Waxing Shellhead 4: Gage on "Iron Man: Director of S.H.I.E.L.D. Annual"

All this week, CBR News has been examining one of the most talked about characters in superhero comic books, Marvel's Iron Man. We spoke previously with "New Avengers" writer Brian Bendis, ongoing "Iron Man" series writers Daniel and Charles Knauf as well as editor Tom Brevoort. Today in Part 4 of our feature, writer Christos Gage offers his perspective on the character and more details on "Iron Man: Director of S.H.I.E.L.D. Annual" #1, which hits stores in November.

These days, when some Marvel Comics readers look at Iron Man they see a hero dedicated to making the world a better place no matter what it may cost him, while others see Tony Stark as a villainous tyrant out to crush any opposition to his fascistic new world order. Gage sees Stark as the former.

"He's the face of the Super-Human Registration Act, and we have the luxury of being omniscient -- we exist outside the Marvel Universe and read about it," Christos Gage told CBR News. "We know that most anti-registration heroes are good people who won't kill innocent civilians, or risk lives unnecessarily, etc. It's only natural for most fans to sympathize with them and be against Tony's agenda. But I'll tell you this, if I actually lived in the Marvel Universe, where my daily commute could be interrupted by the Avengers fighting the Masters of Evil, I would sure as heck want someone like Tony around looking out for me, and the SHRA would make me feel a lot safer than I'd feel without it."

As the face of the Super-Human registration act – an American law -- Iron Man's duties have kept him primarily in the United States, but in Gage's annual Tony Stark's responsibilities as Director of S.H.I.E.L.D. send him abroad to one of the Marvel U's most infamous countries, Madripoor. "Spy stories often happen in exotic locales and in Madripoor the Marvel Universe has an exotic locale ruled by the leader of a deadly terrorist organization," Gage said. "Throw in villains like Roughhouse and Bloodscream, who have given Wolverine all he can handle, and it sounds like a perfect recipe for a cool spy story. The ongoing 'Iron Man' book has been more domestically focused, so we wanted to show that S.H.I.E.L.D. is a truly international organization, and depict the kinds of international threats Tony might be dealing with."

The objective of Iron Man's mission to Madripoor is the removal of Madame Hydra from power, but her status as Madripoor's sovereign ruler means subtler, clandestine methods are called for. The Iron Man armor isn't exactly subtle but Gage believes its creator is the perfect man for spy mission. "[Tony's] one of the smartest men in the world, a genius with technology, the Extremis process has given him Olympic-level physical condition…and if that's not enough, he does have the armor waiting in the wings," Gage explained. "He's also the boss, and he's shown a reluctance to send others into harm's way when he can go himself."

All spies need good covers and the best ones are rooted in truth, so Tony Stark's reputation as a playboy lothario might actually come in handy during his time in Madripoor. "For the annual, it helps because Madripoor is a playground for the idle rich, and that's Tony's cover story - he's there on vacation," Gage explained. "But ironically, I'd think Tony has very little time for socializing these days. Director of S.H.I.E.L.D. is a fulltime job. Since he took it, we've only seen him involved with women he meets at work - Maya Hansen, a fling with She-Hulk. It'll be interesting to see if this mission gives him any opportunities for romance."

When Tony Stark does find romance it's often in the arms of lovely and lethal ladies, and the terrorist Madame Hydra certainly is both. "It'll be an interesting encounter!" Gage stated. "Tony does have a thing for beautiful but dangerous women, but usually they tend to be people with at least a chance of redemption. I think Madame Hydra may be long past that. But the heart wants what the heart wants…and she is pretty hot! As for why Tony is drawn to bad girls, I think he likes the idea of being part of their redemption...possibly because he's had to redeem himself a time or two."

Stark may be a sucker for a pretty face but he knows Madame Hydra is more likely to kill him than kiss him, so he's making sure he doesn't underestimate the Hydra leader. "But there's certainly a danger of not knowing what weapons or allies Madame Hydra has at her disposal. Add to that the armor not being immediately at hand, and Tony knows it's definitely a dangerous situation."

Gage is fond of placing Tony Stark in precarious situations where he has to rely on more than just his armor to accomplish his goals. "Iron Man: Director of S.H.I.E.L.D. Annual" #1 is the third time he's penned such a story. "It's always interesting to take a character's greatest strength away and see how they do. Hopefully all three of those are different enough situations that the stories don't feel repetitive. In the 'Casualties of War: Civil War' special, Tony was angry and frustrated at the death of his friendship with Cap. Beating on him through metal wouldn't make him feel any better; he wanted to get mano a mano. In the 'World War Hulk' issues of 'Iron Man' he had armor, the Hulk just ended up being too powerful for it! In the Annual, it's more of a conscious choice. He can't infiltrate Madripoor with his armor, because Madame Hydra would never let him in. But he does have it floating in orbit above, as a last resort. In the meantime, he has his wits, some cool super-spy gadgets, and three sexy yet deadly S.H.I.E.L.D. agents to help him out!

"The action is part James Bond, part 1960's Nick Fury, and part Iron Man adventure," Gage continued. "There'll be all-out action, matching of wits, moves and countermoves, and the armor might show up before it's all over."

Drawing Gage's tale of super-spy action is artist Harvey Tolibao. "He's a fantastic artist as well as a phenomenal storyteller. This annual is his first Marvel work, but not his last," Gage explained. "He's also drawing my story in the 'What If: Civil War special', which will look great as well, but trust me, you don't want to miss his debut in the 'Iron Man Annual'. Tom Brevoort has posted some pages on his blog, so check 'em out and see if it doesn't whet your appetite for more!"

Like many Iron Man fans, Gage's appetite for more was whetted when he saw the trailer for next year's live action Iron Man feature film. "It looked awesome!" Gage said. "I also think Robert Downey, Jr. is perfectly cast as Tony. I'm really looking forward to it."

Come back tomorrow for one last Repulsor Ray blast when we interview "Iron Man and Power Pack" writer Marc Sumerak for the final chapter of Waxing Shellhead.

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