SPOILER WARNING: The following article contains major spoilers for "Invincible Iron Man" #19, in stores now
Since Norman Osborn's Dark Reign began, some of the Marvel Universe's greatest heroes have stepped forward to challenge and defy the former Green Goblin's authority. But for Iron Man, the best way to fight Norman Osborn was to run away. That's because Tony Stark's brain contained a database with the true identity of every hero in the Marvel Universe, as well as other vital information that could be devastating if it fell into Osborn's hands. With Osborn wielding the power of the U.S. Government, the intelligence agency H.A.M.M.E.R. (formerly S.H.I.E.L.D.), and an army of superhuman operatives, Stark knew he couldn't run forever, but he didn't have to. After using a powerful device to gradually erase the database--along with the rest of his mind--he just had to stay out of reach until the process could complete.
This was the premise of "World's Most Wanted" an epic 12-issue storyline in Marvel's "Invincible Iron Man". In issue #19, writer Matt Fraction and artist Salvador Larroca brought the arc to a close, which saw Tony Stark succeed in his mission but pay an awful price. The database Stark wanted to erase is gone but so is his mind. The once-invincible Iron Man is now trapped in a persistent vegetative state and is incapable of breathing on his own. Which leaves many to wonder what's next for Tony Stark? For answers to that question and more, we spoke with writer Matt Fraction about the conclusion of "World's Most Wanted" and "Stark Disassembled," the next story arc of "Invincible Iron Man"
In "Invincible Iron Man" #19, Norman Osborn finally suited up in his Iron Patriot armor to confront Tony Stark in person. It was a violent confrontation in which the Iron Patriot beat Iron Man into his current vegetative state, but the ultimate victor of the battle was Tony Stark, not Norman Osborn. "I think planning to lose is still a win and that ultimately was Tony's plan," Fraction told CBR News. "He knew that going up against Norman Osborn was an unwinnable fight and an unwinnable race. He formed his plan with that in mind."
Part of Iron Man's plan to lose involved using the art of peaceful resistance. When the Iron Patriot assaulted him, he didn't fight back. "He employed a similar strategy to the one Cyclops used against Osborn. They both saw that the Rope-a-Dope was perhaps the wisest. They went for that and let Osborn be the evil, megalomaniacal prick they know he is," Fraction said. "All Tony needed to do was keep him busy and distracted. He just needed to buy time and hope his friends came through."
Tony's friends--Pepper Potts, Maria Hill, and Natasha Romanov, AKA the Black Widow--came through by helping alert the major world news networks' of the Iron Patriot and Iron Man showdown. So footage of Osborn's vicious assault on a pleading Tony Stark was seen by citizens around the world, which will impact the way people view Iron Man in the months ahead.
"I wanted 'World's Most Wanted' to be Tony paying the ultimate price for his transgressions. Not just in terms of who he was during 'Civil War', but for his entire life. His career as a weapons designer and really his entire history was here on this stage. We got to see him live through the sins of it all, culminating with the kids in the cave in issue #18," Fraction explained. "So the way I'm going to handle things is that we'll see people who might disagree with what Tony did and the way he behaved and handled himself, but they saw him dig in, man up and take responsibility for his actions. This was Tony owning up to the fact that the smartest guy in the room was wrong about some stuff over the course of his life. He found himself in this crazy 12-part adventure where he had to answer for all of it all at once. And he had to do so without his super power, which has always been his mind.
"In out next issue we get a chance to talk to Tony before 'World's Most Wanted.' On the very dawn of 'World's Most Wanted,' you get to hear Tony's valediction," Fraction revealed. "It was this very intense and personal expression of farewell. It's this kind of cool chance as we move forward into this new story to reframe what we've been through in a different perspective that's been kind of missing from the book for awhile, and that's Tony's P.O.V."
Iron Man may have been ready to say his farewells, but at the end of "Invincible Iron Man" #19 it was revealed that he didn't go into "World's Most Wanted" without a safety net. It involved others playing their parts, allies like Maria Hill, Pepper Potts, and, ultimately, Thor's alter ego Doctor Donald Blake, who was revealed to be Tony's personal physician at the end of the arc. "I know a guy who's paid money to game out these horrible and incredible scenarios like how to turn our planet into a weapon to kill people. Tony is that kind of planner," Fraction said. "He's always thinking of the full scope of things. Tony sees not just one game board but the possible half dozen game boards that can come from it.
