[SPOILER WARNING: THIS INTERVIEW CONTAINS SPOILERS FOR “IRON MAN” #1, ON SALE NOW]
Tony Stark is one of the Marvel Universe’s premier problem solvers. If an obstacle stands in his way he’ll usually use his brilliant intellect to create something to overcome it, like his fantastic arsenal of Iron Man armors. That knack for creating problem solving technology has made Stark a very wealthy man, but thanks to his many character flaws he often ends up creating as many problems as he solves.
This means Tony Stark’s world is a complicated, high tech, glamorous and often dangerous one. In “Iron Man” #1, the new creative team of writer Kieron Gillen and artist Greg Land introduced new readers to that world and showed long time fans a glimpse of the new Marvel NOW! era. CBR News spoke with Gillen about the events of issue which touched on Tony Stark’s relationship with women and launched him on a quest to retrieve the dangerous techno-organic virus known as Extremis from a variety of villainous organizations.
CBR News: Kieron, you spend a lot of time in “Iron Man” #1 showing readers what makes Tony Stark tick. In the beginning Tony talks about the things he believes in, one of which is his optimism for the future and that we will make it. Does Tony’s heroic drive come from that belief and devotion to preserving and building the future?
Kieron Gillen: The future is his drive. I think he wants to make it. It’s not like he’s Reed Richards who’s interested in the universe for the sake of the universe. He’s a man who makes things and if you make anything at all you’re making it for a purpose. His armored suits are a way for him to do something. That of course suggests that he implicitly believes there’s a point in making these tools; that there’s a future that’s worth making. That’s part of his drive. He wants us to survive and make it to the future so he can help build and shape it.
Showing what makes Tony tick is kind of my driving force for this issue. First person narrative captions are a technique I haven’t used particularly often. A few times, but it’s not my first point of call. Also I’ve never actually done a solo book for any length of time. My natural urge is to do ensemble dramas. Plus, I thought Tony isn’t the type of guy to naturally talk about this stuff. So I thought the right thing to do would be to go back to his principles especially since we have the reveal in page three that this is what he’s telling a girl in a club while he’s trying to hit on her. Which begs the questions, how truthful is Tony? And if he is being truthful why is he telling this heartfelt stuff to a girl who isn’t very interested in it at the club? That gives you an idea of how mentally shook up Tony is at this time.
All the immaterial stuff is kind of problematic for Tony and that’s kind of why I wanted him to face it. While I don’t assume it, most people know Iron Man from any of the movies. So I’m playing with the expectations people have from the films. I’m showing them what’s similar and what’s different. In this case we have Tony having a conversation about belief. He’s incredibly sure about himself especially in the movies and here he’s a little bit unsure, but he’s still being very arrogant when talking about how unsure he is. And people coming from the comics have a completely different reading from it — they know how this ties to AvX.
The last two volumes of ‘Iron Man’ had incredible first issues by Warren Ellis and Matt Fraction. They really cut straight to the core of the character and explained him really well. So I think more than any other of the first issues that I’ve done I feel distinct pressure here because in the relatively recent past other people have done a really good job on the initial statement. I wanted to show people how I see Tony and how I’m going to write about him.
You also use this issue to examine another one of Tony’s principles and beliefs, his stance on killing. First he mentions killing people is bad in his conversation with the girl in the night club and then later in narration he says he had to kill an Extremis enhancile, but hated it. So Tony Stark pilots one of the world’s deadliest weapons, but prefers to use it non-lethally? It seemed like he was saying that he’ll kill if he has to, but only if it’s absolutely necessary and even then he won’t like it?
Yeah, he’s a man of ironies our Tony. Even for those only who saw the movies he’s a man who made weapons and he no longer makes weapons. He still lives with that on his head though. He can make jokes about it, but the fact that he’s no longer making weapons shows how he considers things. He’s a man who’s willing to kill. He’ll do it if he believes it needs to be done, but he’d rather do anything else. His feeling is, “If I was smart enough maybe I could find another way.”
He does pilot the most powerful weapon on Earth and tries to use it for non-lethal peacekeeping means. He uses it a lot like Pepper Potts’ Rescue armor, which was implicitly made to be non-lethal. But it’s not a Rescue suit… but it’s not War Machine either. [Laughs] Iron Man is a weapon and it’s the reason why he’s kept this technology away from people.
So he’s not Spider-Man, a guy who won’t kill at all. He’s more like Captain America in that he’ll kill if he feels it’s absolutely necessary, but he won’t like it. He’s a guy who sold weapons and someone like that must be okay with the concept on some level.
