The heroes in Marvel Comics‘ All-New, All-Different line of titles all fight for a better tomorrow, but only one has the creativity and engineering genius to literally build a better future — Tony Stark, better known as Iron Man. In the recently launched volume of “Invincible Iron Man” writer Brian Michael Bendis and artist David Marquez, who previously collaborated on “Miles Morales: Ultimate Spider-Man,” kicked off Tony Stark’s latest quest to construct a better future by reacquainting him with old foes like Madame Masque and unexpected allies like Doctor Doom.
Things will get even more surprising in the months ahead as Bendis and Marquez guide the Marvel U’s premier futurist toward the dangerous and exciting future that culminates in their next big collaboration, 2016’s hotly anticipated event series, “Civil War II.” Bendis spoke with CBR News in a wide ranging discussion that included how “Invincible Iron Man” is building toward the event, how he’s preparing to live up to the legacy of the original series by Mark Millar and Steve McNiven and whether or not he believes in “event fatigue.” Bendis also dives deep into Iron man’s immediate future and who among Stark’s friends, associates and fellow heroes will soon appear in the series.
CBR News: Brian, you and David Marquez are keeping pretty busy together with some very high profile and impactful Marvel work. On his Formspring editor Tom Brevoort recently told readers to keep an eye on what you two are doing in “Invincible Iron Man,” reiterating that it’s one of Marvel’s flagship books. On top of that, you were recently announced as the creative team for next year’s big event, “Civil War II.” How does it feel to be collaborating so closely and so much with Marquez?
Brian Michael Bendis: Yes, a lot is going on. For many years harkening back to my earliest days on “Avengers,” Tom Brevoort had asked me to write “Iron Man.” He liked my Iron Man in “Avengers” and in other places that I had written him. I was appreciative of that, but, he was always in good hands. There was Warren Ellis, Matt Fraction and Kieron Gillen. There’s always somebody top notch writing “Iron Man,” and he always seemed to be part of a book I was writing. So my Iron Man itch was scratched every month all the way through “Guardians of the Galaxy,” and that wasn’t by design. It just kind of happened that way.
â€¨Then after Tony had to come back to Earth and we were getting ready to launch a new book Tom brought up Iron Man again and [Publisher] Dan Buckley and [Editor-in-Chief] Axel Alonso pointed out that they were eager for Iron Man to have a book that matched what the character meant globally as a movie property. I was honored by the challenge and very grateful to do it. It seemed like something that me and David having just come off a nice long run on “Ultimate Spider-Man” could really take on.
Plus there were all these pieces laying around with Tony that were so exciting to me just as a reader. Like Kieron shocking everyone by revealing that Tony was adopted — yet never [revealing] who his biological parents were or what that search would be. All these things were very exciting to me and it’s one of these things where all the pieces start coming together so beautifully that I would be a fool not to do it.
One of the most interesting elements of these first few issues of “Invincible Iron Man” is the sort of buddy book feel of Tony Stark and Doctor Doom working together.
We were listening to all the “Secret Wars” plans and I need to tread carefully here, because we’re still not done with that series. So I don’t want to blow anything, but I was listening to everything that Jon [Hickman] had planned and everything that Doom would have gone through and I literally raised my hand and asked, “Can I have Doom?” I wasn’t sure if Doom was going to have to go in the box for a few years because sometimes that’s what happens after an event. Like the Skrulls were so Skrulled out after “Secret Invasion” they went away for a few years. It happens.
â€¨Also, I had been sitting with the idea of a villain having a reversal of faith and deciding to crawl out of the hole they’ve dug for themselves. I wanted it to be someone who we’ve known for awhile and had really dug a big hole; where climbing out of that hole would seem like a life time goal. So Jon was talking about all this stuff with Doom and I thought, “Would there ever be anybody better for this idea I have than Doom?” Has anybody dug a bigger hole for themselves? Or is there anyone else where the public perception of them is “BAD GUY?”
So I called it and just so happens that one of my favorite Iron Man stories is when Iron Man and Doctor Doom went back to King Arthur’s court. It was just one of those books. I read it when I was at that age when comics just hit me hard. It was like, “I love comics! I love Marvel! I love Iron Man!” I even referenced the story in the “Civil War: The Confession” book I did years ago.
Also there’s a connection between the characters. Even though they’re very different personalities they’re wired similarly. They’re very much Type A personalities. They’re very motivated by similar things, and maybe they’re so similar that they might hate each other or really like each other.
