In 1962’s “Fantastic Four,” #5 legendary creators Stan Lee and Jack Kirby introduced a chaotic new concept to the fledgling Marvel Universe, time travel. In the issue, Doctor Doom, the titular team’s arch enemy, utilizes a time machine of his own invention, sending the FF back to the past. Since then, time travel has been a staple of Marvel Comics storytelling, resulting in a variety of unpredictable, mind bending and sometimes destructive effects. It’s given the heroes and villains of the past and present glimpses at possible futures, allowed villains from the future to menace the past and this summer, it will lead to the destruction of all life on Earth.
The planet’s imminent obliteration happens in June in “The Iron Age: Alpha” by Rob Williams and artist Rebekah Isaacs, announced Sunday during Chicago’s C2E2 convention. All is not lost, however. Immediately before the planet is destroyed, Iron Man escapes using the very time machine that caused the destruction. Then, in a series of six one-shots, he must comb the past eras of the Marvel Universe in a search for heroes to help him put things right. The mini-event concludes in August with another bookend one-shot, “Iron Age: Omega,” which sees Tony Stark and his band of time-plucked heroes engage in a desperate mission to save their world. CBR News spoke with Williams about the project.
CBR News: Rob, when we spoke about your recent “Captain America and Falcon” one-shot, you mentioned your great love for the Marvel characters, and it sounds like “Iron Age” is your love letter to the Marvel Universe as a whole.
Rob Williams: Yes, it’s really a love letter to specific eras of the Marvel U. This came about because I’m a huge NFL fan and I was reading an article about the Throwbacks weekend and the Throwbacks uniforms. I was thinking about just how much fans really dig seeing their teams wearing the old uniforms from years gone by. I thought, it’s exactly the same with Marvel characters. People love seeing the old costumes from certain eras.
So I thought, “Why don’t we do a storyline where one character goes back through time to specific fan-favorite sort of moments and eras so we get to see these characters, then bring them together in an era-spanning super team?” So at one point in this story, you will see all these characters together as a one-off team.
You establish the reason these characters need to come together in June’s “Iron Age: Alpha” when you basically blow up the Earth. What can you tell us about the events leading up to this? Is this a story that takes place in current Marvel continuity?
It’s established continuity until someone tells us otherwise. [Laughs] The thing with a time travel story like this is that it’s a lot of fun, but it can also get very complicated. You’ve got to keep it simple. You don’t want to lose people with this, and as a writer, you don’t want to lose the plot thread, yourself. So this series is part of established Marvel continuity and we make it work.
Basically, what sets the story in motion is, an old figure from Iron Man’s past turns up in the present day Marvel Universe. This is someone who is very much a forgotten figure from “Tales of Suspense” in 1965. In our story, through various means, he’s managed to put together one of Doctor Doom’s time machines. He’s been using it to travel through time to various different places, and he actually pulls Dark Phoenix through and uses her to destroy the world.
This guy is dying from terminal cancer, so he doesn’t have long to live. He captures Tony Stark and says to him, ‘This is what you did.’ He used to work at Stark industries and Tony had him arrested. That ruined his life, so he wants one final payback against Stark because he knows he’s dying. He brings Dark Phoenix back through history and blows up the world. Everyone on Earth is dead, and just as the Phoenix is destroying the planet, Tony dives into the time machine. He’s basically going to go back through time and fix this. He realizes, though, that he can’t do it alone — he needs help
It sounds like you’ll be spending a lot of time with Tony Stark! What do you find most interesting about the character?
His arc in “The Iron Age” is that he comes in very cocky and very confident of his ability to fix anything. Then, not only is he faced with repercussions from a flippant act he performed years ago and forgot about, but this one flippant, tiny act dooms the world years later. He couldn’t have known that, but it is his responsibility. The world is gone and it isn’t because of something he did, but it is because somebody wanted revenge on him. So he feels he needs to put things right. As he goes on, I think he realizes his limitations in this story. He realizes he needs help.
So our celebration of these Marvel characters develops out of the fact that he needs help from them. There’s an initial tension in “Iron Age: Alpha” between him and Luke Cage and Danny Rand; especially Luke Cage, who’s still a bit pissed off at him over what happened in “Civil War.” That’s because Luke Cage was on the run with his wife and his newborn baby. It should have been the happiest time for him. So some of the feelings between Tony and Luke are still raw and unresolved.
Who are some of the heroes that Tony encounters as he travels through past eras of the Marvel U?
As we go through, what I wanted to do was celebrate these Marvel characters over the ages and show what’s good about them and show why we still love them after all this time. So we’ve got a lot of different heroes. There’s Cyclops from the Byrne and Terry Austin run on “Uncanny X-Men.” There’s Captain Britain from the Alan Moore and Alan Davis run. Power Man and Iron Fist are in here in their classic uniforms; Power Man with the silver head band and the yellow shirt. Dazzler shows up in her ’80s garb. And we’ve got Johnny Storm as well, which is interesting considering what just happened to the character.
When we started working on this, Johnny was just going to be one of the team members. Then editor Tom Brennan rang me up one night and said, ‘Oh, by the way, Johnny Storm is going to die.’ [Laughs] Of course since our story is about going back into the past, Johnny’s death doesn’t upset anything. So ‘The Iron Age’ will allow readers a chance to see Johnny Storm again.
