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Extremis Pits Iron Man Against Terrorists on Super-Soldier Serum

If you love Iron Man, you need to try this novel by Marie Javins.

Iron Man: Extremis Cover

What would happen if the super-soldier serum had been given to a terrorist instead of Steve Rogers? That's one of many pressing questions in the classic Extremis comic series created by Warren Ellis and Adi Granov. 

Some fans of the Marvel Connected Universe may recognize the term “Extremis” from the film Iron Man 3, which was loosely based on the comic. However, while characters like Aldrich Killian and Maya Hansen appear in both stories, the plots diverge in meaningful ways. Where Iron Man 3 follows the trail of the Mandarin, Extremis sees Tony Stark face down a stolen super-soldier serum (the eponymous “Extremis”), used by terrorists to wreak havoc on the world. To identify and defeat the threat, Stark must adapt and change in ways not seen through the MCU.

The novelization of Extremis by Marie Javins stays much more truthful to the original storyline. Where the work by Ellis and Granov uses art to tell the story over several issues, Iron Man: Extremis by Marie Javins reads just like a traditional novel, containing the entirety of the plot in one tidy package. 

If you're confused about what that might look like, we've included the first chapter of Iron Man: Extremis below, so you can see how it feels to read a novel about the genius, billionaire, playboy, philanthropist.




Iron Man

By Marie Javins


Tony Stark, the invincible Iron Man, hadn’t been much of an athlete as a kid. But then, he wasn’t the last one on the playground picked for kickball, either. He’d been a precocious child genius, heir to the Stark Enterprises fortune—sure, everyone knew that. But at least he hadn’t embarrassed himself in gym class. Being a brainiac didn’t have to mean being a clichéd egghead. Geek chic had been around a lot longer than today’s magazines and tabloids would have us believe. 

But the tabloids would have you believe all kinds of stuff. Like that Tony Stark was a superficial dilettante, a wealthy opportunist, and a billionaire playboy. 

Maybe the last bit was true. Or had been. Tony was trying to live down the one-night stands. But when women he barely remembered were quoted in 40- point type across the cover of the World-Star as suggestively saying “NOTHING IRON ABOUT STARK,” it got tough to ignore the headlines, fabricated or otherwise. 

The rest—the stuff about him being a wealthy jerk—was completely false. At least, it wasn’t the whole story. Tony occasionally behaved poorly, but he’d learned compassion when he’d become Iron Man. Or partial compassion. Was there such a thing as partial compassion? Tony wondered as he scraped his forehead on the sidewalk outside Dubai’s convention center. He didn’t feel compassionate. He felt ticked off. 

He heard a man’s voice from the other side of the fountain: “There’s no way that rich weasel outran us.” Tony was lucky to have a stronger attachment to pragmatism than to dignity, or he’d have been embarrassed to be hiding below the far side of a fountain rim. 

“I don’t know, Joe, he’s pretty fit.” That was a woman’s voice now. Tony vaguely recognized it—she was a television reporter. Had he seen her naked some years back, maybe after too late a casino night during the Vegas electronics show? 

He didn’t have time to think about it. “Is that a foot?” 

Busted. Tony could leave his shoe, delay them a few more seconds. But he liked these shoes, and he’d already gotten sand on his suit. He crawled a few feet, hoping to make it to the parking structure next door to the convention center. 

He hadn’t thought the paparazzi would be outside the exit of the Dubai Emergent Technologies Expo, waiting to ambush the famous Tony Stark with their cameras and microphones. He hadn’t given the immediate future a lot of thought on that day, just a few weeks ago, when he’d impulsively admitted to the world that he was the super hero the media had christened Iron Man. It hadn’t occurred to him he would become the hottest tabloid story since … well, since no one. Tony was sure he was way more famous than Princess Diana or Michael Jackson had ever been. 

“Mister Stark.” 

Tony looked up to see a giant SLR lens pointing at his face. 

“You must be Joe.” The cameraman’s face reddened as he realized Tony had overheard his “rich weasel” remark. 

Click. Beep. Click. Beep. Click. Now a half-dozen other cameras were on tripods and pointed at Tony’s face, along with three microphones. 

Tony jumped to his feet. Reporters pressed in, crushing each other’s gear in their zeal to get closer. 

“Mister Stark,” the cameraman slowly rolled out the syllables. “Whatever were you doing lying on the sidewalk? Don’t you know that Dubai gets hot this time of year?” 

“Of course,” said Tony. “Stark Enterprises is working on a new piece of equipment that cools sidewalks. For your information, heat is the number-one cause of …” 

He thought rapidly. Sidewalks were more likely to degrade with cold, not heat.

