When heroes break the law, is it right to stop them with other lawbreakers? This is one of the questions Tony Stark must ask himself in this month’s “Civil War: War Crimes” one-shot, when Wilson Fisk AKA the Kingpin of Crime makes him the “offer that he can’t refuse.” CBR News spoke with writer Frank Tieri about the 48 page special.
“‘War Crimes’ has actually been in development for awhile now, evolving from when I first heard about the storyline behind ‘Civil War,'” Tieri told CBR News. “A lot of people think that all these specials are only happening because things are running late on the main ‘Civil War’ mini. I’m afraid I’m going to have to disappoint all the conspiracy theorists though because we actually had this particular story in the works before any of that happened.”
Tieri’s story for “War Crimes” features the Marvel Universe’s most famous mobster and was inspired by a story about one of the real world’s most notorious made men. “Its genesis comes from a story that’s part reality/ part urban legend involving Lucky Luciano and the Nazis,” Tieri explained. “A lot of people aren’t aware that the Nazis secretly had U-boats docked off of Long Island at one point during WWII. And ya know, all that goose stepping and genocide sure calls for a lot of supplies at the end of the day, so those Aryan scumbags had no choice but to turn to the local mobsters who controlled the docks for help. And since Nazis tended to pay in gold bars in those days, they didn’t exactly say no.
“So, here comes our boy Lucky. Now, there are different versions of the story as to who approached who, whether the government approached Lucky or he contacted them,” Tieri continued. “And Lucky’s motives have been debated left and right. But the bottom line is, all versions agree on two things: a) government officials met Lucky while he was in prison at the time and b) the end result was that there were no more U-boats off of Long Island.
“So when the whole ‘Civil War’ thing began I thought, ‘Well, couldn’t something similar happen with ‘Civil War?” And once I decided the story would focus on the Kingpin — the Luciano of the Marvel Universe — things just sort of fell into place after that.”
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In “War Crimes,” it’s the Kingpin who offers Iron Man, the government’s representative, the deal. He’ll use his criminal connections to help track down Captain America and his underground army of anti-registration heroes. Readers might wonder about Wilson Fisk’s motivation in the story. Is he motivated by self interest or a sense of genuine civic responsibility? “That’s the big question,” Tieri said. “Like Luciano in his day, the points are debatable. In Lucky’s case, was it for patriotic reasons? Time served off his sentence? What was the real reason he did what he did? It’s the same thing with the Kingpin. You have to ask yourself, what does the Kingpin have to gain by helping Iron Man?”
One of the things Tieri establishes in “War Crimes” is that Wilson Fisk and Tony Stark aren’t exactly matching wits with each other for the first time. “I always figured that the Kingpin and Iron Man would have known each other,” Tieri stated. “Both being men of money and influence, they would have traveled in the same circles. Gone to the same places. Banged Paris Hilton at one time or another. You know, stuff like that. So we establish they have this prior relationship going in, having belonged to the same country club where they always used to play chess with each other. And if you think about it, that’s really what they’re doing here in this one shot. Playing chess — but on a much bigger scale. With much bigger consequences.”
It’s because of their familiarity with each other that Iron Man and the Kingpin won’t be letting their guard down when they meet in “War Crimes” to discuss the Kingpin’s proposal. “Since these guys know each other going in, they each know what the other is capable of, so there’s a level of mistrust here. In other words, each one knows what a bastard the other can be” Tieri explained. “I mean, sure, they have a healthy respect for each other, but they’re all too aware that they’re both successful, influential men who shouldn’t be taken lightly — after all, neither one of them got to where they are by letting the other guy win .”
While “War Crimes” features two characters that are used to outmaneuvering their opponents, Tieri cautions readers who think they know who is outwitting who in the book. “You don’t really know who is coming from where,” he said. “I know everybody automatically assumes that it’s going to be the Kingpin that screws over Tony Stark. But have you seen Tony Stark lately? I think it’s fair to say maybe it’s the Kingpin that should be watching his back instead, ya know?”
Tieri also believes readers should not necessarily condemn Tony Stark for considering such a meeting with the Kingpin. “I hear some people saying, ‘Oh Tony Stark is a villain now.’ ‘He’s the new Dr Doom.’ ‘There’s nothing he won’t do.’… shit like that. In my mind that’s a real overly simplistic way of looking at things,” Tieri stated. “Because let’s really think about it for a second and give this all a real world prospective. Let’s put it this way — what if the government could somehow end the war in Iraq by making some kind of deal with John Gotti or Vinny the Chin or whoever the head of the underworld is at the time? You don’t think they’d do that? They’d be bigger idiots than they already are if they didn’t. In the real world, decisions often aren’t just black and white.
