Iron Man

Uncover the Secret Origin of Tony Stark

Kieron Gillen opens up on the major revelations from the latest Iron Man issue and what they mean for the future!

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Iron Man #17 page by Carlo Pagulayan

WARNING: SPOILERS FOR IRON MAN #17— ON SALE NOW—FOLLOW

By Paul Montgomery

Well-heeled playboys tend to grow accustomed, even hardened, to the occasional break-up and Dear John letter. A consummate futurist, Tony Stark always moves forward, yesterday’s cares forgotten in the wake of repulsor jets.

In the pages of this week’s IRON MAN #17 however, Tony falters at the arrival of a father’s posthumous confession. Already reeling from the discovery of a brother he never knew—a bedridden genius named Arno—Tony learns that though Howard and Maria Stark raised him as their biological son, he had actually been adopted.

For his entire life, Tony served as an unknowing decoy for Arno, the Stark child hidden away from an entity called 451, and consequently the rest of humanity. How does this affect Tony’s image of himself and his lifelong pursuit of Howard Stark’s greatness? How does that shape his ambitions for the future? What’s next for the sensational Stark boys?

We spoke to writer Kieron Gillen about the stunning revelations that mark the end of his first year on IRON MAN while paving the way for his second.

Marvel.com: The knowledge of Tony's adoption begs that we revisit the nature vs. nurture question. Will it change the way he looks at himself?

Iron Man #17 page by Carlo Pagulayan

Kieron Gillen: These are good questions. There’s a lot of drama there, you know? Those who’ve discovered that they’ve been adopted have responded in different ways. I went and did some research about adoptees, the best understanding of adoption at the moment, especially with late discovery adoptees. So these questions are right at the heart of the issue and in stories to come. How will Tony respond? That’s going to be one of the major plot threads going on. It’s something very normal, something that happens to people every day. That doesn’t make it any less seismically shocking. Even in this issue Tony’s very aware that abstractly it shouldn’t make any difference. However, it clearly does in the moment. Tony wrestling with all this will underlie what we’re doing in year two.

Marvel.com: There’s that moment where Tony basically says, “Of course this happens all the time. It should be that way.” With all of the countless children in need of guardians, of families, of course Tony looks on it as more than a necessity. He seems to be reassuring himself though, still uneasy with the news.

Kieron Gillen: I’m not adopted, but if I suddenly found out tomorrow that my parents had adopted me and never told me, that might not destroy me, but it would completely shake my self-image of who I am. That’s what this whole story has been about anyway, this question of the self-made man. Tony’s had to play with the idea that he was constructed by something. Now it turns out that that isn’t true. It’s actually gone the other way. For me, drama is asking, “What’s important to the character? What defines them?” Then you stress that to the breaking point. So this was the core of the story: making Tony really question who he is.

Iron Man #17 page by Carlo Pagulayan

Marvel.com: So, Tony’s obviously shaken. Is it more that he feels an even greater disconnect from Howard and Maria Stark or that his biological parents could still be out there?

Kieron Gillen: How Tony responds to the question of his biological parents is going to be interesting. There are some late adoptees who say, “No. I have no interest in knowing them.” Then there’s the question of what they do with the anger. There’s a famous book about adoption called “The Primal Wound” by Nancy Newton Verrier, which talks about the idea that there is a primal betrayal at that moment early on and it remains in the person’s psyche. Sometimes that negative emotion is transferred upon the parents who raised them or in some cases on the parents who chose to leave them. The question of how Tony feels is ongoing. He has mystery parents out there and he may want to discover who they are, but apart from that mystery maybe Tony is that logical guy and it may not matter. On the other hand, Tony’s also a man of complete passion. We’ve seen how his addictions have driven him. By the end of this week’s issue, he’s transplanted his self-destructive urge onto something else. He immediately jumps in on Arno’s plan to do something good.

Marvel.com: In the afterword to this week's issue, you wrote about Tony's ego, how it's driven him to this point, and how the experience with the Godkiller stripped some of that away. Is this revelation about his parentage another blow to his ego? Is that good or bad for Tony as a person? As a hero? 

