WARNING: The following article contains spoilers for Tony Stark: Iron Man #16 by Dan Slott, Jim Zub, Valerio Schiti, Edgar Delgado and VC's Joe Caramagna, on sale now.
The recent issues of Tony Stark: Iron Man have dealt with themes centered around the concept of identity, both through the android character Jocasta and the implication that this incarnation of Tony Stark may be a simulation of the longtime Avenger rather than the original man himself. The new story arc "The Ultron Agenda," dials up these themes into full-on horror as Ultron reemerges with sinister designs for Janet Van Dyne and Jocasta that lead to Tony undergoing a terrifying metamorphosis as the conflict escalates.
Taking thematic cues from The Bride of Frankenstein, Ultron attempts to create the perfect mate for his terrifying vision of a world merging together organic life with androids, seeking to combine Jocasta and Janet into one hybrid body against their obvious objections. This new development came after the reveal that Ultron has since merged with his creator Hank Pym to create an evil fusion of organics and synthetics as Ultron whisks away Janet to parts unknown. Eventually, Tony and James Rhodes are able to track Ultron down where they seek to rescue the longtime Avenger and defeat the mechanical villain once and for all.
Despite being cornered, Ultron quickly reveals he's by no means outnumbered and unleashes a horrific army of previous experiments crossing humans with robots upon the superhero duo. With Rhodey having endured his own past trauma of being merged with a machine in his past, the longtime hero begins to panic when faced with ensemble of hostiles resembling his former transformation, behaving erratically as Tony attempts to both calm his best friend down while avoiding being overwhelmed by Ultron's forces as the battle intensifies.
In the final moments of the issue, Tony is hit by a strange energy wave that results in him undergoing his own graphic transformation, merging with his newly unveiled Ultron-Buster armor. He's distorted grotesquely to Janet's visible horror as the rescue attempt goes terribly wrong. It is a truly horrifying sight for the iconic character, straight out David Cronenberg body horror film that is sure to leave its mark on Tony -- both physically and psychologically -- for years to come.
Marvel Comics has teased that next year would be an earth-shattering one for Iron Man that sees the superhero and co-founder of the Avengers blur the lines between man and machine. With the latest issue of Tony Stark: Iron Man, this merging becomes horrifically apparent, as Tony's latest armor has literally become part of him -- or rather, he has become part of it. At the beginning of the issue, Tony had unveiled a new machine, developed with his long-lost brother Arno, that may make a separation possible, if incredibly painful.
However, with Ultron still on the loose with his mechanical army and the promise of Iron Man 2020's new status quo right around the corner, Tony Stark may very well become a literal ghost in the machine as his greatest creation has become horrifically grafted to his body in a mission to rescue Janet Van Dyne gone terribly, terribly wrong. Tony has recently been questioning his own identity as to whether he is just a simulation of the superhero's personality. With his latest transformation, Tony's greatest fears of being synthetic have just manifested themselves physically.
Tony Stark: Iron Man #17 releases Oct. 23.