Robot 6

The Fifth Color | The Iron Man you think you know

IronMan17_cvrKieron Gillen had to remind me to be angry. I read through my comics stash for the week, feeling very proud of myself and then went on about my day, wondering what I was going to be writing for you, Dear Reader (hi, Mom!). Then I browse through Twitter to see this posted by the writer: “You know, after yesterday with Iron Man 17 and YA11, I’d have expected my @s to be worse, but people are being really nice. Thanks!”

Being really nice? Why shouldn’t they? What should I be mad at?! Nothing happened that was all that shocking in Young Avengers, as long as you know who Loki is and that Loki: Agent of Asgard is debuting in February, so it’s just putting two and two together. That couldn’t be the reason for torches and pitchforks. Then I remembered Iron Man #17 and still felt no need to reach for my oil-soaked rags and farming tools. There’s a twist to be sure, and a fairly large change to Tony Stark’s tried and true origin, but is the cover right? Is this really “The shocking conclusion that will change the world of Iron Man forever”?

Not exactly. Read on and find out why!

WARNING: Oh yeah, big spoilers for the current run on Iron Man! Huge, massive spoilers. Click no further if you haven’t read Iron Man #17! But if you have (or simply love spoilers), please do read on!

Iron Man #9

Dear Reader, you might too.

Iron Man #17 ends “The Secret Origin of Tony Stark” arc of Gillen’s Marvel NOW! run, bringing him one year into the title. The story started with a rogue alien android called 451 (either a Bradbury reference or some missed connection with Machine Man) who came to Earth and got himself all up inside Stark’s birth, history and destiny. My first clue this was going to chafe continuity fans was the revelation that 451 approached Howard and Maria Stark before Tony was born; we find out when a secret recording is revealed with a young Howard Stark talking to Tony from beyond while sitting next to this mysterious cosmic automaton. Right away, boom! Retcon time! Things got even more itchy when 451 is said to have manipulated Tony’s DNA so that not only could his parents conceive a child, but that child would grow up to be a technological genius. Marvel’s most self-made man now has, for all intents and purposes, superpowers, abilities granted to him by outside forces. It was time to reach for the aloe lotion when it turns out that 451’s big plan was to genetically bond the Stark child to a massive set of armor called the Godkiller. 451 needed Stark to be the only coded pilot of a nuclear deterrent for Earth. So basically, everything is a lie, right down to Stark’s proclivities for powered armor. Everything down to his DNA has been coded for this new other purpose, which undermines his essential origin.

And yet, this isn’t the part people might be upset about. For you see, 451’s plan completely failed as Tony Stark was unable to pilot the Godkiller armor and all that work was for nothing. 451 essentially killed himself in failure, the Godkiller armor was sent to a distant somewhere else to never fall into the wrong hands and Tony Stark escaped the whole situation. The day was saved and yet there was still more story coming. Here is where I thought, as a smarky reader of comics, that the story would erase itself; somehow, 451’s new origin for Tony would turn out to be all a lie and we’d be back to normal. It’s happened plenty of times before, and it seemed completely out of bounds for any of this odd little fairy tale to be true and survive the arc it had been hatched in.

Iron Man #17 says that it was …  and wasn’t at the same time. This much is true: Tony Stark was not the robot’s Chosen One. His brother was. Howard and Maria’s first child was born from 451’s machinations, but would never be able to breathe without medical assistance. Howard Stark, in order to fix what he figured was a kill switch embedded into their child’s DNA, did a little genetic tampering of his own, and their son paid the price for it. However, if 451 found out that their experiment had gone awry, they might lose that child entirely, so they needed a second child. ‘Decoy’ is such a strong word, but yeah. Our hero Tony Stark was adopted to save the life of a brother he never knew about. That brother had been hidden away in hospice care and raised in secrecy. Tony tracks him down and finds that, as the actual robot Chosen One, he’s sickly, unable to speak, but brilliant and is ready to aid his brother to help the world. This new Stark’s name? Arno.

