Inside the control room of one of his compounds, an exhausted Tony Stark thinks to himself that he’s been working 48 hours without sleep but his new armor (model 4), is in its final preparations at last. The thermocouple, his solar collectors, are all gone to make room for thousands of life-preserving micro-circuits and electronic storage cells. With his heart so dangerously weak, his armor must once again serve as the means to keep him alive. Just like the early days of Iron Man’s career, he’ll have to wear his chest plate constantly.
As Michael O’Brien, the new Guardsman is bound and drifting in a sedative-induced sleep, Stark turns the final tempering of his armor over to the guidance of his computers. Leaning back in his chair, Stark thinks to himself that he’s being overly fatalistic. The new circuits are smaller, leaving him room to add some innovations to the armor’s defenses. Tony Stark may be a prisoner of his life-saving chest device but at least he’ll be the master of his armor, unlike the O’Brien brothers who were both driven mad when the untested armor of the Guardsman affected their already unstable minds.
Kevin, his best friend, tried to kill him out of jealousy while Michael attacked him seeking revenge for his brother’s accidental death. He’s placed Michael under Avengers’ custody, made him his responsibility, had him sedated until he could figure out what to do, if it turns out his madness is permanent. Upon hearing the intercom buzz, Stark guesses it’s time to get back to the business of running this factory. He then tells himself to shake off the depression and listen to what his bright-eyed secretary has to say.
With that, Stark proceeds to ask Krissy what the good word is. Krissy tells him that he must be joking. His being incommunicado for two days despite a congressional subpoena has turned the press loose like a pack of wild dogs. He’s being tried by the media and, if they haven’t pronounced him guilty, it’s only because they’re afraid of a lawsuit. When Stark asks her if it’s that bad, Krissy tells him it’s that bad and worse. If only he’d make an appearance before Senator Hawk’s committee… Stark tells her that he can’t do that. Not yet. He asks her to hold them off for just a little while longer. Krissy tells him okay, he’s the boss. Stark then thinks to himself that he doesn’t dare appear before that committee. Not until he knows his chest plate will keep his heart from failing again.
While a worn and weary Tony Stark cradles his head in his hands, praying that sleep will bring forgetfulness. Krissy thinks to herself that she’s never heard Tony so tired, so defeated. Just then, a man enters the room and calls out to Ms. Longfellow. Krissy tenses suddenly, gripping her desk, but it goes unnoticed by her visitor. The man tells her that with all the turmoil of the last two days, he’s neglected to introduce himself. He is Jasper Sitwell, agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. at her service. He’s been assigned as Mr. Stark’s personal security advisor.
At that moment, two individuals enter the office. Krissy tells Mr. Sitwell that’s very interesting but she has two distinguished visitors to attend. Turning towards the visitors, Krissy asks them if she has the honor of greeting Professor Watanabe and his daughter Fujiko. Professor Watanabe replies yes and recognizes that she is no doubt Ms. Longfellow, Mr. Stark’s personal secretary. The honor is theirs. They owe her employer a great deal. Fujiko reminds her father not to forget his heroic bodyguard. For it was Iron Man who saved them from Zoga the Unthinkable, a demon of myth that was actually a mechanical creation of Toru Tarakato, her father’s assistant who was also the evil fanatic known as the Monster Maker.
After explaining to Professor Watanabe and his daughter that her boss can’t be disturbed right now, Krissy sends them off with Marty, a security guard, to take a tour of the plant. Once they have left, Krissy mentions to Mr. Sitwell that he keeps staring at her. Did she do something wrong? Sitwell tells her no, he means, it’s just that he, he gets the strangest feeling that he knows her from somewhere. Quietly, Krissy stammers m-maybe he d-does.
Hearing a mumble, Sitwell asks Krissy what she just said. Krissy tells him she said that he must have her mistaken for someone else. As he turns to leave, Sitwell states that he guesses so but he’s usually good at remembering little things about people. Things even they aren’t aware of. By the way, she can call him Jasper if she likes. Hearing the name Jasper, Krissy’s facial expression is one of abject fear.
Outside, on the grounds of the vast industrial complex, Marty shows the visitors the building that houses their solar energy experiment wing. Professor Watanabe exclaims yes, the most advanced in the world. Mr. Stark has promised to build one like it in Japan. Watching them from afar, a shadowy figure states that is a promise he will never keep.
Inside the control room, Stark awakes with a jolt. When he does, he mentions that he’s been working so hard, he must have dozed off. Michael O’Brien tells him that he did, he slept peaceful as a babe. He then tells him he’s a cool one. His conscience does nae give him a bit o’ trouble, does it. Turning around, Stark realizes that O’Brien’s sedative must have worn off by now. Michael tells him that it has. He’s awake an’ it’s answers he’s wantin’. Why is he strapped down? Tony informs him that it’s for his own protection. Iron Man said he tried to kill himself. Michael replies aye, he remembers somethin’ like that but ‘twas more like a dream. He dinnae hurt anyone, did he? Tony tells him nobody but himself.
