EXCLUSIVE: Ewing & Gillen Explore Iron Man's "Fatal Frontier"

It doesn't take super powers to accomplish great and often terrible things as a denizen of the Marvel Universe. Someone with a genius-level intellect and an indomitable will, say, Tony Stark or Victor Von Doom, can save the world or try to take it over on a regular basis. But while Stark fights alongside the Avengers in his armored guise as Iron Man, the latter serves as one of the Fantastic Four's archenemies in his as Doctor Doom. These two Marvel Comics heavyweights don't often cross paths, but when they do their similarities and differences lead to brutal and interesting clashes.

This October, Iron Man and Doctor Doom will clash in a story that unfolds as part of the new digital comics format, Marvel Infinite ComicsAl Ewing and Kieron Gillen about "Iron Man: Fatal Frontier," a serialized weekly digital story with art by Lan Medina that finds Stark and Doom battling on the moon for control of a mysterious and powerful resource, plus exclusive art by Medina.

CBR News: Al, I understand you're writing the bulk of this story. What made you want to take a stab at writing a Marvel Infinite Comic? Is the experience of writing a digital story different than a print one? How did it affect your overall process and the way you plot out scenes?

Al Ewing: Well, I've been working Marvel Style -- plot first with maybe some rough dialogue, then art, then final dialogue -- since I started working for Marvel. It's an incredibly fun way of working, and it gives both me and the artist a lot more control in our individual fields.

This is a very similar process -- I put the plot together, then it goes to Carmine Di Giandomenico, who puts it together into a layout -- infusing it with loads of additional visual ideas as he does -- and then it goes on to Lan Medina for penciling. And then, at some point, I add the dialogue. So far it's working out pretty well.

The star of this Infinite Comic is Iron Man, and I believe this is your first time writing the character. What's it like writing Tony Stark and what do you find most interesting about him? Which aspects of his character are you interested in exploring specifically in this tale?

Ewing: I suppose the one thing I find most fascinating is that he's not really a good guy. Tony's kind of a failed human, and has a history of making catastrophically bad decisions. He's a horrifically self-destructive man who's made some terrible mistakes in his life and now has to live with them, and that's something I can relate to, and I'm sure I'm not the only one. But the thing about Tony Stark is that he's very close to being a villain. The moral lines he'd have to cross to become one--I'm not sure he'd even see them.

If I'm honest, that's what I'm exploring -- what Tony's prepared to do in the name of his idea of the greater good.

Helping you tell this story is your co-writer Kieron Gillen, who pens Tony Stark's in the monthly "Iron Man" print comic. What's it like working with Kieron? And how would you describe your division of labor on the story?

Ewing: Ah, it's great working with Kieron. We've known each other for years, but this is the first time we've really worked together. He's from a slightly different discipline, I think, in that he has some. He's a great structuralist, fiercely ethical, and one of the deepest thinkers in terms of process and craft I know -- his podcast, "Decompressed," is a must-listen for anyone interested in the medium.

How things divide is that he came up with the bedrock of the story, the skeleton, and then there was a blurry bit where we were firing e-mails at each other, and then I got on with each individual plot -- obviously checking back with Kieron to make sure he approved, but there was definitely a moment when he kind of passed the torch on to me in terms of steering this particular ship. I'm roughly following the course he plotted, but mapping my own route. He's told me he finds that an odd sensation, as obviously I'm looking at the plot beats in a very different way from him.

Kieron Gillen: Absolutely. The core of the story was actually my original idea for my "Iron Man" run, which I've talked about before; fundamentally, "Deadwood" on the Moon, done in a hard-science fiction way. However, when the idea of Tony as a Guardian of the Galaxy turned up, I quietly retired it, as it didn't fit into the larger space-superhero adventure aesthetic. I knew that by the time I got back to Earth, having a long arc of being on the moon just would sit awkwardly. However, when the idea of doing an Infinite Comic co-written by Al came up, it seemed a natural fit. Take that core story and let someone else whose work I love execute it. Seeing the story is simultaneously absolutely what I was planning, completely coherent with the themes of my run and part of its whole structure, while simultaneously Al's baby.

In terms of plot and themes what is "Iron Man: Fatal Frontier" about? What can you tell us about the inciting incident that sets the plot into motion?

Ewing: There are a few of them. If you want to get technical it probably goes right back to December 13, 1972, when mankind last walked on the Moon. But really, the big thing that starts the story is when the Moon starts lobbing huge, deadly missiles at Los Angeles, filled with a payload of a mysterious new kind of "moon mercury" that could revolutionize life on the planet -- or destroy it.

As for the themes -- it's about the Moon. The romance and symbolism of the Moon as much as the actual heavenly body, this place that we used to go to and don't anymore, this symbol of the imagination and the unconscious that we actually walked on. And I suppose it's about progress, and the shape progress takes.

Does the Moon setting mean we'll see high-tech lunar colonies and mining facilities? Will you explore some of the real world landscape of the moon?

Ewing: We'll be seeing some lunar colonies, and some mining happening. I'll probably bring up the occasional lunar landmark -- seems like a waste not to, although it depends on how much wiggle room I have. The fact that lunar mining is a rubbish way to get anything worth mining is probably going to come up -- asteroid mining is much more viable and efficient, at least as I understand it. To be honest, though, I'm interested as much in the Moon as a symbolic entity as I am in it as a literal place.

