After blowing everyone’s minds last issue with the twin revelations that a) Tony Stark was adopted and b) he has a brother, Arno Stark, Kieron Gillen continues to do the unexpected in the pages of Iron Man by flashing forward 30 years into the future and showing us just what the Stark Brothers might have planned.
In this future, Tony and Arno have built giant ‘Space Elevators’ that allow for humanity to start living above an Earth that looks pretty dystopian and a bit like Blade Runner, with loads of Pyramids around. Gillen goes all hard sci-fi on our asses and there’s some rather incomprehensible techno-babble (but in a book like Iron Man, incomprehensible techno-babble is a good thing) and get a nice look at the relationship between Tony and Arno. But of course, everything goes to shit, as H.E.L.E.N., a helper robot that the Starks built that looks kind of like a female 451 malfunctions, goes evil, and turns the whole future into shit. Even a bunch of Stark ‘Ghost’ drones, Iron Man suits flown by the consciousnesses of Tony, Arno, Pepper and the dead in this future Rhodey are unable to stop the Space Elevators crashing to the ground, billions of people dying, and the Stark brothers being executed for their crimes.
So yeah, this is a pretty grim future, and it’s meant to be, as what it really is, is a projection created by Arno, to show Tony what bad things would happen if they tried to use artificial intelligence to save the world, it would lead to something like H.E.L.E.N. and that would cause disaster. The Starks have all of these grand plans, but they need to be careful. Arno says they should avoid using A.I., but Tony has the dead body of 451, and he wants to use it. It’s going to be interesting to see this argument play out, and to see just how foolish Tony’s decision will be. I also think it would be cool for this book to crossover with Avengers A.I., as they both seem to be dealing with similar ideas here. I wonder what Hank Pym and his team would be able to do with 451? And, this is shallow, but I also think Gillen would write an awesome Doombot.
But Tony and Arno don’t just argue here, as Tony has built a device that allows Arno to communicate telepathically, and so avoid having to type out everything. In the flash-forward, Arno could walk and talk perfectly fine, so it looks this is the first step in that happening. At first, I thought that Gillen’s use of the flash-forward here was a bit misplaced, as it seemed like he was avoiding confronting the life-changing events of issue 17, but luckily, towards the end we see that all is not right with Tony Stark. Whilst in conversation with Arno, he gets an Avengers alert (to go fight Cyclops’ X-Men), but rather than go himself, he just sends an A.I. controlled suit, because he wants to stay in his lab. We also learn that he’s avoiding talking about being adopted, and finding his real parents. We saw this kind of behaviour from Tony Stark in the Iron Man 3 film, and it’s always cool when that version of the character (the best version really) rubs off onto the comics. Tony has been really rocked by the events of this last year, and he’s changing as a character, his aims are no longer just punching people, he wants to change the world, and here, he declares he wants to change how we live, to change the city, and asks, who can stop him and his brother?
Well, Gillen quickly provides an answer… the fucking Mandarin! But wait, isn’t he dead? Well, yeah, but his rings aren’t. In this issue, one of them approaches a woman (who seems to be based on the semi-famous blogger Laurie Penny) and asks her how what is threatening the world and how she would save it. Her answers point at Tony Stark and capitalism basically, and the ring accepts her and gives her some powers. It’s basically evil Green Lantern (Gillen even slips in a mention of ‘will’) and it should be interesting to see this kind of threat go up against Tony, especially because there are 9 more Mandarin rings out there.
This was a strong issue of the next era of Iron Man, the effects of the last arc are very much felt, but Gillen is not wallowing in it, he’s moving forward in massive strides, and things are changing. The art from Joe Bennett was also a good fit, his style is reminiscent of Eaglesham and Pagulayan, so it provides a good sense of continuity. Plus, that amazing Art-Decoey title page… that was cool.