Due to the short, fleeting nature of life, mankind often strives to make some sort of mark on the world. In the Marvel Universe, few people strive harder to have an impact on the world than Tony Stark. Unfortunately, that drive often gets him into some very dangerous situations; ones that result in crippling and life threatening injuries. In fact Stark’s greatest invention, the Iron Man armor, was originally intended not to allow him be a hero, but to protect his heart from a piece of shrapnel lodged in his chest. The other injuries he’s suffered since donning the technological marvel include a malfunctioning nervous system and a gunshot wound that resulted in a crippling spinal injury. Thanks to his cunning, determination and inventiveness Stark has overcome these injuries, but they’ve made him conscious of his own mortality
Stark realizes the life he leads is dangerous, but as an inventor he’s also conscious of all that he can offer the world. What happens then when he designs a way for him to keep on contributing to the world long after his death? Writer Alexander Irvine and artist Lan Medina answer that question and more in the four issue miniseries “Iron Man: The Rapture” from the Marvel Knights Imprint. CBR News spoke with Irvine about the project, which begins in November and pits Iron Man, War Machine and Pepper Potts against a powerful and dangerous artificial intelligence.
CBR News: Alexander, you’re a science fiction and fantasy novelist who also works in comics. “Iron Man: The Rapture” is your third Marvel Comics project, the other two having been a supernatural horror story in “Hellstorm: The Equinox” and a pulp street level crime tale, “Daredevil: Noir.” With “The Rapture” you’re moving into the world of superheroes and sci-fi. How important is variety to you when choosing your comic projects and are there any specific genres you’re dying to tackle in comic book format?
Alexander Irvine: I’d love to do a big post-apocalypse book, yeah. Also, more supernatural stuff. That’s where I cut my writing teeth, and in many ways those are still my favorite stories to tell. Of course if the right monthly superhero gig came along, I’d love to do that; there are some great underutilized characters out there. But I love all different kinds of stories and I love to write all different kinds of stories. My fiction is all over the place, from near-future SF/noir (“Buyout”) to supernatural histories (“The Narrows” and “A Scattering of Jades”). One of my current private obsessions is a story in which a group of pirates in 1725 and a group of cowboys in 1880 get switched in time. I kind of want to call it “Tar Nation.”
What is it about Tony Stark and the world he inhabits that made you want to tell an Iron Man story?
I first got acquainted with Tony [when I wrote] a prose novel, “The Ultimates: Against All Enemies.” Then I wrote another Iron Man novel, “Virus,” and the novelization of the “Iron Man 2” movie. So I feel like I know Tony pretty well. I’d been kicking around some comic ideas for quite a while and settled on this one because I wanted to see what happens if you take the two defining characteristics of his personality and put them together: one, his relentless quest to make the best cutting edge technology, and two, the fact that his body is always on the verge of betraying him (and his personal habits don’t help). I think if you let those two dynamics play out, the story I’m telling makes a lot of sense. Since Tony is absurdly rich and absurdly smart, he is literally able to make his dreams come true.
“The Rapture” is a Marvel Knights story, which means you can tell the story you want without necessarily having to tie it into current Marvel continuity. So what’s Tony Stark’s status quo when this series begins? Is he still playing the classic roles of superhero/inventor/businessman/playboy?
He is! But since we’re not beholden to regular continuity, Tony can go ahead and be his hard-partying, womanizing self – except that, in some ways, would be the expected move. So the leash is taken off Tony, but he doesn’t run in the direction you might expect him to.
[“Iron Man: The Rapture”] is about what happens when Tony’s body starts to break down irrevocably and he realizes that he can in essence build a better one. He has the technology – and then, in the grand tradition of technology-run-amok stories, the technology runs amok. But this isn’t like the “Extremis” or “Ultron Imperative” storylines; in some ways, in fact, it’s the direct opposite of the “Ultron Imperative” story. Those are great stories, but Marvel Knights gives me room to take the whole setup in a different direction.
The chief antagonist in “The Rapture is an artificial intelligence called Stark 2.0. What can you tell us about its motivations and capabilities? How dangerous is it?
Well, it’s dangerous as hell. It’s as smart as Tony, since it is a version of Tony, but it’s born from binary code and fully exists only in a virtual space, so it hates all organic life – especially its creator and those he loves. One way to look at it is that Virtual Tony is Tony without the basic sense of humor and (dare we say it?) ethics that keeps Tony from turning into Lex Luthor.
It also sounds like your chief supporting players in this series are War Machine/James Rhodes and Pepper Potts. What types of roles do they play in this series?
These are two of the most patient characters in all of the Marvel U. I mean, would you put up with all of Tony’s crap for all these years? Not many of us would. One interesting thing about writing Pepper and Rhodey is making them true to their history without making them doormats who only exist to enable Tony’s more objectionable personal qualities. In this story, they both play decisive roles involving forced personality uploads, new prototypes of the War Machine Armor and a trip to a place called StarkWorld that no organic being wants to visit.
Speaking of StarkWorld, how important is setting to your overall story?
It’s one of those stories that you get when you put a bunch of people in an isolated location and let the circumstances put them at each others’ throats. Setting is just about everything. This whole story takes place inside Stark Industries, or inside Stark Industries’ servers. It’s threatening and claustrophobic and filled with dread! Plus it has some great fights.
You’re working with artist Lan Medina who drew the recent “Deathlok: The Demolisher” miniseries from Marvel Knights. What has it been like working with him on this mini?
The only way I can answer this is to say that there were pages I wrote and then thought, “Shit. How is the artist going to draw that?” Every single one of those so far has come back looking awesome. Lan is saving me from myself. I love the look he’s created for the virtual spaces in the book, and his Tony is one handsome devil (so is Rhodey). Also, I would be absolutely remiss if I didn’t mention the killer cover work Tim Bradstreet is doing. Between those two guys, the story I wrote is really coming together.
What can you tell us about the tone this story? The solicits seem to hint that there’s a cyber punk element to it.
There is, sure, but it’s not 1996 anymore, so there had to be something a little bit different to the cyberpunk flavor of the story. Traditionally, cyberpunk is near-future noir about a hacker protagonist (the punk) who opposes or subverts an entrenched corporate interest. It doesn’t work to tell a story like that with Tony Stark as your protagonist, but cyberpunk is also traditionally about alienated, maladjusted loners. That’s where Tony comes in. The original conception of the character was at least partly inspired by Howard Hughes, who was about as alienated and maladjusted as a man can be. I wanted this story to get back in touch with that part of Tony.
If I said too much more about it, I’d be giving too much away. But you’ll see some sweet prototype armors, and a hell of a fight that tears the Stark Industries tower all to hell. Plus, haven’t you always wanted to see Tony drill a hole in his own head?
Finally, are there any other upcoming projects, comic or otherwise, that fans of your work should be on the lookout for?
Well, I’m a card-carrying D&D nerd, and I have two D&D-related projects coming out real soon. One is a prose novel, “The Seal of Karga Kul.” The other is a 5-issue limited series set in D&D’s “Dark Sun” campaign setting. That one is called (right now) “Ianto’s Tomb” and it starts coming out in January from IDW. Transformers fans can look forward to another novel following up on “Transformers: Exodus” and I’m writing a Star Wars novel, too. There’s also more comic stuff in the pipeline, but I can’t say anything about it yet.