It's been revealed that Tony's chief adversary on the moon is Doctor Doom. Doom's arch-enemy is of course Reed Richards, but he's had a long rivalry with Tony Stark as well. What do you find most interesting about that rivalry? What's your sense of the current dynamic between Doom and Tony? How do these guys view each other?

Ewing: Mutual underestimation. Doom sees Tony as a dilettante, a waster who'll never achieve his full potential. There was a moment where Tony might have posed a threat -- when he was in charge of S.H.I.E.L.D., he had the opportunity to go after Doom on Doom's level -- but he let that slip from his hands the way everything will eventually slip from his hands, and that was that. Plus Tony's a one-trick pony -- his thing is engineering, electronics and mechanics, in particular armored suits. He's very clever inside that limited field, but--there's that Nietzche quote, on Wagner (via Robert Anton Wilson): "I once knew a man who was an ear, a magnificent ear, the greatest ear in Europe. But that was all he was: an ear." That's Tony as far as Doom is concerned -- he's the best at what he does, but that's all he does.

As to how Tony sees Doom -- Tony sees Doom the way most of us would see Doom, as an unhinged maniac. Admittedly very dangerous, not someone to be underestimated -- thinks Tony, even as he habitually underestimates the man- but ultimately just another ranting obsessive. It all boils down to a simple flowchart: is his armor as good as Tony's? No? Then he'll never be a real threat. Plus, Doom is phoning it in somewhat during this story -- working through Doombots from a position on Earth. So really, Tony has a massive advantage.

You'd think.

Are there any other adversaries and supporting players that you can mention? The promotional image that's been released for the series shows what appears to be a robot with the symbol of the Soviet Union emblazoned on its chest. Can you comment at all about that?

Ewing: That's our new bad guy, or misunderstood-guy. Udarnik, which translates to English as Shockworker, which is a great name. He's been on the moon since the early '70s, waiting for people to come back, and nobody ever did. (Apart from the superheroes, but that was largely on the dark side, and they never ran into each other.) Recently, he's discovered a power source that's finally allowing him to take decades of loneliness out on the people of Earth, and Tony's going to have to go up there and do something about it -- which is where our story proper begins.

Then there are the other bad guys -- a couple of whom are imported from Kieron's "Iron Man" run, and one brand new co-creation that should hopefully stand the test of time and will also be featuring in "Mighty Avengers." All the bad guys represent a different challenge to Tony in terms of who and what he is -- I tried to make sure they'd challenge him on those ideological grounds as well as just as threats.

Gillen: Shockworker was one of my favorite parts of the original story idea. File him next to all the other poetic and sad robots I seem to populate the MU with. He's really charming and very sad. There's a real "Silent Running" loneliness to him.

One of the fun elements of Iron Man is all the different armors he uses to solve problems and Kieron expanded upon that in his run with the introduction of the modular tech Tony uses. Can you tease the Iron Man armor(s) we'll see in "Fatal Frontier?" The promo image shows both the yellow and black armor and his current space armor.

Ewing: We've got at least one and a half new armors on top of that! There's what we're calling the 'Saturn V' armor, a big bulky bit of kit for getting to the Moon in -- we explain why he can't use his regular space armor for that. And then there's the 'Double Rolex' armor, which is strictly for party situations. And I'd be very surprised if there weren't more armors on top of that -- there's certainly room for them.

Let's talk a little bit about your other chief collaborators on "Fatal Frontier" artists Lan Medina and Carmine Di Giandomenico. What do you feel they bring to the story?

Ewing: Lan is a lovely artist -- he's got a beautiful clear line that picks out all the details perfectly, which is what you need with Tony and his armor. There's no point where it's not 100% clear what's going on, and it all looks absolutely beautiful.

Carmine is on layouts. He's got a great sense of storytelling and an incredible imagination -- just what's needed on a project like this.

Finally, can you offer up a sort of grand overview of the tone, scope, and scale of "Iron Man: Fatal Frontier?"

Ewing: I can try! "Fatal Frontier" is a story about the frontiers of human progress, set on the last frontier of human exploration, being told on the frontiers of the comics medium. It's a story about pushing forward in a universe built on the illusion of forward movement, and what that means. It takes in every part of Marvel history from "Fantastic Four" #1 on, it introduces a new villain and a new possible love interest for Tony, and it's going to tie into Tony's future. It's definitely worth your time and dime.

Gillen: I suppose the key thing to note that while this is its own story anyone can join, it also funnels back into the main "Iron Man" book. It's sort of happening at a similar time to "Iron Metropolitan," and whatever comes out the other end of the story slides right into my narrative. This year's "Iron Man Annual" is bridging the two, for example. I don't want anyone to dismiss this as an Iron Man mini with no connection to the main "Iron Man" book.

This is core Iron Man stuff. And you know? I love that we've got this futuristic comics format for an Iron Man story. Iron Man should be on the bleeding edge, and that's what the Infinite Comics are, surely.

"Iron Man: Fatal Frontier" begins in October.

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