There's no hotter character in comics today than Iron Man. Fresh off a $100 million US opening last weekend, Marvel released two new Iron Man projects this week. The first, "Iron Man: Viva Las Vegas" comes from the director of the movie, Jon Favreau, with art by Iron Man icon and movie consultant Adi Granov. The second release is the first issue of a brand new ongoing series, "The Invincible Iron Man,” by Matt Fraction (“The Immortal Iron Fist,” “Punisher War Journal”) and Salvador Larroca (“newuniversal,” “X-Men”).
“The Invincible Iron Man” is an action-packed, futurist alternative to Marvel’s existing intrigue and espionage-esque “Iron Man: Director of S.H.I.E.L.D." In conversation with CBR’s Dave Richards, Fraction said of Tony Stark, “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.”
In this week’s COMMENTARY TRACK, Matt Fraction talks about the connections “The Invincible Iron Man” has to the movie -- both accidental and purposeful -- as well as the inspiration for the plot, the art of writing comics, Fraction's take on the characters, and more about the aim of the new series.
As always, SPOILER WARNINGS ARE IN FULL EFFECT.
Matt Fraction: I came across this little factoid -- 35,000 people with landlines in Africa vs. 126,000 with cell phones -- and the opening for “The Invincible Iron Man" #1 just fell into my head. I'm fascinated by underground economies, by digital tech transforming the most analog of analog worlds. I was thinking about Gibson's maxim that "the street finds its own uses for things" (a theme that'll pop up later in this issue and this arc). It all swirled around in my head at once and there we were: Let's follow how a little bit of Tony Stark finds its way into the world of someone like Adimu Chiume and then, how a little bit of Adimu Chimue finds its way into the world of Tony Stark.
MF: Here's the script for Panel 4 -- one of those things that's easy to write, but puts a tremendous weight on the shoulders of the artist. When you've got a genius like Salva at the helm, though, it makes you look good:
PUSH IN ON ONE BOY: the burning light where his eyes used to be now catches inside of his mouth. His eyeballs and the soft flesh of his mouth and tongue are igniting here... it's as if a nuclear bomb is detonating inside of him. Which, in a way, it is.
Again, we're not certain what's happening to the boys; we're only aware that they've somehow caused this.
5 CAP They're speaking a language that isn't even human.
CBR: The visual transition from the cell phone to the Iron Man armor, was that in the script, or was it Larocca's contribution?
MF: Yeah, that was scripted. It's one of my favorite transitional tools, and I've been looking for new ways to use it. Here it's not just as a visual motif -- which works okay -- but a thematic link, too. The phone is Tony is phone and all that.
Also, Stark is allll about the branding. I think it was in "Mighty Avengers" where he painted the Helicarrier red and yellow? Why wouldn't Tony want the lenses to match the Iron Man chest plate?
CBR: Talk about your vision of Tony Stark. Does he really think of himself as a dinosaur? Is he such a futurist that he's worried he won't see the future coming? Are things moving too fast for him because there are young upstarts in the world glomming onto things so much faster than he?
MF: This issue is really about Tony realizing that his thinking has been too 20th century for too long, and now it's caught the better of him. The dinosaurs are always the last to know they're on their way to extinction, y'know? Even Robert Moses couldn't get the Lower Manhattan Expressway built.
He's not worried he won't see the future coming -- he's worried it won't be his future. This is who Tony is, as an alcoholic in recovery. Tony thinks he can control the world, that because he says no one else can use this technology, no one else will try. Tony doesn't get to rule the world, to control the way it spins and drives, simply because he wills it so. And that thought pattern, that behavior, is coming back to haunt him.
And to me it's not an issue that the whippersnappers are listening to the rock and roll with their VCRs, but that the whippersnappers are using VCRs in weird new ways, in post-modern, post-industrial, post-corporate ways. In ways he never thought of. Even William Gibson didn't envision cell phones.
MF: This was the first image that came to me. I knew immediately -- literally, the second I got the book -- that we were gonna open with Tony, in space, fixing the belly of the shuttle. Our mission statement, if you will, in both the visual and the written: She'll fly again.
