“The past is a foreign country… they do things differently there.”
An old man in a wheelchair sits in a spacious underground complex under the ocean. In his modern library, he looks at old pictures showing a group of scientists. A female-shaped robot addresses him as Dr. Birch and tells him they are ready. Calling her Elsa, he asks her to begin. Elsa presses a button to open the door to a lab. Inside are more robots like her and in six tubes large armored robots. She gives the order to initiate. And the robots are sent out…
A library opening in Harlem:
Tony Stark confides to the audience that he hates modern technology and is greeted with laughter. No, he does, he protests. Would they believe him if he told them his Stark phone seems currently to be broken? Shoddy workmanship, these days. More laughter. If it was working, he’s sure his P.A. could have told him the exact amount his industrial buddies spent rebuilding this beautiful Harlem library. Don’t worry. He’s sure it was millions. He’s very good at spending money. Which is maybe why he’s not rich anymore and Stark International no longer exists. But since their library was knocked down in a battle with Norman Osborn, who happened to be wearing a derivative of his Iron Man armor, he figured lobbying absurdly rich people was the least he could do. And it is very kind of them to invite him here for the opening. He appreciates it.
Nearby at the buffet, Luke Cage tells his oldest friend, Danny Rand aka Iron Fist, that Stark’s really good at throwing out money for a quick fix. Time lost and pain caused, that ain’t so easy to wash away. Times change, Danny tells him. They move on to the next phase. They are all Avengers now. Maybe, Luke agrees but, thanks to smug and smiling Tony Stark and his Superhuman Registration Act, they were hunted like fugitives. Luke’s wife and baby daughter were hunted like fugitives! Hiding out in derelict buildings, running for their lives. Shoulda been the happiest time!
Stark runs into them, champagne flute in his hand. What are they doing here? he asks. Danny explains that Luke knows a lot of people in the neighborhood. They asked him to attend. Luke just glares. And Danny? Tony asks. He’s Luke’s bodyguard, comes the explanation. In case there’s trouble. Which Luke causes. What kind of trouble? Tony asks. Looking upward, he sees the robots about to attack. Sweet Christmas! he exclaims Luke’s old catchphrase. Luke agrees.
Stark orders them to cover him until his armor boots up. Iron Fist gets ready remarking giant robots hate new libraries. Man treats them like rookies, Luke seethes. Play for time ‘til he flies back in and saves the day. They’ve been doing this a good few years now, so let’s show Mr. Stark some old school Power Man and Iron Fist action. Unfortunately, the robots’ repulsors take both of them out quickly.
Like he said, he hates modern technology, Iron Man quips. No, really he does. Before he can fire, the robots’ rays disable his armor and kidnap him.
Tony Stark awakes in the underwater fortress without his armor. It is so difficult to get a meeting with him, Birch remarks, not like the good old days, certainly. What has he done to him? Tony asks. Brought him down to his level, as it were, Birch retorts and asks Elsa to release him. His old friend is not really going to go anywhere at this point.
And he thinks the world of him too, obviously, Stark replies sarcastically. Well, he would, if he had the slightest idea who he is. Ill-looking supervillain, underwater base, robot army that’s not a million miles removed from Stark tech, obviously insane vendetta towards him. He’d remember, probably. Well, it has been many years since last they met, Birch remarks as Elsa wheels him out. He tells Tony to follow him. He has something to show him.
Looking around, Tony asks who built this base. He’d be guessing it’s a Hydra construct. Too advanced though. Birch agrees. Since last they saw one another, he’s worked for both Hydra and AIM., building much of their technology but he never agreed with their ideologies. He’s no terrorist. He realized through years of therapy that he simply doesn’t like people. So he took his robot creations, stole billions from both malicious organizations and built this base, far away from the eyes of the world. He has been very happy here, but time has run out. Cancer. He has weeks at most.
Tony expresses sympathy, but still doesn’t see what this has to do with him. He’s ruined his life, Birch tells him coldly. Stark stole his work and had him blacklisted. Tony calls him deluded, which is probably a given for anyone who lives with robots in an undersea base, granted.