“… sidewalk-buckling. When sidewalks buckle, they become uneven. Someone could fall. A dachshund could trip, you know, with those short little legs. Look, like right there.” 

Tony pointed to a perfect, level slab of concrete. No one else even glanced. 

“Mister Stark.” Joe was talking again. “How do you expect Stark Enterprises to make money now that you’ve abandoned your lucrative weapons contracts with the military?” Joe smirked. “Do you intend to have Iron Man perform in the circus?” 

“Joe, are you suggesting I’m wrong to work for world peace?” 

“I’m suggesting you’ve overlooked your responsibilities to your board, stockholders and employees.” 

Tony couldn’t win this argument. He wasn’t going to suddenly declare a renewed interest in building weapons. 

The other reporters all fired away with their questions, yelling louder and louder as they tried to be heard over each other. 

“… Iron Man … weapons … public safety … her name …” 

Tony backed slowly up against the fountain as the crowd pressed in. This time, instead of dropping to the sidewalk, he leapt into the fountain, getting good and drenched as he ducked across it and out the other side. He ran to the parking structure, glad for the small delay as his pursuers gathered their tripods and gear. Tony hurried up a set of stairs to the second level. He had just enough of a head start that he was able to throw himself off the side of the structure without the reporters seeing him. 

He landed on the sand below. Oof. Tony ducked and fled to the other side of the convention center. He tried the doors, but they only opened from inside—this wasn’t the main entrance. He spotted a pair of wooden railings next door, lining a walkway that led to a tall, concrete barrier. Tony realized he’d stumbled on to an outdoor arena. Good. Let the reporters look for him at the convention center’s exit or in the parking structure. 

Tony loved attention, sure. But when he’d told the world he was Iron Man and that Stark Enterprises was changing its focus, he’d only been prepared for the fawning—not for the incessant questioning about his past work and vocal doubts about his sincerity. He certainly didn’t expect the fictional headlines the tabloids had generated, or the salacious—and utterly false—rumors about his friends and colleagues. 

He entered the arena, sat down on the grandstand around the dusty center track, and pulled out his phone. 

“Call Pepper.” 

The screen flickered and darkened. Out of power. Again. He’d have to check the phone team’s progress when he got back to the States. The world needed a Stark phone. He needed a Stark phone. 

Something wet and mushy brushed up against Tony’s ear. He jumped and looked up to see a spindly legged camel gazing at him through long lashes. Yuck. Wet camel nose. And what was that on the camel’s back? A type of saddle, but the rider wasn’t human. 

There’d been a mention of this in the Expo program, Tony remembered. The latest in robot camel-jockeys were on display. He’d been speaking on a panel and had missed the demonstration. Sensors placed on the camel’s chest, knees, and mouth sent data to the robots and to the camel’s trainer. The robots would then artificially evolve, assessing future moves based on each measurement, every experience, and factors such as wind and sand. To the untrained and unscientific eye, the robot jockeys appeared capable of learning, instead of being piloted remotely by trainers as they had been in the past. 

Tony laughed as he saw a plastic Robby the Robot bobblehead on top of the robot. Someone had been playing with a 3D printer. The rest of the robot was just a steel box covered in what looked like a giant tube sock. 

“Hold still,” murmured Tony to the camel as he reached up to the saddle. He wanted that robot. Not just out of curiosity—he was dying to get a look at the internal specs—but also because Tony knew that where there was a robot, there was a power source. 

He was going to use this robot jockey to jump-start his phone. 

Tony loosened the straps that held the robot in place and slid it out of its sock. He unclasped two small metal hooks that held an access panel, and then opened up the robot to get to the battery. 

“Mister Iron Man. May I be of some assistance?” 

A middle-aged Afghani man in a white shalwar kameez, vest, and sandals stood in front of Tony. 

“Oh, hello. I’m just going to … borrow your camel pilot for a minute.” Tony flashed a smile. “Do as you must, Mister Iron Man. I can put my robot back together.” 

“Thanks … uh …” 

“Call me Ahmed.” 

“Thanks, Ahmed. Please call me Tony. You like robots? Or camel racing? Or both?” 

“Electronics. I have always enjoyed circuits and robots. But where I am from, we have only a few opportunities in electronics.” 

“Funny, isn’t it?” Tony chatted idly while he dismantled the robot with his fingers and a pen cap. He grabbed the battery pack and tugged it from its clip. “Afghanistan has some of the biggest lithium deposits in the world …” 

“… but no industry to use it.” Ahmed laughed now. “My brother, he always said this, too. He also loved science.” 

Tony hesitated now, hearing the regret in Ahmed’s voice. 

“Where is your brother now?” Tony spoke softly as he plugged the battery pack into his phone. The phone lit up, the word “charging” flickering across the screen. 

