SPOILER WARNING: The following article contains major spoilers for Invincible Iron Man #597 by Brian Michael Bendis, Stefano Caselli, Alex Maleev, Marte Gracia and Clayton Cowles, on sale now.
Tony Stark may currently be missing, but there’s another member of the Stark family who hasn’t been seen in an even longer period of time: Tony’s brother, Arno Stark. The biological son of Howard and Maria Stark was a major part of the Iron Man books in recent years, until all of a sudden he wasn’t, and his absence has been quite conspicuous, especially with how close we are to 2020.
However, this week Brian Michael Bendis, Stefano Caselli and Alex Maleev finally reintroduced Arno to the Iron Man books, explaining what he’s been doing since he’s been away and drafting him into the ongoing search for his brother Tony.
Arno Stark — or at least this incarnation of Arno Stark (don’t worry, we’ll get there) — was introduced during Kieron Gillen, Carlo Pagulayan and Dale Eaglesham’s run on Iron Man during the original Marvel Now initiative. Tony had been drafted into piloting The Godkiller armor by an alien robot called Rigellian Recorder 451, something his father had apparently prepared him for since the womb. However, when Tony’s DNA was not compatible with the armor, he sensed something was up and returned home to investigate, eventually tracking down his brother Arno, confined to a hospital bed through illness and hidden away from 451.
When Arno was born, he quickly fell ill and his parents swapped him with an adopted child from Bulgaria whom the Starks introduced to the world as their biological offspring, Tony. Arno was hidden away and given the best health care money could buy, and when discovered by Tony, he could finally stop hiding from Recorder 451 and work with Tony to use his equally genius mind to help change the world for the better.
Arno and Tony fell out when Arno began experimenting on Extremis in an effort to cure himself of his illness. That was the last time anyone saw him -- until this issue. While visiting the Michigan Institute of Technology, Riri Williams is greeted by their three resident geniuses: Dr. Tony Ho aka Iron Patriot, Madison Jeffries aka Box of Alpha Flight, and Arno Stark, looking healthier than ever.
While this incarnation of Arno Stark was introduced back in 2013, his name was always a nod to a character created by Tom DeFalco and Herb Trimpe in 1984’s Machine Man #2. In that universe, Arno Stark is a not-too-distant descendant of Tony, living in the year 2020. He inherits the Stark company and works as a much more mercenary Iron Man, straddling the line between hero and villain considerably more than his predecessor.
Over the years, he’s been pulled throughout time and space, dragged into different conflicts by the Time Keepers, the Heralds, Immortus, Kang The Conqueror, the original Guardians of the Galaxy and the Time Variance Authority. He was last seen canonically in Marvel Zombies #5, where his timeline was overrun by a technozombie plague and he was devoured by his own armor.
Arno Stark’s reappearance in 2018 is certainly something to keep an eye on, because we’re only two short years away from 2020 and if Marvel don’t do something big with the character, it’d be missing a prime opportunity. Most future timelines are so far-flung that it’s never reasonable that we’d get to see the comics catch up, but Iron Man 2020 was always something that was coming, sooner or later, and the character has heaps of potential waiting to be tapped.
Whether it’s incoming Iron Man writer Dan Slott or whoever is writing the franchise in two years time, Brian Michael Bendis and Stefano Caselli just served up a massive storyline to follow up on. In short, don’t be surprised to see more of Arno over the next two years.