WARNING: The following article contains spoilers for Tony Stark: Iron Man #11, by Dan Slott, Jim Zub, Valerio Schiti, Edgar Delgado and VC's Joe Caramagna, on shelves now.
Marvel Comics has stoked speculation that Earth-616's Arno Stark might become Iron Man 2020 since Dan Slott began his run, with covers for Tony Stark: Iron Man #1 and Tony Stark: Iron Man #5 both showing the character's armor. The newest issue of the series makes clear those are more than just teases, and Arno -- or someone -- will become Iron Man 2020.
Created in 1984's Machine Man #2, Arno Stark/Iron Man 2020 was the first cousin once removed (though sometimes nephew) of a Tony Stark from an alternate Earth. After gaining control of the Iron Man armor, Arno served as a mercenary and worked with the villain Sunset Bain against a resurrected Machine Man. He did eventually become a hero, but his relationship with the concept of altruism is pretty complex.
When Kieron Gillen and Dale Eaglesham introduced a different version of Arno to Earth-616 during "The Secret Origin of Tony Stark," there didn't seem to be much connection between this character and the original. Earth-616's Arno was sickly, and immensely kind and caring. Even his relationship to Tony had been changed to that of an adopted brother. However, Arno has changed since then, using Extremis to cure himself of his health problems. Most recently, the seemingly philanthropic character took a full-on villainous turn, allowing others to suffer and die in Tony Stark: Iron Man #5. The end of that issue also revealed he had, like the original version of Arno, teamed up with Sunset.
Tony Stark: Iron Man #11 finally reveals more about the relationship between Arno and Sunset, as the two work together to save Tony from space, where he's stranded without oxygen and in damaged armor. Although Sunset has some objections to saving Tony, Arno insists on helping his brother. When he returns to Earth, Tony commandeers one of Baintronics' factories and manufactures a new set of armor, which he claims the unfettering of his mind in the digital reality known as eScape made possible.
Tony faces off against the Controller, dubbing his new armor the "God-killer" during the fight. Afterwards, Tony sets the armor to self-destruct, destroying both it and the Baintronics facility used to create the weapon, reasoning that the "God-killer" armor is "too powerful to stick around in the real world." Later, a meeting at Baintronics reveals Sunset celebrating how the eScape fiasco has damaged Tony's reputation while enhancing the profile of her company, and someone celebrating with her declares, "2020 is ours for the taking!"
The end of the issue reveals Tony didn't successfully destroy every trace of the God-killer armor. Joseph Green/Gauntlet later reports to Arno that data fragments were recovered from the destroyed facility. Asked if he plans on making a God-killer armor of his own, Arno replies, "Maybe. But not right now." He then pulls up pictures of Howard and Maria Stark on his screen, revealing he has "another project that requires [his] immediate attention."
Longtime readers immediately saw Tony's God-killer armor bore a remarkable resemblance to the armor worn by Iron Man 2020. The similarities are especially evident in the fanged helmet and gears on the shoulders. Adding to that, the term "God-killer" is a throwback to Arno's Earth-616 origin. "Godkiller" (no hyphen) was the name of the armor designed to allow the child of Howard and Maria Stark to deter and destroy Celestials. Tony's inability to use that version of the Godkiller armor leads directly to him finding Arno and learning of his own adoption.
All of these links make Arno suiting up as Iron Man 2020 next year a near certainty. However, considering his recent actions and team-up with Sunset, one question remains: Will this Iron Man 2020 be a hero, a villain... or something in between?
Tony Stark: Iron Man #12 hits shelves June 5.