Last time in Tony Stark's Ca Ca Coma Face, Ca Ca Coma Face: Tony's brilliant plan of electrocute me and I'll totally wake up... didn't really work that way. So he's still lying there, can't read my, can't read my, you can't read my coma face... With the Ghost on their trail, Maria, Pepper and that old doctor guy and the biddy from the hotel took to ground. And Cap brought in the big guns: Magic Tony! I mean, Dr. Strange!
Invincible Iron Man #23: Ghosts in the Machine
Tony and Strange are inside the run down shack in his brain. Tony is sitting on the floor still awestruck by the vision of Strange standing over him. Strange is all glowy and Strange like with his flowing cape.
Tony: "That the hell's the Iron Man?"
Strange: "Interesting affection. You said "the." Not "an" or "Iron Man"--you called it "The Iron Man." Where I come from You're the only one that does that."
Tony: "Where you come from." Where do you come from? Where are we and how did you get here? What the hell is going on?"
Strange: "My name is Stephen Strange and I'm here to help you."
Two problems with this. One, you introduced yourself in the last issue you ass, and two... he didn't ask who you are he asked how you got there, where they are and what the hell is going on. Way to make this all about you, Strange. You f--
Strange: "Your name is Tony Stark and you've suffered a profound and traumatic brain injury." That's putting it mildly. "This place--this life you perceive yourself living--these are ghost dreams, my friend. The last phantom bits of information left inside of you. You are Iron Man. Iron Man is you. And we need you back and I'm here to help that process along. Say it. Try the thought on for size."
Tony: "I am Iron Man."
They're sitting on the floor, Tony looks pouty and lost. Strange looks like his angry twin brother. The sad thing is the only reason I know the difference is that Strange has a glow around him and he's wearing a cape. That's just... yeah that's...
Anyway, after Tony says "I am Iron Man" the chest plate starts to glow in the middle. Tony says it again and then Strange does some magic and papers fly around. Tony continues to say that he's Iron Man and Strange tells him to keep doing it and concentrate. Tony stands with a yell and the repulsor in his chest glows as two more appear in his palms. And his clothes become gold. Haha, get it? The Golden Avenger. Nicely played. When that's over, Tony touches the repulsor in his chest sort of looking like a gay man who likes his outfit...
Tony: "What was that? Was that magic?"
Strange: "No. I told you: this is all in your head and none of it is actually happening."
Tony: "How can--really? Because it feels real. Howard and Maria, the terror, the pain--if it's not really happening why should I care? If it's not real why am I afraid?"
Strange basically tells Tony that if he believes these things that is what makes them real. If he believes it hard enough then that is why he feels pain, if he believes he die then he will. He asks Tony why he believes himself to be here and then tells him that they're going to solve it. Because if Tony Stark can't fix himself, Doctor Strange sure can.
Maria, Pepper, the Doctor and that old bitch stand there watching Strange and Tony. Maria wonders what they should do now and then the doctor and the hotel lady excuse themselves to go back to the hotel, where they will engage in disgusting old people sex. I mean, he offers to escort her back and he's not getting any younger. He can prescribe himself Viagara. And well, she might not be a looker but maybe he's a chubby chaser. Hill warns them to be careful because something is brewing.
Pepper doesn't like the sound of that and asks her what she means. Maria tells her not to worry about it. The two of them idly chat, Maria looks board by Pepper discussing that she misses the arc reactor already, how it made her stronger and smarter and better. How she realized that was how Tony must of felt all the time... and then she spills the goods. The meat of the conversation... and the resounding screams of everyone who hates the idea of Pepper/Tony spreads throughout nerdom. Yours truly included.
Pepper: "It's funny--how it all worked--I was finally the alleged smart one and we still slept together."
Maria: "You what?"
Fuck you, Matt Fraction. I trusted you. I defended you that you wouldn't have Pepper sleep with Tony. I thought you knew better. You like Pepper, you know she's smart enough to not sleep with Tony even without the arc reactor, you know that she can do better, that she knows she can do better and this? This is how you repay me? And... and I was so happy you got your Eisner. You wound me...
Pepper: "I know. I know. Of all people I should know better. But-- but we were on the run. We were in Russia and it--" What? It was cold? "You should've seen him--so helpless, and guileless, and--"
Maria: "Potts, I'm not screwing around here--you and Tony--you--"
Pepper: "Maria, I--yes okay? Tony and I--why do you--"
Maria: "I--we--before it all started at the Funtime Inc. hide out of his--that creepy place this whole insane thing off his kicked off. Before he ran, we--we..."