They have stopped in front of a giant metal door. He was at Stark International at the beginning. His new products division. He developed robotic schematics that he’s seen bastardized in many Iron Man armors over the years. Stark’s life of privilege could have been his but Stark had him fired, hauled off the premises and arrested for sabotage. He called himself the Phantom back in those days.
The door opens. Donald Birch! Tony recalls, then mouths “my God” when he sees what’s in the giant lab. That may sound silly and childlike now, Birch continues but those were more colorful and innocent times. That was the past.
Tony stares down where more robots are at work around a square-like machine. Above, on computer screens, the face of several heroes can be seen. Birch asks Tony if he knows what that is. He’s studied the schematics with Reed Richards. It’s one of Doctor Doom’s time machines. Tony notices the computer images of the heroes and identifies them: Hank Pym, Johnny Storm, Captain Britain, Luke and Danny, Cyclops and Dazzler?
He warns Birch he is making a huge mistake. That machine is incredibly dangerous. He is fully aware of that, Birch assures him. He has been using it. He may not have a future himself, but to look into it has been fascinating. It has allowed him to make many key advancements to his robots, hence them dealing with Iron Man and Tony’s friends so easily. He had to increase their power for what he had in mind.
What does he want? Tony asks. What does he want him to do. Do? Oh, the arrogance! Birch scoffs. He doesn’t want Tony to do anything. He is completely powerless here. He brought him here to watch. It took a considerable amount of time for his robots to find and restore the disparate parts of this particular machine which had been destroyed in some pointless super-powered conflagration or other. The parts had been scattered across the globe, falling into the hands of various ambitious collectors and technologists.
While he talks the machine is activated and several of Birch’s robots appear holding a barely conscious woman whom Tony recognizes as Phoenix, or, more to the point, Dark Phoenix.
What is he doing? Tony demands. He’s very tired, Birch replies. Does Tony know that he sees him as possibly the most important person in his life? Yet Tony doesn’t remember him. Isn’t that sad? Almost as though he never existed. That moment, that flippant arrogant moment, he had him at Stark Enterprises, the entire path of Birch’s life changed. It could have all been so different. Tony was the father of this life he has lived. He was there at its birth. So, of course, he wanted him to see, what his actions eventually created. To see his life’s end. His Alpha. His Omega.
Dark Phoenix begins to stir.
Tears run down his cheeks as Birch admits he doesn’t know what to say. This is for Tony. He orders the robots to proceed as planned. They fire energy weapons at Dark Phoenix. Tony shouts at them to stop. That’s a primal destructive force of the universe down there, capable of erasing whole stars and he’s pumping up her power level! He’s only going to make her angry!
He realizes that this is the idea as Birch tells him goodbye. Goodbye to everything. Tony jumps down to the time platform.
Phoenix begins to glow with energy. “I am fire and life incarnate” she shouts. “Now and forever I am Phoenix!”
Tony reaches the time platform and activates it as the Phoenix effect rises and burns everything away, starting with the undersea lab, growing and growing across the whole world, destroying everything in its path, and finally the whole world.
Tony finds himself in a back alley, his clothes still smoldering. He tears them off. He relives the last moment and his own guilt in this, crying in shock. Above him he sees the window of Doom’s time machine where he came through. The portal disappears, he realizes why. The machine blew up along with everything and everyone else. Everyone he’s ever known. Pepper, Rhodey, Steve, Thor, all gone. He crouches in the rain.
Finding an old blanket to cover himself with, he starts walking. He figures he came through to the moment where Phoenix was grabbed from. He is in Manhattan. He knows a few good guys in Manhattan. Question is, who can he trust most? He walks up to the apartment complex and is greeted by the guard. Exhausted, he steps into his penthouse apartment, figuring two Tony Starks might be able to save the planet. That might be difficult though as he finds his past self slumbering in a drunken stupor…