SDCC EXCLUSIVE: Gillen & Tony Stark Build the City of the Future in "Iron Metropolitan"

By definition, Tony Stark is the Marvel Universe's ultimate engineer. He's built battle suits allowing common people to protect themselves from -- and fight alongside -- super powered beings and he's designed phones and cars that revolutionized the way people communicate and travel.

Recently, Stark journeyed into space in search of new ideas on how to use science to better the lives of humanity and discovered some startling information about himself in the process. The current arc of "Iron Man" finds Stark coming to grips with both the validity and impact of what he's learned. In November's "Iron Man" #18, writer Kieron Gillen and artist Joe Bennett kick off a new arc titled "Iron Metropolitan," which finds Tony back on Earth with big ideas about how to change the way people live in and interact with cities.

CBR News spoke with Gillen about the arc, reintroducing Stark's supporting cast and how the story ties into the lore of a classic Iron Man rogue.

CBR News: Kieron, before readers get to "Iron Metropolitan" they'll read "The Best Offense," the final chapter in your multi-arc space adventure storyline titled "The Secret Origin of Tony Stark." What do you want readers to know about "The Best Offense" and how does it set the stage for "Iron Metropolitan?"

Kieron Gillen: It's all part of the larger idea -- this is about the after effects of what Tony's discovered from 451, and the majority of it is set inside the Godkiller Armor. It's the action climax to it all. We're building towards the big showdown between 451 and Tony, which involves Death's Head as well.

We've seen some big changes in this arc and more is uncovered later on. You've seen how fundamental these ideas are, but they all twist around and become something else before the arc is over.

He went in space partly because he wanted to refresh himself with new ideas and he returns to Earth with one -- "Iron Metropolitan" is about him putting that into practice. It's like, "This is what I learned out there." It's the practical elements of what he saw out in space and where he decides to put them. This is his new project going forward.

What can you tell us about the significance of the title "Iron Metropolitan?"

There's a quote from a designer who's a friend of mine named Matt Jones that reads, "A city is a battle suit for surviving the future." I love the quote. It's an interesting way to think about cities and technology, and that's what the story is about. Tony and his allies build a city.

Humanity is now primarily an urban species and that's only going to become more so as we move into the 21st century. So this arc is about Tony deciding that he's going to build a city that will be his test model for the future of where and how we can live. So hence the title "Iron Metropolitan."

Of course people try to stop him and things go amiss. That's why we have a story instead of Tony building stuff for five issues. [Laughs]

So we're going to see what kind of urban engineering skills Tony might have.

Yeah. If a city is a "battle suit for surviving the future" what kind of city would Iron Man make? I'm drawing on a lot of urban engineering experiments and ideas. I'm going back and reading BLDG Blog as well as mixing in some of the more fantastical Marvel Universe elements. I don't want to say it's hard science fiction, but it's informed by the sort of questions I think 21st century engineering would be thinking about.

The idea of Tony making a city is a big "Citizen Kane" Xanadu-style vision and the five covers in this arc are going to be this tableau that form one large image about the rise and fall of this experiment.

This is really the start of year two in the book. Issue #17 is the punch line on year one. Then year two is everything he's learned both intellectually and emotionally being put into practice. He went off, had a journey and now he's come back ready to attack what he believes is one of society's biggest problems.

Half the problems he faces are Marvel Universe problems. In "The Secret Origin of Tony Stark" we've been talking about alien invasions and threats from the cosmos, which is also a theme in "Guardians of the Galaxy." I want to mix fantastic threats with ecological problems like sustainability and things like that. The idea is that one way or another we'll probably be extinct in 50 years, so we need a way of living that allows us to have a real future.

We've seen in other books that while Tony has been away in space, he's kept his eye on Earthly things whenever he can via devices like drone armor. So how big of an adjustment is coming back to Earth for him and his friends?

There will be some adjustment. He's had a professional foot in the water, in that he's been in touch with the Avengers, and had a foot in the larger happenings of the Marvel Universe. He's done this via drones, which are a larger theme in my "Iron Man" run overall.

However, in terms of the personal side of things, he's been out of touch completely. He gets back and discovers things have changed while he's been away. Stuff has changed at Resilient. What his friends have been doing has changed, and in a sense he's changed as well. To me, that's one of the most fun things about doing this story -- looking at the first thing Tony would do when he gets back to Earth.