Michael then asks Tony what he’ll be doin’ wi’ him now that his bodyguard’s delivered him over. Tony begins to tell Michael a story about his friendship with his brother Kevin. One day, Tony Stark told Kevin that he’s decided to give Iron Man a rest and they both thought he would make a perfect replacement. Kevin accepted and the Guardsman was born. Michael exclaims aye, then Tony stole his lady away an’ drove him to hate him. Tony tells him that he’s wrong on two counts. Marianne Rodgers never loved Kevin, except in his mind. He became jealous of their love and the untested armor proved defective. It fed that hatred and drove Kevin mad. Michael says all right, so the armor does make ye dizzy. It made him want t’ kill Iron Man instead o’ bring him t’ justice, but…
Just then, the alarm goes off. Checking the scanner, Tony notices that the west half of the factory is in flames. One of the workers running from the flames exclaims “find Mr. Stark. Tell him we’re under attack by Sunfire!” Blasting away, Sunfire calls out that he brings them Japan’s answer to the foreign interventionist, Tony Stark. They will not tolerate American intrusions and bribes. And all who deal with the criminal Stark shall be branded traitors. Yelling up at him, Professor Watanabe calls Sunfire a headstrong young fool. Nothing has been proven against Tony Stark. As he does, his daughter Fujiko warns him to be careful and not to anger him. Sunfire tells Professor Watanabe that he needs no “proof.” Stark’s deals have disgraced the sacred honor of Japan and it is his duty to see that Stark International is destroyed.
As Sunfire resumes his attack, Michael O’Brien tells Stark that the boyo’s finishin’ what he started out t’ do. He then tells him to go on and call Iron Man. He hopes they both fry for their crimes. Running off, Stark tells O’Brien to shut up. He knows his new armor isn’t ready yet so he’ll have to take a chance on one of his old, unmodified spare outfits. Opening up a nearby closet, he is surprised to find it empty. He recalls that he has one more in another closet in this sector but finds that one empty as well. Incredible as it seems, his hidden units have been found and stolen without his ever knowing it.
Seeing Tony dismayed, Michael asks him if somethin’ is the matter. With his hand over his face, Tony tells him that he forgot he sent Iron Man away on a mission. Michael remarks so he’s lost his precious hero when he needs him most. An’ by the time he gets back, he an’ his bleedin’ company’ll be nothin’ but ashes. Putting the Guardsman armor on, Tony tells Michael that he’s sorry to spoil his fun but he just can’t let that happen. After Michael asks him what he’s doin’, Tony tells him he’s buying time. He created both Iron Man’s armor and that of the Guardsman. Nobody knows more about their capabilities than he does. He should be able to keep Sunfire busy until Iron Man returns.
Flying out of the complex, Stark thinks to himself that it won’t be all that hard, since he is Iron Man and the armor he’s wearing has all the basic powers of his own. There’s nothing wrong with his mind, so he’s no worry of being driven insane. But without the heart-strengthening circuitry of his own armor, will he be able to stand the strain?
Floating above the grounds of the complex, Sunfire continues to blast away at everything around. As he does, Sunfire asks if Stark is so great a coward that he will allow him to melt his factory to slag rather than face him. Just then, the Guardsman (Stark) punches him out and asks him if that is what they taught him in samurai school. That normal humans are cowards for having the sense to avoid combat with a super-powered foe.
Unleashing a solar blast towards his attacker, Sunfire exclaims an armored attacker? Obviously a mercenary since he struck without honor from behind. He then asks the attacker if Stark pays him so well that he would die for him. Dodging the blast, Stark notices that the young fool’s gone crazy. Doesn’t he remember how they fought the Mandarin together as allies? He then says blast, he forgot. How could Sunfire recognize him as Iron Man while he’s wearing the Guardsman’s armor?
As the two men battle above, the civilians below remark great. Now they’ve got two super-menaces to worry about. Hiding behind a nearby wall with Professor Watanabe and his daughter, Jasper Sitwell thinks to himself that as Colonel Fury would say, “Somethin’ smells around here.” The Guardsman was in custody. Yet, there he is, while there’s no sign of Iron Man. Turning to Watanabe, Sitwell tells him that he’ll be safe there and now if he’ll excuse him…
Punching Sunfire in the face, Stark knows that he’s got to slow Sunfire down. Break through his ultra-nationalistic pride and try to convince him that Stark’s not a crimin… As he unleashes a blast, Stark grimaces in pain and clutches his chest. He’s overtaxed his heart. He h-has to break off the f-fight and get to his new armor. It’s his o-only chance. He has to buy some time.
When Stark makes his way into a nearby crane, Sunfire asks him if he seeks to use it as a shield. Calling him crazed one, he tells him to watch as it turns to molten steel around him. Stark says not if he can reach the controls and swing the w-whole damned thing right at him. After he swings the crane and its wrecking ball at Sunfire, Sunfire blasts it and asks the mercenary that he found the courage to strike back – excellent. Thus he has earned the honor of dying with glory in combat. Weakly staggering out of the crane, Stark remarks th-that’s what he was afraid of. Sunfire’s c-closing in for the k-kill and he can’t even stand to face him.
