SPOILER WARNING: The following article contains major spoilers for Invincible Iron Man #599 by Brian Michael Bendis, Stefano Caselli and Alex Maleev, on sale now.
Any story arc entitled "The Search for Tony Stark" sort of implies the Avenger's eventual return, so it's no surprise that Tony has already done exactly that prior to the storyline's conclusion. No, Brian Michael Bendis, Stefano Caselli and Alex Maleev's Invincible Iron Man #599 instead has a few other surprises.
The penultimate chapter of Bendis' arc (also his penultimate work for Marvel Comics) doesn't come to a stop just because Tony has finally turned up. In fact, it arguably accelerates as it heads for the final chapter, with another new revelation regarding Tony's lineage. As if Tony's family history hasn't had enough literal skeletons in its figurative closet, one of them has come back to life -- or, perhaps, never died in the first place, as Tony's birth father "Jude" makes an unexpected appearance on the issue's final page, alive, well and coming as no surprise to Tony's birth mother, Amanda Armstrong.
Hey Jude, Don't Make It Bad
The revelation comes on the heels of Amanda's discussion of Jude's demise with Tony. As originally shown in International Iron Man #7, Amanda had killed Jude in self-defense on a S.H.I.E.L.D. mission while pregnant with Tony, after Jude had revealed he was a double agent for Hydra. Of course, this means that Jude somehow either got better – as comic characters often do – or that Amanda was lying to Tony all along about his birth father's fate.
As Amanda's account included a well-placed, fatal stab to Jude's jugular vein, and since Jude has never been shown to have demonstrated any kind of death-defying superpowers, the notion that she's lied to Tony is the most likely scenario. The reasons for it, though, remain clouded. Amanda references a deal she had made with Jude, presumably one that bound him not to reveal his presence his presence to Tony.
Did Amanda perhaps subsequently save Jude's life, or perhaps not even injure him in the first place, perhaps out of her love for him, with a stipulation that he disappear? If so, why would he break their deal, after all this time? And if word of his return gets out, how will the world react if it becomes known that a founding member of The Avengers was fathered by an agent of Hydra?
My Two Dads
Curiously, Tony himself had darkly mused about a very similar scenario in International Iron Man #5, just before learning that Amanda was his biological mother. Tony sarcastically hoped that his father wasn't someone like The Red Skull, a villain with a longstanding association with Hydra. Ironically, Howard Stark, Tony's adoptive father whom he long believed to be his biological one, was an agent of the Brotherhood of the Shield, an organization that was the precursor to the modern-day S.H.I.E.L.D, as established in 2010's eponymously titled miniseries. The two developments put Tony's biological and adoptive dads on opposite sides of a longstanding covert global conflict.
Unable to resist yanking Tony's chain, Amanda invokes a little sarcasm of her own, joking that Tony's dad is – wait for it – Thor. Yes, Thor. Whether this throwaway line would also be shown to have some kind of ironic meaning remains to be seen, but it could be an unlikely seed used by other writers in the future – should any be daring enough to tackle such an outrageous idea.
Jude's reappearance comes on the heels of a strong of recent ancestral shockers for Tony. He had only learned of his adoption after discovering he was unable to pilot a celestial war craft – one that he was told by Recorder 451 he had been specifically genetically coded in utero to operate, as told in 2013's "The Secret Origin of Tony Stark."
At the same time, he learned of the existence of his stepbrother, Arno Stark – the true son of Howard and Maria Stark, and the unborn child who had actually undergone The Recorder's genetic manipulations. Up until all of that, Tony had no idea he was a kid who was told he was genetically altered, only to find out that he wasn't, but only because he was adopted. Quite a lot to process for a guy who thought he grew up like any other smart, rich kid.
Back to Jude – who is he, really, why is he here, and why now? Bendis gets one last chance to share some answers in Invincible Iron Man #600, on sale May 23.