Early Thursday afternoon, Marvel held a press conference to discuss April’s “Iron Man” #17, which sees the debut of the new creative team of writers Daniel Knauf (the creator of HBO’s “Carnivale”) and his son Charlie Knauf with artist Patrick Zircher. Those who participated on the call the Knauf’s, Marvel Executive Editor Tom Brevoort and Marketing Coordinator Jim McCann. We have a full transcript of that conversation. If you’d like to read more from Daniel Knauf, check out our interview with the writer from November, 2005.
Tom Brevoort: Well, we have this comic called “Iron Man” that people probably aren’t too aware of because it hasn’t come out all that often over the last year. For the last year and a half it’s been produced by Warren Ellis and Adi Granov and because of Adi’s digitally painted artwork, it took a long time to get the six-issues done. That is all changing. It is a new day for “Iron Man” with the new creative team, Daniel and Charles who are on the phone now, along with artist Patrick Zircher and we’re going to bring the adventures of shell head to you on a monthly basis, coming out each and every month of the calendar!
Daniel Knauf: I told Tom, “Good, fast or cheap? You can choose two.” [laughs]
TB: I chose fast and cheap, as it turns out. We want to create low expectation levels out of the gate. [laughs]
Would you guys give us an overview of your plans for “Iron Man” and a look at your first story arc, “Execute Program?”
DK: We picked up right where Warren left off. Tony’s just undergone this transformation to the extremist enhanced style Tony Stark and it’s sort of become melded as more of a bio-mechanical unit with his suit. What we want to is really make a seamless transition from Warren’s arc to ours. When we came into the party, we didn’t want to do any reinventing. We wanted to pick up and stand on Warren’s shoulders because he had basically done all the heavy lifting with “Iron Man.”
Charlie Knauf: Yeah, we’re excited about the interesting directions this takes us.
DK: [The series kind of went through a reboot when Warren took on the title] Although we can draw from Iron Man’s past and his mythos, we’re not stuck with the conflicting stuff. Any character that’s been around this long will have a lot of characters and inherent conflicts where the story isn’t always straight, so we’re moving on as though #1 in this series was #1 in “Iron Man.”
Were you assigned any sort of goal to be achieved in your initial storyline?
DK: He was very specific – make it great! Or else!
CK: That’s pretty much what I heard! [Laughs]
DK: Tom’s given us an extraordinary amount of freedom. Our feeling was Iron Man has gotten short shrift in the Marvel Universe and we just want to take him to the same level that so many other writer/creators have done with all the other characters. It’s an exciting challenge.
CK: We both thought pretty much the same thing. This is Iron Man’s time. He’s been in the background for a while now and you have a great series of books with the X-Men and Spider-Man and everything and we thought, “Hey, it’s Iron Man’s turn!”
DK: One of the things we have done – because it’s such a rich history with the villains and so forth – is really sort of, “Hey, let’s bring in the Crimson Dynamo for an appearance here.” It’s really kind of this neat pantry we can go into and pull out all these fantastic ingredients and give a nod to the past while carrying the character into the future.
You’ve talked a bit about the rich history the character has that makes him great, but what do you think is lacking that will make him great?
[long silence – then lots of laughter]
TB: [yells]: Monthly!
DK: I think it’s not so much saying what hasn’t been great about the character, as much as what hasn’t been fully exploited about this character. Really, that was what drew us to Iron Man to begin with. We’d ask ourselves, “Ok, where’s a patch of untilled ground?” We really felt that Tony Stark and Iron Man was that patch. This is a character who has a real depth, a real reality, but hasn’t really been exploited. This idea of a weapons designer who is obsessively pursuing world piece. The idea of a guy who is inherently flawed, trying to achieve a degree of perfection that he wears like a suit. The kind of madness that comes part and parcel with extraordinary wealth. All of those things were really juicy and just lying there on the table. I think they’ve been touched on and played with, but we really wanted to push it and ramp it up, pushing it towards the very edges, rather than just touching on it and moving on. That’s really what excited us about the possibilities of Tony Stark and Iron Man.
