Human beings are shaped by a number of forces. Some, like genetics, we have no say in, while others, like the choices we make and the people we associate with, are ours to control. What happens when you discover your ability to shape who you are was stolen from you and the choices you made were genetically influenced?
Writer Kieron Gillen and artist Dale Eaglesham began to explore the existential nightmare posed by that very question in "Iron Man" #11, the second chapter of the series current "Secret Origin of Tony Stark" storyline. In the issue Stark discovered his intellect, ability to design weapons and even his character flaws stem from a deal brokered between his parents and the duplicitous alien robot known as 451. Comic Book Resources spoke with Gillen about these revelations, what 451 ultimately wants from Tony Stark and the writer's plans for the series moving forward.
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"The Secret Origin of Tony Stark" is a story that unfolds in two time periods. The present day sequences follow the adventures and conversations Tony and 451 have as they travel across the galaxy to a mysterious location. In flashback sequences readers are shown the adventure that led Tony's parents, Howard and Maria Stark, to cross paths with 451 and how the alien robot offered to help save their unborn son, but only if he could tinker with the boy's genetics. Because of 451's penchant for manipulating the truth some readers might be wondering if what they're seeing in the flashbacks is genuine or filtered through the robot's perspective, and they would be right to ask those questions.
"This is a big, epic story that really started in 'Iron Man' #6, where we first met 451. It's a story that will build all the way to issue #17 where you'll get the denouement and all the final pieces. So it's safe to say that everything you see is genuine. We're not showing you anything that didn't happen," Gillen told CBR News. "It might not be the whole story. There might be other stuff going on around the edges, and 451 might not being telling Tony all of the things he did. Whatever you do see is real though. You can assume the sincerity of the flashbacks.
"It's also very clear that 451 believes what happened in the flashbacks to be true," Gillen continued. "So yes, 451 would totally lie to Tony if he had to, but there's an implication at least that he believes these things to be true."
The flashbacks also revealed the reason 451 sought to genetically engineer Tony. He wanted to create an individual that would arm Earth so it could stand up and defend itself against various interstellar empires and the intergalactic great council currently appearing in writer Brian Michael Bendis' "Guardians of the Galaxy" series.
"When Brian was at one of the big summits and outlining his vision for the space stuff and how it interacts with Earth I thought it was really interesting. So I knew Tony was going to be appearing both in my book and 'Guardians' at that point and I thought I could foreshadow that and all the invasions of Earth that would occur later on," Gillen explained. "So yeah, this very much ties into that whole side of the Marvel Universe. The history of Marvel's compressed timeline is about 10 years and during that period Earth would have been destroyed multiple times if Tony hadn't armed groups like S.W.O.R.D. or been a primary force in the Avengers. So this is me playing revisionist historian, essentially. It's like, here's an alternative reading of these facts. What do you make of it?
"Also, the interconnectivity of the Marvel Universe adds a certain dramatic power," Gillen continued. "I thought it would be interesting if the things that 451 is rebelling against were the galactic council and these big space empires. Plus there's the fact that Earth has so much potential and is so clearly weird. There's a reason why they declared it a No Man's Land in 'Guardians.' So yes, this is all interesting. In short I think it ties into that whole tonal thrust of what's going on in Brian's book."
It's currently unclear why 451 believes Earth must be protected and if that belief stems simply from evidence that the planet is strategically important to his long terms goals or if it comes from a genuine feeling of affection for the planet and its people. "He is, in his own perverse way, an idealist. So he definitely has plans for Earth, but does he have any real affection for the planet? Or will he just use it to accomplish his larger goals?" Gillen mused. "Those are questions we'll delve into a little further down the line. 451 will show more of his cards as we progress, but these are all good questions to be asking."
451's ability to feel affection in general and other emotions is also currently a mystery. "451 wasn't meant to have this amount of experience. His mind was supposed to have been wiped every time he went home to the planet Rigel. So he's operating beyond his design limits. As a machine, he was built to experience things and learn from them, but those experiences would be wiped every time he went back to Rigel. So the fact that he was never wiped is what basically allows him to break out of his prime directive. At least that's the origin of 451 that's been presented," Gillen remarked. "So he's neurotic. 451 does his job and is very good at it, but there's this twitchiness to him where he's almost talking to himself the entire time.
"Whether or not he has feelings of affection and love I don't know. I certainly think he has an understanding of right and wrong. He knows what he's doing is wrong -- at least that's what he claims," Gillen continued. "We'll discover more information about him as we move forward, and when dealing with him it's always about more information rather than a direct lie. When we start the next arc in issue #13 Death's Head [The robotic bounty hunter that's been a supporting character in "Iron Man" since issue #6] will find out more about his break from Rigel. So the story surrounding him will build rather than over ride itself."