What is the end of the road for Marvel characters? Is it retirement? Death? Or just plain corporate replacement? With all these moving parts in the onscreen Marvel universe, everybody’s wondering what they’ll do when one character falters, or one actor steps down. But according to Robert Downey Jr., the starriest of the bunch, they could simply go younger.

In an interview with Variety, self-proclaimed "company man" Downey lays it out for the current crop of Avengers, admitting, "The smart money is you have to look at everybody’s age. I’ll put myself at the top of the list. Sooner or later, they’ve got to start over and get somebody young. I’m not there with them yet." It’s kind of surprising, and maybe a little dispiriting, to see one of the top moneymakers in Hollywood essentially refer to himself as a product that can be switched out so easily. But that’s how the Marvel machine works, as Edward Norton and Terrence Howard would happily tell you.

Downey, who is currently and charmingly shilling hard for Captain America: The Winter Soldier (a movie he is not in, nor did he produce), is only signed for the currently-filming Avengers: Age Of Ultron and a somewhere-down-the-line third Avengers film. He’s got enough eff-you money to turn down a fourth Iron Man even after part three made over a billion dollars, which is unprecedented, so maybe this is a case of getting the fans on his side and making it seem as if it’s not his choice to continue reprising the role of Tony Stark. But Iron Man was the start of this onscreen universe, and remains its most profitable character. Chances are, Marvel keeps him in the loop: in the interview, he discusses a few of the challenges involved in making Captain America: The First Avenger. He didn’t produce or appear in that film either, but Dominic Cooper played his character’s father Howard Stark: don’t think Downey didn’t have any input on that.

The question is whether Downey is simply making things up, or if he’s seen and discussed Marvel’s plans to have a new Tony Stark underneath the pencil-thin mustache romancing a bevy of babes. A new Iron Man likely means a new Marvel universe, since the old one is going to notice that megastar Robert Downey Jr./Tony Stark seems different. Maybe this one has less overall continuity, allowing Stark to go on solo missions without fans wondering where the other Avengers might be. Maybe he can be with different lovers other than Pepper Potts: Stark was never too monogamous in the comics, and Pepper even married Happy Hogan (played by Jon Favreau in the movies) for a brief spell. No offense to Downey, who has been great in the role, but there are a lot of places you can take a non-Downey Tony Stark.

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