CK: Correct me if I’m wrong, but it was really the man. Yeah, he’s got the super suit and everything, but everything’s connected. This big iron suit is part of the story, but, like you said, he’s almost like this Howard Hughes character. He’s untouchable, but he has a lot of flaws. It’s really what brought us to taking on this character.
Your run is beginning just as “Civil War” is about to erupt. Is that affecting your plans?
DK: There were quite frankly moments of terror. We had actually pitched our story before “Civil War” was on deck. We wanted to take Tony to some pretty dark places and create some conflict between characters, between supers. They said, “You know what? We’re kind of moving in that direction, so that’s great. Go!” Then, about half way through writing these things, having already finished #10, we started to get the news about “Civil War” and how it’s working. And we were thinking, “Oh My God! How are we going to dovetail this with what everybody else is doing?” Tom [Brevoort] was wise enough to say, “You know what? It really isn’t going to have that much of an impact on your story. Let’s tell it all the way through, and then address the ‘Civil War’ aspects more directly in the next arc.” We’re set to do another six issues after this, so in that arc will be more involvement with “Civil War” than this previous.
TB: Part of the problem with this, again, goes back to the monthly thing. If we had been more certain of exactly when issues of “Iron Man” were going to be shipping through the last year, we would have been able to set-up appropriately. But Dan and Charlie have been working on “Iron Man” scripts for a couple of months now and the question of exactly when those scripts would be rolling out was always in flux because we were never quite sure when the last Warren and Adi issues were going to come out. Those are now all scheduled, the last one is at the printer and we know that issue #7 will ship in April. What this means it that this six issue arc effectively all takes place before the beginning of “Civil War.” There are elements in it that will echo and resonate off of things that are going on in “Civil War,” but from a timeline stand point that all takes place before “Civil War.” Then, with “Iron Man” #13 & #14 we’ll do an actual dedicated “Civil War” tie-in and that will help integrate “Iron Man’s” timeline more concretely to the rest of the Marvel Universe with “Civil War,” the “New Avengers” and so forth. So, coming out of “Civil War” everything will be back at the same equivalent point.
DK: Tom has told us our April issue will be marked November. [laughs]
Is there anything you can tell us about this mysterious assassin that will be playing a part in this story?
DK: The assassin is part of Tony’s past, but he is a new character and a very unusual nemesis for a super-hero, but beyond that I cannot say because Charlie will kill me. [Laughs] The thing is, he knows where I live and he knows when I’m sleeping. That whole thing looks bad from a PR stand point. [laughs]
Daniel, you’ve had a rather successful career in Hollywood. What’s the appeal of comics?
DK: [long pause and breath] Uhhm, the money. [laughs]
[laughs all around]
That is just too much! That was a reality moment.
TB: There was an exciting moment early on in our conversations. I was talking to Dan and Charlie and I told them we need the book to be monthly and they said, “Monthly? We work in TV. We work weekly!” [laughs]
DK: The thing is, I’ve always wanted to do it. TV is an extraordinary medium and it’s wonderful to watch things, but once you’ve watched it, it’s gone. It’s in the ether. Sure, you have it on DVD and so fort, but what’s really exciting is the idea of actually being able to hold something in your hand. And I’ve always loved comics. I think it’s just a fantastic medium.
In a way, what we’ve seen over the last twenty years or so is this incredible renaissance and maturation of it as a form. It’s just very cool to be a part of that. It’s almost like when film went from silent to getting sound. The themes we can address and the types of stories we can tell are so much broader and deeper. It’s something I’ve been dieing to do for some time.
What is it like working together as Dad and son? What’s the form there? Who takes charge?
DK: We get along fine between fights.
