Exiles (1st series) #23

Issue Date: 
May 2003
Story Title: 
With an Iron Fist – part 1

Judd Winick (writer), Kev Walker (penciler, inker), Transparency Digital (colors), Paul Tutrone (letters), Nova Ren Suma (assistant editor), Mike Raicht and Mike Marts (editors), Joe Quesada (editor in chief), Bill Jemas (president)

Brief Description: 

In an alternate reality, all of Earth is ruled by President Tony Stark, Iron Man, from his Oval Office in New York City. It took him years to rise to this position and he did not take it by force, but by scheming. Little does the world know that it was Iron man who formed a secret alliance with Magneto to cause the Mutant Wars. After a huge amount of Earth’s super-beings perished in the conflict, Iron man betrayed his ally and killed him, which the public perceived a heroic act. In the following years, Stark Industries successfully developed vaccines and cures for diseases that had sent the planet’s population into famine and starvation. Again, it was Stark himself who had secretly caused this epidemic, just like he was behind several “natural” catastrophes that caused the last remaining free countries to ask the United States for help. The last true opponent was Dr. Doom, but Iron man killed him in battle. What the public doesn’t know is a radiation blast from Doom permanently disfigured Stark and that the handsome face is just a holographic projection. Also, he is forced to wear his armor all the time. Right now, the Inhumans are among the last free people, as they turned their city into a giant submarine, hidden well behind a cloaking field. Unfortunately, necessary repairs force them to the surface, where they are discovered. Black Bolt and his wife have only one option: to protect their city by activating the G Barrier. It was a parting gift from Sue’s deceased first husband, Reed Richards. Originally designed to keep Galactus at bay, the shield disintegrates everything that it comes in contact with. Stark’s armed forces learn this the hard way. While Iron Man ponders his next move, after all he needs the Inhumans alive to breed a superhuman army to conquer the stars, a new group of players arrive on the scene – Weapon X, a reality-hopping team of time-displaced operatives. Their mission is to set things right.

Full Summary: 

New York City; the United States capital city on an alternate Earth. This reality is unlike any other. The planet has known plagues, wars, famine and natural catastrophes beyond imagination. However, in the time of Earth’s greatest weakness a leader arose, who brought everything under control. A huge building dwarfs every other in the city, even the World Trade Center. In the top floor, a lone figure stands by the window, gazing at the city below, wearing a red and gold armor with a green cape. It is Tony Stark, Iron Man. Not only is he the President of the United States, and President for life as part of an emergency edict some ten years ago, he is also the undisputed monarch of Earth.

Stark thinks about how he came to power. It was a long and agonizing road but, in the end, nearly every living being on Earth begged and prayed for him to take over. He only did so slowly, with great reluctance and a heavy heart. Only few people knew that this was what he had planned from the start. If one wants to remain in control, he does not take a planet by force, but waits until he is given control. An individual can rise up in a time of great weakness. All he had to do was to make sure that the world was weak enough. Tony Stark spent his entire life planning and scheming until the time was right. In no time, Stark Industries had an economic stranglehold over the globe, but as he never tightened that grib, the people would never know.

(flashbacks to the past decades)

Iron Man entered the world theater when the Mutant War began. United around Magneto, an army of mutants launched an unwavering attack on humanity, which pitted every super being on Earth against the mutants. The United States saw acts of terrorism like never conceived before. Many lives were lost on both sides, but what none but a selected few knew was who had provided Magneto with the necessary funding for his army – it was Iron Man. Through the Mutant War, he had succeeded in thinning out the world’s super-being population. Afterwards, he and Magneto secretly met, as the master of magnetism had promised Iron Man leadership of the remaining vestiges of humanity. That was indeed the role he had wanted, but not in the manner in which it was granted. Tony Stark did not want to be anyone’s underlings and he killed Magneto while their battle was recorded by cameras. Slaying the evil mutant while millions watched on, Iron Man became a hero; but a soldier does not make a great leader.

Stark’s ascension truly began with the Great Famine that ripped the world apart somewhat later. A powerful virus similar to the Mad Cow Disease, seized the entire meat, pork and poultry industry, leaving most animals unfit for human consumption. With the next year, a new strain of fungal rot devastated half of the world’s wheat production. The United States face true hunger for the first time and millions of people died all over the globe. Only when Stark Industries developed countermeasures and vaccines the survival of the human race was ensured. One year later, Tony Stark received the Nobel Prize for his work. Although he would never admit it, Stark was surprised how fast the viruses and plagues he created had thrown the world into starvation, but not by how quickly his name was suggested as a presidential nominee. The hero, scientist and savior won with the highest popular and electoral vote in history, but being President of the United States still was not enough for him.

