Waxing Shellhead 2: Knaufs Talk "Iron Man: Director of S.H.I.E.L.D."

Yesterday, in Part 1 of Waxing Shellhead, CBR News spoke with Editor Tom Brevoort about the background of one of Marvel Comics' most interesting characters, Tony Stark, the Iron Man. Today we continue our spotlight on the Armored Avenger by chatting with "Iron Man" writers Daniel and Charles Knauf.

The father-and-son writing team have chronicled Tony Stark's adventures for over a year and they've enjoyed every minute. "The heroes Stan Lee invented all have legs," Daniel Knauf told CBR News. "They're always going to be interesting to write about and there are always more facets to reveal. The readers and writers have different takes on Tony. It's just a matter of finding that patch of untilled ground and just tilling the hell out of it."

Iron Man is one of Marvel's most multifaceted characters, so the Knaufs have had plenty of ground to till. "That's why when Marvel contacted us we were so anxious to write Tony Stark because he's a very complex character," Daniel Knauf explained. "What we try to do is present him as a flawed human being, because I think we're all flawed human beings, and the fans seem to be really responding to that depiction. You look at him and you think what kind of personality would actually channel that much of his personal fortune into building something to try to help mankind and what a weird way to help mankind. You think why doesn't he take all that money he spends on his armor and give it to charity? He's this really interesting cross of sort of idealistic humanism and egoism. He's not one of those square jawed type heroes. He's got some baggage."

Perhaps Iron Man's most famous bit of emotional baggage is his battle with alcoholism. Another is his notoriety as a ladies' man. "We haven't really been writing Tony Stark as the playboy," Daniel Knauf stated. "I have trouble even reconciling that aspect of Tony with his other aspects because the term 'playboy' just seems impulsive and frivolous and I don't think Tony is super impulsive or terribly frivolous. I think the way we've approached it is he's becoming more and more wary of entering into personal relationships with anybody because he's been getting burned on a fairly regular basis."

"Civil War" drastically altered Iron Man's personal relationship with much of the Marvel Universe, not to mention the way many readers view the Golden Avenger. Fans who've interpreted Iron Man's actions both during and after "Civil War" as being villainous might want to check out the Knaufs' run on "Iron Man" for another perspective. "This is not a criticism of other writers at Marvel but I think there's a tendency to turn Tony into a punching bag in a lot of other books," Daniel Knauf said. "We see a lot of fans on the message boards saying, 'If you really want to see Tony portrayed as a hero look to his own books.' There is some truth to that; some writers are lighter on him and some are very, very hard on him. We just try to build up Tony without making it at the expense of other characters. I think that's what most of the writers do anyway but lately in the Marvel Universe, it has been open season on Stark."

"The important thing for us is though we look at other books for continuity we really stick to our own game plan," Charles Knauff told CBR News. "We don't hold any vendettas for other characters and we don't try to get back at certain people. We just stick to what's important and that's Tony's story."

Tony's story as of late has been a gloomy one. The climax of "Civil War" resulted in the assassination of his friend and teammate Captain America, and recent "Iron Man" issues have seen the deaths of close friends like Happy Hogan and Sal Kennedy as well as the apparent, but faked death, of Tony's love interest Maya Hansen. The psychological effects from all those losses are slowly catching up with the Armored Avenger. "Tony is the type of character who tends to bottle up and not talk to people about things," Charles Knauf said. "But if you pay close attention to our book you'll catch hints and clues as to how he's dealing with these things."

"Or not dealing with them," Daniel Knauf added. "I think Tony is one of those guys who says, 'Okay next!' Its like, 'That's now in my rear view mirror. It's time to move on.' That's his greatest strength as sort of a futurist and inventor as well as a capitalist businessman but it's also his biggest weakness. You don't come away unscathed from a situation like 'Civil War' or the loss of so many friends.

"I think the problem with Tony is he likes to think if he can just take a step forward he'll leave all that behind him. He doesn't understand that all of it is taking a step forward too. All those incidents, losses and tragedies are nipping at his heels and I like to think that's the theme of our current arc 'Haunted.'

In "Haunted," Iron Man's suppressed feelings of grief and loss are stirred up by his investigation into the murder of Gadget, a hero from the Nebraska-based Initiative team, who idolized Iron Man. "With Gadget, here's a girl who probably wouldn't have been in the position to get killed if Iron Man hadn't been an idol and somewhat of a mentor to her," explained Daniel Knauf. "Her death doesn't cut as deep as Happy or Cap but when you're going through periods of time where bad things are happening like Tony is, you get to point where it's like, 'Even people who just look up to and emulate me are dying! Everything I touch dies!'

