When Tony Stark first built and donned the Iron Man armor way back in 1963's "Tales of Suspense" #39, it was a historic moment both for the character and the Marvel Universe as a whole. Since then, Tony Stark's history has been made up of a variety of exciting events with the playboy inventor having experienced both incredible triumphs and crushing defeats, with each one of those moments having made an indelible mark the character. This April, writer Fred Van Lente ("Amazing Spider-Man," "Incredible Hercules") and artist Steve Kurth ("Ultimate Comics Armor Wars") will examine how Tony's past molded him into the man he is today in the new ongoing series "Iron Man: Legacy." CBR News spoke with Van Lente about the series, which unfolds as a series of new story arcs that flash back to various points in Iron Man's career.
Van Lente's first crack at Iron Man came in the through the all-ages "Marvel Adventures: Iron Man" series, where he got to write modern day, done-in-one adventures featuring Tony Stark. Now, with "Iron Man: Legacy," the writer has a chance to tell longer stories which explore the character's rich past, and he couldn't be happier. "It's exciting to be able to do these sprawling, epic, globe-trotting, five issue long novels. That's what I'm most excited about, because Tony Stark is an incredibly unique superhero in that he's someone who would have ridiculous amounts of fame and impact on his world even if hadn't become a superhero," Van Lente told CBR News. "He still would have been in the news because of his wealth and accomplishments. He's someone who leaves a big footprint. So another thing that I want to do in 'Legacy' is explore Tony's impact on the world and how that impact affects him."
The weight of Tony Stark's actions is part of the reason why Van Lente enjoys writing the character. "I wasn't really a big fan of Iron Man before I did the 'Marvel Adventures' book because he was always someone who seemed a little too hard to relate to. It was like, 'He's already a handsome, billionaire, super genius and now he's a superhero? That's a little unfair!' When you consider though that he is someone who is so important and so many people depend on him he becomes a universal character and a unique character among superheroes. I assume that Bruce Wayne is as wealthy and perhaps as innovative as Tony, but Bruce Wayne still doesn't have the global impact on his world that Tony Stark does."
While that level of influence can lead to feelings of accomplishment, more often than not it haunts Tony Stark, especially when he dwells upon his past as a weapons designer. "My interpretation of Tony is consistent with the book I used to write in that Tony is Peter Parker on a grand scale. Pete's actions lead to the death of his Uncle Ben, this father figure that he was very close to to. That lead him to redeem himself with his Spider-Man persona. Tony's actions have caused the death of thousands, if not tens or hundreds of thousands of people," Van Lente explained. "This is something that weighs very heavily on his conscience, and we'll be seeing a lot of it in 'Iron Man: Legacy.'"
In the first arc of "Iron Man: Legacy," Van Lente will look at Tony Stark's impact on Eastern Europe in the post Cold War era. "The first arc, 'War of the Iron Men,' finds Tony interfering in a Kosovo style civil war in Transia, one of the many fictional Balkan Republics in the Marvel Universe. This manages to draw the attention of both Russia and China, who have various investments in that country which are being disrupted by Tony's activities," Van Lente stated. "So they unleash all of these Cold War era villains in a new era. It's almost as if in this post-Cold War they view Tony as this symbol of American Imperialism imposing itself on a sovereign nation.
"So Titanium Man, Radioactive Man, and Crimson Dynamo tangle with Tony while he tries to stop a paramilitary group that is essentially carrying out ethnic cleansing, and they're doing it in what appears to be Iron Man armor," Van Lente continued. "To a certain extent, this is Tony's worst fears coming true because he invented the Iron Man suit to be the technology that ends weapons. Now it's being used to commit horrible atrocities, so he feels personally obligated to stop this."
The genocidal paramilitary group and the cold war villains aren't the only adversaries Iron Man runs afoul of in the first arc of "Legacy." "I should point out that there's a mystery villain in 'War of the Iron Men,'" Van Lente said. "His identity is revealed at the end of the first issue. He's a classic villain from the Michelinie-Layton era."
Artist Steve Kurth will be on hand to help Van Lente pin down where "War of the Iron Men" fits in the larger tapestry that is Tony Stark's history. "Steve happens to be an expert on Iron Man. We had a vague notion where this storyline took place timeline wise, and Steve nailed down the specific armor that Tony would be wearing," Van Lente revealed. "I'm not going to tell you what era the story is in, but there are hip pods. I'm a firm believer in hip pods. If you don't have hip pods, the terrorists win."
It's not just Kurth's wealth of Iron Man knowledge that Van Lente is appreciative of. "Steve brings an amazing design sense and he's really knocking things out of the park. There is a great sense of drama and gravity in all the scenes he's penciling," Van Lente explained. For this arc he had to design the villainous Iron Man armors and the new Melter. That's exciting! We're bringing the Melter back - or should I say Melters? Steve is drawing a lot of classic Marvel villains as well as some gods. We're going to have everything in this first arc."
The "War of the Iron Men" arc is currently in production, and Van Lente is already plotting out settings for subsequent storylines. "There are some specific times I'm interested in seeing. Like I'm interested in doing a story that takes place when Obadiah Stane had taken over Tony's company and he was down and out," Van Lente hinted. "And for the third arc I'd like to go back almost to the very beginning of his career. We're almost going backwards in time. Each of these first few arcs is set before the previous, which I think will make for an interesting contrast."
It won't just be different time periods that Van Lente is exploring in "Iron Man: Legacy." The writer is also looking to tell different types of stories as well, "The second arc will be a gritty crime story. The third arc will begin around issue #11, so don't hold me to this [Laughs], but for that story I'm interested in looking at Tony's first encounter with Doctor Strange and dealing with how his techno based mind confronts the mysteries of magic."
Each arc of "Iron Man: Legacy" is a standalone story so there won't be too many plot threads that carry over from arc to arc. "We will be going backwards in time and seeing how Tony's past influences his present," Van Lente said. "We'll see a lot more on his childhood and his relationship to his father, as well as his relationship to a Mr. Edwin Jarvis."
Currently, "Iron Man Legacy" is mainly focused on examining the rich past of Tony Stark, but further down the road Van Lente would love to tell a "Legacy" tale featuring the other famous person to don the Iron Man armor, Stark's friend and confidant James "Rhodey" Rhodes. "I would really like to do a Rhodey Iron Man story," the writer said. "I grew up reading 'West Coast Avengers' and 'Secret Wars,' so to me Rhodey was Iron Man. It was actually a little bit of a shock when Tony came back. It was like 'Who is this guy?' [laughs]"