Kieron Gillen: I think questioning your ego is always a good thing. That scene with the Godkiller said, “You are Tony Stark. You are living ego. If it came right down to it, what’s more important? To be Tony Stark? Or to be a hero? What’s at the core of you?” Tony, god bless him, because he is a hero despite of all that did what he did. This is a different way of him attacking his self-image. The question of “Who are you really?” and what makes you who are? That’s the core of humans, the core of fiction.

Iron Man #17 page by Carlo Pagulayan

Mavel.com: You allude to Alexander the Great when talking about 451's vision for his son. Do you think that speaks to the greatest minds in civilizations? That they're almost doomed to a brief, brilliant career and then the light goes out? Do you see that in Arno and Tony? 

Kieron Gillen: A little bit. Alexander was a conqueror. He did many interesting and great things, but he killed a lot of people. It sort of says a lot that people use him as a hero figure [Laughs]. I think that’s an interesting model. When 451 said that of the Stark child he was buttering up Howard, wasn’t he? Howard read more into 451’s words than I think he meant. There’s something attractive about the choice between a long life of quiet happiness and a short one of quote unquote greatness. I think Howard might go for greatness. I think Tony might go for greatness.

Marvel.com: To be known, for all time, by one name, like Alexander, maybe?

Kieron Gillen: There’s a wonderful poem, one of my favorites, a little fragment by Lord Byron. This is Byron is his most arrogant mode.

“When, to their airy hall, my father's voice
Shall call my spirit, joyful in their choice;
When, poised upon the gale, my form shall ride,
Or, dark in mist, descend the mountains side;
Oh! may my shade behold no sculptured urns,
To mark the spot where earth to earth returns!
No lengthen'd scroll, no praise-encumber'd stone;
My epitaph shall be my name alone:
If that with honour fail to crown my clay,
Oh! may no other fame my deeds repay!
That, only that, shall single out the spot;
By that remember'd, or with that forgot.”

Iron Man #17 cover by Greg Land

The point being, “My grave will just be a gravestone with my surname and nothing else. If that doesn’t do the job, then it’s all pointless.” There’s a certain strand of genius, and generally quite a self-destructive one, who would do that, forsake all for greatness. Tony and Howard are like that. That’s the big frustration of Arno, I think. Arno is a man of destiny, born to do great things, and he’s spent his entire life in an iron lung; in hiding. There’s a real sadness to that. That’s the other hit for Tony. He’s had this brother he never knew about all these years while he’s been doing what he’s been doing. He’s been Iron Man while his brother’s been in an iron lung. That makes Tony question how he lives his life. As for Arno, he feels as if he’s so late in his own. I’ve written quite a bit further and I enjoy the interplay between the two. While Tony gets to meet and learn about this member of the family he only just learned about, we do too.

Marvel.com: Tony's newfound brother Arno, a prisoner on multiple levels, finds himself free for the first time. What kinds of battles does he face, moving forward?

Kieron Gillen: Simply, to enter the world. He’s essentially been living through an Internet connection. This is a man who clearly understands the concept of duty. He’s a genius with all these ideas and has never been able to do anything about it. For him it’s about making up for lost time. In this next arc Tony and Arno are trying to build a city. That’s a story where I take one of Iron Man’s greatest villains, the Mandarin, in a very different direction moving forward. But all the while the Stark brothers are really trying to think big, and in a perverse way, do just what 451 wanted them to do in the first place.

Marvel.com: There seems to be a real element of Greek tragedy to that, to a prophecy’s deferment ultimately, ironically, leading to its realization.

Iron Man #18 cover by Paul Rivoche

Kieron Gillen: That’s all the big myths: brothers and family and hidden brothers. 451 is the Holy Grail for Tony, basically. Back in IRON MAN #2, I was talking about grail knights, and the first time we meet 451, he’s offering Tony a cup. There is that mythic tradition underlying all of the science fiction.

Marvel.com: You said you didn't set out to tell this story, but that you ultimately fought for this development of adoption and legacy. Do you think the bigger takeaway here is how this revision changes Tony Stark, or how he remains largely the same despite this news? 

Kieron Gillen: That’s the thing, isn’t it? It doesn’t take away any stories and it adds so many new ones. A bad retcon reduces a character, like if it turned out Tony was actually a robot messiah programmed to save the Earth. That’s would fundamentally undermine the character. Conversely, I genuinely think this story opens up some really interesting narrative possibilities, without undoing anything that came before.

You can purchase and read IRON MAN #17 right now!

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