I don’t believe the reason Tony Stark stopped making weapons was because he felt killing was bad. He makes that joke here but his ethical problems are slightly different. It wasn’t about the act of killing. He’s definitely a man who could pull the trigger if it would save somebody’s life. That’s how I see it. I think Cap would kill, but Tony is a much more problematic character than Cap. He used to make weapons. That’s how he made some of his fortune and his family have a history in this.
I see Tony as a hero, but his flaws are what make things a little bit more interesting for me. The flirting scene at the beginning of the issue is fundamentally about Tony not quite getting it. He’s the smartest man in the world and he’s not aware that somebody is essentially patronizing him. He’s got problems with women. Tony goes from woman to woman to woman. In the movie he’s in a relationship.
People say the movie version is more irresponsible than the comics one — but he’s the one in an adult relationship with a woman. The Tony Stark of the comics isn’t. He’s got problems and that will be another aspect of his character that I’ll examine going forward.
While we’re on the topic of Tony’s relationship with women, let’s go back to that opening scene with the woman in the club. We see one side of the woman when she’s chatting with Tony and another when she makes her way to the bar and has a discussion with Pepper Potts. What’s going on in this scene with Tony and the blonde woman he’s talking with?
With this scene I wanted to show that Tony isn’t necessarily aware of the complexities of these types of liaisons. Is he a sex addict? He’s an alcoholic so is clearly prone to addictive behaviour. That said, he’s not unethical in his sexuality. It’s not like he lies someone into bed. He doesn’t tell them he loves them or anything like that. It’s clear that Tony Stark is a bit of a playboy and a lot of people realize that. He’s a rich guy as well. There’s a feeling that, “He’s a bit of a dick so I don’t feel bad about him buying drinks, but otherwise I quite like him.”
I like the woman in our opening scene. She clearly understands what their conversation is about. She thinks, “Tony Stark is an interesting guy, but I’m not going to give him me.” To coin a phrase, she essentially had emotional contraceptives on. She has no illusions as to what’s going on.
You said earlier Tony wasn’t aware the woman in this opening scene was patronizing him. Do you think that’s a common problem for him?
I think it is. It doesn’t even occur to him, because he’s quite often surrounded by women and most of the women he tends to really fall for are brilliant. There’s a thing explicitly in issue #4. where I take this even further and show that he thinks a lot of his one night stands are interchangeable. It’s almost like they’re a badminton partner or something. He thinks it’s just something that people do.
Greg is famous for the way he draws very idealized and photo reference heavy characters. So he quite often draws women looking very glamorous. He’s basically giving us the universe in Tony Stark-o-vision. So the way our comic looks is how Tony sees the world. He views it as a photo shoot in a magazine. To me that’s a way of harnessing what Greg does and making it the text. Tony fundamentally sees women as beautiful creatures, at least on the surface. He’s capable of seeing more than the surface, but…
This issue also gave you the chance to briefly explore Tony’s relationship with the series’ most prominent female character, Pepper Potts. What did you want to establish with her in these opening scenes?
That speaks to what I said above. Yes, Pepper is still obviously a beautiful woman, but she’s his friend. She’s running his company and they had a history in Matt’s run. To me it’s interesting that Tony is with Pepper in the movie and I wanted to show that’s not where they are now. That’s part of the reason why she has this conversation with the woman at the bar and the woman says, “If he had his head together he would be with someone like you.” So for people who haven’t read an Iron Man comic before you get this sense that Tony isn’t with her, but maybe there was something between them before and it didn’t work out. You don’t need to know what happened just that for reasons of Tony being basically a fuck up he’s not with any one of these brilliant women.
Our first arc is five issues, each one featuring a different villain, which doesn’t leave much room for a supporting cast. So I decided to go with Pepper. Since one of our themes is how Tony relates with women Pepper is the best person to use in terms of Tony’s inner circle.
Also I wanted to explain why we gave Pepper’s dress a high neck. She’s still got the repulsor thing in her chest. We gave her a high neck so we didn’t have to explain why she has that. That’s the sort of thing that will confuse a new reader and it’s irrelevant because I’m not doing a story about her having powers.
What’s the dynamic like between Tony and Pepper when this issue begins? Her dialogue about trying to get Tony to come back to his company, Stark Resilient, suggests that she feels his life needs some focus.
When Matt finished his run he established that Tony has gone off for a sort of holiday, and we reference that here. It’s like, “Tony you’ve been acting weird. I’m your friend and I’m also kind of your boss and I’m worried about you. This is a mid-life crisis isn’t it?”
