WARNING: The following article contains spoilers for Avengers #25 by Jason Aaron, Stefano Caselli, Jason Keith, Erick Arciniega and VC's Cory Petit, on sale now.
While the majority of the Avengers found themselves drawn into the hellish action of the recently concluded storyline "Challenge of the Ghost Riders," one founding member was conspicuously absent for much of the proceedings: Tony Stark/Iron Man. As the team battled against Cosmic Ghost Rider at their new headquarters in Avengers Mountain before descending to Hell to aid Robbie Reyes in his duel against the fiery underworld's new king, Johnny Blaze, Tony Stark was in the middle of his own solo exploratory mission, unaware of the rest of his teammates' apparent plight.
This plot thread is revisited in the final moments of "Challenge of the Ghost Riders," as Tony delves deeper into a remote cave in the middle of Turkey. Earlier, Tony found an ancient, fossilized version of his Iron Man helmet carbon-dated to over a million years ago. Shaken by the discovery, Tony ventures into the cave with the helmet where it was first excavated while his initial scans of the surrounding area prove inconclusive. As Tony arrives at the site where the helmet was found, it suddenly powers on despite its extreme age and recites an ominous phrase "Rege Mephisto" -- or "King Mephisto" in Latin -- with Iron Man consumed by a bright flash of green light.
The twist reveals that Tony has been teleported to the year 1,000,000 B.C. and six months have passed since the sudden power surge from the ancient Iron Man helmet that transported him to the prehistoric era. Visibly ragged and unkempt from his time as a caveman, Tony reveals that the last vestiges of power within the Iron Man armor have been completely spent, and he has since scavenged all he could from the now useless electromagnetic power suit. More ominously, as an Ice Age begins to set in making the surrounding landscape even more harsh, Tony observes that a blood moon has summoned an unseen antagonist that has been plaguing him since his arrival back to the past. With only rocks and ice to defend him, Tony doubts he will survive inevitable rematch with his persistent attacker.
There are several candidates for who Tony has battling for the past six months while trapped during the Stone Age. Given the incantation uttered by the ancient Iron Man helmet, Tony could be facing the demonic Mephisto over a million years ago. The prehistoric setting would also be the prime location for a cannibalistic Wendigo to be stalking human prey, making the feral villain another possible foe for Tony in the past. Finally, Tony's mysterious attacker may not be a traditional villain at all but rather a misguided hero like the Starbrand serving on Avengers 1,000,000 B.C.
The prehistoric Avengers had been created by Jason Aaron years ago and would play a major role in the first arc of his Avengers' run, with their secret battle for the fate of Earth against a Celestial fully revealed. Led by Odin long before the births of Thor and Loki, the Avengers of 1,000,000 B.C. share mantles with several iconic superheroes from the Marvel Universe's relative present including Phoenix, Iron Fist, Ghost Rider, Starbrand and Agamotto. The team's incarnation of Starbrand, in particular, appears to be a cross between the savage hulk and the cosmic hero, with the character's more baser state suggesting he has mistaken the time-displaced Tony for an enemy.
Stranded and alone during prehistoric times as an Ice Age sets in, Tony Stark is now without all the technological tricks and resources that made him one of the most formidable Avengers. And with something hunting him in the harsh landscape by night, he faces some of the greatest dangers he has ever known. The Avengers of 1,000,000 B.C. will inevitably appear from their own team-up with their more contemporary counterpart but has one of their own been stalking Tony Stark all along?
Avengers #26 releases November 20.