â€¨There were questions like what is Doom like without that armor? What is so unique about him? He also has that caustic and arrogant personality that is incredibly fun to write. It all came together very quickly and I was very happy that this element stayed a secret until the first issue came out.
Does the presence of Doom, a powerful sorcerer, also allow you a window into having Tony confront things he doesn’t always come up against like the supernatural?
This is one of those things where you think, and I’ve done it a lot too, “He’s a technological hero so he should fight technological things.” Really though, when you have something technological you want to have it fight something organic. If it’s someone scientific you want them to fight something mystical. You want him to fight something he doesn’t understand; something that doesn’t fall under his expertise. That idea plus the stuff that Jason [Aaron] has going on in “Doctor Strange” made it very easy to lean into what’s going on.
Also, we don’t know what shape the world really is post-“Secret Wars.” We kind of get a sense that there’s new things here and new elements, but how strong is the metaphysical bubble around our dimension? Did it get warped, altered, or messed around with because of “Secret Wars?” Major things happened. So what’s the cosmic fallout? All of that came into play very nicely.
These first issues also included some comment on and examination of Tony’s romantic relationships. The first came with the introduction of a new character, Amara Perera.
Yes, I wanted a new love interest that challenged him. Someone who doesn’t suffer fools is probably something he needs because one of his default modes is to just be charming. So it was kind of nice for him to meet someone who doesn’t fall for that and forces him to be more real. That’s also very fun to write.
And I think it was long overdue to inject some new supporting characters into the book. I thought a lot about what Iron Man had that other characters didn’t have and what Iron Man didn’t have that other books had. So Tony Stark had all his friends on the Avengers and people like Pepper Potts and Happy Hogan, but there wasn’t a very long list of supporting players in his life that were specific to Tony. There were not a lot of new ideas around that area and really I wanted to try some.
I wanted some stuff that people could really relate to and get behind, and Amara was someone that I fell in love with very quickly while I was writing. I actually wrote like a one-act play of just the two of them talking just to figure out who she is and how she would react to Tony. I did that months before I started writing the books.
I’m very happy with the response to her, but I did not realize that Marvel had no Sri Lankan characters. That was an accident of diversity on my part. I picked that because it’s based on someone I know, and that’s where I was headed with that. Then I was surprised I was filling a hole there. I didn’t realize it needed filling, but I was happy to do so.
The other element of Tony’s romantic life that’s figuring heavily into this initial arc of “Invincible Iron Man” is a character you’re a fan of, the villainous Madame Masque. What made you want to bring the character back into the book at this particular juncture?
I like her and I think she speaks well to the other side of Tony; the bad version of Tony Stark who never got his shit together would be dating her — and probably did. [Laughs]
â€¨So she offers up a nice juxtaposition. She’s kind of the Ghost of Christmas Past, but at the same time she’s always striving to grab power in new areas. So she seemed like a great character to open up the door to what is going on with the metaphysical and supernatural aspects of our world now.
The other new woman in Tony’s life is someone he’s not currently or has been romantically linked to and that was Mary Jane Watson, who was introduced into the series with “Invincible Iron Man” #4. It looks like she thought she got out of the world of super heroics by moving to Chicago, but in that issue we saw her pulled back in.
That’s how it goes! The reaction to just the announcement of her was very funny. It was very X-Men like in its conspiratorial qualities, “Marvel hates her!” It wasn’t anything like that. I like switching up supporting casts. I think we’ve had a lot of luck with that; putting these characters we all love in new situations and seeing if anything clicks. If it doesn’t it doesn’t, but if it does some really special things can happen.
With Mary Jane we have this character whose life has been basically been tortured by her super hero interactions. So I kind of like the idea of putting her in this situation as well. I wanted to see what makes her tick outside of the world of Peter Parker, and still have a character who’s been a little traumatized by being in that super hero world. We’ll get more into that in future issues, but it was very interesting because immediately people were like, “Oh, they’re going to date!” Or, “Oh, they’re brother and sister!”
We’ve talked about this in the past, and I’m not the only writer this happens to. People immediately start writing this story and I haven’t written one word of it. They made up an idea and then yelled at me for the idea that’s in their head, which I did not put there. [Laughs] You’re mad at you! You wrote that bad thing. You can yell at me for the bad things I wrote if you think they’re bad, but this thing about Tony and Mary Jane having a baby? You wrote that, so you can be mad at yourself.