There is a a bit of that. Tony is basically questioning why am I here? He’s thinking a little bit like Reed Richards does possibly for the first time in his life, and it’s weird. He talks about the checklist in his conversation with Pepper and that worries her because she knows what an idiot Tony can be. Pepper is aware that as smart as he is, Tony misses fundamental things which are obvious to everyone else. We’ve all got friends like that; someone who is brilliant, but misses something that’s entirely obvious to everyone else.
So Pepper is a good friend and her relationship with Tony is one of his more redeeming parts in this issue. We have that conversation with the girl at the bar, but Pepper knows that he’s not just that guy.
You also spend a little time in this issue with another significant woman in Tony Stark’s life, Maya Hansen, the inventor of the Extremis virus. You brought her back because you’re telling a story about what happens when Extremis gets loose in the world, but what made you want to kill her off?
I’m trying to echo Iron Man’s origin story. I didn’t want to sit down and do a three-panel flashback where we show that Iron man was held captive and forced to make a weapon. Here I wanted to show that’s happened to Maya and she’s escaped, but if she successfully escaped then she would have to go and solve the problem. It would be Maya’s story. So Maya dies and alerts Tony to the situation which causes him to realize that what happened to her could have happened to him. What’s happened to Maya is his worst nightmare. So now he has to go deal with it.
I don’t like stories where a female character is killed to give the male character motivation, but in this case it’s tied specifically to the Tony Starkness of her. It’s interesting (with the rest of the themes) that she’s a woman, but she’s specifically in this book to show Tony that this could have happened to him. He thinks, “There but for the grace of god go I and I’ve got to clean up for Maya. I owe her that much.” So it’s personal because he liked Maya, but it’s also personal because this is something he believed in and because the implications Extremis has for humanity.
It’s literally the idea that you’re remaking yourself for the future. It’s a way to start talking about futurism. In the later issues of this arc people create things with Extremis and the things they choose to create speak to bits of Tony’s philosophy. So by going and fighting all these things he ends up explicitly challenging his assumptions.
Maya’s killers were an A.I.M. Cell interested in selling the Extremis virus to the highest bidders. Were they just doing this for financial power? Or was there an ideological component to what they were doing?
I think they’re straight capitalists. They’re dark mirrors of Tony. Tony wouldn’t sell Iron Man suits because they’re too dangerous, whereas these guys would be like, “Let’s sell them. What’s wrong with that?” Their faith is essentially the market will sort everything out. They’re fundamentally criminals, but based on the way they dress and act they don’t really think they’re criminals. They think they should be allowed to do this.
They’re also a good sales pitch for Extremis. They can tell people what it is. People who have read the comics know about the fire breathing and the reaction speeds and all that stuff. That’s not what’s really interesting about Extremis to me. What I find interesting is the fact that it’s flexible. It speaks to the themes of the book; that the future is a self-centric concept.
A.I.M are a classic Marvel villain group. For this story I gave them a slight visual spin and they’re main purpose was to mirror Tony, especially where he came from. Tony beats them quite easily at the end because he’s planned for it. He’s dealt with these people before. He hopes every one else is unimaginative as these guys.
So that’s what I was trying to do with them. This first issue is 20 pages and I had a lot to get in. So the threat is relatively simple, but there’s a lot going in the margins.
It’s interesting that these guys were capitalists and some A.I.M. Cells are extremely left wing. It seems like it’s an organization where any number of ideological outlooks can be found?
I don’t want to say the group is anonymous, but if you say you are A.I.M. you probably are A.I.M. That’s kind of how I see them. I used them in my first “Uncanny X-Men” issue as well, where they made an earthquake machine. They’re a great one-size fits all evil scientist organization with an exciting use of the color yellow, which is a very daring fashion look. They like science and they’re mixed up a bit, which allows you to speak to the nature of the book they’re in.
To take down the A.I.M. cell Tony designs a suit on the fly with a special briefcase. What can you tell us about this case?
Essentially it’s this high tech 3-D printer that he uses to make prototype suits. And that’s how he gets it past security. Plus he shaves! Which is my favorite scene in the issue. [Laughs] He gets through by shaving because A.I.M. aren’t very good at detecting that type of thing.
What can you tell us about the armor he designs? The text suggests that it’s almost putty like?
Yeah I put a variety of things in there because I wanted to say that this was not exactly the same thing his previous suit was made out of. The idea is that this was something he would keep in a lab and use it to make prototypes. That was kind of my idea for it. So while it looks like the other Iron Man suits he’s got and works like them he uses this device to test new ideas.
In the next issue and the issue after that we really start to look at how the modular armor works. We visit the armory next issue and talk about the level of specialty involved with the suit in issue #3. In issue #4 we show a heavy duty-style suit.
