If you haven’t read Iron Man #17 then you’re in for a big surprise. A lot has changed in this issue by Kieron Gillen, Carlos Pagulayan, and Scott Hanna, and there are lots of questions to be asked. If you don’t want to be spoiled – go out and read Iron Man #17 and come back.
Now that you’ve been sufficiently warned… Iron Man #17 ... released October 23, 2013 .... revealed a shocking change in the status quo for Tony Stark, aka Iron Man. The second-generation tech-savvy billionaire just got back from a long adventure in space that revealed that his parents had allowed him to be experimented on as an infant by an alien robotic entity to save his life – and install for him a future destiny he couldn’t fight.
In Iron Man #17 we learned that all that wasn’t true, but the truth was even harder: Tony Stark isn’t the son of Howard and Maria Stark as he – and comics fans – always thought. Instead he was adopted by the Starks to use as a decoy to hide away their true son who had been subject to those alien experimentations. In Iron Man #17 Tony put all the pieces together, and actually went out and met the brother he never knew he had—the real son of Howard and Maria Stark – Arno Stark.
The name Arno Stark might strike a chord in the hearts and minds of ardent comics fans, as that was the name of the villainous Iron Man of the year 2020 that subverted the Stark legacy down a more militaristic and selfish bent. So with this reveal that Tony Stark’s brother is named Arno, it brings up a variety of questions about Arno as well as Tony’s own place in the world now that he’s no longer his father’s son.
Newsarama spoke with Kieron Gillen about these revelations, how it throws a wrench in the mechanical marvel that is Iron Man, and what this means for Tony Stark as a man.
Newsarama: Kieron, Iron Man #17 just came out and I have the same question everyone who’s read it has: how’d you do it? How’d you come to this big reveal?
Kieron Gillen: It all came from a response from a fairly innocuous question from my editor, Mark Paniccia. He said it'd be good to do a story harking back to 1960s origins of Iron Man to celebrate the 50th anniversary, or something similar. That I'd just spent my run maneuvering Tony into space made me sort of flash red hot anger. Er... no. I'm millions of light years from Earth. What kind of story could I do which...
The whole upgrade-the-Earth theory of Tony Stark downloaded. Alien machinations that kind of worryingly fit the facts. Problem being, it undermines the core of Tony Stark as a character. While it's an interesting thing to challenge Tony's sense of self for a story, I wouldn't want it to stick. This couldn't be Tony. Which lead to Arno, which lead to me thinking about the concept of Tony being adopted.
And I realized that having Tony as an adopted child with Arno as the hidden brother was a set up for a mass of stories, both personal and world-scale. It's a very Marvel story, in that it's deeply personal and based in the real world. It's a very Marvel story that after wrestling with this cosmic craziness, the truth is much more down to Earth... and no the less shaking.
In terms of the actual “how”, just a whole lot of planning.
Nrama: This is a huge reveal— throwing a wrench in the parentage of one of Marvel’s core characters. What kind of conversations did you have with editors and creators before this was greenlit?
Gillen: It's been the most intensive story I've written for Marvel. From my initial proposal, it's been all the way to the top of Marvel corporate levels and back down. Mark and I have had god knows how many conversations about minor details. Issue #17 itself has been tweaked and rewritten more than any other script for Marvel. With some beautiful circularity, I was doing final tweaks at DICE Con in Dublin, an exact year on from when I had the original idea. Late Friday night, trying to make sure what I wrote served all the story's masters.
Nrama: Arno Stark is a name some people remember as a cousin of Tony’s from the future, dubbed Iron Man 2020. Is that Arno and this one, one and the same, or just a borrowing of a name?
Gillen: I suspect that's the story. The nature of time travel in the Marvel Universe is an interesting one. Is he the Arno of 2020? Or could he be? That's the sort of question I want people asking.