At least with her initial introduction, it seems like you’re building on some of what writer Dan Slott introduced with Mary Jane where she’s found her niche as a business woman running and founding these nightclubs.
I don’t want to spoil next issue, but I think she represents an interesting part of the Marvel Universe. A lot of things get built up and knocked down in the Marvel Universe, and it’s not easy if you’re a normal person. If you’re trying to build something, and there’s people knocking stuff down that sucks. So we’ll see a little more of that as the issues go.
I imagine all of the new supporting characters being introduced in “Invincible Iron Man” has some people wondering where some of the past supporting characters in Tony’s life are like Pepper Potts and his brother Arno. Are answers to those questions coming soon?
Absolutely. One of the gifts that Jon gave us with “Secret Wars” was this eight-month gap, and really there’s like a 16-month gap in Tony’s life. So a lot can happen in 16 months. At the same time, it’s not like the Pepper-Tony story hasn’t been told. She does come up quickly though. You will hear from her in two issues.
Another lingering question I’m sure readers have been wondering about is how Tony got back to his normal self after being inverted into the “Superior Iron Man?” Or did he get back to his normal self?
Earlier on I asked Jon Hickman, “How does this ‘Superior’ thing come a head?” He goes, “Oh, he dies.” [Laughs] So, Tony died. That’s not to say the fallout of his actions won’t make their way into our book.
We’ve already talked about how this first arc is very much about the supernatural and the metaphysical, and I believe moving forward we’ll see some seeds planted for your upcoming “International Iron Man” title with Tony building an international organization, correct?
Quite a few things are going to be seeded. Number one is we’re going to lay seeds into what “Civil War II” really is about. So people are going to want to pay attention into what’s going on in Tony’s world if they want to see what happens next.
â€¨Number two is our second arc is called “War Machines.” So you’re going to see the return of Rhodey in a big, big way. Peter Parker guest stars. People are quite curious because Peter Parker seems to have taken quite a few pages from the Tony Stark playbook. Meanwhile Tony Stark has been so distracted that he hasn’t been playing the Tony Stark playbook. So how does Tony feel about Peter Parker basically doing his act? Some people have wondered if that has anything to do with why Mary Jane is in Tony’s life now. So we’ll see.
We haven’t touched upon David Marquez’s art. He was great before, but when we first talked about “Invincible Iron Man” several months back you mentioned to me that he was stepping up his game and evolving his style — and you weren’t kidding! His art has been fantastic. It seems like he’s really enjoying the chance to draw Iron Man.
Absolutely, and I think some people online have figured out that over the course of the last few years David and I became very good friends. Sometimes you work with somebody for years and you don’t have any friendship at all; it’s all business. David and his wife though have become family to us. They’ve moved here to Portland, and we take our collaboration very seriously.
Initially after “Spider-Man” we kind of swore a pinky pact to stay together on something and Iron Man came up. After drawing all those webs it seemed like the perfect palate cleanser, as it were. It also seemed like a book that he could really make his name on. So the initial idea was to do a nice, long uninterrupted Iron Man run with him, and one of the ideas behind doing the two Iron Man titles is that both artists could be uninterrupted in their ownership of the books. Because sometimes with a book that double ships or triple ships the thing that is lost is the artist’s true visceral ownership over the work.
â€¨What happened was his work on the first issue, with [colorist] Justin Ponsor because I think it’s the team of them that’s such a beautiful thing, was so amazing. It was immediately one of the best looking Iron Man titles of all time. So when we seriously started talking about doing “Civil War II” it occurred to me that regardless of how selfishly I wanted him to be on “Iron Man” for a long time that if you think about who Steve McNiven was when he got the call to do “Civil War,” or [Olivier] Coipel was when he got the call to do “House of M” that there’s this kind of career trajectory at Marvel. If you hit these high notes as some of these artists do it’s almost like it’s their turn to turn this down.
You’ve earned the brass ring and if you don’t want to do it that’s fine. Some times that happens because, believe me, drawing one of these things is a hum dinger! You’re basically drawing three books in one every time you draw one. It’s hard, but at the same time David had earned his title shot, if I can mix my metaphors and bring boxing in. Everybody agreed too.
â€¨So I sat David down and I talked to him. I said, “Having been through this a couple times I know this is a big meal. At the same time though it’s a huge complimenting meal that you would be considered for this. I think you should do it and we could really do it together. He immediately agreed and then we were going.
