A Stark Contrast: Fraction talks “Invincible Iron Man”

Tony Stark has tried to use the incredible technology he creates to better the world, but what happens when a ruthless villain with ties to Stark’s past corrupts and perverts those technological miracles? This is one of the many ideas writer Matt Fraction and artist Salvador Larroca will explore in Marvel Comics’ new ongoing series, “Invincible Iron Man,” which launches this May.

Fraction landed the “Invincible Iron Man” gig when the new title was floated at one of Marvel’s editorial retreats. “I was immediately excited by the idea, so when it came up in the room I just sort of went for it,” he told CBR News. Naturally, one of the reasons Fraction went after “Invincible Iron Man” was the book’s compelling title character. “His character flaws are legion, for a writer that’s his best feature. But his best trait is that he’s our vision of the future. He’s the self made man, self-evolving. He’s the future’s pioneer, the Chuck Yeager of human evolution. He’s at the forefront of what comes next.

“But that sort of single minded pursuit of tomorrow has blinded him to a lot of realities about today. That’s kind of where a lot of his great conflicts come in.”

When it comes to people using the technology he’s created, Tony Stark has some trust issues. “That’s an interesting part of his character. He wants to give the world all this amazing technology but he’s nervous when anybody wants to use it,” laughed Fraction. “The world is a dangerous place and for all its improvements, technology brings new dangers. There is good and a bad that you have to take and I don’t think Tony wants that responsibility. It’s a tremendous responsibility and we start to see in 'Invincible Iron Man’ #1 that when technology is used for nefarious purposes Tony takes it really hard.”

In the “The Five Nightmares,” the opening story arc of “Invincible Iron Man,” the man using technology for those nefarious purposes is Ezekiel Stane, the son of one of Iron Man’s greatest foes. “He’s the son of Obadiah Stane, who once brought Tony Stark and Stark Industries to their knees,” explained Fraction. “Obadiah Stane was the one man who very cleanly and clearly beat Tony Stark and Iron Man. Later, when Iron Man rallied, rather than fail, Stane took his own life.

“So we’ve got this son and if you thought it was hard working for Obadiah Stane, you should try being his boy. Zeke is a Stane in name only and has had to earn everything he’s achieved. With Zeke it’s not just the Stane legacy that’s important. It’s the youth. It’s not just 'Stane, the bad guy is back. It’s about the next generation. It’s about Tony being beaten not just by Iron Man 2.0 but Tony Stark 2.0.”

His father dealt Tony Stark one of his most crushing defeats, but Zeke Stane has his own playbook for taking out Iron Man. “He rejects the strategies of his father as being the crude tactics of Attila the Hun,” Fraction remarked. “His dad beat Tony at Tony’s game. Zeke is playing in an entirely different arena and much to his great horror; Tony is going to discover this a little too late.”

Whether in the boardroom or on the battlefield, most of the opponents Iron Man confronts usually have some sort of ties to society and politics; ties which Stark has often used to his advantage. But Zeke Stane is a very different sort of enemy than what Stark is used to. “Zeke is a post-national business man and kind of an open source ideological terrorist,” explained Fraction, appropriately putting the contrast into software terms. “He has absolutely no loyalty to any sort of law, creed, or credo. He doesn’t want to beat Tony Stark, he wants to make him obsolete. Windows wants to be on every computer desktop in the world, but Linux and Stane want to destroy the desktop. He’s the open source to Stark’s closed source oppressiveness. He has no headquarters, no base, and no bank account. He’s a true ghost in the machine; completely off the grid, flexible, and mobile. That absolutely flies in the face of Tony’s received business wisdom and in the way business is done. There are banks and lawyers and you have facilities and testing. Stane is a much more different animal. He’s a much smarter, more mobile and much quicker to respond and evolved futurist.”

That futurist thinking has also given Stane a leg up in any potential physical confrontations with Iron Man. “No matter how high tech or evolved, even with Extremis, the Iron Man armor is still a guy in a suit,” Fraction stated. “If you get between the man and the suit you can undo it. So Stane doesn’t need a suit. That’s the difference. That’s what we start to see, the future of Iron Man is that there’s no gap between Iron and Man. It’s one being and Stane is quite literally evolving himself and people who pay him as we see in the book’s opening.”

The opening story in “The Invincible Iron Man” actually marks the second stage of Ezekiel Stane’s vendetta against Tony Stark. The first part is currently unfolding in the pages of Fraction’s “The Order,” which is coming to an end this month with issue #10. “The Order” follows the adventures of super team with close ties to Tony Stark, tasked with defending California.

“Spoilers for 'The Order’ -- we reveal Stane to be our big bad in the book,” Fraction said. “He’s really been behind The Order’s bad time of it. Much to The Order’s horror, Stane’s not even interested in them. He’s interested in sending a message to Stark. So they’re lives have been made a living hell because Stane wants to get to Tony.”

One member of “The Order’ guaranteed to survive Stane’s assault is Tony Stark’s trusted confidant, Pepper Pots. The classic Iron Man cohort will rejoin her old boss and become a regular part of the “Invincible Iron Man” supporting cast with issue #1. “I love her and Tony’s relationship,” Fraction stated. “Seeing the way they’re handling it in the 'Iron Man’ movie trailers makes me feel like, 'Yes I’m on the right page.’ I love there being a smart and sexy woman that keeps Tony absolutely on his toes and doesn’t take his crap for one second. I love writing the two of them together.”

Stark won’t be the only one with a Gal Friday in “Invincible Iron Man.” Stane’s assistant, Sasha, could be seen as Pepper’s evil twin. “Behind every great man is a beautiful and completely lethal woman,” Fraction said.

Stark and Stane’s battle will be fought on a global stage. “I want to make this book bigger than Los Angeles and New York and show that business is truly international,” Fraction said. “We’ve got Stane, who is post-national and Stark, who has facilities all around the world; so this is going to be a globetrotting book. Flip a page and you’re in Monaco. Flip a page and you’re in Paris. Flip another page and you’re in Tokyo.”

Once the first arc of “Invincible Iron Man” wraps, Stane will be out of sight and off the board for a little while, but that doesn’t mean things will get easier for Tony. Fraction has a host of new villains lined up and ready to come gunning for Tony Stark and his alter ego. “Part of my interest in this book was the desire to bulk up Iron Man’s rogue’s gallery with somebody younger,” Fraction explained. “Everybody was older or the same age as Tony and a technologist isn’t going to be fighting the old guys. It’s going to be the new kid with the new idea. Microsoft doesn’t buy up older companies. They’re always buying up the new kids. So I wanted to introduce a kind of new kid aspect.”

Fraction hopes fans enjoy the opening arc of “Invincible Iron Man” because it’s just the first mile in an epic journey he’s got planned for Tony Stark. “When this book came up, I sort of had two years worth of stories almost immediately. As the book started to get discussed I started to take notes and I’m half convinced that’s what got me the gig. People saw me writing all these bullet points out.

“I’m really looking forward to taking Tony on this redemptive arc, where instead of just buying back good favor he earns it back. He’s got some blood on his hands both literally and figuratively. He’s made a lot of right moves and a lot of wrong moves and he’s got a lot of amends to make. I’m looking forward to Tony, the man, becoming a stand up guy again. I’m going to grind him down into the dirt and smash him like a car compactor. He’ll be put through a crucible and we’ll see, when you destroy everything he is, when you take everything away, what’s left? Who is the man left standing? Is he somebody with a life worth living? Someone worth admiring? Someone worth reading about?”

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