Story continues below

Also Arno Stark

Also Arno Stark

Does this really change the world of Iron Man forever? Not really. Just until another writer comes along who doesn’t want to use this new twist. Heck, even Gillen could write himself out of this new NOW!; there are plenty of outs built into this story. Iron Man readers might know of another Arno Stark who’s tangled with Tony in the past; the name could have been chosen for a reason. And, of course, who is still trusting this robot to have been telling the truth? Time and tales will tell how long this all will last. Does this new status quo to Tony Stark fundamentally ruin the character? Change, no. Challenge, yes. In a brilliant last-page idea, Gillen actually takes the time to explain to his readers why this change occurred and what it means for him to take this character forward. It’s a nice cushion to the ‘What did I just read?’ feeling at the end of the issue, bringing it back to challenging Iron Man’s ego, bruise that, then watch him build himself back from the ground up. While Tony might be the most flawed top-tier hero Marvel has, he’s also the most resilient and that’s what we keep coming back for. This is a crazy curve ball indeed, but there’s no doubt Iron Man will prevail.

Could the lack of gnashing teeth at the author and editor mean we as comic fans have grown up a little? That we understand how stories work and that endless serialization means change is inevitable as much as returning to that constant that made us pick the book up in the first place? That you simply can’t ruin a character so entrenched in popular culture? Man, I’d like to say that with the utmost certainty, but I really have to thank Robert Downey Jr. for this one. The MCU Iron Man is more well known at this point than his comic counterpart. What happens in the comics now is so far off from phasing the Iron Man the masses know it’s almost inconsequential. Recast Iron Man for the movies and we riot for sure, but this change is simply too complex to ever hit the movie screens.

So is the internet split in twain by Tony Stark’s new mysterious parentage? Nah. Gillen will continue to write thoughtful, challenging stories that entertain and make us think along with him. Robert Downey Jr. is still Robert Downey Jr. We’re OK. I mean, it’s not like Gillen killed any characters …



Ah, a shocking twist one would have to have been reading comics 20 years ago to appreciate. Par for the course.

I think the only part that requires past knowledge is knowing where the name “Arno” comes from. It’s a bonus for people who get it, but I don’t see how those who don’t are missing anything at this point.

I think Gillen’s work is some of the strongest Marvel’s putting out right now. His work on Iron Man & Young Avengers (and Thor before it) have me wanting to go back & read his Journey Into Mystery and Uncanny X-Men. And I agree with Steve: I don’t think familiarity with 20 year old stories is necessary and look at “Arno” as being more of an Easter egg for long-time readers. Besides, it now makes a lot more sense as to why Marvel released this seemingly random TPB a few months ago:

While reading this arc it didn’t feel like everything Tony learned about himself was going to stick. It’s cool TS and the reader are both assured he is a natural genius at the same time.

I figure people don’t think it will stick. Seems very re-retconnable. I mean, Tony strongly resembles Howard Stark and just so happens to also be a super genius, but really he was adopted? Kind of hard to buy and very soap opera. When I watched the soaps, I suffered through many unknown parentage plots, and I’m not a fan. If this was a soap opera Tony first finds out he is the son of a villain (which later turns out to be a lie) and then finds out he’s Howard’s illegitimate son. It’s just tedious.

I for one am just waiting for the other shoe to drop. The storyline that reveals (or at least teases) Tony’s biological parentage. (with the inevitable confrontation on “Maury.”) I am imagining a mess of “Spider-Clone” proportions.

Sounds like a Spaceballs joke; I am your brother’s alien robot college roommate’s brother. All this tedious origin stuff is pointless. Year Zero! Now! First Season! Nu 52! Yawn this is why other companies are selling more books, Marvel and DC are trying to retcon themselves into relevance rather than actually moving forward.

There was far more tooth-gnashing in Matt Fraction’s run before Gillen, in which a lot of changes actually happened not related to characters who died years before Tony’s story began…

If things go awry, a retcon is imminent.

Maybe the reason the internet isn’t exploding is because this is a largely insignificant change for the Iron Man people are familiar with. In other words: Who cares?

I can’t stand this guys writing.

