In September, Marvel releases “Infinity: Heist” — a four-issue mini series by Tieri and artist Al Barrionuevo where enemies of the armored Avenger from Spymaster to Blizzard to Unicorn team up to take back some technology from Stark Enterprises. The series is only the most recent in the writer’s run of villain-centric projects (including two entries in DC’s Villains Month, but even for a writer steeped in the darker side of superheroics, the story comes with its own risks and rewards.
CBR News took a look at the schemes set for “Heist” with Tieri, and the writer explained how Thanos’ arrival on Earth is the perfect cover for the crime of the century, why he’s attracted to seeming also-rans like Whirlwind, what it’s going to take to put his crew back into the big time and how this series won’t be his last comics gig even as more video games await him in the future.
CBR News: Frank, we’ve talked about your rep with villains before, and it seems like that’s what really fueled the birth of “Infinity: Heist” once you teamed up with Editor Tom Brennan. But with all the superheroes off world and your pick of the villains to use in a super-heist pitch, why Iron Man villains?
Frank Tieri: I had worked with Tom on some other smaller things — “Thunderbolts: Fear Itself,” some of the cartoon books like “Earth’s Mightiest Heroes” and “Ultimate Spider-Man” — but we’ve been wanting to do something more substantial together for a while. So we knew “Infinity” was coming and we wanted to somehow get involved with that. Tom wanted to do something with villains, and I was like, hell yeah, because obviously I never can say no to a villain piece of any kind. [Laughs] Just like when we talked earlier about Man-Bat and Penguin, when these bad guy-centric things come up, there’s a certain advantage of having the reputation as a villain writer. Chances are, you’ve got a good shot of getting a call.
Originally, it wasn’t Iron Man villains we were looking at. We knew that somebody would take advantage of this situation with Thanos. I mean, you’ve got Thanos invading and the heroes fighting them while the Avengers are off in space. You have to ask, what would the villains be doing during all this? Well, it’s the perfect situation for them to take advantage of — and what better way to do that than a classic heist story? Initially, the Iron man angle wasn’t there and it was just going to be a group of Marvel villains in general. But Tom and I both liked the idea of using Spymaster as our Danny Ocean from “Ocean’s 11” or our Joe from “Reservoir Dogs.” I think it was through our use of him that this became an Iron Man-centric thing.
Of course, the other part of this is when you’re doing a heist story, you have to figure out what you’re going to have them steal. So I got to thinking… What is the ultimate “get” in the Marvel Universe? The answer is fairly simple if you really think about it… Stark Enterprises. SE has all the knowledge and the armors and the tech that a genius like Tony Stark has at his disposal. It’s like if you raided Thomas Edison’s workshop back in the day — you’d end up with more money than God.
Once we figured out what the get was and realized we wanted Spymaster involved, we thought, “Wouldn’t it be cool if he just recruited Iron Man villains? Wouldn’t that really make sense?” I mean, they more than anyone else would be the ones with A) the most motivation to get revenge on Tony and B) the experience with dealing with Iron Man and all his toys. After all, they would know better than anybody else what Tony might have up his sleeve to be able to pull something like this off.
You’ve talked before about the oddity of picking guys like Unicorn on this team, but I’m wondering if one of the things you’re getting at here is that Iron Man villains are kind of under-appreciated in general.
Earlier you asked me why Iron man villains and I think maybe the better question should be, why not Iron Man villains? If you ask me, Tony Stark has one of the most underutilized rogues gallery in all of comics. Especially some of his older ones. About time somebody brushed ’em off and did something with ’em, don’t ya think? So I think in a way this is a celebration of Iron Man’s rogues gallery. I wanted to show some people how cool some of these guys were who they maybe hadn’t seen in a while.
For example, Titanium Man. Always one of my favorite Iron man villains. As a kid, I remember him being this giant robot-like guy — and who doesn’t like giant robots, for crissakes? It really goes back to the Layton/Michelinie stuff. There was a big fight he had in Rockefeller Center in “Iron Man” #135 and I just loved it. Same with guys like Whiplash and Blizzard. I remember them knocking over a casino in Atlantic City in issue #123, and Iron Man is slamming Whiplash over a blackjack table. Those things always stuck in my mind.
Then you get to a guy like Unicorn. You say you’re doing something with a villain named Unicorn, and everybody breaks a blood vessel laughing. And that’s exactly why I’m using him. I just love the challenge of trying to make a guy named Unicorn cool. [Laughs] I actually sort of have a history of doing that throughout my career. I’ve always found it fun to take a character that’s viewed as lame and try to do something cool with them. And the truth of the matter is, Unicorn is not really a joke in our story — he’s sort of our wild card. We establish that he’s been away for a while, been experimented on, lost his mind. Which, believe it or not, quite possibly makes him the most dangerous member of our group of all.
