WARNING: The following article contains spoilers for Tony Stark: Iron Man #18, by Dan Slott, Christos Gage, Paco Medina, Walden Wong, Edgar Delgado and VC’s Joe Caramagna, on sale now.
Tony Stark: Iron Man has been dealing with the title hero’s ongoing existential crisis surrounding his revival and the act of putting his conscious in a new body. Now, the latest issue of the series features a major revelation that will further complicate Tony’s life. Using the same method that brought Tony back, Arno Stark — the hero’s adoptive brother — has revived the long-dead Howard and Maria Stark.
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Tony Stark: Iron Man #18, which is the penultimate issue in “The Ultron Agenda” arc, kicks off with James Rhodes/War Machine and Janet Van Dyne/Wasp battling against the fusion of Hank Pym and Ultron, known as Ultron Pym or Pymtron. However, the action quickly shifts to Stark Unlimited, where a team is trying to figure out how to save Tony after he became fused with his armor, saving Jocasta and Janet in issue #16.
Dr. Shapiro — who is a scientist as well as a talking cat — reveals he’s found a way to separate those who have been fused by Ultron, using the now distinct Vision and Wonder Man as an example of his success. However, this requires Tony to actually go inside of himself to tag what he needs to remove. At the same time, the mind of the dying Jocasta (who is suffering the ill effects of Pymtron interrupting her surgery) is put into the body of Friday, which angers her.
As the battle with Pymtron rages on, Vision and Wonder Man join the fight, allowing Wasp to assist inside Tony. The team actually goes inside of Tony to tag what he needs to remove. There, they’re eventually able to separate Tony from his armor and put the dying Jocasta into the body of Friday, though a miniature Ultron drone attempts to interfere.
The action then cuts to Baintronics, where Arno and Sunset Bain observe the former’s latest undertaking: The resurrections of Howard and Maria using “the same process that brought Tony back to life.” Although there’s some question as to the authenticity of this new version of Howard and Maria, Arno remarks that they’re alive in the same way as Tony. At the end of the page, Howard and Maria express their gratefulness to their biological son for reviving them.
Tony’s relationship with his parents has always been fraught. Maria and Tony’s relationship was relatively positive, but the budding hero’s relationship with Howard was a lot more complex and acrimonious. Right from his first appearance in 1970’s Iron Man #28, Howard treats his son with contempt and is quite abusive. Howard and Maria later died in a car accident — though it may have actually been an assassination — and have remained dead for most of Iron Man’s comic book history.
The family’s already complicated dynamics got even more twisted during writer Kieron Gillen and artist Dale Eaglesham’s “The Secret Origin of Tony Stark” arc, when it was revealed Tony was actually the adopted son of Howard and Maria. After having trouble conceiving, Howard and Maria received helped from Rigellian Recorder 451, with the robot aiming to enhance Arno’s abilities through bioengineering. However, Rigellian Recorder also built in a way to kill the young Arno, if he so desired, which Howard did not appreciate. After undoing Rigellian Recorder’s work, Howard and Maria hid Arno — who became incredibly ill — and adopted Tony to serve as a sort of decoy in case the robot returned. The hero remained in the dark about his true parentage for decades.
Arno, for his part, first appeared in the comics as a kind and caring person. However, since using Extremis to cure himself of the health problems that kept him immobilized for much of his life, Arno has taken something of a villainous turn, teaming up with Sunset and allowing innocent people to die in an attempt to further his goals. His plan to revive Howard and Maria has been in the works since at least Tony Stark: Iron Man #11, when they appeared on his screen as part of project he was working on.
Most recently, Tony saw his parents while trapped in his virtual reality eScape during the “Stark Realities” arc. That story saw the hero meet versions of his parents that were still alive in the eScape. Eventually, Tony — who starts drinking again due to the influence of his family and a delusional state that returns him mentally to the halcyon days before “Demon in a Bottle” — confronts the simulation of his parents, expressing his frustration at having been used as a decoy for Arno. This causes the eScape to collapse and nearly kills Tony.
During the eScape debacle, Arno offloaded data from the Stark network. At the time, it wasn’t entirely clear just what Arno was attempting to pull from the network. However, one of the big questions raised by Tony Stark: Iron Man #18 is just where Arno found the consciousnesses of Howard and Maria. It seems entirely possible that Arno actually found a way to use the versions of his parents that appeared in the eScape in order to bring them back to life in the same manner as Tony, although that’s just speculation right now.
After this momentous reveal that Howard and Maria have again returned, Tony is finally separated from his armor and the miniature Ultron is defeated. Tony gets back up and dons one of his classic Iron Man suits to take down Pymtron once and for all. However, even if Tony does defeat the villain, he’ll still have to contend with an enemy that’s plagued him his entire life: Family.
In October, Marvel teased Arno standing over his brother’s grave as part of its upcoming 2020 event, so Tony should be very, very afraid of what his family might bring.
Tony Stark: Iron Man #19 releases Dec. 18 from Marvel Comics.
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