Well I for one I’m still angry at One More Day and there was NO BENEFIT that came from this. Carlie Cooper??? Who gives a damn?

Very well written and thought out piece, even if it’s premise is shattered in its own comments section. Readers allowing for a talented writer to let his story play out and be willing to allow its protagonist to change like real flesh and blood human beings tend to? Not a chance. As an adoptee who has always had the mystery of his true biological parentage hanging over his head, this story hits close to home for me, and I hope that the adoption angle is mined thoroughly for all of the story potential it contains. First off this is not the first instance of adoption in comics, far from it with characters as popular as Spider-Man and Superman being adopted. The difference between the situations is that those characters have always known where it is they come from, so to see a character go through the feelings of whether blood truly is thicker than water (hint: it’s not) is a new and interesting wrinkle for a character that’s been around for half a century. As readers, do we embrace that change and appreciate the fact that these characters we know so well can still hold some intriguing mysteries? No, we decry and dismiss it as unbelievable and wrong, even though it happens with more frequency in real life than figuratively every things else that is presented in the comic book universe. Also, it will allow Gillen to tackle real life issues, namely that of Nature vs. Nurture, something that the commenters unable to understand how Tony is smart like his father or an Alcoholic like his father, or any manner of relations seem unable to glean anything from. To be able to mine these complex and mature themes with our favorite characters from youth should be seen as one of the plus sides of modern comics, not as a negative thing. Same goes for Slotts Superior Spider-Man, easily some of the best stories the character has seen since JMS’ run (a run that also wasn’t fearful of stepping on toes and willing to push the story in new directions). Go into an upscale restaurant with dedicated and accomplished house chefs and ask for substitutions and you are met with a scoff, because here is a fan of food telling an artist of food that they are doing it wrong. We allow these people to expand our minds and pallets, it’s the very reason we frequent these establishments, and we are allowed free will to make these choices, but if we haven’t gone down that road, we have no say in any argument for or against. Let our comic book chefs concoct their creation and present it fully before we tear down their work.

Peter Morningstar

November 2, 2013 at 3:12 pm

‘Could the lack of gnashing teeth at the author and editor mean we as comic fans have grown up a little?’

No, quite simply it means we don’t care anymore, because the characters are so far removed from what originally made them interesting and readable.

I missed the Dale Eaglesham art which began the chapter. As to the ending, it was okay.

It doesn’t have any practical effect on anything, so there’s nothing to get mad about. And it’ll certainly be retconned (not even actively — it’ll just be quietly forgotten) along with all the other convoluted secret revelations over the decades that did nothing to add anything of substance to the core of the character.

I am not an IM fan and I don’t read the book, but I found this article interesting. I had glanced at the “Godkiller” storyline because I am interested in the Celestials, but I never actually bought the book.

Still, I find the revelation that Tony is adopted to be ludicrous. As someone pointed out above, this really stretches credibility to the breaking point. The adopted child just happens to be a technological genius? I can see him being chosen, in part, on his biological father’s resemblance to Howard Stark, so that is not totally implausible, I suppose. But the genius part of its seems a lot more iffy.

It seems to me it would have made more sense for Howard and Maria to have another child and try to pass that one off as their first son. Was 451 watching them all the time? Was their DNA permanently altered so that, from that point on, they could only give birth to children who could pilot the Godkiller? If not, then this would seem to be the better and more plausible solution. Tony’s DNA would be close to his brother’s, but not the same, thereby explaining his inability to pilot. BTW, by this time, has Tony done a DNA test on himself and started trying to find his biological parents?

Anyway, I still won’t read the book, but I’ll keep an eye out to see if this is retconned away in the future. Quite frankly, it looks like the kind of thing that would be easy to retcon.

A nicer twist will reveal he is a hidden inhuman and the etremis was justhis natural power touching the surface.

The more convuluted and everything-changing a retcon is, the more likely it’ll be wiped out in due course.

At this point…who cares? Three months from now, when “Thor” comes out, Tony will be revealed as Thor’s mortal brother. Then Captain America will be elected president and Black Widow will come out of comic obscurity into the limelight and we’ll have a PC approved black Nick Fury and…oh, wait. Back to my original point…who cares?