What’s it like for Tony Stark to come face to face with Johnny after his death in “Fantastic Four” #587?
I’m not actually writing that individual issue. One of our other writers is. Johnny is in our final issue, though, “Iron Age: Omega.” So I wrote him there, and it’s a bittersweet moment. There is a moment where Tony looks at him and sees Johnny Storm, all carefree and laughing, and Tony knows he’s not around anymore. That actually added a fair amount of nostalgia and weight to the storyline. It was meant to be there anyway, but it made the story a bit stronger for it, which is really nice actually.
You’re writing the bookend issues of “The Iron Age” — will you be involved with any of the one-shots as well?
I’ll also be writing two of the one-shots. Then others will be written by several other writers I’m not sure if we’re announcing yet. So there’s been a sort of fun collaborative process to this as well.
In “The Iron Age: Alpha,” you give Tony Stark his mission and the one-shots sound like a “putting the band together” sort of story, Tony gathering the people he needs for his mission. And with “Iron Age: Omega” we see the team undertake their mission correct? Can you comment on how everything flows together? Can readers enjoy the one-shots as self contained, stand alone issues if they so choose?
Each of the one-shots all have their own A to Z storyline, so if you just want to pick up one or a couple, you can. But the MacGuffin in each of them is a part of Doom’s time machine, which they’re trying to assemble so they can go back to the future, as someone once said, and save the day. So it’s one story, but people can enjoy the individual issues if they want.
I imagine the plots of the individual one-shots will involve one or more of the infamous members of the rogues galleries of the heroes being spotlighted.
I’m wary of saying too much, but for instance, when you get to the Fantastic Four issue, Doctor Doom’s time machine is involved. I don’t think I’m spoiling anything by revealing that Doom shows up at some stage. And Jim Jaspers is in the Captain Britain issue.
This series is just as much a celebration of Marvel villains as it is a celebration of the Marvel heroes. The cool thing about this is that you’re seeing them in various different times. So the villains won’t be from the modern day era either. If you’re a Marvel fan, I think it will be tough for you to not enjoy this series. I hope so, anyway.
The one-shots seem to vary in tone based on the characters involved, but it your two book end issues appear to be big sci-fi adventure stories with epic stakes.
The stakes couldn’t be any bigger for this. That’s one of the things that is very quickly established in our initial issue, “Iron Age: Alpha,” where Tony is captured by this old super villain and he thinks it’s just a case of another day, another dollar. Then suddenly, boom! The world is gone, everyone he’s ever known is dead! So this is the highest stakes possible, and that’s tough to pull off. The world is under attack every day in the Marvel Universe. There’s this moment in “Iron Age Alpha” where a switch is flicked and things get really ramped up.
Rebekah Isaacs did a very cool job of pulling that off and making it all look terrific. The storytelling has emotional impact. My mantra with this was, “It’s not fan fiction.” [Laughs] I needed to make sure that there’s a strong emotional core to this story, and I think we did that.
Speaking of Rebekah, you recently worked with her on “Captain America and Falcon.” You obviously enjoyed that experience, since you’re teaming again on this project.
I think Rebekah is a really strong storyteller. “Captain America and Falcon” starts off with a big, heightened Avengers versus the Gray Gargoyle battle. Her stuff looks great there, and the rest of the issue is a street level story with gangs in New York and I thought that looked great, too.
I think the same thing shows here. She makes Marvel icons look terrific. You could really see her landing a big series like “The Avengers” off the strength of her work here. There are a couple of really small, intimate and emotional scenes and she just nails them. I think Rebecca is fantastic. I’d love to work with her again.
What can you tell us about the other artists involved with this series?
You’re going to get possibly the most diverse mix of creators as you’ll ever see on a Marvel Project in “The Iron Age.” We’ve got some old Marvel favorites, some newer voices and a couple of people you wouldn’t expect! You’re going to get the thrill of watching some creators return to their classic characters and you’ll also see some of Marvel’s rising stars pay tribute to the comics they loved. Stay tuned for the names – it’s one heck of a Dream Team.
I think this miniseries will feature everything you want a Marvel book to have. It’s big in scope. There are great interactions between fantastic characters. And we’ve got a mad old super villain with an under sea base who wants to destroy the world. I think that’s important. More comics should have undersea bases! Just so many favorites turn up in terms of characters, both heroes and villains. Plus, we’ve got a terrific bunch of artists and writers on this series. This is just a really fun comic.
When you’re writing any of these characters that you’ve loved for years, the first time you write dialogue for them is crazy. I hope the enjoyment shows through in the script because I had a huge blast writing it.
Finally, it looks you’re becoming quite the prolific Marvel writer. In addition to “The Iron Age,” you’re working on the “Skaar: King of the Savage Land” miniseries, you’ll be taking over “Daken: Dark Wolverine” after the “Collision” crossover and you have a new “Ghost Rider” ongoing which also launches this summer. How does it feel to be working on all these different Marvel books?
I’m having a blast with all of these characters. The people at Marvel have been really cool to work with and all these opportunities are a dream come true. When you love these characters your entire life and then you get a chance to write so many of them, you stop and think to yourself, “Wow. There are worse thing to do for a living.” [Laughs]