If we were looking for a likely cause of the trend that began in Invincible Iron Man in the '90s to hamper Tony Stark with a variety of debilitating physical afflictions that ranged from putting him in a wheelchair to his nervous system being compromised to rebooting his brain like a hard drive, we'd have to turn our gaze to Kathy Dare, his psychotic stalker (or is that redundant?) who caught his eye at a polo match and went on to insinuate herself into his life--clinging to him like Saran wrap, while just as suffocating.
We've already jumped ahead a bit and seen the devastating result of Kathy's pursuit of Stark, as a single bullet ended his chances of ever walking again. But how did this innocent encounter at a sporting event take such a deadly turn? Stark was known to play the field aside from polo, of course--yet while his many lady friends were frustrated that they couldn't turn his head more than briefly, he never inspired them to commit murder. (Perhaps a scathing quote in a society column was the extent of their retribution.) So what was the evolution of this somewhat one-sided and eventually deadly affair? How did Kathy get the drop on Tony Stark--and where the heck was that bodyguard of his? (Sure, we know the answer to that last part--but won't the news media be asking about such a high-profile protector fumbling the ball?)
It looks like we'll need our detective hats for this
Marvel Trivia Question
How did Tony Stark become the victim of Kathy Dare?
At the time of Stark's dalliance with Kathy, he was also having a casual relationship with entrepreneur Rae LaCoste, who runs into him at the same polo match though obviously in a much more familiar manner. It may be interesting to speculate if Kathy's later behavior would have been more tolerated by Stark if Rae hadn't been in the picture, but it seems unlikely given Stark's sophisticated tastes--and with Rae's business background and self-sufficiency, she's able to appeal to Stark on unquestionably pleasurable but more level ground.
But Kathy is persistent, though at this point in her story it seems more coincidental than intentional that she once again encounters Stark by being in the same place at the same time. Given his lack of discouragement, Stark obviously finds Kathy entertaining and attractive--and given his well-deserved reputation with women, it's not exactly a surprise to find that he takes it up a notch with Kathy. Yet it later becomes apparent that Kathy considers their night together more than a simple notch.
(It's not hard to have flashbacks of Veronica Vogue here, is it? Though Veronica probably has women like Kathy for breakfast.)
Stark is clearly not seeing Kathy formally, or exclusively; but if she isn't yet under that impression, she becomes aware of her standing when she surprises Stark and discovers that he's going to a party with Rae at the home of artist Paul St. Pierre (an alias of his real name, Paul Duval, who probably rings more of a bell with some of you in another guise). Kathy's reaction is temperamental, to say the least--but at this stage of their relationship, it's still a warning sign of little more than a tendency toward possessiveness.
With knowledge comes wisdom, so they say; but for Kathy, it brings bitterness and an urge to lash out, as Stark discovers that night when he prepares to depart St. Pierre's home and finds he's been a victim of vandalism. If only. Our first red flag on Kathy is subtlely revealed, though Stark can't be expected to put two and two together at this point.
Later, when Stark's friend, Jim Rhodes, brings to Stark's attention the disappearance of Marcy Pearson, Stark Enterprises' head of public relations, Kathy seems to have finally picked up on Rhodey's disapproval of her and tries to head him off by, astonishingly, attempting to assert her wishes about who Stark should be keeping around him. The move goes nowhere, of course--but it's our first real indication of the possible danger this woman poses.
Granted, it's a little disturbing to hear Stark admit so casually his ability to discard Kathy in the same manner as he's likely resorted to with other women he's taken up with. It probably isn't enough to make us sympathize with Kathy, in light of how far things have gone with her at this point; but by the same token, it's difficult to shift our sympathies to a borderline philanderer.
Kathy is also aware of Rae's increasing presence, not only as a trusted personal friend but also in Tony's social life. Kathy's next incident of overreaching doesn't yet prompt Stark to break with her--but with her now moving up to elbowing her way into photo ops as well as manipulating his business network to suit her whims, it comes very close.
The scene also serves to show the *ahem* stark difference between Kathy and a woman like Rae, who by contrast is in a mature relationship with Stark and clicks with him on all levels--supportive and caring, but also mindful of her own feelings and as satisfied as Stark is with how things stand between them.
The actual break between Stark and Kathy seems to arrive when Stark and Rhodey travel to Rome to investigate an electronics company being used as a possible front for illicit operations. After settling in, Stark unfortunately receives another report of an unusual incident involving an automobile, this time owned by Rae--nothing serious, but it probably wasn't for lack of trying on you-know-who's part.
