Wong is carrying out his duties at Dr. Strange’s Sanctum Sanctorum. A blue portal suddenly appears behind him and Dr. Strange emerges through it, landing in a heap on the floor. He explains that he is spent but unharmed and glad to be home. He’s fine. Unlike some of his colleagues like ‘Doctor’ Doom, Strange explains, he actually graduated medical school. More to the point, he adds as he heads to the door, Tiboro of the Screaming Idol has been denied the sacrifices he needed to breach the veil of space and time between our dimension and his. “Praise be the Vishanti!” Wong repeats his phrase and asks if he wants some tea. Strange declines his offer. After a battle of this magnitude he prefers to repose in the inner sanctum… alone.
On the other side, he finds Mr. Fantastic pouring Charles Xavier a drink. Seated nearby is the Inhuman Black Bolt and Prince Namor, the Sub-Mariner, standing with his arms folded. Between them they are five sixths of the Illuminati. Dr. Strange apologizes for his tardiness but Reed tells him its fine. He hopes Strange doesn’t mind him helping himself to some of Wong’s Green Wulong. Namor ask if he’s sure Wong suspects nothing. Strange assures him that his spell of summoning bought them directly to the chamber under the inscrutable ward of Zhered-Na. He needs fear no detection. Namor warns that if his servant discovers the existence of their group, he won’t be the one to fear.
He tells Charles that it’s good to see him up on his feet. Charles replies that he’s indebted to his friends in the Shi’ar Galaxy and their technology for that. He hopes they can come to order before his Majestrix Lilandra discovers that he has been spirited from her flagship… and her bed. Reed begins proceedings by informing them that he’s asked them to Strange’s home to discuss their absent sixth member; the one who dubbed their band of concerned citizens the Illuminati. He adds that Tony Stark’s competitor, Obadiah Stane, has taken over his company and Tony is now penniless. He’s been sighted living on the streets both in New York and in Los Angeles. Reed’s question is simple. Tony is their friend and comrade – a cornerstone and founder of their group. What can they do for him?
Charles suggests that, due to the problem being caused by Tony’s destructive tendencies, maybe if he agreed to return with him to the Shi’ar, telepathic probing might reveal the source of those tendencies. He could help Tony overcome them. Strange adds that a few divination spells would reveal if Stane used financial chicanery to seize Stark Industries. That would greatly assist Tony in regaining his company, he imagines. Reed reckons that, as a temporary measure, the Fantastic Four’s patents could know no better steward than Tony. Black Bolt raises his finger and Reed asks if he has anything to… add. He simply shakes his head, and Namor states that, despite not being able to interpret Black Bolt’s subvocal whispers like his wife, Medusa, can. As sovereign rulers of their respective peoples, Bolt’s opinion is clear for it mirrors his own.
He asks the others if they are listening to themselves. He claims that Tony Stark is the most irritating lung-man he’s ever met. But, he is in his own way as regal as either of the true princes of the blood here today. They would insult him by offering charity? If Stark cannot defeat his inner demons, what good is he against alien invasions and super-powered megalomaniacs? What good will he be to they who have sworn to defend the Earth? He feels that if Tony manages to pull himself out of the gutter, he will be stronger than ever before. Should he fail, then he wasn’t worthy to sit among them in the first place. Either way, he concludes, this road of trials that faces him now… he must walk down alone.
Tony Stark is sitting on a bench by the side of the road. A bag of gold clubs resides next to him. He looks around at his surroundings and wonders why they even bother building sidewalks there. Everyone just stays encased within their glass and steel cars like they were some kind of… armor. He’s been going up and down Wilshire Boulevard for four hours, and the only other human being he’s seen is the guy currently standing nearby.