When he secretly developed technology to control the weather and seismic activity, he reached his next goal. Massive “natural” catastrophes in Europe and Asia led to those countries pleading for assistance, which Stark was all too willing to give. They all came to him, Tony Stark never needed to ask or twist any arms and, soon, the world was at his feet, with only one true adversary remaining – Dr. Doom. Iron Man had struck up an alliance with him as well, but this time it was he who was betrayed. The plan was that Doom would launch an attack on Washington, destroying the last remnants of the United States’ political structure. Doom fulfilled his part of the bargain, but then wanted more and tried to overthrow Stark. They battled each other to the death using the in built weaponry of their armors at full force. In the end, Iron man was victorious and walking away from the battleside, he grabbed the green cape of his opponent for himself. That day, he became the Sovereign of Earth.


With his helmet off, Iron Man sits in his office behind his desk, listening to the reports of his staff. He questions who wants to know this. A member of the staff tells him that the inquiry came from Roxanne Malveer of the National Review. Stark belittles the newspaper, saying that he was not aware it had become a fashion periodical. Marcus, the staff member’s name, explains that a question about when he would redesign his armor would not necessarily be a fashion topic, but Stark already knows that. He gives order to remind them that his current armor was specifically designed to aid in his recovery from his battle with Dr. Doom and that his physicians told him it will be at least three years before he can replace it with another suit. When another staff member suggests how best to release this news, Stark interrupts. He wants them to tell exactly that story and also he wants the National Review’s Editor in Chief removed. Marcus question if with “removed” he means... Stark confirms the man’s suspicions; they are to kill the woman, as he is tired of her accusations and criticism. Then, he excuses himself, as he is due for his medical check-up.

Not much later, Stark is welcomed by a female doctor in his medical center. She asks for permission to shut off the hologram and Stark allows it. She presses a hidden button in the neck-piece of his armor and the handsome face of Tony Stark vanished to give way to what really lies underneath the illusion – a gray/green skinned, scarred, bald head. The doctor finds this an improvement, the grafts are taking as says. Stark is not convinced and tells her he looks like he shaved with a blowtorch, but the medic corrects him – he looks like he sustained a radiation blast from a foot away. Annoyed by this statement, the president asks her why he lets her live and the simple answer she provides is that she is the most gifted cosmetic surgeon in history and Stark wants his good looks restored.

Marcus comes into the lab, reporting about some important matter, but he falls quiet when he sees the face of his employer. Quickly turning on the hologram again, Iron Man angrily questions what he wants. Marcus apologizes for the incident, but Stark gets even angrier and demands to know the reason for the interruption. Marcus says that they have gotten word from the NAS Com base in the Pacific, who have received a reading that could be them. “Who,” Iron man wonders and Marcus repeats, “Sir... them.” Finally getting the meaning, Stark pauses before declaring this as good news.

Elsewhere, another individual is reporting to the ruler of his nation. The green-skinned, almost reptilian-looking guy explains that they have tried everything, but the only way they can effectively stabilize is to break to the surface. The city will flood if they don’t make the necessary repairs and, unfortunately, they will need to shut off the cloaking field for the duration. However, Arcutus, the person’s name, fears that even the briefest exposure will allow their enemies to trace their energy signature and pinpoint their location. They have to face it – the hiding days of the Inhumans have come to an end. In this reality, the Inhumans are a hunted race and the once-glorious Attilan, their home, is a massive vessel that surrounded by a forcefield travels around the seas shifting locations and avoiding detection. Fleeing was their only way to ensure their survival and the Inhumans are a race living in fear.

Black Bolt, the Inhumans’ silent king, and his wife, the Invisible Woman, widow of Reed Richards, listen to Arcutus every word. Speaking for her husband, the Invisible Woman tells Arcutus to take the city to sea level and start repairs. She also orders Gorgon to prepare all that he can for battle. The hooved Inhuman addresses Black Bolt, asking if that isn’t a bit pre-mature, but one gesture from his king is enough to understand that a confrontation is inevitable. As he and the remaining members of the Royal Family leave the throne room, they discuss the events. Gorgon never thought it would come to this day and Karnak agrees that they all hoped they could evade the conflict, but it’s clear that Tony Stark is never satisfied. After conquering Earth, the stars will be his next step. To battle such alien races like the Kree or the Skrulls, one needs an army and no human army will do. Karnak knows that Iron Man will capture the Inhumans, dissect them, study their DNA and use them as breeding stock for his war among the stars. Gorgon wonders if Black Bolt has a plan, but Karnak assures him that he always does.

