For the complete background, refer to the review for the first story of this issue: What If ...Civil War.
This story immediately follows the conclusion of "part 1". Iron Man and a mysterious stranger The Watcher are having a conversation about other possible outcomes from the Superhuman Registration Act.
We return to the regular world complete with non-stop rain. Tony and the stranger are still standing outside the tomb of Captain America.
Staring down at the ground, Tony attempts to verify the meaning of his tale: he was right in doing what he did. The stranger does not answer. Tony continues: it was better to comply and try to control the "beast" from within rather than let it destroy everything they've ever accomplished. He asks the stranger why Steve couldn't see that.
The stranger replies that Rogers was never pragmatic; he was never comfortable with the concept of "the lesser of two evils". Tony counters that this is not necessarily "evil". The stranger agrees and then begins to show him another dimension with another outcome.
In this world, Iron Man and Captain America meet on the field of battle with their troops behind them. It's a meeting of opposing generals. Tony realizes that this is the last opportunity he had to reach a compromise with Cap's resistance movement. Similar to his reality, Cap arrived prepared. In his glove, he had a small device capable of shorting out his armor.
Tony's speech unfolds in the same manner. However at the critical point, this version of Tony does something different: he's completely honest with his friend. He states that while he does believe his way is right, he needs someone he trusts to ensure he's doing this the right way. He needs Captain America watching his back. At this point Cap forgoes using the device and simply replies "Let's talk".
S.H.I.E.L.D is observing this meeting with their satellites. Their senors pick up the device in Cap's glove. An overeager agent prematurely releases one of the Thor clones to "save" Iron Man. He realizes his error too late to stop the pseudo-god from descending to the battlefield.
Iron Man and Mr. Fantastic recognize the clone immediately and attempt to shut it down. This does not go as planed. The clone hits Reed with a lightning bolt, rendering him unconscious. Similar to Tony's reality, the clone turns his attention to Goliath and prepares a charge for him. Unlike in Tony's world, this Iron Man flies in front of Goliath, taking the brunt of the blast himself. With his armor's systems off-line, Tony is unable to deactivate the clone.
As the Thor clone brings his hammer down on a defenseless Iron Man, Cap steps in and allows his shield to absorb the impact. He tells the clone that to get to Iron Man, [the clone] will have to go through him. At this point all the heroes converge on the Thor clone and destroy it.
Later at Stark Towers, Tony and Steve attempt to work out their differences. Their opinions of the issue have not changed, but at least they are talking them out. Steve states flatly that no government can be trusted to properly use that level of power. In a flash of brilliance, Tony responds, "but you can".
Tony points out the the basis for their disagreement is not the philosophy behind the act; its the direct involvement of the government. He convinces Steve that they – as Avengers – should train the heroes in the responsible use of their powers. They would work with the government to ensure compliance, but the knowledge of their secret identities would be known only to him. Over Steve's protests, Tony reminds him that he's the only person that everyone would trust. This would end the fighting once and for all. He reminds Steve that he can't simply be against something, he has to be for something better. With that Steve agrees to Tony's plan.
To ensure that the government agrees with their decision, Tony stages a press conference to announce their intentions to the world. The people cheer; the leaders are aghast. Despite the President's reluctance, he has little choice but to go along with them.
In this reality, this works better than they could have dreamed.
At this point the stranger ends his tale. Tony is struck to the core over this revelation. The simplest of actions could have prevented this tragedy and brought about a veritable utopia. Tony asks the stranger why he's shown him this.
He states that despite his ability to see all possibilities, Tony can do something that he can't: cause ripples.
"But you can't control a ripple", Tony replies.
"No", the stranger responds, "And that is what life is, Tony Stark. Cherish it. Because some of us only wait ... and watch".
The title is slightly misleading. Iron Man didn't "lose" the war, they came up with an alternative that works.
This alternate Earth's ending to the Civil War was both uplifting and a bit cheesy. It's nice to see that the heroes can get along, but the final page felt a bit like a Normal Rockwell painting. I fully expected one of them to say "Gee, Steve/Tony, you're my best friend. I'm glad we're not fighting anymore".
That subjective item aside, this is a plausible ending to the Civil War series. I'm a firm believer in consequences for your actions. However, seeing some of the undesirable repercussions from that series, I'm rethinking my opinion. Captain America is dead. Spider-Man is quasi-divorced courtesy of an evil enigmatic individual (insert your joke here). Known supervillains are now government operatives. Is this Marvel's answer to DC's Suicide Squad? I don't know.
I think I would have preferred a powderpuff ending to the series if we could have avoided two of the three changes in the status quo. Guess which ones.
3.5 webs. This story is good in it's own right. Unfortunately falls a bit short of its sibling. I think the final Tony/Steve sequence went too far. There was a great two page spread of all the heroes that gave the general impression that while the task ahead of them was difficult, the heroes made it work. That should have been the end.
Iron Man and Captain America had their last chance meeting in Civil War #3