The dynamic and dangerous nature of the Marvel Universe means its heroes are often confronted by unexpected changes. Some of those changes are easy to accept while others are more shocking and require some time for a hero to wrap their head around. A perfect example of the latter is Victor von Doom, a man who was practically the premier villain of the Marvel U, abandoning his nefarious ways and struggling to atone for his past by becoming a superhero. Even more shocking is the fact that he's taken up the mantle of a fallen hero, the now comatose Tony Stark, and become the title character of the new Infamous Iron Man series, by writer Brian Michael Bendis and artist Alex Maleev.
In recent issues of the series Doom's quest for redemption has drawn the attention of some formidable characters like his old foe Ben Grimm; the Maker, the villainous incarnation of Reed Richards from the now destroyed Ultimate Universe; and his own mother, the powerful sorceress Cynthia von Doom. Are these characters friend or foe, though? And what other forces and figures will intersect with Doom's quest for redemption?
For the answers to these questions (and lots more) CBR spoke with Bendis about how Infamous Iron Man came to be, Doom's motivations, the role science and the supernatural will play in upcoming issues, and using the series as a love letter to and exploration of the legacy of the Fantastic Four.
CBR: One of the reasons I'm really enjoying Infamous Iron Man is, it's a comic about what I feel is one of the most fascinating types of stories in heroic fiction; the villain walking the rocky road to redemption.
Brian Bendis: We share that. One of the things we talked about last year when we were first announcing this book was that this was on my dream list of stories I always wanted to do. I've done smaller versions of them, but I always wanted to do one with the biggest, baddest villain who's dug the biggest hole of anyone in the world. Let's see them dig out. That's what I wanted to write.
The fact that the stars and Jon Hickmans of the world allowed it to be Doctor Doom at this time and place with this artist is perfect.
It feels like part of Doom's motivation for trying to be something better was the disappearance of Reed Richards at the end of Jonathan Hickman and Esad Ribic's Secret Wars. Then, in Civil War II, Bruce Banner was killed and Tony Stark went comatose. Is the loss of all these great intellects weighing on Doom and effecting his decisions?
Yes, and you're going to see that. I think the fact that he was so disrespectful to Reed Richards and some of the Marvel Universe's other great intellects is a point of great shame now that he's a little more clear-headed, for lack of a better description. It weighs on him even more than some of his evil “Bah-Hah!” schemes as Doctor Doom.
It feels like he respects and misses the whole Richards family. In a recent issue of Mark Waid's Avengers he even recruits the new team to assist him in a problem plaguing a camp for girls named after Susan Richards.
Yeah, Mark has been dying get his hands on the Infamous Iron Man since the minute the words were said out loud in the writer's room. It was hilarious. [Laughs] At the last retreat, he was annoyed that I was taking so long to develop my road to redemption so he could get to his thing.
I think it's a huge leap of faith for any character in the Marvel Universe not to spend all their time beating Doom to death. [Laughs] So I think it takes a lot of narrative and a lot of time, not just to really explain things, but to really show them, in order to get to a place where he's turning heads and confusing people.
Doom is about to get his first real challenge in the form of the Maker. How does it feel to return to this villainous Ultimate Universe incarnation of Reed Richards that you helped create? What's it like pitting him against a Doom who's trying to be more heroic?
Here's where I'm having a lot of fun. Both the Maker and Doom's mother, Cynthia, are big mystery boxes, so we have a double villain mystery box at the center of a redemption story with the biggest villain in the Marvel Universe.
This is the kind of stuff that excites me, because I'm a real process nerd. We're balancing a lot here -- what is the Maker's relationship to Doom? And now that Victor is on the road to redemption, is that something that the Maker might respect? Be horrified by? Or want to him punish him for? The answers to those questions haven't been revealed yet, and readers have absolutely no idea what Cynthia's deal is. Victor's entire story, though, has revolved around his mother complex, which is very intense, and he wears it on his sleeve.
These are the two things that I'm very excited about. They're of equal stature. That's why I brought them up together. We don't know yet what their individual deals are, and on top of that, we don't know what their deal is together and it looks a little creepy.
[Laughs] Yeah. What's it like for Doom to comes up against a family member that he literally went through Hell to save? And what's it like coming up against a version of Reed Richards now that he has a newfound respect for his old foe?