The two of them exchange a glance knowing exactly how Maria is going to end that thought. They look at Tony and each panel shows the progression of their thought. First they stare at Tony, then Maria looks at Pepper, Pepper looks at Maria and they both look back at Tony. Pepper puts her hand to her head, Maria her hands to her hips. They are not pleased. That's okay, ladies. Tony leaves a trail of broken hearts and empty beds in every arc. He slept with Rhodey, Henry, and even Namor too...
Maria: "Tony Stark. Tony @%&$@# Stark."
Maybe Tony shouldn't wake up... because these two are going to fuck him up...
Tony is moving to sit down with Strange again, who is cool as a cucumber and pouring tea from a... a mug that appeared from no where. Oh Strange and your magics, even in Tony's head you're doing that crap.
Tony: "Hm. I'm in trouble, aren't I?"
Strange: "You really are, yes. And I have no idea how to get you out other than to help keep you moving forward."
Tony looks at him skeptically and basically lays out what's been happening since the beginning of this arc. The digging, the flashes of memory the stop, repeat and move on. How he feels like when he does something wrong it starts over but if he does something right it doesn't skip or repeat. How he found oranges and teeth and then they get erased and now the RoboCops are after him.
Tony: "They're looking for me. They took Howard and Maria away. They knew the Sentries knew. They took them to the Bureaucrat."
Strange: "The Bureaucrat. Tell me about the Bureaucrat."
Tony: "All of this might be in my head, okay, but the Bureaucrat--the Bureaucrat is real. Everyone here works for him. We dig this stuff up and who knows what he does with it but if you don't then you die. And you can say this is all in my head but, but, but--"
Okay so here's my theory on the bureaucrat. It's either a psychological manifestation of the danger presented by Norman Osborn as Tony was on the run from him during the previous arc, deleting his brain and all it's contents. The RoboCops there by being his tech used against him by Osborn. Or, it's Tony's own subconscious fear of returning to life preventing him from doing so in the guise of a threat he has yet to meet... being a super-hero and a former corporate rockstar, a villain with political power would be a logical explanation for Tony to use as a barricade between his mind and the world.
Strange: "Stark, listen to me. A second ago I had a cup of tea. Saucer and all. Where did it go? Where did the chest plate go? Why does this room lok like it's going to blow apart? You're a man suffering profound brain trauma. These... bits... of information... you're struggling to weave a logical narrative out of chaos. There's some thought you need to have, some... threshold, deep within you, that you feel you need to cross so you can move on."
Wait... I'm confused... did Tony suffer brain trauma? Thanks for being repetitive.
Tony asks how the hell he can be afraid of something in his own head. Strange condescends to Tony about how he's talking to him like he's still the smartest man in the world, and not the bumbling retard he is now (Sorry, Sarah Palin but I'm using that word and you can't ask me to resign from shit. Have fun reading speeches off your hand...). That was nice of you, Strange.
He rambles on about how Howard and Maria probably know what he would do or how to help because they're good people and they were kind to him. They wouldn't have been if he was someone to fear. Strange suggests they go find them then and rescue them from the Bureaucrat. Then some more magic happens and strange is floating and Tony is watching him fly through a hole in the roof. He's afraid of the things inside him which... I think might be the repulsor tech.
Back at the hotel, the old people are having some after sex tea and that's gross. Ghost laments his failure to kill Stark to Madam Masque via the Ghost phone. They took off and he can't find them. It's not Whitney's problem (even though her problems are everyone else's). Ghost thinks it's most definitely her problem since she hired him and Osborn is going to be pissed that he fucked this noise. Masque is so over it, and tells him she's cutting him loose. He threatens to come through the phone and stab her eyes out to which she replies by hanging up the phone. Ghost is not pleased. He goes in search of the heroes and by "thinking like a bumpkin" he finds the storm shelter. Bingo.
Old Doctor is walking down the stairs to where Pepper, Maria, Tony and Strange are. He's whistling which means... ew gross. Ew ew ew. He stops whistling when he notices the tension in the room. Maria looks mad. Pepper looks mad. Everything looks... not good.
Doctor Guy: "Is everything--"
Pepper and Maria: "We're Fine."
Pepper then wheels herself to the ladies room. He asks if she needs help and she says no. He's surprised that this girls are so angry all of sudden and wonders what he missed. Dude, you should be so glad your name is not Anthony Edward Stark right now.
Doctor Guy: "What did--"
Maria: "Don't worry about it. We're alllll fine. We're big girls. We can take care of ourselves."
Meanwhile, in the bathroom, Pepper chides herself for being a mess and then gets surprised by the Ghost coming out of the mirror. She screams and he punches her into the stalls and is gone before Maria and Doctor get there to rescue her. She's bleeding and doesn't like it, from the back of her had and her face. She might be concussed but she also tells Maria she thinks she's seen a Ghost. Heh. Maria goes to get to Tony, and the Doctor guy wonders about where Cap and Widow are... but it's just them, alone to fight the bad guy.
