When an island nation becomes a safe haven to one of the Marvel Universe's deadliest terrorist groups, it's up to one man to do something about it. You know this super spy's name it's . . . Tony Stark? This is the premise behind November's "Iron Man: Director of S.H.I.E.L.D. Annual" #1 by writer Christos Gage and artist Harvey Tolibao. CBR News spoke with Gage about the one-shot story, which finds Tony Stark traveling to a familiar Marvel U locale for a working vacation full of action and intrigue.
It was Gage's previous Iron Man tales that landed him the Annual. "[Editor] Tom Brevoort liked what I had done on the two 'World War Hulk' issues of 'Iron Man,' so he contacted me about writing an annual that combined the feel of a James Bond film with the classic Steranko 'Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D." stories," Gage told CBR News. "Naturally, I enthusiastically said yes!"
One of the reasons Gage said yes to writing this year's "Iron Man Annual" was that he finds the Armored Avenger to be an immensely compelling character to write about. "What fascinates me about Tony is that he has put himself in a role I would never take in a million years - one in which he is going to have to make difficult, terrible choices, with lives hanging in the balance, on a daily basis," Gage explained. "There's a story, probably apocryphal, about Winston Churchill during World War II. It says that the British had cracked the Nazis' code and were monitoring their transmissions when they picked up a message that the Luftwaffe was going to bomb a rural British town. Churchill could have evacuated the town, or sent defensive forces, but he knew that doing so would alert the Nazis that their code had been cracked, and they'd change it, and that would mean the British would have no knowledge of future enemy movements. So Churchill had to make the choice to allow the bombing to proceed, sacrificing the lives of innocent civilians, because he felt more lives would be saved in the long run by knowing what the Nazis were planning. Those are the kinds of situations I'd imagine Tony has to deal with every day - ones with no good answer. It's not easy, but he knows someone has to do it and he's willing to be that man. Whether you agree with the choices he makes or not, there's something heroic about that. I also think Tony's past, with his alcoholism and other struggles, makes for a very rich character."
In Iron Man, Gage had an intriguing character to send on a mission involving action and subterfuge - all he needed was an exciting locale for his story to unfold in. Then he hit upon the idea of sending Stark to an island nation made famous in early issues of "Wolverine," a place that's become one of the most notorious countries in the Marvel Universe. "Madripoor was my idea," he said. "We will be visiting the Foxy Den, which is what the Princess Bar has become. Tom and I liked the idea of setting the story in an exotic locale, and what made Madripoor the best choice is that it's ruled by Madame Hydra - who also runs the worst terrorist organization in the Marvel Universe! That kind of screams 'regime change,' doesn't it?"
Madripoor was most recently seen in the pages of "Wolverine: Origins Annual" #1 and in that story one of the supporting characters closely associated with the principality perished. "Our story takes place after Tai's demise," Gage stated. "Presumably there's a new chief of police, but he's not a character in our story."
Gage's story opens with Tony Stark focused and on the job as Director of S.H.I.E.L.D. "We start off with Tony and S.H.I.E.L.D. realizing they have a major problem concerning Madame Hydra," Gage said. "She's the leader of the deadliest terror organization in the world, but she's also the lawful ruler of the Principality of Madripoor. As long as she is in power, Madripoor will be a haven for her faction of Hydra and its resources will be funneled into furthering Hydra's plans. But S.H.I.E.L.D. can't just go in guns blazing and depose her, because certain member nations who support S.H.I.E.L.D. don't like the idea of them removing legal monarchs from their thrones and because then they'd have to become an occupying force, which they're not equipped to do. Someone has to go in covertly and bring Madame Hydra down from within, in such a way that keeps the country stable. The man for the job? Stark. Tony Stark."
Tony Stark has proven himself as a superhero and is slowly proving himself as the director of S.H.I.E.L.D., but some readers might wonder what makes him the right man for this particular job, which is something you'd expect to be carried out by a highly trained espionage agent. "The Extremis process he underwent in the Warren Ellis storyline gave him physical attributes on a par with Olympic level athletes to go along with his genius level IQ. And he's the boss - if he says he's the man for the job, nobody can say different!" Gage explained. "From a strategic standpoint, Madripoor is known as a playground for the idle rich and Tony's status as a billionaire playboy provides him the perfect cover story for entering the country, even if both he and Madame Hydra know he has other motives. It makes for some fun mental jousting between them. It's also probably another example of Tony being reluctant to send agents out to face danger if he's not facing it himself."
Tony's trip to Madripoor will definitely put him in some serious peril. His mission to remove Madame Hydra from power will pit him against two of Madripoor's most infamous citizens - the super powered criminal enforcers known as Roughhouse and Bloodscream. "They almost killed Wolverine!" Gage remarked. "What, those aren't enough? Okay, how about that Madame Hydra blocks Tony's Extremis powers, removing his ability to control machinery with his mind. And his Iron Man armor is floating above him in geosynchronous orbit, available only for emergencies! Pretty tough odds, wouldn't you say?"
Stark won't be facing those odds alone. Readers may have noticed that Jim Cheung's cover for "Iron Man: Director of S.H.I.E.L.D. Annual" #1 has a bevy of beautiful women hanging around the Iron Man armor. "The women on the cover, who are posing as billionaire playboy Tony Stark's 'companions,' are actually very capable S.H.I.E.L.D. agents with specific skills," Gage said. "Two of them, Nails and Senyaka, have been seen before in S.H.I.E.L.D. stories."
Iron Man's female "traveling companions" aren't the only women that play roles in the story. Readers already known that Madame Hydra plays a huge role in the Annual and Gage hinted that another female character, that would be familiar to fans of the old Madripoor set stories in "Wolverine," might also make an appearance.
As readers may have guessed, Gage wrote this story with the tone of the Sean Connery era James Bond films in mind. "That's definitely what we were going for, as well as the feel of the classic 'Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D.' stories," Gage stated. "Of course, fans of the Iron Man armor will have something to enjoy as well."
Gage also expects that readers will enjoy the work of his collaborator on "Iron Man: Director of S.H.I.E.L.D. Annual" #1, artist Harvey Tolibao. "Harvey is amazing," Gage said. "If you check out Tom Brevoort's blog at marvel.com, you can see some of his character designs as well as (in an earlier entry) the splash page of the annual. Harvey's art is beautiful, lush and dynamic. This is his first work for Marvel, but I'd bet it's not his last!"