This, to me, is the epitome of Tony Stark, and of Iron Man: he's tomorrow's vanguard, he's Chuck Yeager, rocketing off into the unknown. He is man asserting his right over self-evolution; he's all of us, grabbing our bootstraps and fighting back against biology, against physics, against disease, against... against the way things are.
CBR: So this is the sexy Iron Man series? Every guy is looking to get laid in the issue.
MF: Heh. Well, here's another essential key to Tony, for me-- the cad, the ladies' man. The thing about Bond I always loved is his confidence in social situations -- he always knows what to wear and how to wear it, what to order, what to drink, how to play Baccarat... the superspy stuff is a blast, but the character appeal to me -- the real aspect of escapism and wish fulfillment to me -- is in that social assurance. So I want to play that up in Tony.
MF: She was a little too naked at first, and the coloring had to be darkened up. I keep trying to convince Marvel to publish a special "Too Hot For The Stands" variant edition and nobody returns my phone calls. Also, I have been fired.
I love Maria Hill. Love her. Love her, love her, love her.
MF: S.H.I.E.L.D. recovering the chest ring was suggested by the book's editor Warren Simons. In initial drafts, that Tony just goes off and whoops a little ass was a bit too harsh, a bit psychotic and revenge-driven... tying the mechanical mystery in, this early on, gave Tony a mental puzzle to work around, and it rooted the attack in his intellect.
Anyway. It's notes like those why I love working with Warren.
MF: This is me talking. Astronauts should be goddamn national heroes and they should have parades and baseball cards that kids trade on the playground. Now the only time anybody sees their faces is after they die.
When did we stop looking up? When did we stop aspiring to space?
MF: So here's Zeke Stane. Let's talk about him for a second. When I was planning my Los Angeles superhero comic "The Order," it was announced that Jeff Bridges would be playing Obadiah Stane in the upcoming Iron Man movie. Now, longtime "Iron Man" fans know Stane melted his head off in "Iron Man" #200 and hasn't been around since. But I had a California book, a California team that was Tony's crown jewel, and so I thought, well, let's make a Stane the big bad, and get him back on the board in time for the movie.
I wasn't writing "Iron Man" then, I didn't know that "Invincible Iron Man" was in my future. I was just-- like-- looking out for the sandbox, y'know? Trying to predict things of use to the greater good.
(Now, for a while I wasn't sure if it would be Stane himself, somehow resurrected ((Quoth Warren Simons: "Stane, I believe, is dead, though. Or are you taking that into account?")), or a son-of-Stane. Eventually, the idea of having Tony face his, like, fifteen years younger worst nightmare opposite number won me over. It'd be an attack on his vanity and narcissism that way, y'know?)
Anyway, so I thought it'd be cool to have a Stane back in the Marvel Universe, screwing things up for Tony. He messed with the Order to test himself, to test Tony, to study his methods and his works... and now he's making his move.
I used the Howard Johnson's from "2001 A Space Odyssey" as a reference for the JRJ waiting room, and Salva completely one-upped it. It's like Gerry Anderson designed an airport lounge or something. I almost feel bad for blowing it up.
I've been told that Salva is using Carlos Pacheco as the model for Stane. I've never met Mr. P. -- can anyone confirm?
MF: You heard it here first, folks: big tobacco execs are the new Nazis.
MF: This was a great bit of business that Salva added, and it turned a pedestrian reveal into something really noteworthy and villainous. In the script, as Zeke was rattling on, he was digging in his backpack and pulls out the little finger cap death machine deals (modeled in my notes on Tom Waits' bizarre finger rigs from his role as Renfield in Francis Ford Coppola's "Bram Stoker's Dracula").
But Salva gave him this fake skin stuff, and it's just soooo much cooler. And weirder. And, like, perfect.
CBR: We love visuals of people jumping out of high-rise windows. Larroca's used a great couple of angles in these shots, particularly with the falling shards of glass looking to bring that close to the reader.
