wings somewhere to pick up the mantle. If the MCU wants to let Pepper off the leash, they are quickly running out of time.

And if they don’t want to let her off the leash? What is wrong with them? I mean, look at this badassery! Who doesn’t want to see Captain America hemming and hawing about whether or not Tony would kill him if Pepper gets hurt during a battle only to have Potts sweep in wearing her Rescue Armor to mop the floor with Thanos’ minions? The scene practically writes itself.

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