Stark International is aflame! And the man responsible is the smirking samurai called Sunfire, who has just witnessed the sight of Iron Man disappearing in a blaze of blinding light. However, the Armored Avenger who vanished was not the real Iron Man… for the genuine article is just arriving on the scene.
Boasting that now Iron Man is gone and nobody is between Tony Stark and his vengeance, Sunfire is suddenly surprised when he sees another Iron Man arriving on the scene. Iron Man (Tony Stark in his model 2 armor) tells him not another, and not an experienced imposter. He’s facing the real Iron Man now, murderer. Sunfire asks murder? Firing at Iron Man with a solar blast, he calls him a liar, he has killed no one. Pointing his finger at Sunfire, Iron Man tells him bull and then informs him there was a man inside that armor he blasted out of existence. Stark says to himself that it was a man named Michael O’Brien. He then wonders why he sacrificed himself for Tony Stark, a man he hated. Sunfire call Iron Man a fool and tells him it wasn’t a solar blast that took the imposter, but a teleportation beam.
Behind a nearby wall, Jasper Sitwell stands with Professor Watanabe and his daughter Fujiko. Sitwell thinks to himself that, despite the archaic armor, that must be the genuine golden Avenger up there. But there’s no sign of Mr. Stark since he donned the Guardsman’s armor. Turning to her father, Fujiko says to him that it is they who are to blame for this. Professor Watanabe tells her no. As long as Tony Stark is suspected of bribing Japanese officials and of dishonoring Japan, he will be subject to attack by ultra-nationalistic young fools like Sunfire. As Sitwell levels his S.H.I.E.L.D. issued .38 special and points it at Sunfire with the intent to wing him, he tells Fujiko and Professor Watanabe to stay behind him.
Up above, Iron Man flies towards Sunfire. As he blasts him and misses, Sunfire says to him that’s impossible. That burst should have hit him. Iron Man retorts that he better wake up, he’s playing in the big leagues now. And even disadvantaged by his older, slower armor, he’s still faster than he’ll ever be. With that, Iron Man punches Sunfire. Upon seeing Sunfire plummet towards the ground, Iron Man curses himself. His anger caused him to misjudge his punch. He hit him too hard. He wanted to get him to listen to reason, not kill him.
Watching Sunfire fall from the sky; Sitwell remarks incredible. He melted a path through heavy machinery on his way down and he’s still alive. As Sitwell points his gun at him, Sunfire laughs at him and asks a gun to stop the solar samurai? Sitwell tells him he doesn’t want to use it, but if he forces him to, he’ll… shoot? Just then, Sunfire blasts the gun and destroys it. Rushing in, Iron Man tells Sitwell to get out of there. Sunfire states that he would not have harmed Sitwell. The battle he seeks is with him and Stark. Iron Man tells him then he’s got it and he owes him for plenty.
Inside the dark and deserted private office of Tony Stark, Harry Key snoops around. He says this is it, the end of a job that’s going to net him a cool million. Stealin’ the plans to Stark’s factory was kid stuff. But dopin’ out certain indications on those plans to be locations where Stark stores Iron Man’s spare armor – that was a little tougher but not impossible.
Once he presses a nearby button, a panel starts to open. Harry remarks another second and he’ll have the last… When the panel opens, Harry is surprised when he finds that it’s empty inside. Tossing one of Iron Man’s metal arms on the ground in front of him, a female shadowy figure asks Harry by name if that’s what he’s looking for. Turning around, Harry asks who in the blazes they are. If the come any closer, he’s gonna… Kicking his gun out of his hand, the shadowy figure tells him that he always did talk too much, even when they worked for her. Knocked to the ground, Harry tells her she’s crazy. He never say her before in his life.
The figure asks him no? Removing her mask, she tells Harry perhaps this will refresh his memory. Upon seeing her face, Harry is shocked and exclaims oh my god! It can’t be! They said she died! She’s… Tsk, tsk Harry! Giving it all away in one issue? Where’s your sense of mystery?
Back outside, Sunfire continues to bombard Iron Man with solar energy. As he does, he asks him where Stark is. Tell him and he’ll spare him. At that moment, Fujiko tells Sunfire to stop. He is shaming them; he is shaming Japan. Turning towards her, Sunfire tells her no. It is her traitorous father who deals with the interventionist Stark. It is he who brings glory to the home-land. Emerging from the flames, Iron Man informs Sunfire that it is he who’s just made the biggest mistake of his life. He’s held back because they were allies once. He then proceeds to tell Sunfire that he’s young but there’s two things he’d better learn if he wants to live to be older. The first is respect and the second is to never push a super-hero. Especially when his name is Iron Man!