MF: I really relied on looking through the "newuniversal" book to get a kind of up-to-date state of Salva's chops, even though we'd worked together before on the (Eisner Nominated!) "Sensational Spider-Man Annual," he'd really gone to some great, crazy new places. I love the sense of motion frozen in time that Salva can achieve. This was a chance to flex some of those muscles.
CBR: You're not going to crash the Helicarrier, are you?
MF: Pssh. That's so 2006.
CBR: The rest of the page gives us a great, succinct introduction to Rhodes and his relationship with Tony.
MF: Rhodey has his hands full in "The Initiative," so he'll be a bit of a cameo presence here for a while, so it's one of those things where we needed to hit it and quit. I was delighted to see how much our version of their interaction jibes with the movie.
I should say that here -- I knew nothing about the movie ahead of time. I didn't see it early, didn't read the script, had no insight that Variety didn't offer me. So the tone here, with Pepper, and there's even a scene in issue #2 that echoes a scene from the film -- totally a case of me making my best guess and sticking the landing.
Pages 16 - 17
CBR: Can you name the characters in the hologram on that spread?
MF: This room -- the Armormap Room -- is important. Clearly there was some editorial help here. Here's the script for the panel, where you can see the limits of my thinking, and every Marvel writer's secret weapon:
THE BIG PANEL. Tony stands in the center of a round room, surrounded by a holographic map tracing every single armored character in the Marvel Universe. Around him, projected in a ring, are holographic images of them all; beneath him is a Mercator map of the world, tracing the current whereabouts of all these characters.
The characters are:
IRON MAN, WAR MACHINE, CRIMSON DYNAMO, CONTROLLER, BEETLE, STILT-MAN, BLACKLASH, BLIZZARD, THE MANDROIDS, STINGRAY, GHOST, THE GUARDSMEN, FIREPOWER, SPYMASTER, STILT MAN... I should call Slott and brainstorm more.
Lines lead from beneath them all to their current global locations; text blocks hover next to their heads and at where the lines terminate on the map. Tony has, in effect, spied these people entirely without their knowledge, and he keeps tabs on them at all times, living or dead.
It is a stunning visual array of computer holography, and an amazing sight to behold.
MF: I wish I could get all my nutritional needs from a tube of goo.
MF: This little bit of elevator chit-chat was a bit of foreshadowing for "Secret Invasion" #1. You know how when you have a machine about to fail, you catch little warning signs? This was me kind of nodding to that. Again, just another instance of trying to bring harmony to the sandbox.
(Now in terms of story continuity, "Secret Invasion" happens in-between our first and second story arcs.)
CBR: How would you describe Pepper's relationship with Tony? It's a little flirtatious here.
MF: Yeah, I really came to love Pepper in "The Order." Any chance to write strong, confident, smart and fierce women that can stand toe-to-toe with all these dudes that are all over the place I jump at.
Tony and Pepper. Let's see. Can she be the one that got away if they see each other every day? Pepper's the only woman Tony's ever met that's as sharp as he is. Not "smart", necessarily-- they're not going to go arguing integrated circuit designs or advance AI developments or stuff like that-- but she's the only woman in the world Tony has to actually try and keep up with. And he loves her unconditionally for that.
I think the flirting waxes and wanes, but I think it's a very real part of their relationship. Or at least it will be when I write them. Sometimes it's all business, and sometimes -- well, she's gonna flash you her waistband, wiggle her ass, and get back to work.
I loved writing this scene. I loved writing them in the last issue of "The Order." I went so so so so so so long. So long. Because I get them together and they just banter, it goes into "My Girl Friday" territory. I had to trim like twice this much dialog out before it went to lettering.
And she is the one that got away. She's the girl he should end up with. Because she's the best he will ever get, as good as he can ever possibly hope to earn. But Pepper will have kings and generals and men of great fortune and destiny beating down a path to her door. And she doesn't stick around waiting for him. When he's done being 15, will she still be there? Who knows.