As soon as I knew I wanted Tony to have a brother, Arno was immediately there. And if he is the Iron Man of 2020, I figured one way or another, it was about time the Marvel Universe had an Arno. 2020 isn't that far away, after all.
Nrama: Up until this issue Tony has been out in space – but this entire issue took place on Earth, outside his armor even. Is that a portent for the future of the series?
Gillen: Yes on the “it'll be set on Earth” part, no on being out of armor. I've sent Tony on this quest to space, basically seeking knowledge – and that's exactly what he found. Now he's back on Earth, putting those lessons into practice.
There will be lots of armor, however. Tony and Arno are collaborating on a grand new vision, which means we get a lot of science fiction, but there's still plenty of action. Part of the joy of Iron Man is working out interesting things to do with Iron Man armor. I'm giving the modular-armor set up a real work out.
Nrama: The big villain of the last arc, the one who was revealed did the tinkering with Arno’s DNA was the robot 451. Despite his villainous bent, 451 had his share of fans since you created him. Any chance for a return down the road?
Gillen: Well, Tony did take his brain-dead form back to Earth. I suspect Tony has plans for him, and we'll get them sooner rather than later.
I was explicitly presenting Tony as a Grail Knight, hunting knowledge. In a real way, 451 is the Grail. A library of almost all knowledge, brought back to Earth. There's all manner of stories there.
(I even had 451 offer Tony a cup in his first gesture. I'm not subtle, me.)
Nrama: Coming up starting in next month’s Iron Man #18 is an arc entitled “Iron Metropolitan;’ What does that title mean – are we talking Spider Jerusalem, Tony getting a taste for a brandy-based cocktail, or what?
Gillen: Funny you mention Spider Jerusalem. There's a particularly spikey journalist who I introduce in the arc who'd probably yelp excitedly at the comparison.
“Iron Metropolitan” is the story about Tony and Arno's first plan. They're going to build a city. There's a quote from a designer friend of mine which inspired the story - “A city is a battlesuit for surviving the future.” This is basically what happens when the world's greatest designers of battlesuits turns his gaze towards cities. It's me doing the futurist Iron Man approach.
Of course, problems occur, namely some people really don't want them building the place. That they're building it over the ruins of Mandarin City may hint towards a direction with it.
Nrama: Correct my confusion here, but in the January solicits there’s two issues of Iron Man – Iron Man #20 and Iron Man #20.INH. Can you clarify that for us? They’re both listed by you and Joe Bennet, and both say they’re part three of this upcoming arc?
Gillen: The Inhumanity tie-in is an insert in the story, between the third and fourth issues in the story. It's introducing a character who spins out of both Inhumanity and Tony's discovery at the end of Iron Man #20. It's also useful in a few other ways – Iron Man's timeline has come unstuck from the rest of the Marvel Universe a little, due to the three month time gap in Iron Man #16 – and this realigns it. But it's mainly a chance to show Tony's response to Inhumanity, which only complicates everything that's going on in “Iron Metropolitan.”
Joe's not actually doing Iron Man #20.INH, however. Eduardo Alpuente is handling the honors there, and doing it excellently. He's really getting the mixture of ground level humanity and horror to it.
Nrama: Last question – and it’s a biggy. Tony’s primary nemesis over the years has been the Mandarin, but last time we saw him he was pretty dead. So what is this Mandarin City that’ll be in “Iron Metropolitan”?
Gillen: One exciting thing about having something as big as the Tony/Arno reveal means that I don't feel enormously pressured to give anything much about that in advance. We can have a nice surprise. I'll go as far as saying, no, I'm not bringing the Mandarin back but I am doing something with its legacy. The last two pages of Iron Man #18 will make the core idea clear. It's one of those one-sentence ideas that is hopefully instantly understandable while still leaving lots of room for the specific execution to be really compelling. As anything connected to the Mandarin should be, it's an enormous threat. If 451 was the big threat up to Iron Man #17, this will be the big threat for the next part of the story.