With that, Iron Man blasts Sunfire and knocks him out. Seeing Sunfire slumped over, Sitwell asks that he didn’t… Iron Man asks kill him? He, Jasper, knows he doesn’t do things like that. He just gave him a lesson in controlling one’s power, and another in humility. Hopefully one of them will stick when he wakes up off Stark’s property.
Once away from the curious eyes that follow him and he is inside the complex, Stark mentions that it’s a good thing the plant’s firefighters have the blaze well under control. The exertion of battling Sunfire was beginning to take a toll on his older armor’s circuitry and putting a strain on his heart. The older armor has a lot going for it but it can’t equal the newer model. The one O’Brien was wearing before he faded out. Sunfire had said O’Brien was teleported away. But there’s only one man he knows who is capable of such a feat. And that man is now… dead.
His tracers are homing in on the unique molecular structure of the new armor. After tying in with an S.H.I.E.L.D. scanner-satellite orbiting above, Stark is shocked when he sees that it is Red China. Seeing the Mandarin’s castle rebuilt, he remarks that’s impossible. He also mentions that it’s hard to see through the fog, but something’s moving on the slopes.
At that moment, he realizes that it’s O’Brien, still in his new armor (model 4) surrounded by Death-Masked warriors wielding deadly electro-swords. Observing O’Brien beginning to confront them in battle, Stark wonders why he doesn’t use his boot-jets to escape? No. That hot-headed Irish idiot, he’s trying to take them on. But he doesn’t know how to utilize all the armor’s in-built weaponry. Before long, O’Brien is down and Stark proceeds to yell at him through the screen to pull himself together.
Just then, Stark sees someone approaching through the fog. The S.H.I.E.L.D. orbiting satellite reveals what happens next in merciless close-up as thousands of miles away, Tony Stark reels with each bone-crushing blow sustained by Michael O’Brien and recoils as if each energy burst were striking him. Finally, the armor-clad surrogate lies motionless on the soft Chinese earth. Until, in silence, he is dragged up the slope over a drawbridge and into the forbidding castle. The grim-visaged angels of death cluster near the center of the open courtyard and cold fingers of horror claw at Tony Stark, for dread nightmare has become reality.
Stark exclaims it is him. He’s changed his costume but not his stance, his sinister bearing. He should have known he was too powerful to have been destroyed, as the Yellow Claw claimed. His most dangerous nemesis is back from the dead. The Mandarin lives again! And he’s got O’Brien strapped to a missile.
Of course, all the pieces are starting to fall into place. The appearance of Ultimo, the conspiracy to discredit his defense systems, all of it has the earmarks of past Mandarin operations. And with his integrity on the line with Congress and his defense mechanisms under suspicion and down for inspection the Mandarin is counting on the U.S.’s lack of faith in those systems to be their downfall. He’s undoubtedly aimed that missile at the U.S. And all it takes is one paranoid general to overreact, misinterpret that missile as a nuclear attack from Red China and World War III will begin with the Mandarin stepping after the mushroom clouds settle, to pick up the pieces.
Putting on a lab coat to cover up his armor, Stark calls his secretary, Krissy Longfellow. She is not at her desk, but Jasper Sitwell is there sitting in her place. Upon seeing Stark, Sitwell informs him they’ve been looking all over the plant for him. They thought he might be… Stark interrupts him and tells him there’s no time for that. He and Iron Man will be gone for a while. He and Krissy are in charge. That is all. Sitwell starts to interject but the transmission goes dead. Once it does, Sitwell states that he can’t run a company and Ms. Longfellow has vanished. Entering the room, Krissy asks Mr. Sitwell if all S.H.I.E.L.D. agents are so melodramatic.
While a harried Jasper Sitwell fills Krissy in on the latest problems of a multi-national corporation, Stark quickly removes his lab coat and rushes off. As he does, he says the fact that the Mandarin thinks he’s captured him is his only hope. The fiend will taunt O’Brien, maybe torture him figuring the one foe capable of stopping him is in his power. He has to gamble on him delaying the launching of the missile until he’s had his fun. If he’s right, they may have a chance. If he’s wrong, it’s goodbye O’Brien and goodbye world. His old armor may not be strong enough to stop the Mandarin but with all his spare armor stolen, it’s all he’s got. He’s got to boost its transistors past their tested limits though the shock may kill him.