(three hours later)

Sue approaches her husband and tells him that the repairs have been made, but Arcutus is sure that their location has been discovered. She wants to know what they are to do. Black Bolt lowers his head and then draws the letter G into the air. Sue understands; he is referring to the G barrier, their last gift from Reed. She knows that, with it active, they won’t be able to use the cloaking field as it disrupts the power couplings, but she agrees with Black Bolts decision and leaves to tell Arcutus to start with the necessary preparations.

Watching her leave, Black Bolt thinks that it was Reed Richards who discovered Tony Stark’s true plans during the Mutant Wars, which meant death for him, Medusa and dozens of other heroes. It was only a matter of time before Sue and he found comfort from their grief in each other’s arms. That comfort became love. On her way through the city, Sue is lost in similar thoughts. She has loved two men in her life. Reed Richards was so full of knowledge that he could barely restrain himself from speech, while Black Bolt has to remain silent or his uncontrollable power of his voice might cause mass destruction around him. While one would never shut up and the other would never talk, both her husbands were very emotionally distant. The irony is not lost on Sue, nor is it appreciated.

In the Oval Office in New York, Iron Man is informed that his staff has satellite confirmation. Attilan has been spotted just 100 miles of the coast of the Marshall Islands in the Pacific. His orders are clear – take them alive, at least most of them. Over the Pacific Ocean, battalions of so-called generators close in on their destination. They are operatives wearing armored suits close to that of Iron Man. Not before long, they reach Attilan, from where a division of Inhumans capable of flight, are approaching. The leader of the Generators once more reminds his comrades that they are to take the Inhumans alive. Their prey do not limit themselves to such obstrictions and fight with everything they have, but some of them end up in captivity.

Inside Attilan, Black Bolt and Sue tell Arcutus to hurry, as they need the G-barrier now. Within the next minutes it might be too late, as them their enemies would be within the perimeter. The loyal servant is making the last preparations. He only needs to make sure that the device is properly powered up. Finished, he orders the Inhuman army to fall back. They follow this order, and the Generators think that they are retreating out of fear, so they go into pursuit. Right when the Inhumans have safely reached the city, he presses a green button that activates the G-barrier. A green force bubble materializes around the city in a big explosion. The G-barrier was originally a means to hold Galactus at bay. The world devourer left it to Reed Richards when he saved his life, as a means to ensure that Galactus would always keep his promise to never feast on the planet. Before his death, Reed left the device to the Inhumans, as he knew that Galactus was not the only power-hungry creature to desire Earth. The Generators are the first to feel the power of the barrier, upon hitting it they are immediately killed.

In his office, Iron man is informed of the barrier. All four battalions of Generators, nearly 40.000, have been killed. Iron Man still orders his men to keep trying, despite the fact that the barrier disintegrates everything they are throwing at it. Once the radio contact has broken off, Stark declares the situation as hopeless. Suddenly, there is a strange noise behind him. Iron Man immediately powers up his repulsors and orders all of them to stay right where they are or they are dead. A voice greets him; “Hello, President Stark. I’m Gambit. We’re Weapon X... and we are here to set things right.” The mutant holds a charged bo staff in his hand and, behind him, his teammates stand ready.

Characters Involved: 

Angel, Gambit, Hulk, Spider, Storm, Vision (all Weapon X)

Alternate reality Weapon X visit in #23-25 :

Iron Man

Marcus and other staff members



Arcutus, Black Bolt, Crystal, Gorgon, Karnak, Triton and dozens of others (all Inhumans)

Invisible Woman, Black Bolt’s wife

in flashbacks:

Blob, Cyclops, Havok, Magneto, Nightcrawler, Storm, Wolverine

several unnamed mutants

Captain America, Human Torch

Dr. Doom




Story Notes: 

Weapon X were last seen in Exiles #12-13. Angel and Gambit are new members. The most recent addition, Iron Man in #13, is already no longer with the team, apparently killed in one of the group’s missions in between.

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