"Iron Metropolitan" catches us up with Pepper Potts and reintroduces some of the Resilient staff your predecessor Matt Fraction introduced in his "Invincible Iron Man" run --

I'm keeping the Resilient staff in the mix, but we'll have a couple of new characters. Pepper is of course back and I'm finally getting a chance to do something with Rhodey. Tony and his allies are looking to build the city of the future in "Iron Metropolitan."

That has me wondering about where all this is going to take place. What can you tell us about the setting of the arc?

The city is going to be built over the ruins of Mandarin City, which Matt had in his "Invincible Iron Man" run. It's basically been left to go feral and I'll explain the set up of Mandarin City in the book. The way Matt put it was it's a Hong Kong that never reverted back to China. So it's in this weird legal no man's land, which has lead to it going feral.

So Tony, who is (after what went down with the Mandarin) on quite good terms with the Chinese government, goes in to clear this place up. He has a lot of leeway to do the things he needs to do. At one point he says, "I can't make it any worse." [Laughs] It's a disaster site and it's been caught between so many different powers, which means it's a good place for Tony to try and dig in.

Plus there's a certain poetry in rebuilding Mandarin City. He's building his dream city over the ruins of his greatest enemy.

I imagine quite a few people will not be happy with his agenda. What can you tell us about the obstacles and adversaries Tony will be up against?

First he becomes embroiled in a PR war, because Tony building a city off the coast of China is charged in a few ways. The bigger problem though are the people who don't want Tony building a city. Early on Tony says, "I'm doing this purely to help people. I understand this is a bit paternalistic, but I can work around that. So who on Earth would want to stop me?"

Part of the plot is what happens when the people who want to stop him are given the power to do so -- I'm playing with the shadow of the past. The Mandarin mythos is a big part of my second year on the book. I'm very excited by it, and it's nothing as simple as bringing the Mandarin back. I think it's interesting both on a pop/pulp fiction level and a playful political level.

So the shadow of the Mandarin looms over this story, but will it involve some of Tony's other rogues as well?

A little bit. I'm playing games with characters and ideas that I like. The Mandarin was killed beautifully at the end of Matt's run and me coming in and doing just a Mandarin plot would be very unimaginative. I've got something quite different and it builds from the themes of the first year, which was about Tony going into space and the relationship between Earth and the heavens. The latter is still an ongoing theme in my book.

The initial threat in "Iron Metropolitan" is the powers that be in the city, these various criminal organizations armed with some of the left over technology. There are powers there who frankly like it shitty. [Laughs] Then another more important antagonist comes in who is also in the shadow of the Mandarin.

It's funny because that happens literally on the last two pages of issue #18, where it all builds and then the villain appears. When that happens what I'm doing becomes instantly clear to readers. This is very much a story that builds from the Mandarin.

It sounds like "Iron Metropolitan" is a story that builds off what you've done already in this book, and what other writers have done before you. Is this a good place for new readers to check out the book?

Yeah, year one finishes off with a big climax and leaves readers with an interesting point to join in. Tony coming back from a big space adventure is a clean, accessible point to pick up the book.

Joe Bennett is bringing "Iron Metropolitan" to life. What do you feel he brings to this story as an artist?

Joe taking over art duties gives the story a real "here's season two" feel. We start off quite ballsy and give you this big sweeping imagery of what's going on. Joe's really going for it and his technology and squalor is great. He comes to the script with solid ideas of how to approach things, and his storytelling is strong. I've always been happy to work with him.

So year two of your "Iron Man" run takes place on Earth, but ultimately it's going to be just as big and sprawling as your year one outer space epic?

We're definitely at the point now where the book has a sense of momentum, and as we go through this last part of the "Secret Origin" storyline readers will see where that leaves us. One thing leads to another, so the meta plot for my second year on the book emerges very naturally, as the meta plot for my third year emerges naturally from that. So it's all coming together nicely. There's a vision of where this is all going.

I attended the Marvel summit a few weeks ago, and what will be the end of my run occurred to me. That's always a magical moment. I'm looking forward to taking people there.

"Iron Man" #18 by Kieron Gillen and Joe Bennett goes on sale in November from Marvel Comics

There's an Event Leviathan Clue in Legion of Super-Heroes: DC Millennium #1

More in Comics