Following a superhuman battle in Stamford, CT in which almost 600 innocent lives were lost, the Federal government passes the Superhuman Registration Act. This requires individuals with natural or artificial powers to come forward and disclose their identify and be trained in the proper use of their powers or else face imprisonment.
This divided the heroes into two opposing sides led by Iron Man and Captain America. Iron Man who believes the act to be a reasonable request; Cap thinks its a violation of civil rights. The two sides clash until Cap realizes that he's doing more harm than good and surrenders. This leads to his death when the Red Skull has Cap assassinated on the steps of the Federal Courthouse.
In this reality, Iron Man pays the ultimate price for the superhuman civil war.
In this reality, the Red Skull did not attempt to kill Captain America. Instead he is subjected to a three month trial. He is found guilty and sentenced to 36 months in S.H.I.E.L.D. custody. Tony Stark, the newly-appointed director of S.H.I.E.L.D. has the dubious honor of holding a press conference to announce the results.
As Stark leaves he is accosted by Tom Foster. Foster is still grieving over the loss of his uncle Bill during the superhuman war. He lashes out at Stark, correctly blaming him for his uncle's accidental death. Since he faces no legal repercussions, as Stark acted as ordered under the SHRA, Tom considers this a great injustice and snaps. Using the stolen growth serum from his uncle's lab, Foster grows to "Goliath" size and strikes Stark, killing him instantly. Foster immediately surrenders to the authorities, ashamed of his actions.
The ramifications of Stark's death are quickly felt. Peter Gyrich is assigned to Camp Hammond, the training facility for the 50-state initiative. He and War Machine immediately clash over Gyrich's political aspirations.
Spider-Man and Luke Cage are found in Dr. Strange's Sanctum Sanctorum. Cage doesn't hide the fact he's glad Stark is dead. Spidey is offended that Cage continues this "unfounded" grudge against their former teammate. Cage reminds him that the SHRA made both of them fugitives and put their families in jeopardy. For Cage, his wife and child. For Spider-Man, his aunt was shot by one of the Kingpin's assassins. They are soon captured by the "Mighty" Avengers team (Ms. Marvel, Ares, Wonder Man, Wasp, Sentry, Black Widow).
Tony Stark's legacy is further eroded when Aleksander Lukin of the Kronas Corporation becomes majority stockholder of Stark Enterprises. Its future remains uncertain as does the future of Pepper Potts, Stark's personal assistant. She is terminated following the Kronas buyout. Coupled with the recent death of Happy Hogan, Pepper sinks into a very deep depression. In a very short period of time, she has lost her husband and one of her closest friends.
Eventually they hold the memorial service for Tony Stark. All the registered heroes attend as well as Captain America, who is released under special circumstances. Prior to leaving his cell, a letter is delivered to him, written by Stark prior to his death. Among other items mentioned, Stark asks Rogers to remain vigilant for additional threats to Earth.
This proves to be more accurate than he could have anticipated as the Skrull fleet nears Earth. Their mass infiltration has gone undetected and are poised to destroy humanity from within.
In the final panel of the story, Uatu indicates that "it wasn't supposed to be this way".
Hey, great build up, but where's the rest of the story? I understand the point they're trying to make: Iron Man plays a critical role in repelling the Skrull invasion. This is a good set-up for a climax that will never be realized and it is infuriating to me. I want to see the Skrulls overrun and enslave humanity. I need that issue-specific, alternate take on Secret Invasion.
The creative team did a good job of covering the different aspects of Stark's life, but they used a lot of real estate with the "widescreen" panels. Some of the scenes could have been abridged to squeeze two or three pages of Skrull goodness into the story.
2.5 webs. It is obvious that I feel gypped on the Skrull sub-plot of the story. The full issue should have focused on the ramifications of Iron Man's death instead of having a Runaways/Young Avengers back-up story. Not that it's necessarily bad, just not as good as Skrulls.
To summarize: good story, but it needs more Skrulls. Did I mention Skrulls?
A few (bullet) points of reference: