Marvel's Next Big Thing: The Iron Age

Marvel Comics' Iron Man has been no stranger to time travel in his years in the comics, but this coming June, the Armored Avenger is crossing over with more than historical figures but the entire Marvel Universe in the publisher's "The Iron Age" storyline.

Headed up by writer Rob Williams, the story kicks off in "The Iron Age: Alpha" with art by Rebekah Isaacs before continuing in a number of one-shots and a capper "The Iron Age: Omega" issue in August. You can read CBR's initial interview with Williams here, and then read on past our exclusive art to read about Marvel's latest "Next Big Thing" call on the story featuring Williams and editor Tom Brennan.

The call started with an announcement that Williams has gone exclusive with Marvel. "Most of us are nostalgists at heart, and I've loved these characters my entire life," he said of his attraction to the Marvel U. "Their importance hasn't changed over the decades...and I couldn't be happier about being exclusive. It made my day when they offered it, and I'm absolutely thrilled."

"'The Iron Age' is a big love letter to the Marvel Universe," he continued. "There've been a lot of moments in the writing of this that have had a sort of 'Eeeeeeee!' fanboy feeling to them and a lack of dignity for a man my age." Williams said that one of his particular favorite time periods to play with was dropping the time traveling Iron Man into the Alan Moore/Alan Davis era of "Captain Britain."

The series was inspired, in part, by Williams love of the NFL where throwback jerseys are part of the norm in the modern season. He pitched an idea focusing on using some classic takes on the Marvel characters and utilizing their past costume designs. SVP of Publishing Tom Brevoort pushed him to format the idea as a small event, and "As we went along, we pulled in other writers to do certain chapters," he added.

Brennan chimed in saying, "Sometimes a goofy or fun visual idea can spiral into the next event notion because the visuals are half of a comic...on time of this cool notion, Rob had a great story idea. That's the trick."

"My mantra all the way through this was that this can't be fan fiction," Williams said. "There has to be a protagonist journey and an arc. It can't be nostalgic trolling through the past...I think people are going to be surprised by what happens to Tony Stark as he goes through this. The goal is to see how this matters to him as we drive through this."

The story kicks off with a dying scientist who was fired by Tony Stark many years ago who's "managed over the years to assemble different parts of Doctor Doom's time machine, so he uses this time machine to bring Dark Phoenix...to effectively destroy the planet earth. Tony Stark escapes through the time machine, and the story from there is Tony going through time to get different parts of the time machine...that's the MacGuffin and his drive to eventually get back to save things."

Brennan praised Williams' ability to mix modern, sophisticated storytelling with crazy ideas like the scientist's underwater base for an effective match. The pair also praised Isaac's art, especially her shark-drawing skills.

The story will continue after "The Iron Age: Alpha" through three issues in July which each have two stories focusing on Tony's quest to connect with past heroes. The first issue features an Avengers team with James Rhodes in the armor due to Tony's alcoholism and a Captain Britain ready to defend the British Isles against an American invader. "There were certain discussions on who to include based on who had a really cool look," said Williams, noting "You don't want to base it totally on aesthetics...but someone mentioned at a certain point 'Disco Dazzler has to be there!'" He added, jokingly, "Disco is what a 2011 audience needs!"

Ultimately, a "one time only" superteam will build out of the characters visited, which Williams said he worked to make feel like a real natural unit working towards a goal together.

On the art end of the equation, discussions at one point centered around finding some old school artists for the project, but eventually the influence of Isaacs - who Williams likened to a young Adam Hughes in line work and storytelling - helped the team decide to bring on artists like Ben Oliver for the Captain Britain story and Roberto De La Torre on the X-Men chapter. Those are the three parts that will be written by Williams directly.

Further teams for "The Iron Age" #1 include Christos Gage and Lee Weeks on Avengers while issue #2 features Jen Van Meter and Nick Dragotta on Power Man and Iron Fist as well as Elliot Kalan and Ron Frenz on Fantastic Four with a focus on a young Human Torch. Finally, issue #3 also featured Louise Simonson and Todd Nauck on Dazzler.

Asked how he approached the task of using Dark Phoenix who is a character that draws out strong fan opinions across the readership, Williams said, "I concentrate on telling a satisfying story, really...You have to respect that kind of thing, but you have to work on moving things forward...She is such an amazing threat. She's not in 'Alpha' a tremendous amount, but as we go through things and get into the X-Men story which takes place in the classic Hellfire Club story where she's still Jean Grey, we get to deal with that in a more character-centric, empathetic way."

"Rob used every character for the right reason here," Brennan explained. "The way the world comes to an end with a longtime Marvel character that fans love and respect...when Rebekah draws that moment, you feel the impact."

As for how the story comments on modern times as it rocket through the past, Williams said that will play in. "Iron Man is our 2011 consciousness, and he is seeing these eras saying 'This was all so much fun. When did it get so serious?" he explained. "It's a celebration of these characters and of the MArvel Universe, but it also speaks to how things have changed for the characters and how comics have changed...it's got a lot of kick ass action as well, but all these things were in there from the start."

Overall, Williams said he had great affection for all the characters and runs he'd be playing with with the one exception of Dr. Birch AKA The Phantom - the villain of the piece created by Stan Lee from an old issues of "Tales of Suspense." "There are things that happen like when you're writing someone like Nightcrawler that are just amazing," he said.

With so many creators who worked on the original stories being brought into the mix - Lee Weeks, Ron Frenz and Louise Simonson - Brennan said that their experience helped make the entire process more authentic and collaborative. Weeks spoke often on the phone with his writer Chris Gage while "With Ron, I put him on this because #1 I went back and read the issue of 'Fantastic Four' we're dealing with is when Johnny was wearing the red costume, which he's perfect for...and also, working with a new writer...being able to team them together was important to me."

Iron Man himself gets a flashback challenge in the form of going back to a classic armor. "One thing that happens to him in 'Alpha' is that Dr. Birch deactivates the Extremis armor and makes Tony Stark as weak as a kitten," Williams said. "He can't call on this incredible technology that can probably help him get out of a lot of the scrapes he gets into in this." Stark lands first in the age when he was "drunk as a skunk" and has to take up the classic '80s armor which the writer promised "He feels like crap in...part of the fun along the way is him having to think his way out of situations."

One of the issues the creators dealt with was the idea that even though Iron Man is only traveling technically ten years into the past, the styles of older comics include things like Disco where they feel a bit more dated. Brennan joked that he told Williams "No Regan robots!"

"It's also different eras," Williams said, noting that the "Captain Britain" stories were informed by a period of high unemployment in Britain. "Look at where we're at today...we're always looking for ways to link these stories to the modern day."

"The Iron Age: Alpha" ships this June from Marvel Comics and will be 48-pages.

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