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“Look, whether or not Tony’s doing the right thing here in ‘Civil War’ is absolutely debatable, but what’s not is that Tony thinks he’s doing the right thing. His heart, believe it or not, is in the right place.” Tieri continued. “Tony believes that some things have to be done for the greater good. And since he’s a guy who basically thinks he’s always right — mainly because he often is — he’ll do what he thinks is in the best interest of that greater good, everything else be damned. .
“Is he an arrogant son of bitch? Hell yeah! Is he an out and out villain? Eh, I think that’s a bit of a stretch. But whatever you want to call him, right now he’s probably the most interesting character in comics.”
Iron Man and Wilson Fisk aren’t the only interesting characters in “War Crimes” as the special features quite the cast of compelling and colorful characters. “Turk from “Daredevil’ plays a prominent role,” Tieri said. “They’ve already established in ‘Daredevil’ that Turk has kind of been the Kingpin’s arranger. Well, we build on that here. Simply put, in ‘War Crimes’ he’s graduated to become the Kingpin’s buffer — in fact, some cons even refer to him as that. What it all means is that basically, he’s the guy that takes the bull’s-eye off of Fisk and puts it on himself. He’s the guy that if there’s a guard to bribe or if there’s some convict muscle to hire, etc, he does it. Think of him as Fisk’s mouthpiece — you know when you’re talking to him, you’re actually talking to Fisk.
“Turk also acts as the narrator of our story and it’s through him you see such things as how the Kingpin is viewed by everybody else inside prison and how he runs his empire from in there (because let’s face it, real life mobsters do it all the time). And maybe most of all, what exactly does it mean to be the Kingpin’s buffer. Do the plusses really outweigh the minuses in the end?”
Readers can also expect to see three villains who will be very familiar to long time Spider-Man readers. “The Enforcers show up. You know, Dan, Montana, Ox — them guys.” Tieri explained. “I was always a fan of The Enforcers — back when I used to read those Spider-Man pocket digests which reprinted all the Lee/Ditko stuff form the early days. The role they play in this special is sort of like the Sisters from ‘The Shawshank Redemption’ — sans the man rape, obviously.”
In “War Crimes,” Turk and the Enforcers might be assisting the Kingpin in prison, but not every convict in the story has Wilson Fisk’s best interests at heart. “Hammerhead plays a very prominent role in the book,” Tieri said. “What I always liked about Hammerhead was that out of all the underworld figures in the Marvel Universe, I always felt that Hammerhead had the biggest balls. If anybody would be willing to go up against the Kingpin, he’d be the guy. With that in mind, when we open, we find Hammerhead in prison with the Kingpin. But not for long. HH finds that he’s getting out on a technicality, which he realizes couldn’t come at a better time. He recognizes that with Civil War going on, there’s a real opportunity to be had.
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“His reasoning is if Captain America organized one side of the heroes and Iron Man organized another side, why can’t he organize all the criminals and villains to take them both out? From Fisk’s standpoint, a move like this is problematic. Why? Well, anyone who could accomplish what HH is looking to do would in reality become the new Kingpin. So, I think you can see how Fisk has a lot more on his plate than just Tony Stark.”
Readers can expect to see a who’s who of “rank and file” villains buying into Hammerhead’s villain army plan. “That’s one of the real fun things for me with a story like this — playing with a lot of second tier villains like Electro, the Spot, the Trapster — characters like that.” Tieri said. “A lot of those guys would be all for what HH is doing. It’s their chance to be taken as a serious threat for a change.”
And speaking of serious threats, assisting Hammerhead with his schemes is a character that fans of Tieri’s work may recognize. “Underworld’s in this. He’s a character I created in the ‘Underworld‘ limited series, which was well received but like five people read,” Tieri said. “I obviously liked the character and Tom Brevoort liked the character, so when a role came up that he’d be a good fit for, we decided to include him. He’s basically Hammerhead’s right hand man in this — the guy who gets the dissenters to see the ‘genius’ of HH’s vision.”
Coincidently enough, the project reunited Tieri with his former “Underworld” collaborator, artist Staz Johnson. “The funny thing is, I had no idea Staz was going to be on the book when I put Underworld in there,'” Tieri said. “It’s just one of those happy coincidences we get in comics sometimes because I really like working with Staz. Mainly because he’s able to get down to that dirty level that my stories tend to require, I guess (laughs).”
“War Crimes” is a story about men who make their living by breaking society’s laws and the tone of story will reflect that. “The tone of ‘War Crimes’ is dark,” Tieri said. “Fans of my work will enjoy it. It’s dark, but it’s got moments of black comedy. It’s gritty with moments of over the top violence. It’s a typical Frank Tieri story.”
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