“He joined a militia. There were no science jobs. Or any jobs. A defect in his own gun killed him.” 

“Was it … was it a Stark weapon?” Tony’s phone was flashing tomorrow’s headlines across the screen now—hacking into newspaper previews was a cinch —along with SMS messages, missed calls, and the time on three continents. But Tony could not look away from Ahmed. 

“No, Mister Stark. It was a cheap counterfeit from Pakistan. A fake. A Stark gun would never have exploded.” 

Tony tightened his lips and nodded. His innocence in this matter was only a technicality. Tony had participated in the industry of war, profited from the deaths of others like Ahmed’s brother. Ahmed continued to smile, but with the worn look of a man tired of smiling. 

Now a headline on Tony’s phone caught his eye. “RED HOT PEPPER POTTS! THE SEXY STORY STARK DOESN’T WANT THE WORLD TO KNOW!” 

Oh no, he thought. The World-Star has gone too far. Everything they say about me is partially justified. But Pepper is an innocent. 

Tony e-mailed Stark’s legal team with a link to the headline and instructions to threaten the publisher with every possible action if they printed lies about his assistant. Then he called Pepper. 

“Tony, where are you? You have meetings with emergent-tech experts at three —and a half-hour ago, too!” She was annoyed but not frantic. She didn’t know about the headlines. 

“Paparazzi,” he explained. “Pepper, can you do two things for me? First, I need an extraction. A security detail to get me past reporters, and then on to the plane home. Have Happy set up living quarters for me somewhere safe—try the Coney Island workshop. Tell him to hang around—I’m going to stay there a while, let things calm down.” 

“Of course. I’ve been wondering when you were going to need a vacation from this madness. Why you told everyone you’re Iron Man is—” 

“Pepper, wait. The second thing. It’s important.” 

She paused. 

“I have an urgent classified assignment for you. No one else can be trusted with this. Pack anti-malarial meds, your vaccination certificate, rehydration salts, and business clothes to last at least a month. You leave immediately. All communications will be strictly through encrypted Stark satellites. I’ll send you details as soon as I’m on the plane and can plug in. Go.” 

Suddenly tired, Tony leaned back on the grandstand. His shoes were ruined, and his pockets might never be empty of sand again. Ahmed tinkered with the robot, while the camel sniffed the dirt on Tony’s suit. More alerts popped up on Tony’s phone, so he shut it off. He left it off for a long time. 


The headlights of Nilsen’s gray 1990 Econoline van illuminated the crossroads ahead on the outskirts of Bastrop, Texas. 

“Don’t run the stop sign, Nilsen,” hissed Beck from the passenger seat. “We don’t need to get pulled over tonight.” 

“Tonight?” The larger man braked, and then glared at Beck. “You think I want to get pulled over any night? I got no insurance and a warrant for unpaid parking tickets in San Marcos. I don’t need anyone running my license.” 

“You don’t have a license, dumbass,” growled Mallen from the darkened back of the van, where he crouched against the sliding door. “Put on your seatbelts. If any unexpected guests show up, we have to split in a hurry. You’re ugly enough without glass in your chin.” 

“There’s no security, Mallen. I told ya, my cousin worked there,” said Beck. “Ain’t no one there now. Abandoned since the fires. Creepy. Not even the rats go in.” 

“That’s cuz they all died, Beck. When the fire burned out the power and the slaughterhouse was blocked off, it’s not like the firemen went in to recover the slabs of beef. The rats gnawed their way in, but died from the putrid meat. Dead rats and rancid meat rotting for weeks—not even the illegals go in there. Half of Bastrop reeked for four months ’til the sheriff finally broke in to find the source of the smell.” 

“You sure this is a good idea, Mallen?” Nilsen looked back, his shaved head visible in the rearview mirror. “You’ll be stuck in there a week. All by your lonesome. We can’t help you once this starts.” 

“Three days. They cleaned it up.” 

“Yeah, so now it just stinks of ammonia.” 

The Econoline pulled up in front of an unlit building. D. R. Cole Slaughterhouse had specialized in grass-fed beef and pasture-fed pork until the Feds had come in with their truth-in-advertising witch-hunt. 

“Whatever. We’re not here for the atmosphere. We’re here cuz it’s empty and no one is gonna mess with me.” 

Mallen took a last swig of his Shiner Bock, reached out the window over Beck’s shoulder and hurled the brown bottle at the cracked concrete doorframe of the brick slaughterhouse. The glass shattered against stained graffiti and leftover paste from “No Trespassing” signs. 

“Bombs away,” chuckled Beck. 

Mallen unlatched the van’s back door and stepped to the street. The sliding door on the side hadn’t worked since Nilsen had deliberately sideswiped a Volvo station wagon outside an organic grocery in Austin. 