Watching the proceedings from inside the control room, Michael O’Brien sees the battle and notices that Stark’s finished. He’s throwin’ his life away while his employee’s get t’ safety. Is this the man he’s been hatin’ for months? Now he remembers somethin’ Kevin once told him. Tony Stark’s a sick man, carryin’ a bad heart that could kill him at any moment.
Exclaiming that he’s been persecutin’ an innocent man, Michael busts free from his restraints and states that it’s time he began t’ make amends. And by the time Jasper Sitwell, using every means at a S.H.I.E.L.D. agents disposal, penetrates the elaborate security-system about Stark’s lab he finds Michael O’Brien putting on the Iron Man model 4 armor. Sitwell remarks that it looks he arrived just in time and orders O’Brien to take the armor off. And he’d better have a good story for what he’s done with Iron Man and Stark. Putting the Iron Man helmet on, Michael indicates that he has nae idea where the Avenger is but he does know where Stark is. Pointing at the Guardsman on the monitor being pummeled by Sunfire, Michael tells Jasper he’s out there. Jasper exclaims the Guardsman?! Is he trying to tell him that a man with a history of heart trouble is sacrificing himself to save them all?
Outside, Stark notices that e-each blast from Sunfire gets closer. He can’t dodge fast enough. Only… matter of time before blast sears through armor and then through him. He h-has to lead Sunfire away from the main plant. His only h-hope is that he’ll be satisfied with defeating him and leave others alone. As Stark clutches his chest, Sunfire continues to stalk him. He tells him “You cannot escape mercenary.”
Inside the control room, O’Brien tells Sitwell that Stark couldn’t chance waiting for Iron Man’s return so he put on his armor an’ now it’s killin’ him. But now the suit Stark was makin’ for shell-head is ready. Sitwell asks and he’s supposed to believe he’s going to help a man he hates. Flying up and through the escape hatch above, O’Brien tells him that he can believe what he wants. He’s nae time t’ argue wi’ him. ‘Cause for once, Michael O’Brien’s goin’ t’ do what’s right. Firing his pistol up at him, Sitwell yells out to O’Brien that he orders him to come back at once in the name of S.H.I.E.L.D.
A short distance away, Sunfire continues to stalk the Guardsman (Stark). He tells him that he’s fought nobly but victory is his. Surrender Stark to him and he will grant him peace. As Sunfire makes his way closer, Stark gathers all his remaining strength and kicks him in the gut with both of his feet. Continuing his assault, Stark says that he has to keep smashing, hoping that when he falls, he’ll have taken Sunfire with him. Each blow is weaker than the last until finally leaden arms refuse to lift the weight of armor encasing them. A moment’s hesitation is all Sunfire needs.
Blasting the Guardsman, knocking him to the ground, Sunfire tells him it is done. He was an honorable foe, but all battles must reach an end. Just then, O’Brien arrives and tells him that he’s thinkin’ Sunfire ain’t got there yet. Looking behind him, Sunfire exclaims Iron Man!
While Japan’s self-righteous samurai is convinced enough that the Iron Man he faces is the real one and turns to meet his attack, Stark weakly drags himself away down the dark and empty corridors of his own factory. Each inch is agony, every step a nightmare of pain until finally a panel is reached, a hidden stud feebly pressed and Tony Stark falls heavily forward into the shadowed room beyond. Endless, pain-filled moments later, metal-sheathed hands reach to remove an armored mask. He needs the chest-plate on the armor stored in this room. It’s old. The thief who took the others may have missed it.
Just then, a shadowy female figure tells him that he has, so far Iron Man. Surprised, Stark asks who? The figure tells him that’s not important but this is. He has to put his model 2 armor on quickly. Clutching the model 2 helmet, Stark mentions to the person in the shadows that they could have seen him unmask. The person tells him that masks hide nothing, they… know that. As the mysterious form fades back into the all-embracing shadows, Tony Stark dons his life-saving armor.
Outside, Sunfire and Iron Man (O’Brien) continue their battle. As they do, Sunfire mentions to him so Stark uses him as well, his former ally. O’Brien asks ally? What in blazes is he talkin’ about? Sunfire adds that he thought he, Iron Man, was too honorable to serve a criminal.
From afar, the Mandarin watches Sunfire battle Iron Man on a computer screen. He remarks what supreme irony; the two most responsible for his humiliation are battling each other. But the combat will now be cut short. All is in readiness. For months, he has planned this, his final victory. Once he presses this button, the wheels of conquest will be set in motion, never to be stopped until the entire world lies at his feet.
At that moment, O’Brien is hit with somethin’ that came out of nowhere. Sunfire asks what trick but then recalls that he has seen this light before. It is a teleportation beam. He was its victim last time but now it claims his armored opponent. Iron Man is gone! Flying in, Tony Stark informs Sunfire that he is more mistaken than he’ll ever know. In shock, Sunfire asks “another Iron Man?” Stark tells him not another, the real one. The original Iron Man is back!