Ultimate Invasion #4 completes the set-up for the new Ultimate Universe with the conclusion of the limited series. And while it doesn't answer all the outstanding questions fans have - like whether Peter Parker will be the new Ultimate Spider-Man - it does set up Tony Stark as the first new hero of the reborn Ultimate Universe.
But the twist is, he's not Iron Man. And what's more, he's taking on a legacy that belongs to a totally different character in the mainstream Marvel Universe - one readers know all too well.
Spoilers ahead for Ultimate Invasion #4
The first chunk of Ultimate Invasion #4 by writer Jonathan Hickman, artist Bryan Hitch, inker Andrew Currie, colorist Alex Sinclair, and letterer Joe Caramagna focuses on Tony's dad, Howard Stark, who is the new Ultimate Universe's Iron Man, building his own time-manipulating Immortus Engine to stop the Maker from taking over his reality.
Working alongside his reality's Reed Richards (who wears a blue version of Doctor Doom's cloak and armor), Howard Stark is able to complete his Immortus Engine. He activates it, leaving the Maker (himself a variant of Reed Richards from the original Ultimate Universe) vulnerable to an attack from the new Ultimate Kang, who wears an advanced suit of armor in Kang's classic green and purple color scheme.
In the fight, Kang and the Maker go head-to-head, with Kang explaining to the Maker that the original Immortus Engine is based on his own future tech, stating that the moment of their fight is his "origin."
Remember that for later - it's important.
The fight concludes with Howard Stark using his armor to create a stasis field around the Maker's floating city, locking everyone inside into a state of eternal torpor, effectively ending the Marker's plans.
Only the masked Reed Richards escapes, bringing with him a broken Immortus Engine. He finds Tony Stark, who vows to finish what his father started and defeat the Maker once and for all. To do so, he first repairs and improves the Immortus Engine, then builds his very first suit of armor.
Here's where things get really interesting.
As Tony puts on his red and silver armor, masked Reed asks him if he's going to be the new Iron Man. But Tony says he's going to take his own codename, Iron Lad. As in the armored identity used by Kang's younger self when he co-founded the Young Avengers in the mainstream Marvel Universe.
And what's more, Tony's armor is revealed as looking exactly like the armor worn by the version of Kang who fought the Maker - the guy who just told the Maker that this story is his "origin."
So let's add it up: Tony Stark is Iron Lad. Tony Stark built the Immortus Engine. Tony Stark is wearing Kang's armor.
The new Ultimate Tony Stark is not just Iron Lad - he's the new Ultimate Kang. It's all but specifically spelled out on the page.
For those not in the know, in mainstream Marvel Universe, Kang is Nathaniel Richards, a future descendant of both Reed Richards and Doctor Doom. In the original Ultimate Universe, Kang was actually a future version of Susan Storm Richards, who was also an enemy of the Maker, the original Ultimate Reed Richards.
Weirdly enough, this isn't the first time a teenage Tony Stark has had a connection to Kang. Back in the '90s, in the mainstream Marvel Universe, Tony Stark once fell prey to the manipulations of Kang, turning evil. This forced the Avengers to go back in time and find a teenage Tony Stark, bringing him forward to the present day to defeat his own future self.
Perhaps writer Jonathan Hickman is having a little fun with that bit of trivia while establishing Tony Stark as the new Ultimate Universe's Iron Lad/Kang. One thing that's for sure is that the new Hickman-masterminded Ultimate Universe is already breaking the mold of both the mainstream Marvel Universe and the original Ultimate U by attaching Tony Stark to a totally different well-known Marvel legacy.
That said, things won't be that different for Tony, as the issue ends with him and masked Reed seeking out the frozen Captain America, presumably setting up the founding of a new Avengers/Ultimates team.
This makes it seem even more likely that the new Ultimate Spider-Man, who will debut in the first title of the new Ultimate Universe this January, won't be Peter Parker - who was prevented from turning into Spider-Man by the Maker when he was building the new Ultimate U earlier in Ultimate Invasion.
We'll likely learn more in the upcoming Ultimate Universe #1 one-shot, which will establish some of the characters and continuity of the new Ultimate U. Ultimate Universe #1 goes on sale November 1.
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