In “Iron Man” #12, the third installment of Kieron Gillen and Dale Eaglesham’s eight-part “The Secret Origin of Tony Stark”, a genetically-tampered baby Tony is born while daddy Howard Stark and some unexpected allies take extreme measures to ensure that the secret of Tony’s genetic alterations isn’t discovered by any potential extra-terrestrial enemies.
The fact that Tony isn’t even born until the end of the third chapter of his own supposed origin story is a pretty stark indicator — pun definitely intended — of this arc’s slow pace and padded-out feel. This issue typifies that vibe, as the story is largely centered on Howard Stark’s takedown of the alien mob previously revealed as entrenched in Las Vegas. There are some additional revelations at the end of the issue, but elements like extra-terrestrial gangsters and Howard Stark as a vigilante, while moderately entertaining, don’t really give off a feel of having much to do with Tony at all.
The sight of bug-eyed, grey skinned aliens running around wearing expensive tailored suits is mostly entertaining in an unintended comedic kind of way, more evocative of a bad episode of “Alien Nation” than any kind of real action. Not that such a thing is necessarily intended to be taken all that seriously, but perhaps Gillen should treat it a little more so, if he’s expecting readers to buy into this far-reaching retcon of one of Marvel’s oldest and now most-popular characters. Arming Recorder 451, the deceptive alien robot behind the grand manipulation of Tony’s genetics, with a rifle while he recites old movie quotations, seems pretty out of character for what Gillen had previously established. In fact, it’s rather laughable and not in a good way.
Despite all of this, Gillen manages to throw in some pretty cool elements that just barely manage to offset its shortcomings and result in an enjoyable enough issue overall. Howard Stark gets some help from younger versions of familiar allies such as Thunderbolt Ross and Dum-Dum Dugan, which helps anchor this retcon in established Marvel history. Tying the extra-terrestrials’ presence into other reported alien and UFO sightings in the southwestern U.S. makes the notion of an alien mob infiltrating Las Vegas at least a little more plausible. Dale Eaglesham makes it all look good, as always; his facial detail is excellent, his flying saucers over Vegas look great, and he even convinces readers that Tony was a really cute baby — but those sharply-dressed alien mobsters still look kind of funny.
Like past issues of this storyline, this issue works better at face value as a moderately entertaining standalone comic, where Tony Stark’s dad gets to shoot up a bunch of aliens, than it does as part of a late-coming, grandiose addition to the history of a half-century old character.