The man asks Tony if he saw them turning the block. Tony asks who. “The F.T.C.,” he replies. They’re working with the S.E.C. getting their intel from the F.A.A. Tony quips that he should watch that alphabet. It can be treacherous. The man explains that they’re from further down the timestream. He swam down to the past to spawn in his mind like salmon. Their eggs hatch parasites to erase his inspiration for devices that’ll break the Iron Legion in 2020 a.d. The Anglaxius and the Spedifower. He looks Tony in the eye. “You see,” he adds, “I’m God!” Tony replies really? He thought he would be taller…
The guys says that he sees. He knows. Tony is like him. “I smell like two dumpsters making love?” replies Tony. The man tells Tony that he is an intelligent designer. If he sees them following him, he tells them he went the wrong way, right? Tony says that if he sees any mind-eating fish from the future masquerading as low-level bureaucrats, he will do just that. He has his word. The guy turns around and wanders away, leaving Tony feeling like he’s just had a conversation with his future. Maybe Stane was right?
Tony is in Obadiah Stane’s office. A chess board has a white king standing before a defeated black king - a symbolic show of victory. “Poor Tony,” he sighs. He tells Tony that he inherited his wealth, though his engineering genius is undeniable. But, he enjoyed a pre-existing fortune and market dominance to apply to them. He is a lion, but one raised in captivity, about to be released into the wild for the first time. His prediction? Tony will be eaten by the first gazelle he sees. Tony looks at his competitor and asks ‘his baldness’ for a request. Stane got everything in the buyout, but the golf clubs… they were his fathers. Stane agrees that he can take them, and then he can get the hell out of his office.
Tony stands and grabs the golf clubs and starts walking. He ends up standing outside a liquor store and stares at his reflection in the window. So, he thinks, is this the last chapter in the Tony Stark story. He turns and continues walking. No, he thinks… it’s the first.
As he walks past an alleyway, he spots the guy he spoke to earlier. He isn’t in a good way. A costumed villain carrying a large scythe has him hanging by a rope from a fire escape. Tony doesn’t hesitate to leap into action. He puts his clubs down and presses a switch on the side of the bag. As it opens, he thinks that he may be a self-destructive narcissist, but that’s nothing a few twelve-step programs and crying on Oprah’s couch won’t fix. Stane, on the other hand, will always be an overconfident idiot… and bald. The bag opens up and a version of his Iron Man armor begins to form. Tony puts on the armor and attacks, first using his repulsor ray to snap the rope holding his new friend.
He flies towards them and says that he knows he and his fellow New Yorkers get a lot of flak for thinking they have the best of everything (and rightly so), but Los Angeles is the second largest city in the country. Does he have to be such a poor-quality super-villain? The masked man replies, “Villain? The Hangman is on a holy mission to wash the filth into the gutter and take back their streets.” Iron Man orders him to stop talking. He’s just proving his point. He aims the palms of his hands at the Hangman’s scythe and it begins to glow. “Ah, old-timey electro-magnet. How I missed you and your smooth retro cool.” His opponent may be disarmed, but Tony’s old boots decide that now is the time to let him down. They splutter to a halt and Tony drops into a dumpster below.
The Hangman takes his rope and makes his way to the dumpster, stating that the heavenly hand has struck his enemy down from above. His mission continues to enjoy divine sanction. When he gets to the dumpster, he is smacked in the chin by an iron fist. That shuts him up. Tony thinks that his boots need rocket fuel - the kind you need a permit from the F.A.A. to buy. Not to mention money. He welcomes himself to his new world. He bets Spider-Man doesn’t have to scrimp and save to buy whatever his webbing is made of.
As he approaches the victim who is lying on the ground, he assumes it’s probably a long-chain polymer liquid that becomes an adhesive fiber when exposed to air. He wouldn’t mind synthesizing that when he becomes rich again. He asks the guy if he’s all right. Does he want taking to a hospital? He struggles to speak, but says no hospitals. Their needles extract his dreams to be sent to the Pentagon for study. He asks where Tamara is. She’ll hide him. She has no choice. Tony pulls the guy’s wallet out and reads his driver’s license. ‘Tyree Robinson.” It has his address on it, so Tony picks him up and hopes it’s current. As he’s grounded, he realizes there is no choice but to do what he really doesn’t wish to do.
Tony rollerskates along the highway carrying Tyree. The attachments to his boots were thought of after one too many Jamesons, but they’re coming in handy now. One smart guy in a passenger seat asks if he’s gotten lost looking for the roller disco, but Tony wishes he’d just keep laughing it up. When he’s rich again, he’ll… he’ll buy him or something. As he shoots along the freeway, closed-circuit television cameras follow his every move.