Stark still isn't connecting the dots, and he won't for some time; but when he and Rhodey return to their room after a meeting, we discover that Kathy has gone a step too far with Stark by again overstepping Stark's boundaries between his business and personal lives.
Incredibly, it appears that Stark still believes there is something in this relationship (if that's even the right word for it anymore) to salvage. But it seems the formal break has happened off-panel, when Stark and Rhodey fly to Hong Kong to pursue opening a branch of Stark Enterprises and Stark again receives news that interrupts his business operations. This time, his message to the perpetrator is both clear and concise.
By now Kathy is beginning to show her true colors--still "after" Tony Stark, however her definition of that word applies, but acting on it in an openly unstable manner. And when Stark meets with Soo Lin Chu, who had worked for him in what was then Stark International's branch in Hong Kong, he sees more evidence of that instability, with Ms. Chu unfortunately finding herself caught in the crossfire.
Things finally come to a head when Stark returns to the States and is dropped off at his home. It's strange that, in the days to come, Rhodey will find it inconceivable, with all the dangers and foes Stark has faced as Iron Man, that he should fall victim to "a jealous bimbo"--and perhaps it's indeed, to some degree, Stark's identity as Iron Man that made him so vulnerable to Kathy Dare that fateful night, since Stark has been so adept at handling the far more formidable threats that have come his way. There's also the fact that, despite all the warning signs coming his way, Kathy amounted to no more than a jilted girlfriend to Stark--a scenario that he had often faced before, and had become so practiced at handling that it never occurred to him that her feelings of rejection wouldn't simply pass. Whatever speculation we engage in appears to be pointless, since we've all underestimated this woman--including one man in particular, who is both surprised by and unprepared for the action that Kathy takes to gain her revenge.
With Stark hanging onto life by a thread and being prepped for surgery, the media begin putting together the pieces of the puzzle involving Kathy and Stark in the aftermath--and what they begin to dig up certainly fits her profile as we've come to know it.
As for Kathy's present outlook, former disgruntled Stark Enterprises lawyer Bert Hindel, who would like nothing better than to stick it back to Stark, volunteers to defend Kathy (while eyeing a six-figure book deal that will likely come his way should he prevail, the snake). If you're unfamiliar with Mr. Hindel in the Iron Man book, trust Rhodey's reaction to tell you everything you need to know about the man.
Eventually, however, as Kathy's pre-trial hearing approaches, Hindel can't resist the urge to get a little of his own back by confronting Stark with his client, in what's sure to be a tense reopening-old-wounds moment for the recovering executive. Hindel is basing his defense of Kathy on the "burning bed" incident of 1977, where a battered wife confesses to the act of murdering her abusive husband and is found not guilty by a sympathetic judge. With Hindel confidant that he has a good chance of success, it looks like he's come to twist the knife (figuratively speaking) in his former employer.
And so the crocodile tears flow at Kathy's hearing, with Stark's lawyer countering by putting up a number of character witnesses to testify for his client. But he also has an ace up his sleeve, a certain witness that Kathy has failed to disclose to even her attorney--a witness whose expert testimony gives us more details into Kathy's past, and effectively brings Hindel's case to a screeching halt.
It's an appropriately disturbing reaction on Kathy's part, though probably with more bark than bite considering that the ruling is only meant to bind her over to medical experts who can better determine her fitness for trial.
Yet it's some time later when we learn that apparently she's been remanded to hospital care indefinitely, when she appears at a wake for Stark who had developed complications from his injury's treatment and died as a result (or so we think, but that's another story). No one present does a very good job of hiding their disdain for her.
Yet Kathy's story comes to its true end not long afterward, when a group of super-criminals attacks Stark Enterprises and Rhodey, as War Machine, faces them (and, afterward, the Avengers, by mistake). At first, it looks like Kathy is up to her old tricks:
...though what could be her game this time, since Stark is dead? The answer finally comes when the hostilities end between War Machine and the Avengers and they combine forces to deal with their foes, only to be surprised by a deadly gunshot that, just as before, hits its target.
The other woman on the scene is Dr. Erica Sondheim, the surgeon who successfully implanted the experimental device in Stark that acted on his damaged nerve tissue and gave him the ability to use his legs again. Given Kathy's past actions and the pathetic state of her life, Sondheim's spot diagnosis on Kathy's state of mind at the time of her death is as fitting an elegy as any.