“Bring the briefcase,” he said as he walked to the heavy wooden doors of the slaughterhouse and pushed them open. “Be careful.” 

Beck and Nilsen followed Mallen into the dark, concrete halls of the empty slaughterhouse, Beck handling the briefcase with uncharacteristic gentleness. Mallen led them into a large cold room—its power long ago disabled, floors and walls scrubbed clean of the remnants of steers, hogs, and rats. 

As Beck bent to the ground to open the briefcase, Mallen turned back to the door, glancing one last time at the hallway leading to the exit. The Econoline’s headlights shone faintly from outside, tempting him back, as if the past were still accessible from just behind the door. But if what Beck had in the briefcase did what it was supposed to do, Mallen wouldn’t need the Econoline or his friends or the man he’d been. He’d be stronger, faster, smarter. He’d do what the world needed—help it, in a way. Put it back on track. 

He turned away from the door, back toward Beck and Nilsen. 

Beck had unlatched the briefcase and pivoted the lid up. The three men stared at the contents: a jet injector and two small, black cartridges held in place by gray molded plastic. 

Mallen realized he might end up dead from this injection. He watched as Beck assembled the injector, loaded the gas cartridges in one by one to power the liquid jets. 

“Mallen, you sure you’re up for this?” Beck hesitated. 

“Just do it,” snarled Mallen, more fiercely than he’d intended. He knelt on the concrete floor.

Nilsen towered in front of Mallen, placing a steadying hand on either side of Mallen’s head. Mallen focused on the big man’s beer belly, which poked out under a black T-shirt. Nilsen had tried to cover it up as always, under an oversized olive-green zippered hoodie. But there was no missing the gut at the moment, since it was all Mallen had to look at if he didn’t want to stare right into Nilsen’s eyes while his life transformed. 

Beck fixed the jet injector against the back of Mallen’s neck, just between Mallen’s brown hair and the tan leather jacket he’d worn steadily for the last decade, even in the summer. 

Beck applied pressure to the trigger with his index finger. Pssssht. The liquid squeezed through the injector’s tip, past Mallen’s pores, and then on into his bloodstream. 

“Aaoooww!” Mallen jumped as the serum mixed with his blood, delivering what felt like a tingling electric shock. The shock grew stronger, until Mallen could barely stand it. His eyes bulged, and he bared his teeth as he lunged away from Beck. Nilsen let go of Mallen’s head and jumped clear. 

Mallen fell to his knees, spitting with surprise. 

“Hnf!” He couldn’t speak. Both his hands involuntarily went to the spot on his neck where the serum had entered his bloodstream. 

Take it out. Stop it. Hurts. Mallen seized up, clenched, and then slumped over like a dead man. 

For a long moment, Mallen couldn’t move or hear. Then a buzzing began. Where was the buzzing? His own head, he realized. The noise slowed, became his thudding pulse. Then, from a distance, he heard Nilsen, his voice muffled as if he were in the next room. 

“Nothing’s happening, Beck. Something should be happening.” 

Mallen coughed, moved slightly, and cleared his throat. He started to sit up. 


“Listen,” said Beck. “I, uh, I guess we were sold a dud. Get your breath back, Mallen. We’ll get back in Nilsen’s van and, y’know, start again. It’s not over yet.” 

“Hgkk.” Mallen swore as he struggled to rise, his hand covering his eyes. 

Then Mallen felt the serum in every molecule—in his head, his limbs, his guts. And it hurt. He was on fire inside, in wrenching pain. 

“HHHEEEGGHH!” He howled, his face con torted, veins bulging, eyes full of blood and fear. His guts were melting, he was sure of it, his organs collapsing and liquefying—turning into a thick black liquid, which he violently retched on to the cold-room floor. 

Beck bolted. He was halfway to the exit before Nilsen stopped gaping and raced to follow him. Mallen heard the steel door slam shut, the brace slide into place, the sounds of footsteps receding back toward the Econoline. And then he heard nothing else over the escalating thumping in his head. 

Mallen was alone, locked in the abandoned slaughterhouse. 

He shuddered, gasped, and collapsed. Warm liquids streamed from his nose, mouth, and ears. His mouth felt full and tasted bitter, metallic. Blood, he thought, tastes like dirty pennies. 

Lying on the cold concrete of the slaughterhouse, Mallen’s violent body contractions and spasms slowly passed. His head still hurt like hell, but he no longer heard his pulse, and his breathing had gone from quick and shallow to barely perceptible. Was this death? How could it not be? He lay silently in a pool of his own steaming, liquefied innards. 

Smells like hell, he thought. Should’ve asked Beck to make sure the rats are really gone. 

He convulsed one last time and passed out.