Before long, Tony is outside Tamara’s house, no longer wearing his armor. “Tamara?” asks Tony. Tamara says maybe. Who’s asking? Tony introduces himself, and Tyree asks his baby sister how she’s been. Tony explains that Tyree’s had a rough day. One of the city’s many charming local psychopaths cast him against his will in an amateur production of the Ox-Bow Incident. He’s a little banged up but said she would take him in. Tamara is quite surprised that he actually said that, but guesses that they can come on in.
Tyree makes his way upstairs, asking if his room is still there. Tamara replies that she didn’t rent it out if that’s what he means. Tyree goes for a lie down, telling Tony he can take it from there. Once he’s gone, Tamara asks Tony if he’s a cop. “Me? Nope,” he replies. “Social Worker?” she asks. Tony says no. Tamara asks if he’s just a good Samaritan.” Tony explains that he’s more like a fellow traveler. She tells him that if he’s looking for a reward then he’s gonna go away disappointed. Tony just says a glass of water would be great. He adds that he’s from back east. He’s not used to their non-climate.
Tamara apologizes for her attitude, and explains that she and Tyree grew up there. He was diagnosed in the middle of his sophomore year in college. He was top of his class in engineering. It’s been the same story with him for a decade now. Maybe four months from now, she adds, maybe tonight, no matter how hard she watches, he’ll stop taking his meds and wander off, heading back to the streets and whatever tells him to go there. She hands Tony his water and closes her eyes. She tells him that her mother died just around the same time he got sick. They were happy that they had each other, but now, he just looks like her brother. Sometimes, like now, he even acts like him, but inside, there’s just something nobody can reach. He wears you down until you’re hollow inside.
Tony tells her that he understands, and says everyone has their demons. He should probably go. He heads outside, and Tamara warns him to get a move on. This isn’t a good neighborhood. Tony asks what she means. It looks safe enough. Tamara tells him that Imperio is safe, but that doesn’t mean it’s good.
Tony heads off past Watts Towers to the place where he left his clubs. He finds two men looking at them and warns them off. The guys don’t recognize him and basically tell him to get lost. There’s nothing for him to steal there. They tell him that he smells like the men’s room in a distillery. They doubt his name is Star… Before he can finish his sentence, Tony leaps at him and lands a good punch. “What are you thinking?” barks the other guy. “This neighborhood is protected. We work for the…”
Tony puts him down as well with a Captain America patented right cross. Steve told him he put down the Fuhrer himself with that one. Unseen, the other guy recovers and pulls out a strange weapon. “Here’s who we work for!” he cries, as he blasts Tony through the chest with the weapon.
As Tony collapses, the two men flee the scene. Tony wonders what they hit him with. His chest is on fire. He hasn’t felt like this since the bad old days, before he got his artificial heart. He lies down and snaps open his shirt, popping the buttons clean off. The Iron Man armor builds itself beside him and he slaps the chest plate onto his body. It begins to stimulate his heart. His armor started life as a glorified pacemaker. All he needs is its power. His strength has been sapped and he struggles to pull himself along the ground. He hallucinates that he sees Professor Yinsen. As he blacks out, he figures this is the final chapter.
The two men return to their employers at a large white house. One of them explains that they tracked Iron Man after the first sighting at the vacant lot in Imperio. That’s one of theirs. There they found a set of golf clubs with Tony Stark’s name on it. His partner adds that a wino caught them going through it, but they killed him with the kinetic drainer which the travelers gave them. Their employer asks them to confirm that they are the only ones who know that Tony Stark and Iron Man are in Los Angeles. They say yes. They were real careful. “We appreciate it,” replies their employer, Geoffrey Wilder, before raising his hand and incinerating the pair of them.
Victor Stein asks why Stark wouldn’t deploy Iron Man aerially, as he has in 93% of recorded sightings. He doesn’t understand. Geoffrey Wilder replies that this is because he thinks like a geek and not like a strategist. Stark is trying to sneak under their radar. But, they have discovered his presence in Los Angeles first, and destroying Tony Stark has just become the Pride‘s number one priority.