In his classic 1900 novel “Lord Jim” Joseph Conrad wrote, “You shall Judge a man by his foes as well as his friends.” In the latest “The Invincible Iron Man” story arc by writer Matt Fraction and artist Salvador Larroca readers can use that same criteria to judge the title character. As of #510, Tony Stark finds himself embroiled in a story which pits him against an army of his deadliest foes and the only way he’ll survive is with a little help from his friends. CBR News spoke with Fraction about his plans for the Marvel Comics series in the wake of “Fear Itself.”
Fraction and Larroca launched “Invincible Iron Man” in 2008 and used the title to tell some grand epics including their opening story line, “The Five Nightmares,” which put Tony Stark in the crosshairs of Ezekiel Stane, the son of one of his greatest foes, and the 12-part “World’s Most Wanted” which featured Tony Stark racing across the world to stay out of the hands of Norman Osborn. #510 saw the creators kick off a story with a scope and scale bigger than anything they’ve done in the title so far.
“We’re sort of in the third act now. All the chickens that have been introduced since my first issue are now coming home to roost,” Fraction told CBR News. “Over the next few months we’ll get to see how vast a conspiracy Tony is up against, how big a plan his foes have, and how war-ready and insane their leader is.”
The villainous general leading the charge against Tony Stark is his long time foe, the Mandarin, a character Fraction sees as Iron Man’s opposite number. “The Mandarin really is the yin to Tony Stark’s yang. Their stories echo one another. They both had transformative experiences insides caves, but Tony was born rich and lost everything to find his soul and Mandarin was born poor and grew into a wealthy monster. Tony uses technology to try and better mankind. The Mandarin uses it to conquer,” Fraction stated. “The Mandarin is Tony’s equal opposite. His true nemesis. He’s his shadow. He’s his ultimate test.”
In his current scheme the Mandarin plans to test Tony Stark by pitting him against an army of his most dangerous foes. Not surprisingly, the Mandarin is the general of that army and in “Invincible Iron Man” #510 readers saw his second in command revealed as his daughter Sasha’s boyfriend, Ezekiel Stane.
“Zeke certainly has, to quote the bard, ‘An Appetite for Destruction,'” Fraction said with a laugh. “So there’s a part of him that instantly delights in doing his job. Over the next months you’ll see his relationship with the Mandarin complicate and get twisted around. It’s not quite as smiley and shiny and happy as it appears at first blush. Ultimately what it comes down to is you have two alphas that are inevitably going to come to a head in terms of who is dominant.
“Plus Zeke is a shitty employee who hates bosses, which should come as a surprise to no one. When he gets to start blowing things up again he gets excited, but when it comes time to take orders or execute his job on a budget and a schedule it becomes a different situation entirely,” Fraction continued. “So we get to see the kind of raw, pure chaos of Stane collide with the precision and discipline of someone like the Mandarin.”
The villains in the Mandarin and Ezekiel Stane’s army are all members of Tony Stark’s rogues’ gallery, but each villain has been tweaked and polished to maximize their threat potential. For instance, Tony Stark’s old foe Blizzard used a new version of his suit to destroy several aquifers in Abu Dhabi in the pages of #510.
“I’ve always loved Iron Man’s rogues’ gallery, so I wanted to bring them all back and amp them up and crank them up before setting them free into the world again,” Fraction explained. “I made a very big list and then refined it several times. I ended up with about a baker’s dozen of my favorites and I think Iron Man fan-favorites that we’ve wanted to see and have been waiting to see. All of them are going to be coming back one after the next and they’re all going to be extremely dangerous and capable in their own way. All of them pile more and more pressure on Stark.
“Invincible Iron Man” #511 is in stores January 21st and continues the current “Demon” story line that began in issue #510. “In a lot of ways this arc is most similar to a lot of the David Michelinie or Denny O’ Neil stuff in terms of the velocity of the characters that present themselves and are reproduced. I’ve accelerated the scope and the scale of things. Tony is now in the middle of a world war,” Fraction said. “This story is Tony dealing with his ‘demon’ being out; dealing with the implications of word getting out that he was drinking again. Living Laser comes back. The Dreadnaughts are back. And right now we’re putting the finishing touches on a new Melter. I’m going to try and produce a formidable, ferocious, and absolutely psychotic Melter. It’s a fun challenge.”
The “Demon” arc won’t be a long story, but it will be a significant chapter in the ongoing story that Fraction is telling in “The Invincible Iron Man.” “I feel like we’re training people to read for trade and I’m not really interested in writing specifically for the trades anymore. So I don’t want to say it’s part one of x number of issues. That’s partially to keep the writing free for myself and partially because when we were kids we never knew how many parts a story was unless they told you in the title. You could be surprised going in. You didn’t have expectations about an issue.”
Not knowing exactly how long a story arc will be helps keep fans on their toes in terms of what to expect from Fraction’s stories, but long time fans of the book know that one thing is for certain; Fraction’s artistic collaborator Salvador Larroca will make sure the issues are full of expertly rendered emotional scenes and dynamically depicted action sequences.
“Salva and I are nowhere near the record Bendis and Bagley set on ‘Ultimate Spider-Man,’ but we are one of the longer running writer-artist collaborations on a Marvel book at the moment. So it’s gotten to a point where our relationship is almost telepathic. When I write a page I know what it’s going to look like. I know when to get out of Salva’s way and I know how he’s going to respond to what I put down. So it’s a rich and incredibly satisfying professional relationship,” Fraction said. “It’s nice to know that Salva is a part of this book and it will be me and him for the duration.”
In 2012 Fraction and Larroca will continue their epic tale of Iron Man versus the Mandarin and his army of villains with story lines including the ominously titled “Long Way Down.” “Mandarin has ties to Hammer Industries and in the New Year we’ll see that come into play. So we’ll see a new Detroit Steel and we’ll deal with the ramifications of the old Detroit Steel still out there running around. Plus we’ve got all these new villains coming up. Sometimes it’s very much Stane and the Mandarin and other times it might be someone like the Melter. All the bad guys in Tony’s life have linked arms and have decided to show the world that there is no place for Tony Stark in it,” Fraction hinted. “This third act of my Iron Man run is about Tony earning the right to survive; proving that he has a reason to be here and that he is the hero we need him to be.”