Despite the gorgeous artwork, I complained about Extremis back in the day because it stripped the character: when destiny did not bless him with mutant abilities or special powers of any kind, he built his own wings to soar among the angels.

As much as Marvel tries to portray Peter Parker as an “every man”, at the end of the day the guy has 0% body fat on him, can lift cars and stick to walls. He is genetically superior.

Reed Richards is known for his brain, but he can also slide his body under a closed door. Again, it’s nothing I can really relate to.

But the man who wanted to be a super hero so badly that he did not accept destiny’s plans for him and built his own powers, on the other hand… that’s a great message for anyone out there who feels they haven’t been dealt the right cards in life and greatness ISN’T handed to them on a silver platter.

Sure, some would argue that Tony’s fortune makes it impossible to relate to him. I get that, and even agree to a certain extent. Except that people with huge fortunes actually exist. So they are not as foreign to me as someone being bitten by a radioactive spider who can lift cars and stick to ceilings.

Extremis, however, changed all that. Suddenly, Tony was augmented on a genetic level. The suit was no longer a “power” he could remove. There was no “being normal” for Tony anymore.

And yet no one else seemed to care. Iron Man has never been as popular as he is today, and yet he might as well be a mutant at this point.

This is just one of those times where something DOES bug me, but the fact that it doesn’t seem to bug anyone else tells me I’m probably in the minority on this one. And I understand that the greater good is all that really matters.

My only issue with the whole thing is that I had been trade-waiting (hardcover waiting) Iron Man, and Marvel did one of their attempts to court the mainstream press and spoiled the ending weeks before the collection is published. So, thanks a bunch Marvel.

I quit reading the rag two months ago, and so have a lot of others. So it’s easy to see why no one’s complaining. No one’s reading Gillen’s trash.

The twist would have been Howard undid the work the robot tried to do, thus proving that Tony IS his own man. As for this effort: bollocks. Nothing personal against the author, but I really wish that Marvel prevents its staff from undermining its stock-and-trade characters just to be “edgy”. Just write new stories, and go from there.

I think the reason this isn’t getting a lot of flack is that Tony’s father was never that big of a deal in the narrative. It’s not like Uncle Ben or Aunt May from Spidey, who were featured in the narrative from Day One. This is an instance of a character being written in after the franchise has already been established. So saying this character that people probably has no emotional attachment to and has never featured heavily in any story for the main protagonist is not really his father isn’t that earth shattering.

And, again, it’s something that seems easily retconned if need be.

Hopefully we’re getting a long game new origin story for Iron Man 2020 that will be told over the next 6+ years. The long slow path to the dark side, a la Anakin Skywalker/Darth Vader. But other than that, this really has no other changes to Tony Stark’s status quo other than adding a brother to his supporting cast for right now.

Marvel wants the internet to split in two. Nobody cared about this plot twist, it has little meaning for the character or the narrative. If the writer has to explain why the twist is important, then there was no twist. Our lack of reaction means the comic didn’t do its job. I know that’s backwards sounding, but that’s how it goes. I am interested to see if Arno is the 2020 iron man, that does interest me.

@jyeager11: That was perfect and I couldn’t have said it myself. Extremis finally made me give up on caring about what happens to the character because this wasn’t Tony Stark but someone else entirely.

Will E. Dynamite

November 4, 2013 at 1:08 pm

Soooooo,…we’re really supposed to believe Howard Stark kept all these events from ever being noticed by the ancient order of the Shield and modern-day S.H.I.E.L.D.? Considering the order of the Shield had repulsed interplanetary threats before & were very aware of the Celestials,that seems very unlikely. Or has have those events been written away while no one noticed? Oh,I forgot. Marvel appearantly has no use for any continuity that they cannot force to fit an “event” & just dismisses or ignore details now. Sigh,…I miss when editors edited & weren’t trying to be script writers.

Just read it, loved it, love the idea of iron man 2020 being his ‘brother’ looking forward to where this going.

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