As the Marvel Universe‘s premier engineer, when Tony Stark encounters a problem, he builds something to help him solve it. Unfortunately, the founding Avenger is currently facing a dilemma that can’t be overcome by his genius engineering skills; the question of where he came from. Having recently discovered that he was adopted, the man who is Iron Man has been haunted by the question of his birth parents’ identity.
In “International Iron Man,” by writer Brian Michael Bendis and artist Alex Maleev, Stark sets out to discover the truth behind his origins, and if that means he finds himself embroiled in international intrigue and facing a horde of new villains, then so be it. CBR News spoke with Bendis about his personal connection to his protagonist’s search, whether or not Stark will come face to face with the Mandarin during his Iron Man run, and how the book will impact Maleev’s work on their creator-owned series, “Scarlet.”
CBR News: One of the main plot lines in “International Iron Man” is one with some personal resonance for you — Tony’s discovery that he was adopted and his search for his birth parents. How does it feel to write that aspect of this title?
Brian Michael Bendis: It’s interesting; when asked, I talk at great length about my family unit because two of my four children are adopted. One is African, and one is African-American, so our family unit is very unique. One of the adoptions was a domestic adoption, and the other was an international adoption. The reason I started talking about them is, I realized that even when we were training to adopt — you have to take a lot of classes when you adopt — that people don’t understand adoption. They’re interested in it and they ask you about it in whispers, like it’s a dirty secret or something. It’s not
When your kids are of color, they know they’re adopted. They say you make it part of their unique identity, a badge of honor, not a badge of shame. We’re so overwhelmed with what we have at our house, the amount of affection and love the kids have for each other and we have for them.
It’s a beautiful thing, and I know that there are many people out there that would adopt, or they’re thinking about it, or they’re scared of it, so I do my part to demystify. We all do. My wife leads this charge, wholeheartedly. When people ask, we’re very upfront about how we did it and how it is, because it was such a good choice for us. I can’t even imagine my life without these children.
Ever since I started talking about it, I started getting offers from major book publishers to do graphic novels about it. I turned them down because in my head, there seemed to be a line in the sand between talking about it and selling it. I didn’t think it was healthy for my kids to be the focal point of a story that was sold. It’s one thing to tell an anecdote, but it’s another thing to make IP out of it, for lack of a better word. I turned it down, and I know that was frustrating for some people that wanted me to do, like, a version of “Fortune and Glory” on adoption. I thought about it, but I just thought, “At the end of the day there’s nothing more important than the kids’ mental health.” I don’t want to do anything that accidentally warps their reality any more than living with a comic book writer warps their reality.
This is a major part of my life, though. Every single day, almost all day is consumed with the journey that the children and me and my wife are on together. I think about it all the time, and hilariously, I don’t know if I would have gone down this road with Tony Stark or any other character if Kieron Gillen hadn’t opened the door. He opened the door and then left. When I started talking to Tom Brevoort about it, he said, “Yeah, I thought with everything that’s going on in your life, you’re the guy to do this.”
I also thought that I could do it without damaging my children’s psyche. It’s not about them. It’s about how I feel and things that I’ve witnessed and observed. It will be honest and true, but it won’t mess my kids up. So then it felt like I had to do it.
Tony, as a character, has so much going on in his life, like Spider-Man who in his heyday had “Amazing Spider-Man,” “Spectacular Spider-Man,” “Web of Spider-Man,” “Marvel Team-Up” starring Spider-Man, and “Marvel Tales” starring Spider-Man. I could keep going. It seems we have enough here for two titles, and wouldn’t it be nice if they were of different pallets, much like we’ve done in the past. With Alex Maleev (who I will work with forever,) working on this, people are going to get two amazing artists doing very personal Iron Man books, and that sounds great to me.
Plus, Tony Stark has this part of his life that is international. It takes him all over the world, and the quest for who he really is will also take him all over the world. That’s fun.
Is Tony’s search for his birth parents the main element driving the series, then?
It’s one of the elements. I don’t want to say too much, because it will spoil some things that are going on in “Invincible Iron Man” right now, but I think finding out who his parents are is a nice hook in. There’s going to be Tony who loves to live in his church, which is his lab. Then there’s Tony who’s out there James Bonding it up like nobody’s business. Those are both parts of him that I adore.
Tony is a genius mechanical engineer, but he’s not necessarily a social scientist. Will there be a learning curve involved with him and complex international situations?
Yes, and I think he gets away with a lot because he’s famous. I’ve seen this with people I’ve met where the world reacts around them, and they don’t really have to do anything. That’s interesting. You and I would have to step it up and be interesting, but sometimes he just has to walk into a room to be interesting. There’s a burden to that, though. You’re not invisible when you’re super famous. So that will be part of it, along with how people feel about him. We don’t really get a sense of how popular Tony Stark is in the Marvel Universe.
What’s it like playing in Marvel’s global sandbox? It seems like there’s a lot of new toys out there for you to play with in terms of heroes and other countries.