Turning a knob, Stark fires twin energy beams at himself with full intensity. Power is flooding his armor, energizing every circuit. If only it’s enough to keep his injured heart beating until he can reach the improved chest device in his new armor. Mere seconds later, Sitwell sees Iron Man flying through the air outside the window. When he does, he mentions to Krissy that Iron Man is undoubtedly off on some new dangerous mission, less than an hour after risking all against Sunfire. Krissy proceeds to ask him if he ever thinks of anything besides danger.
Reaching his destination, Stark indicates that he’s covered the distance to the Avengers’ mansion in a matter of moments. He can’t reach China under his own power but there he can get one of the fastest crafts ever made. Once within the far-famed headquarters of Earth’s mightiest heroes, Jarvis asks him if there’s anything he can get him. Stark tells him that this isn’t a social call; he’s there to borrow a Quinjet. Jarvis remarks “oh dear” and asks if he should summon the rest of the Avengers. Stark tells him there’s no time. Rushing into the hangar, Stark thinks to himself that he can’t afford to wait a moment. With O’Brien’s life on the line, everything depends on speed and surprise.
Entering the aircraft, Stark he adds that’s where the Quinjet come in. Flying faster and lower than a conventional aircraft, he can avoid radar checks and be over Red China in under a half an hour – time enough to save a world or lose it. With a vertical thrust of her mighty rockets, the Quinjet rises above the city’s skyline, then flashes eastward towards the Atlantic Ocean while a troubled Jarvis watches it fade into the distance and wonders what new danger threatens the security of Earth.
(Interlude, eight hours from now)
In the chambers of the Senate sub-committee investigating the alleged bribery of foreign powers by Stark International, Senator Byrd remarks to fellow Senator Andy Hawk that he’s only there as an advisor but Tony Stark’s failure to appear is highly suspicious. Hawk replies that he trusts Stark. He must have a reason for not coming. After all he’s done for this country, they owe him another few…
Suddenly, Jonathan Rich, assistant to Senator Hawk, leaps to his feet and tells his boss to stop defending Stark. He knows he’s a traitor. After Hawk asks him if he’s gone mad, Jon remarks that he may be the only sane one there. Stark is selling this country out, and the contents of the case he’s holding will prove it.
Continuing to pilot the Quinjet, Stark sees the Mandarin’s castle dead ahead. He hasn’t been spotted yet but then he’s the last person he’s expecting. Within the castle, Mandarin slaps “Iron Man,” calls him a dog and tells him he’s wasted enough time on him. He then tells him that he’s offered him scant amusement by refusing to speak. If silence is the way he manifests his courage, then go silently to his death, his most hated foe. But know as he dies, a new age is born. The age of the Mandarin!
When he sees the missile launch, Stark says praise whatever guardian angel watches over armor-clad super-heroes. There goes the missile and he’s still in time to stop it. Ejecting from the Quinjet, Stark gives chase. The missile is moving with incredible speed, faster with each passing second but nothing will keep him from it. Reaching the missile, Stark breaks O’Brien free from the restraints. As he does, he remarks clever. The restraints electronically nullify O’Brien armor power but, since he’s not in them, they’re easy to break.
Grabbing hold of O’Brien, Stark takes him over to a nearby cave. O’Brien asks about the missile’s nuclear charge and Stark tells him that he attached a jamming device as he grabbed him. It no longer has nuclear capacity and it has been shot off course by his repulsors. As he begins to remove the Iron Man armor, he says he kept his mouth shut, infuriatin’ the Mandarin while he prayed he’d track him down.
Just then, Michael is shocked to see that Iron Man is actually Anthony Stark. Putting on his armor, Stark tells O’Brien that he now knows what his brother Kevin knew. Tony Stark and Iron Man are one and the same. Now and forever, until the day he dies. O’Brien says then he was wrong, about both of them. Flying off, Stark tells O’Brien to forget it. He then tells him that an Avengers Quinjet has automatically landed at the base of the mountain. Its controls are preset for Avengers mansion. Use it and get out of there. O’Brien confirms that he will.
Making his way to the Mandarin’s castle, Stark knows that the Mandarin knows he’s coming. His Death-Squad is rising to intercept him. But if he goes to meet his end, he does so with honor as the Invincible Iron Man!