Okay, so this whole arc has been about Tony's closest friends and allies coming together to help him. I have one question, Matt Fraction. Where the fuck is Henry Hellrung when you need him? He'd fit in perfectly and you have no excuse since you created him and no one else is using him. He'd come in here all sweet and unassuming, watch over Tony and Strange... protect Pepper and Maria and the old people having sex with the powers of Thor... and he wouldn't run off like everyone else did to do that little Siege thing Bendis is writing. Come on, Matt! This is a golden opportunity to use a great character you've created! And! And! You could finally hook him up with Pepper... and stop all this Tony/Pepper business.
Meanwhile, in the main room:
Rhodey: "Stark. I never wanted you more dead than I want you right now. But--ooph--I'm sure you'd have a contingency plan for that, too. Dust off the old "Rhodey finally had enough of my crap and popped me twice in the back of the head" files. God. All these years and you still couldn't make the stupid thing any lighter."
James Rhodes, how I love you so. He comes into the room with his cart full of the remains of Iron Potts. RIP Iron Potts, I will remember you fondly. He goes over and sits beside Tony, I think he's the one that finally closes his eyes because they were open but now are closed. He puts his hand on Tony's forehead and I'm not going to lie... this part choked me up. It was "Who's Happy?" all over again. Poor Rhodey, you put up with so much crap from Tony and all you got for it was... well a cool armor and a neat clone body...
Rhodey: "You still in there, boss man? We need you back here on planet Earth. We really do. We can work the rest out later. we can put it all back together again. Just come back."
It is at this point he realizes... there's blood on Tony's forehead. And it's also on his hand. Oh fuck fuck, the Ghost just shot him in the back! GHOST YOU ASSHOLE HE JUST GOT THAT BODY! NOOOOOOOOOO! ALL THAT HARD WORK TO RESCUE HIM FROM CYBORGNESS AND THIS IS WHAT HAPPENS? Poor Rhodey. You really do get screwed when Tony's around you... and not in a positive life affirming way.
Alas, Rhodey is down and Ghost moves in, smearing the blood across Tony's forehead.
Ghost: "Stark. Long time no see."
Pit of Carcoon
Tony stands in the doorway of the shack, staring out at nothingness. Strange stands behind him trying to get him to get his shit together so they can get the fuck out.
Strange: "Time is running out, Tony. We have to go."
Tony: "I'm scared. I--I can't stop sweating. You're sure I'm supposed to be a super hero? What kind of super hero can't keep his face dry?"
It's an Italian thing Tony, sorry. We all suffer that. Hairy and sweaty.
Strange: "I never said you were supposed to be anything."
Tony: "Man, why are you here? You're no use to me at all."
There's the Tony Stark we know. Snark at the guy trying to help you, especially when he's magic. There's hope for you yet man!
Strange: "I'm here to get you out of this door. I'm here to get you back into the real world. However you choose to get there."
Tony: "And leave all this? Look at this view. Things stopped repeating. Did you notice that? The... resetting... that was happening. I don't know if that's good or that's bad."
All that's left now in Tony's barren wasteland is the shack and nothingness. And he and Strange gaze out at the brightness of nothing while Tony gets his peptalk to continue on to rescue Howard and Maria. And get out of here so he can regain his normal life.
Strange: "You don't... your mind, Tony. It's going. I'd be surprised if you had the... capacity... for that level of torturous imagination at this point."
He does some magic but I have no idea what he's doing or why he's doing magic for no reason right now.
Tony: "Oh yeah? Am I torturously imagining that?"
Strange looks on and sort of stands behind Tony as the huge RoboCop thing appears the one that had erased them a few times. Nice, Strange. Hide behind the mildly retarded guy. It looms in on them and Stark and Strange get down to the nitty gritty of their snarky relationship and for a moment I forgot that Tony has no idea who they are or what's really going on anymore.
Tony: "That thing's going to kill us."
Strange: "Well, you. If you believe it is. It very well could."
Tony: "Because I think it will."
Tony: "You don't sound worried."
Strange: "I'm not really here."
Tony: "Lucky you."
Strange: "Don't you feel awful."
Tony: "That you're not going to die? Not especially."
Strange: "No--I meant, being afraid."
Strange: "If you're about to die--is this how you want to feel?"
Tony: "No. I hate this."
Strange: "Then fight back. Live your life how you want to live it."
Tony rears back and then he fires a unibeam from his chest straight at the giant RoboCop, obliterating it as Strange covers himself so he doesn't also get owned by Tony going all Iron Man heart on the thing. After, Tony looks down at his smoking chest and there's a moment of stuttering before he says the final line of the issue with new determination. I am pleased.
Tony: "I am Iron Man... what now?"
To be concluded....