Absolutely, and there are pockets of the Marvel Universe that are going to be very big in the spotlight over the next couple years. Everyone saw that the Black Panther was on the cover of “Entertainment Weekly.” There are pockets of the Marvel Universe that are just fascinating on their own, and I think Tony, as a fish out of water in these areas, is as interesting a book as you can make around them.
It also seems like there’s a lot of room for new creations in “International Iron Man,” especially villains.
Yes, both titles will be debuting a lot of new villains. I know some people get very excited about that, and other people get very worried, like we’re going to throw things away. That’s not the case.
I thought hard about what’s missing in Tony’s life compared to Spider-Man or Batman. Tony doesn’t have the big rogues’ gallery of classic and iconic rogues. I’m sorry for people who think Blackout is an iconic, great villain. Maybe he is, but when you compare him to someone like Doctor Octopus, I’m not entirely convinced they’re of equal stature. Even going into the second Iron Man movie, it was like, “We’re already at Whiplash?”
I want to add some new toys to Tony’s life. I want to add some new threats and some new global threats into the world. It’s very scary right now in the real world, and it would be very scary for someone in Tony’s position. Being a Futurist and being able to close your eyes and see what the world is going to be like in five years also comes with an incredible burden. Every time he closes his eyes, it’s not always good things that he sees, and these villains that are coming out of the woodwork are birthed out of a Marvel Universe that has been collapsed and rebuilt a few times. They have a very interesting point of view on that.
The topic of international villains begs the question of whether or not you have plans for Tony’s most iconic villain, the Mandarin.
Here’s the thing: As of this moment, I do not have anything in my notebooks close to what Matt Fraction did with his Mandarin special, which I think is one of the greatest things Matt Fraction has ever done — and that’s saying something. I bow in deference to that special that I know he worked his ass off on.
If I ever came up with anything that I thought was of equal value — I’m never going to say greater — to that, or close enough to not be embarrassing, then I will do a Mandarin story. At the moment, though, I’m having more luck with brand new characters. It’s just one of those things where I felt like a definitive statement was made on that character by one of my closest friends. It feels like, of all the things we need to work on with Tony, that’s not it.
Will there be some carry over in both “International” and “Invincible” Iron Man in terms of supporting cast?
Yes. It’s going to be Tony’s world. It’s not like we’ll have Tony living in two different universes. People will be bouncing back and forth, and I’ll make damn sure that you can read either book and be completely entertained. But, much like I did on Avengers and X-Men, if you’re reading both books, you’re going to get some next level stuff that will pay off for you. You won’t be punished for not reading both books, but you’ll be rewarded for reading both books
Alex’s versatility as an artist makes him a great fit for “International Iron Man,” but I’m wondering how that will affect his work on your creator-owned series, “Scarlet.”
I’m glad you asked! I told him, “We have to finish the second book of ‘Scarlet’ before we do Iron Man. We cannot work on anything else together until you finish ‘Scarlet.’ Yeah, of course you can do your ‘Star Wars’ book and your ‘Hellboy’ book and people won’t be as mad, but if you and I worked on something that isn’t ‘Scarlet’ after promising ‘Scarlet,’ we’ll get the shit kicked out of us. And they would be right!”
I would be mad at us. As a fan, I’d be like, “What the hell?” You’re talking to a guy who every time I see Jim Lee, I’m like, “You mean we’re not getting a second issue of ‘Wildcats’ By Grant Morrison? That’s not happening?” So I told Alex, let’s get back on it.” We’ve got a lot of very good news surrounding “Scarlet” that will be coming soon. Like, really good news!
So Alex is wrapping up issue #10 right now. Issues #8-9 are completely drawn and painted. #10 is the end of book two. When #10 is done, I will solicit #8-10. While that’s happening, Iron Man will be in production.
He’s almost done, and he loves the book. It’s a very personal book to us, and it’s also very hard to do. It’s more close to the real world than the other stuff we do. So to get in there is a little harder for him. I completely understand that. I know some people are like, “It’s a comic book — just draw the thing.” No, it’s art, and art can take it’s toll on people.
Especially topical art like what you’re doing with “Scarlet.”
Yes. It’s so topical and continues to become more topical almost every day. People are getting murdered in the street, and the police corruption in Chicago is of such ponderous proportions. These things are so real that rolling up your sleeves and spending 12-13 hours a day drawing them can get to you.
We’re almost there, though. The issues are so beautiful and worth the wait, I think.
Alex and I are a very special collaboration in my life. It’s been wonderful over the last year that so many people have discovered or rediscovered our work on “Daredevil” together because of the “Daredevil” Netflix show. I don’t mean this in a complimenting myself way, but I know for a fact that many people hold us to a very high standard because of “Daredevil” and “Scarlet.” So we talked about that in how we embrace Iron Man and what we do with the character. Like Matt Murdock, I think Tony Stark deserves all the character study we can give him, and that’s what we’ll do.