So the original idea was that he would stay on “Iron Man” for a long time, and hopefully he’ll return to “Iron Man” if that’s what he wants to do. I think that is what he wants to do, but how could we deny him this? Also, what a next level collaboration for the two of us! It’s like, “Oh! Let’s have another baby! Or let’s have triplets!” [Laughs]
It felt good. It felt like all the pieces were coming together. I’m not going to get too deep into what the story is about yet, or who the players are. All of it was coming together though in that same great way the original “Civil War” did.
â€¨When the original “Civil War” came about we were at a Marvel retreat that was actually about another project and it just wasn’t going well. After two days of us banging our heads together to try and make something out of it we all, for the first time ever, literally turned to each other and went, “I hate this! I wouldn’t buy this book! I don’t like this at all.” We all went to dinner and we were like, “This is like the worst retreat we’ve ever been at.”
It wasn’t that anybody was misbehaving or anything like that. It was just that we didn’t like what we were talking about. So I talked with Joe [Quesada] and Dan [Buckley] and said, “Nobody likes this. It doesn’t match what we’ve been doing.” So they told me to bring it up in the room the next day. I said, “Some people are going to be mad.” And they were like, “No, bring it up.”
So, I brought it up and enough of the room agreed wholeheartedly. Then the wheels started turning. It was like, “If we’re really going to do an event the stakes are going to be high and the audience will want so much from it.” I said, “It should be like Nick Fury and S.H.I.E.L.D versus the super heroes.” Then Mark Millar said, “No, it should be the heroes versus the heroes!” Then Jeph Loeb said and the audience goes, “Whose side are we on?” That’s how fast “Civil War” came together, and Mark Millar was clearly the person to do it.
â€¨What was great about that event for me personally was that I was very invested in it, but yet not the author. At the same time, the things I was interested in were the things that Mark wasn’t interested in at all. If you remember I wrote the sort of prologue with “The Illuminati.” I wrote the afterword too with “The Confession” because Mark wasn’t interested in any of that, and I thought it was the best stuff.
I also had an amazing time with my “Civil War” tie-ins on “New Avengers.” Some of my favorite things I’ve ever done at Marvel are in those tie-ins. It was the first time I ever got to work with Leinil Yu, and I got to work with Howard Chaykin on a Captain America book. We just had the best time.
So I was always part of the “Civil War” DNA as it were, and when they started thinking seriously about doing “Civil War II” they called me — right after they called Mark, [Laughs] and we started talking about it. I did say, “Please let Mark and Steve know because it’s their book.” Steve and Mark were happy to not do it again. So we felt more inclined to take the reins.
Finally, what’s it like getting ready to write “Civil War II” and both Iron Man titles at the same time? The feeling I’m getting from “Civil War II” is that Iron Man is an important character with a distinct point of view in a story where there are two very distinct points of view.
I’m not going to talk too much about who the players are in “Civil War II.” We are not announcing that yet. There’s one image out of two people hitting each other, but that doesn’t mean they’re the main players of the book by any stretch of the imagination. In fact I think people can pretty much tell that it’s Iron Man versus Superman — and wouldn’t that be great! [Laughs]
What I like about it is that when you’re so invested in someone’s psyche, and you really are when you’re writing them on a monthly basis. We’ll have two titles out by then and he’ll be so involved in finding his birth parents, building his company, and trying to get his life in order in a way that speaks to how people really perceive him. So when a challenge as big as this event arises it’s almost like butter! It’s like we’ve put up all these things in front of Tony and here comes this thing to challenge his belief system. Perfect! Let’s go!
I’m thrilled that “Invincible Iron Man” is doing so well, and I’m thrilled at the response. People are digging the humor. They’re digging Tony’s unique way of communicating with other people, which we spent a lot of time on. And I agree with you. I think the book is gorgeous. I think that Marquez and Ponsor are amazing together. We would not have done “Civil War II” without Ponsor as well, and I can’t speak highly enough of him.
So sit back, relax, and enjoy! I know this is one of those books people get very nervous about. Some people have this nervous energy, and with others it’s, “Great! Tony has a book that I want to read!” We’re investing a great deal of energy into Tony and what a Futurist does when faced with a future that isn’t so clear. That’s an interesting book to write.
“Invincible Iron Man” #5 goes on sale January 6, 2016 from Marvel Comics. “Civil War II” is scheduled for release May 2016.
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