"In 'World's Most Wanted' everything went according to plan," Fraction continued. "When Tony said, 'I win.' It was the god's honest truth, chapter and verse. It went pretty much exactly how he needed and wanted things to go, assuming Pepper and Maria did their part. We'll have more on that next month,"
"Invincible Iron Man" #20 is in stores November 18. The issue kicks off the "Stark Disassembled" arc, which begins shortly after the ending of "World's Most Wanted". "This arc is sort of 'All the king's horses and all the king's men couldn't put Humpty back together again,'" Fraction said. "It also reveals what Tony's master plan was and answers several lingering questions. What was on the hard drive that was recovered? What was Maria Hill doing? Why did Tony put Pepper on this incredible and extraordinary path?"
"Earlier in 'World's Most Wanted' Crimson Dynamo asked Tony if he wanted to destroy his mind why didn't he do something like jump in a volcano? Tony didn't jump in a volcano because he didn't want to give up the ghost," Fraction continued. 'World's Most Wanted' caused Tony to take a great fall though and what if on some deep, unconscious metaphysical level Tony doesn't want to come back? What if this was all for naught?"
"Stark Dissembled" features a rather large cast of supporting characters. Several Marvel heroes and villains play roles in the story. "Tony is in his persistent vegetative state in Broxton, Oklahoma, where he's under the care of Don Blake," Fraction explained. "Someone who got their ass handed to them in 'World's Most Wanted' decides to exploit that opportunity."
"World's Most Wanted" was a sprawling epic but "Stark Disassembled" is a smaller, more intimate tale. "It takes place over the course of about three days," Fraction said. "You k now how 'Tomorrow Never Dies' was this giant, epic, James Bond film with like a billion different locations? Well 'Stark Disassembled' is more like 'Casino Royale'; smaller, more intimate and very much about what's left of your protagonist when you strip everything away."
"Stark: Disassembled" may be a smaller tale but that doesn't mean it will be light on action or important moments. "There's a moment in issue #21 and it's the first time I've ever written a double page spread," Fraction said. "I rarely do splash pages. I have trouble allowing myself to do those, but this issue has one of the biggest and most important moments that I've written in a Marvel comic. So there's a huge double page spread by Salvador Larroca of that moment."
In November readers will get a chance to read not just one but two Fraction-penned Iron Man stories. November 25th sees the release of the one-shot "Iron Man: Requiem" a special issue reprinting Iron Man's classic origin story and featuring an all new framing sequence by Fraction and artist Kano.
"'Requiem' slots in between issues #17-18 of 'Invincible Iron Man.' I heard they were doing it and Iron Man is one of those characters who was framed in real world events so that part of his origin doesn't really work any more," Fraction remarked. "They were reprinting those stories though and I wanted to use the chance of Tony saying goodbye to himself and his memories in 'World's Most Wanted.' Tony's decaying mental state was an opportunity to explain and not necessarily invalidate those older stories. He knows how old he is and what day it is, but why does he keep thinking he was in Vietnam? And he wonders why would he be wandering around the jungle in a raincoat and a hat? So 'Requiem' doesn't throw away those classic stories it uses Tony's mental state as a way of embracing them."
Fraction is very happy to have all of "World's Most Wanted" available to readers and is looking forward to their reactions to "Stark Disassembled" and the crop of stories he has planned for "Invincible Iron Man in 2010. "I do want to thank my old editor Warren Simons. Issue #19 was the last script I turned into him before he left Marvel," the writer said. "'Siege' is coming up in 2010 but we'll be handling it like we did 'Secret Invasion.' 'Invincible Iron Man' will sort of exist around 'Siege.' 'Stark Disassembled' occurs separately. Then we're back for our next story arc, which starts in issue #25. I can give the initials of the story. They're 'S.R.' It's pretty easy to guess what the S is but the R is not 'Reborn' or 'Reloaded.' So issue #25 starts a big post 'Siege' and really post everything storyline where Iron Man, whomever it is, gets to reintroduce him or herself to the world."