At the end of this first issue Tony vows to get back the Extremis samples the A.I.M. cell has sold. Is he even thinking clearly at this point?
That’s a good question. Maya’s death has hit him square in the guts. In issue #2 Pepper says to him, “Give this to S.H.I.E.L.D. This isn’t on you.” He replies, “I would give this to S.H.I.E.L.D., but there are problems.” He then explains what the problems are. He’s going after these people who have Extremis because he believes it needs to be done quickly and S.H.I.E.L.D. has certain handcuffs on them.
Plus this is personal. He definitely feels like it’s on him. He sees Maya mirrored in him. Plus it gives him something to do. It’s a clean task and he’s got this sort of existential worry and this is almost his version of re-arranging his CD collection alphabetically. Of course, what he doesn’t know is that by facing and maybe overcoming these difficult conflicts he’s also exposed to these other moral elements.
He’s doing this thinking it’s just going to keep him busy, but what he uncovers makes him question different areas. The idea being that the things he experiences each issue make him question a different part of himself, which leads to where he is at the end of issue #5. That’s my kind of structure.
He’s angry, though, and we see how it impacts on him. He’s haunted by the death of a friend he never got to say goodbye to, and since he wasn’t in the best mental place at the start of this issue I would worry about him.
Can you tell us about some of the dangers Tony will run into during “Iron Man” #2? Last time we talked you mentioned this was the issue that would involve the armored knight metaphor.
Yes, in this issue he meets an incredibly pretentious knight calling himself Arthur, who’s the head of a group called the Circle. They believe in the concept of better pilots. They feel, “We want to be adventurers and heroes and help the world.” So they’re almost heroic, but they’re kind of pricky about it. One of their members is the greatest exoskeleton pilot of all time — who never got a chance to fly against Iron Man. That’s the emotional heart of it.
They use the Extremis to turn themselves into the perfect pilots. So it’s about the romanticism of being a pilot. Arthur is deeply pretentious and he’s the guy who calls Tony a grail knight. And Tony — after mocking him — goes, “Actually I can see that. That’s an interesting angle.”
The main action of the story takes the form of a joust, a combat tournament. These guys are so honorable that they want a formal joust where they fight Tony Stark. So there’s a sort of “Enter the Dragon” feel because it’s a tournament on an island. The story is also a good way to show how Tony’s armory works. You walk in and it spits arms and other limbs out and Tony emerges with a new set up. The idea is, “I’ll tweak the build a little bit. Give me a new repulsor. Swap that arm piece for this. Lose the seals on the central unit and give me a better scanner.” It’s that kind of thing, but with added techno-gibberish.
Issue #3 is a stealth mission, which shows off one of the alternate suits. That issue involves a father experimenting on his daughter with Extremis. It features some classic Iron Man villains, but it’s fundamentally a stealth mission. It’s about Tony Stark going in as a spy or a ninja.
Issue #4 is basically my “Aliens” story. After I saw Carlo Pagulayan’s design for the suit in this issue I joked that it’s a little bit like “Space Hulk,” the “Warhammer 40K” game, or the movie “Aliens.” It’s set in the Catacombs beneath Paris. It’s a straight horror story. Tony’s down there hunting these things that have been created by Extremis. One of the scenes in the book is especially horrific in an emotional way. I think, of the first four issues, this is the one that makes Tony question things the most.
The fifth issue involves someone who seems to have a genuine desire to use Extremis to improve the lot of humanity and Tony’s moral question is whether or not to let them have it.
So Issue #2 is about the heroic adventure aspect. Issue #3 is a stealth story with an emotional side. It’s kind of about asking what is technology really for? Issue #4 is almost a supernatural story, and issue #5 is about duty and futurism.
These issues are a way to take Tony to interesting locales around the world and get him to fight people. Plus you want the action to speak to character as much as possible. When Spider-Man punches somebody the scene isn’t just about him punching somebody. At the same time, though, it’s a lot of fun to see Spider-Man punch somebody.
With “Iron Man” #1 on sale now, what else can you tell us about that issue and what you have planned? From my perspective it looks like your ultimate goal for this issue was to thrust readers into Tony Stark’s dangerous and glamorous new high tech reality.
Yes. Essentially I wanted to introduce Tony. I wanted to show readers who he was, how he thinks, his suit, and the sorts of things he does with it. I also wanted to introduce Pepper. Basically I wanted to say, “Here’s everything our book is basically about.”
â€¨A lot of people are a little familiar with Tony Stark, but this is our take on Tony. I think this issue is mostly successful in illustrating that too. It gives you a good sense of what the book will feel like.
“Iron Man” #1 by Kieron Gillen and Greg Land is on sale now.