I was so overjoyed that they handled the two of them like this in the movie. I figured that since they cast Gweneth Paltrow, and not some Maxim boob-bot for the role, then the world at large was going to get to know a Pepper Potts that had some game.
Panels 2 and 3
This is another one of those transition things I was talking about, the idea of clothes coming off and clothes coming back on... playing around with conceptual links between scene cuts...
See, this is the dumb crap that I obsess and sweat and think about constantly, and then you type it out and realize how ridiculous a human being you are.
Check out them H.A.W.K.s, yo. As this is the second time they've shown up in my work (The Contessa rocked one in "Punisher War Journal" a few issues back), I clearly have a fetish.
MF: I was worried that things had been a little bit too real world, a little too heavy. And then I got to this scene and was like-- oh, yay! A.I.M. goons!Superheroes! Hooray!
Well, A.G.M. goons, I should say.
MF: They should call this pose “The Granov.”
MF: This was one of those shots I knew from seeing Salva in "newuniversal" would be cool. Like -- it feels like the luckiest photograph ever taken to me.
MF: Well, here we are. Tony comes full circle, and realizes four of his five nightmares have all come true, all at once. No matter how well he's run S.H.I.E.L.D., no matter how smart his tech is, no matter how hard he punches the bad guys and screams and yells and calls himself the smartest guy in the room…
...there's always gonna be someone that doesn't care.
I've been hesitant to use the phrase "asymmetrical warfare" but that's really what we're talking about, on all fronts. From Tony's archaic and arcane business philosophies, his draconian development practices, and his strategic insistence on rational actors... he's been skunked.
This is really the start of a long reckoning for Tony Stark. I've spoken about this book being his redemption arc. It was immediately assumed I was somehow referring to "Civil War" -- which, I mean, okay, maybe a little, but doesn't that assume that Tony hasn't been a weapons designer, maker, and manufacturer his whole life? (Also, Bendis' excellent "Civil War: The Conversation" says all that needs to be said on that score, and say it beautifully)
Isn't Tony the guy that pilots a four billion dollar A-Bomb in the interests of the American way? I'm talking a reckoning that will see Stark's entire legacy being reexamined, about Tony taking a long hard look at who he is, how he got there, and what he needs to do to survive -- both literally and figuratively -- into the 21st century.
And he's going to face what a Tony Stark could look like today -- one born without national allegiance, without moral allegiance, without allegiance to anything but getting paid to administer death at the behest of the highest bidder.
What makes Tony good -- what makes Tony great -- is that his goodness is hardwired to who he is... there's just a lot of other stuff hardwired in there, too, that gets in the way sometimes. So what if Tony Stark was a bad guy? In Stane we have a man as vile and wicked as Tony is good, if flawed? This isn't a matter of Tony and Iron Man having to face bigger, or just different versions of themselves... this is a threat Tony really can't even comprehend.
I love Tony Stark. I think he's the most complicated character in the Marvel Universe. To get a shot at writing someone so great and so flawed is a dream come true. And to come out of such a fantastic film -- really, I think "Iron Man" was the best of all the Marvel movies to date -- I couldn't ask for a finer launch pad.
I hope you check out "The Invincible Iron Man" #1 this week, and I hope you love reading it as much as I loved writing it.
Thanks to Matt Fraction for taking the time to participate in this week's COMMENTARY TRACK. You can find "The Invincible Iron Man" #1 on sale now. You can also read more of Fraction's work in “The Immortal Iron Fist,” "Punisher: War Journal," "Uncanny X-Men," and his own "Casanova" from Image Comics. Additionally, Fraction and Barry Kitson’s “The Order,” which serves as a kind of lead-in to “The Invincible Iron Man,” is available in collected editions from Marvel.
As always, if you have any titles or creators you'd like to see in THE COMMENTARY TRACK, or you're a creator with a book coming out that you'd like to talk about in detail, drop us a line. We're especially looking for artists/colorists/letterers who are looking to talk about their craft, as we've had a shortage of those so far. We're busy behind the scenes lining up books for the weeks ahead, but there's always room for more!