Tony Stark, a.k.a. Iron Man, is adopted. At least, that’s the huge revelation in “Iron Man #17,” a comic book published by Marvel Comics that hits comic stores Wednesday (October 23), as revealed in a release from the Associated Press. The issue, written by Kieron Gillen with art by Carlo Pagulayan and Scott Hanna, finishes a long-running story line titled “The Secret Origin of Tony Stark,” which revealed that not only was Stark adopted by his parents, Howard and Maria Stark, but he has a natural-born brother named Arno who has been in hiding for the past few decades.
OK, crazy comic book plot time: in the book, a hyper-intelligent robot named 451 had been revealed to be manipulating the Starks for dozens of years. First, he promised to help save the life of the Stark’s sickly, unborn child in exchange for making the baby into the leader of a technological revolution on Earth. Then in the present, it turned out 451 needed Tony — who he thought was the baby — to pilot a gigantic world-killing suit of armor tuned to his genetic structure… But Tony was unable to do so, and eventually stopped 451.
In today’s issue, it turns out the reason Tony couldn’t pilot the armor was because he wasn’t actually that baby. The Starks had instead hid their natural child in a hospital — he was sick, due in part to the genetic tampering — and instead adopted Tony, making 451 think he was the child destined to pilot the world-destroying armor.
The emotionally charged issue is mostly taken up with Tony’s reunion with his brother Arno, who is confined to an iron lung, and unable to speak. (He can only type words on a keyboard, which allows a computer to speak for him.) He’s hyper-intelligent, claiming to be even smarter than Tony; and at the end of the issue, is ready to team up with Tony to save the world.
But comic book fans know there may be another path in store. In past books, Arno Stark is the Iron Man of 2020, a ruthless technological time-travelling bad guy who has often crossed paths with Iron Man. So will Arno be headed down this path, or a more heroic one? Given the fluid nature of time in the Marvel Universe, anything is possible.
The other question, of course, is: What does this do to Tony Stark’s character? As writer Gillen has stated on multiple occasions, the whole idea of genetic tampering challenges Tony’s assertion that he’s a self-made man. Now we know that anything he’s won, anything he’s created, is his and his alone… But what about his adoption?
As Tony says in the book, “Being adopted… This is normal. This happens to all kinds of people… It doesn’t feel any different.”
Whether this will resonate with other adoptees worldwide, time will tell. But for the moment, it seems like Gillen and company have handled a tricky issue with grace.