There are some powerful people who don't want Iron Man's investigation probing things too deeply. Chief among them are Secretary of Defense Jack Kooning and his ally -- Iron Man's old foe and head of the Prometheus Corporation-- The Mandarin. "The Mandarin is a very calculating guy now," Charles Knauf said. "He's not as impulsive as he was early on. He hasn't really revealed his intentions to Kooning. All Kooning knows is the Mandarin is helping launch a new Super Soldier program."

"The Mandarin is a chess player and he knows what buttons to push to get what he wants," added Daniel Knauf. "He's a very experienced and wise player and I can see him getting people to do things they normally wouldn't want to do."

The Knaufs can't say what Mandarin's master plan is but were able to reveal traditional supervillain motivations like chaos, power, and revenge are not what's currently driving the villain. "As we saw in the last arc, The Mandarin's downtime was spent doing years of self examination and looking at himself in a very objective way, especially his failures" Daniel Knauf explained. "Some people have thought maybe he's out for revenge for his son Temugin. If he was revenge motivated he'd probably just put a gun to his own head because he sees himself as just as responsible for his son's failure as anybody."

In addition to being cold and calculating, The Mandarin is also a very patient adversary. The Knaufs revealed that Iron Man's many ringed villain is playing a long game and "Haunted" is just part two in a larger story involving the Mandarin.

The remaining chapters of "Haunted" pit Tony Stark against a variety of enemies including Commission on Superhero Activities member Norman Osborn. "We were really happy to learn that he's part of the Commission," Daniel Knauf remarked. "It was a nice surprise."

In part four of "Haunted," December's "Iron Man" #24, governmental interference from groups like the Commission paint Iron Man into a corner and force him to dip back into his armory and re-don one of his classic red and gold battlesuits. "They've slapped him and left a mark," Daniel Knauf explained. "This is just a temporary situation though. Tony isn't going to be in the old armor for the rest of our run. It's sort of like his Bentley is in the shop so he has to take out his '68 Firebird."

Iron Man's actions in "Haunted" will be further complicated due to some unforeseen side effects from the Extremis Virus. "Tony is capable of monitoring every phone call made, every satellite transmission made, and databases," Daniel Knauf stated. "But imagine if you could suddenly read minds. Imagine how much chatter there would be. Tony is still human and he still has a human brain, so the sheer volume of information he's trying to deal with and sort out is going to have some psychological side effects."

"We explain what's going in a pretty cool scene between Tony and Doc Samson," added Charles Knauf. "That's later but not much later. We don't want to give away too much."

The Knaufs have worked with Roberto De La Torre since "Iron Man" #16 and the duo have been consistently amazed with the way the artist brings their scripts to life. "It's not De La Torre," Daniel Knauf said. "It's 'The Spaniard' [laughs]! Every time pages come in we go, 'Ah! The Spaniard has delivered more pages! We love what he's doing."

"We got some pages in today and we we're just talking about his use of expression," Charles Knauf added. "This is a very realistic book. This is a high-octane thriller like you'd see in a movie. You need somebody who's very detailed and who's able to render faces and technology and he brings it in spades. Rob's just great."

De La Torre's depictions of the Knaufs' cinematic scripts are helping fans deal with the long wait until the 2008 Iron Man feature film starring Robert Downey, Jr. As "Iron Man" creators and fans, Daniel and Charles Knauf are also eagerly anticipating the film's release. "When we heard they cast Downey we were thrilled," Daniel Knauf said. "It was like 'Yes! That's our Tony!'"

"We're stoked," Charles Knauf stated. "Everything that Marvel has done for this movie has just been great. They brought this air of legitimacy to the character and we couldn't be happier with what they've been doing."

The Knaufs have been pleased with fans' reaction to their "Iron Man" work and hope to have a long healthy run on the title. "I think when we do go we'll still have something to say in case we want to come back," remarked Daniel Knauf, who is known to many as the creator of the HBO series "Carnivále." "We're picking up 'The Eternals' and working on that as well. So we'll have a second title we're working on and we're toying with the idea of doing some original titles too but there's nothing really in the works right now.

"Charles has been involved in this medium for years and I'm just falling in love with it," he continued. "I'm falling in love with the freedom of it. Marvel has been wonderful to work with. They let us do almost anything we want as long as it doesn't conflict with other aspects of their universe and that's so different from television and film, which is worse than it's ever been as far as being bombarded with a list of notes from executives. So it's really refreshing to have some creative room to breathe and as far as 'Iron Man' goes we'll be on for the next twelve issues and as long as Marvel will have us. We're having a ball."

Tomorrow, in Part 3 of Waxing Shellhead, CBR News takes things to the Extremis in a chat with "Mighty Avengers" and "New Avengers" writer Brian Michael Bendis.

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