I've enjoyed writing these characters so much. And I feel like I've gotten this bonus of writing them in a place where they're all very contemplative about their relationships with each other.
Speaking of Fantastic Four members, let's talk about one who is part of Infamous Iron Man's supporting cast, Ben Grimm. What can you tell us about Ben's role in the book moving forward?
Ben came back from his trip out in space with the Guardians of the Galaxy and has been tasked by S.H.I.E.L.D. to deal with this very peculiar situation of Victor von Doom, who suddenly decided he's the new Iron Man without asking anybody if that's okay. What a great job for Ben! Who knows Victor better than Ben? And who wants to kick his ass more than Ben? So we have this Fugitive-style chase going on while these two villainous mystery boxes are chasing our “hero,” while he's attempting some of the biggest heroic acts of anybody in the Marvel Universe. Now, we've got a book!
Ben is kind of an old school street punk at heart though, and with his astronaut itch scratched from his time with the Guardians he's kind of back to the brawler. He's got a lot of really complex feelings about what's happened to his family. That's going to be dealt with flat out. That is what's propelling him throughout the series. When he chases Doom it's literally all he has left to do to support his family's goal.
Also, for those of you who want to know, Johnny Storm is coming to the book, and Ben and the Maker are going to discover each other.
Riri Williams, as the acting Iron Man with the approval of the Tony Stark estate, made a play for Victor [in issue #8] -- even thought that's a terrible idea for her. It will not go as you think it might. I loved writing that issue and I can't wait for people to read it. I think they'll really enjoy it.
The other thing going on is that Victor is starting to see things. He's getting utopian visions. What's going on there will be revealed very shortly.
What's it like working on Infamous Iron Man with your frequent Alex Maleev and colorist Matt Hollingsworth?
Matt is using a completely different palette and set of tools here to complete something equally great with a completely different artist. I've had the good fortune to have a front row seat watching Alex and Matt, two real artists of the industry, just find each other and push each other in the best directions. Tonight, I watched them go back and forth on image and little tiny details that only the most art-obsessed fan will notice. They take it so seriously, and I love them so much for it.
As I get a little older, there are two things I've started to really appreciate. Number one, the longevity of our collaboration and the high water mark it's meant to my life. The other is, when someone is as passionate and dedicated to their craft as Alex has been, for as long as he's been, you begin to admire them even more. I had admired Alex as much as I had anyone in the world, but now we're getting older and becoming closer friends. We own a book together [Scarlet] that's going to be a TV show. It's almost like we had a baby together. I joke about that, but that is what it feels like. I've become very happy that I've decided to have that baby with this person who is the artist I wish I was.
We've talked about the role of superheroics and super-science in Infamous Iron Man, but Victor von Doom is a sorcerer as well. What can you tell us about the role of the supernatural in the book moving forward?
What I'm most excited about is this mixture of technology and mysticism. I've touched upon it a few times in the past. One of the things people seemed to really enjoy was the idea of Tony Stark Sorcerer Supreme from the X-Men Annuals. I get a lot of letters about him.
I feel there's a version of Tony Stark that eventually realizes that the next level he needs to get to with his technology is a spiritual study of self. Victor has done that, but he did it in a corrupt way, using black magic. What Tony would need to do though is a more pure thing that would take a great long time; maybe longer than he has left.
I like writing about characters who are using both of these things to make a more signature power set, or a more signature manifestation of their powers.
When we first thought about Infamous Iron Man I told Alex that half of the people will be like, “This is the book I didn't know that I always wanted.” Because it's not a book anyone ever said they wanted. Then there will be another group that's like, “Why are you doing this? Where is Tony Stark?” We're always going to have to deal with that.
So I'm really appreciating the fact that, out of all of the books I'm working on, this book in particular gets the most mail and the most tweets -- at least, the most tweets at me. The word of mouth from people who get that it's a tough pill for some fans to swallow is that it doesn't suck and it's exactly the kind of thing you may want. I'm really grateful that fans have been so vocal about this book because it has kept it alive.
Villain books are tough on the market. Many, many creators have tried them because villains are fascinating to write. They're really hard to sell to a larger audience, though, because people want their heroes. So I'm grateful that people have been so vocal and supportive about the book.