With this book, every villain was picked with a purpose. Everyone has their own role. Whether you’ve got a good guy team or a bad guy team, you need to have a reason for all of them to be there. Titanium Man is our strong, silent type. Firebrand is our femme fatale because we wanted to have at least one woman on the team. Whiplash is our cold heavy. Whirlwind and Blizzard in particular are our POV characters
Finally, of course, you have Spymaster, who’s our organizer. Again, he’s the Danny Ocean. Our Dean Keaton. And if I do my job right, he’ll be one of the ones who gets a big boost from this series. He, maybe more than anyone else in Iron man’s rogues gallery, is under appreciated. Again, going back a ways in Iron man history, he always seemed like a guy that Tony couldn’t quite get a handle on. Hell, he didn’t even know who he was or what he really looked like. He didn’t even know his name. Hell, I even established in Dark Reign: Made Men that Spymaster allows lesser criminals to assume his identity just to throw people off his trail. If that’s not a villain that deserves more recognition, I don’t know what is.
Let’s talk about the main character, who’s also the point of view man: Blizzard. He seems to be the one guy who’s not entirely sure they should pull this job. Why is that, and why does it make him the ideal POV character?
When it comes to this book, if you’re thinking movies, don’t think along the lines of “Avengers” or “Man of Steel” or even “Iron Man.” Think “Reservoir Dogs” or “The Usual Suspects” or “Heat.” (In fact, my eventual pitch was simply “Ocean’s Eleven with Iron Man Villains.”) Sometimes when you tell those kind of stories, it’s fun to see it through the eyes of the lower level crooks. For our purposes, it’s not necessarily the Michael Corleones of the world we want to be telling our story through. We’re actually going further down the rungs and see how the job affects the little guys.
In this case, Blizzard and Whirlwind are more than anyone the two guys at that level. Mostly Blizzard, but also Whirlwind to a certain extent, will serve as our POV characters and one thing we establish early is that they’ve got this great friendship. One thing that annoys me is when writers often portray criminals as not having any friends or loyalty to each other, which is nonsense. They’re like anybody else. Of course they have friendships. In fact, sometimes they have better friendships than most because they have to rely on each other so much.
Anyway, so here we have Blizzard and Whirlwind and yeah, they’re buddies, but they’re opposites in many ways. Whirlwind is more of a street-level crook than Blizzard, so he’s like, “Make a score and stick it to Iron Man at the same time? Where do I sign up?.” Blizzard, on the other hand, is maybe a little more apprehensive, maybe a little less trustworthy of Spymaster and what he’s up to. Not to give too much away when it comes to Blizzard, but he more than any other character will see great change in this series. Let’s just say that something happens to him in the course of this book that will alter him forever more.
On the art side of the equation, Al Barrionuevo has a style that can go a bit darker if need be. Why tap him for this book?
When Tom Brennan was talking to me about artists, I told him we needed someone who could go grim and gritty. We didn’t want someone who did your standard superhero fare. If you look at Al’s career drawing guys like the Batman villains or Loki, he’s got his villain chops. That made him a perfect fit for this story.
People know you’ve been working on video games a lot lately, including “Marvel Vs. Capcom 3.” Does that work impact how you’re approaching your comics writing these days?
Yeah, I may be focused more these days on video games and animation and stuff like that, but I’m still doing comics. I never left. (That said, there’s a new game I’m working and I just signed on to do another. Both Marvel games. Stay tuned as they should be announced fairly soon) I still like to have a foothold in comics, and it’s actually not all villain stuff. [Laughs] Wolverine, Punisher, Deadpool, Batman — characters like that I’m never that far from. You’re always capable of seeing a story from me with one of those guys. I just helped out on “Cable And X-Force,” and I have some creator owned stuff on the horizon including Captain Brooklyn with Jimmy Palmiotti and Amanda Conner that’s set to finally see the light of day.
Villains are certainly one of my specialties, but it’s not like it’s my only one. I have been known to do the occasional humor comic, and yes I can even tackle the stray out and out hero. I actually like that variety. I like challenges. If you look at my career, you’ll see varied, sometimes very out of the box, crazy stuff like “Apocalypse Vs. Dracula” or “Wolverine/Hercules” or “Space Punisher” where people will go, “What in the fresh Hell is this?” [Laughs] But I say you can’t be afraid to take chances in this business. And when those same skeptical people end up turning around and telling you how much they wound up enjoying what you’ve done, that you’ve put a good comic/video game/cartoon/whatever out there, there’s no bigger reward than seeing those chances pay off.
“Infinity: Heist” by Frank Tieri and Al Barrionuevo hits stores in September.