Since she first showed up on in the original Iron Man in 2008, fate has thrust Pepper Potts into the hero life. The life-or-death scenarios come with the territory of being coworker, friend, business brains, and, eventually, the wife of Tony Stark.
Yet, when and how Avengers: Endgame capitalizes on Pepper’s momentum of the last 11 years, it’s still a surprise. Pepper has her admirers, even while she’s remain on the outskirts of the later movies. Endgame doesn’t forget her (or shrug her off until Phase 4), and for fans of both the MCU and Marvel Comics, the movie delivers an even bigger payoff than one might expect.
[Ed. note: this post contains major spoilers for Avengers: Endgame]
In Endgame, Pepper spends most of her screen time in the Stark family cabin with her and Tony’s daughter, Morgan. Tony seems to be secretly working on a suit for her in the garage, but all we see of it is a helmet. Then, during the final act, when Doctor Strange and the other heroes who were dusted show up to help the original Avengers fight off the 2014 Thanos’ army, Pepper suddenly flies into frame sporting a violet suit of armor, Tony’s anniversary gift. Not only does she get to fly around and blast aliens, she gets to deliver some solid hits to Thanos alongside the other women of the MCU.
In what’s likely her final film appearance, Pepper soars around the battlefield as her armored superheroic counterpart: Rescue.
Though Pepper has been in the Iron Man comics since 1963, the shift from Pepper to Rescue is more recent. In fact, Endgame’s April release puts it at Rescue’s 10-year anniversary, to the month.
From secretary to superhero
In the comics, Pepper’s foray into the superhero world has been similar to that of the films: slow, but sure. In 2008, after the superhero Civil War, Pepper was the victim of a terrorist attack orchestrated by Zeke Stane, son of Tony’s enemy Obadiah (the villain of 2008’s Iron Man). To save her life, Tony put a strong magnet in her chest (which looked a lot like the arc reactor in 2008’s Iron Man). Like Tony, her life now fully dependent on this piece of tech, which got quite a few upgrades over the years.
Of course, the story doesn’t end there. In 2009 Skrulls nearly took over the planet. During Tony’s directorship, SHIELD had been heavily infiltrated by the alien shapeshifters, and he took a heft measure of the blame. Norman Osborn (the Spider-Man bad guy) used this as a perfect opportunity to get Tony fired and use his own organization, HAMMER, to take over as a global peacekeeping service. Tony made Pepper CEO of Stark Industries and went into hiding, bequeathing to her her own suit of armor.
Pepper chose the codename “Rescue.” As Rescue, she proved to be quite good at the hero life; not only did she rescue (get it?) Tony, Black Widow, and Maria Hill from Osborn, she was able to disguise herself as Madame Masque, take control of HAMMER’s collection of armored suits, and help reboot Tony’s brain from a vegetative state using her own chest magnet.
In 2012, Pepper had to destroy her suit after its AI went rogue, but that didn’t stop her from living that Iron Woman life. When Tony became evil after the Red Skull inverted a bunch of superhero and supervillain moral alignments in 2015, Pepper donned another suit for an unsuccessful attempt to bring him back. Following the universe-wide reset of Secret Wars, Pepper showed up again as Rescue to offer advice to new hero Riri Williams, aka Ironheart, and also fight techno ninjas side by side.
The rise of Pepper as Rescue in the films
The Marvel Cinematic Universe has been slowly but surely building up Pepper as a hero in her own right across the Iron Man films. While Tony and Rhodey fought Whiplash in Iron Man 2, she was the one who ultimately took down Justin Hammer. In Iron Man 3, Pepper becomes infected with the deadly Extremis virus, and she uses her temporary new powers to ultimately kill the movie’s villain.
Gwyneth Paltrow’s appearances in this franchise have always been spotty ever since the Iron Man trilogy concluded. But the hype was real; Paltrow even leaked a picture of the Rescue armor on her Instagram in the lead up to Endgame, fueling the speculation that her heroic persona would show up, and people lost it.
The only question now is if Pepper will show up in other movies or shows down the line. Like several original MCU actors, she’s given a graceful exit to make way for the new generation of heroes — and expiring contracts. But don’t be surprised if Pepper finds a way to rescue one of our fresh-faced heroes in the future (looking at you Peter Parker). If Marvel’s perfected any form of storytelling, it’s surprising with a character entrance when we’re least expect it.
Justin is a Kansas City, Missouri, freelance writer and is on Twitter often, @GigawattConduit. He also is an avid lover of M&M McFlurries from McDonald’s, and accepts that he has an addiction to them.