CK: Yeah, between the drunken brawls out in the parking lot! [laughs]
DK: It actually was a little bit scary going in. We hadn’t collaborated before and you never know if a collaboration is going to work. Really, collaboration is about two guys getting together and creating a third writer. That’s when you know it’s working, when you look at the material and both people say, “I couldn’t have written that by myself.” It was surprisingly seamless. We sit at the typewriter together. We’ll outline together. Charlie will do a first draft. Then we’ll sit down together and work off of one another. It’s been a great experience.
CK: Was that that thing?
DK: Well, don’t tell them about the thing!
CK: I’m not telling them about the thing! [laughs]
DK: I don’t want them knowing how lame I am! [laughs] But, what happens is we’ll both step away from it and when we get back together and sit down again, we’ll look at each other and one of us will say, “I have a third way.” Like any creative relationship, there’s got to be conflict for it to be good, but there’s total respect between the two of us, so it’s not like we sit there and don’t resolve everything creatively. Television is highly collaborative and that’s the way any really good collaborative relationship works, where 1 and 1 adds up to three. It’s neat working with your son!
CK: Ditto on that one.
Do you think the tech changes Warren Ellis made makes Tony such a powerful character that it’s hard to write for him?
CK: When we first started out, that was the first question we asked ourselves.
DK: There were some sleepless nights. The answer is so self-evident, though. I’ll ask you a question, what if you had God-like power? That’s gotta be the world’s easiest way to screw somebody’s head up. Tony is still Tony. I think that the “blessing” really is a curse for Tony and we see him trying to deal with it in our arc and we’ll carry that further in the next six.
DK: Sometimes we’ll catch ourselves saying, “Tony turns on a light switch,” but he doesn’t really have to do that anymore. He can just think it on. One of the things we did when we contacted Tom was ask for him to give us a list of all the things he can do now so that we can work with that. Warren kind of left it open a little bit, so we’re sort of discovering Tony’s powers and limitations as we move along as well.
Will you bring any themes into it in terms of relating it to technology in the modern world? Especially now that it’s more than just the chest plate keeping him alive?
DK: There’s an old Chris Rock line where he says, “Find me a beautiful woman and I’ll find you a guy who’s bored being with her.” [laughs] It’s almost the same thing with Tony. He’s finally achieved this ultimate dream of being the machine. And when we find him at the top of our Arc, he’s bored. It’s so easy now. It’s one of those be careful what you wish for moments. He’s in this state where he can multi-task and beat the crap out of this guy where it used to take me six issues to nail him and now it’s taking me six panels.
Sounds like you have to ramp the villains up a bit.
Especially with Tony Stark. That bottle’s always six inches away if things get too hard for him. [laughs]
Daniel: Well, it’s also six inches away if things get too hard for us! [laughs]
Your editor is listening! He’ll look over those scripts twice as hard!
With all this new tech that he has, does it make him inaccessible from a reader stand point? He’s almost God-like, but he’s also a very rich man. Does that make him more inaccessible from an emotional standpoint?
DK: That’s a challenge, but the key is to dial in on Tony’s humanity and his flaws. No matter how different a person is from us – and that was one of the themes I explored in “Carnivale” – no matter how bizarre somebody’s lifestyle or how they look is, there’s always this nugget of humanity that people are going to connect with. That’s really what I’ve dialed in on in my career and what I’ve always exploited is how similar we are to one another. That’s what we’re doing with “Iron Man.” No matter how God-like his power is, he’s still just a man. Any human being who’s reading this is going to connect with that human aspect of it.
TB: The final thing I can say for the official record is, having polled my editorial office of assistants and associates, when the last script came in it was officially pronounced, “Awesome. Awesome. Awesome.” Three awesome level comic books!
DK: I’d be really impressed, but I heard that last time you guys had pizza delivered to the office, they officially pronounced that awesome, too. [laughs]
TB: True, but that was only one awesome! [laughs]
Charlie, Daniel, any final thoughts?
DK: [thoughtful pause] Uhhh … no! [laughs]