(SPOILERS!) Marvel has thrown a big twist into the life of one of its Avengers characters - and he doesn't even know it yet! In Avengers #31, writer Jason Aaron takes Tony Stark back a million years to the time of the Savage Avengers, for a dark game of temptation of biblical proportions. After facing strange supernatural phenomenon meant to test his soul, Tony finally has to face the devil himself (Mephisto), as well saw some dark corners of his own past. The story comes with a massive twist ending, in which Howard Stark makes his return to the Marvel Universe in a most unexpected way!
While the main thrust of Avengers #31 dealt with Tony Stark's trial of survival in the ancient past, the story's subplot introduced an incident from Tony's past. In flashback memories, we see a nine-year-old Tony Stark sneaking out of his room one night, to test out his new X-Ray contacts on one of his dad's weird rich guy parties. Unfortunately for Tony, he picks the wrong party to spy on.
As it turns out, Howard Stark was into some pretty satanic stuff. Howard was a willing servant of Mephisto and threw costume parties (dressed in homage to Mephisto) in which he coerced wealthy elitists into sacrificing themselves or pledging their souls to the devil. Thanks to Tony's X-Ray contacts, he saw Howard's face beneath the devil mask, and it messed him up forever, thereafter.
At one point during his campaign of temptation against Tony, Mephisto takes on Howard's form, and revealed a dark truth to Tony, about Howard, claiming that Howard would eventually promise Tony to Mephisto, making the devil Tony's true "father":
"I spoke the truth with your father's tongue, Tony," Mephisto says. "He promised you to me. Or well, he will. Someday many many years from now. I've seen it in the stone. And don't you think it'd be easier for everyone involved if I just collected on it now? Bow to me, Tony Stark. And we'll rewrite the history of the world together, you and I. Become my Devil In Iron."
Whatever happens with Tony and Mephisto, the end of the issue reveals that Mephisto and his Time Stone are in league with Howard Stark - who is very much still alive. The final panel depicts Howard aged as if plucked out of time from the moment of his supposed assassination, many years ago. From the dialogue exchanged between the two, it seems that they plan to battle every Tony Stark across the multiverse in some kind of reality-twisting scheme, which should get interesting.
Avengers #31 is now on sale.
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