Waxing Shellhead Part 3: Bendis talks Iron Man and Avengers

In Part 1 of our weeklong spotlight on Tony Stark, CBR News examined character's past with "Iron Man" editor Tom Brevoort. In Part 2, series writers Daniel and Charles Knauf gave us the scoop on what's going on in Iron Man's solo book, and now "Mighty Avengers" scribe and "New Avengers: The Illuminati" co-writer Brian Michael Bendis gives us his perspective on Marvel Comics' Armored Avenger and the various teams he's associated with.

Tony Stark is a character with many compelling traits but it was his futurist outlook that appealed most to Bendis. "I'd been reading a lot of books by the real life futurists that form the world we live in; I get my inspiration from them," Brian Bendis told CBR News. "There's a book called 'On Intelligence' by the guy who created the Treo phone, where he talks about why man hasn't been able to create a real functioning A.I. That book to me really formulated Tony's voice as a man smarter than I. The inventor's life is that of someone who can perceive the future in their head as clear as day. They can guess what society is going to need before society knows it's even going to need it. That's the way I see Tony."

Bendis is also fascinated by another more recent trait of Iron Man's, the huge amount of authority he's acquired in the Marvel Universe. "Tony puts himself in positions of power because he really believes that he's needed," Bendis said.

Iron Man's current positions of power stem from the actions he took during "Civil War;" actions that have made him a very controversial character to many fans. "He's standing up for what he believes in," Bendis stated. "If you go to the message boards you'll see that he's almost become a polarizing political figure. So it's fascinating to watch people react to him as if he were President Bush or Hillary Clinton. That's how people argue about him. Even Cap wasn't political. He was more apolitical."

One of Iron Man's more debated actions is his attempted arrest of Luke Cage in "New Avengers" #22. Some readers simply saw Iron Man launching a full-scale invasion of Harlem simply to arrest Luke Cage, but Bendis, who penned the issue, and stresses things were a lot more complex. "Tony didn't invade Harlem," Bendis said. "He came down to talk man-to-man and said 'Here's what I believe. I can see what's going to happen and whatever you think you're standing up for is only going to get many more people hurt. So it's worth it for me to take you down if you don't jump on board. So first Tony warned he said, 'I'm going to give you until midnight but this is what's going to happen.' And that's how it went down. You could even argue that Luke put his wife, kid, and a whole neighborhood full of civilians in danger by not standing down.

"I think most people who read that issue rooted for Luke," Bendis continued. "Because Luke was the underdog and we as a society and especially as Marvel readers identify with the underdog.   We're all Peter Parker. He's the everyman and the ultimate underdog."

Comic readers aren't the only ones debating Tony Stark's actions. More and more of Iron Man's fellow heroes have come forward to express their contempt. "Iron Man does not have to have a yelling fight with every single character in every single book," said Bendis. "I was a little behind on my comics so I sat down and read a lot of Marvel books and it seemed like every fourth issue no matter what the book Tony would show up and the star of the book yells at him. I was reading Matt Fraction's 'Punisher War Journal' #11, and there's a scene where G.W. Bridge was yelling at Tony. It was a great scene it's just funny though, ever since 'Civil War' somebody just yells at Tony and he just sits there and takes it.

"I don't want to be bashing my peers," Bendis continued. "I did it too in 'The Confession.' It's very fun to yell at someone who believes in something. I just think we should call a moratorium on it for awhile."

Iron Man's actions are usually driven by his analytical sense of "the greater good," but that's not all that motivates Tony Stark. The Armored Avenger is also known for having a large libido that frequently leads to him falling for beautiful and very dangerous women like Whitney Frost AKA the villainous Made Masque. "I think that's a follow through on his larger attraction to danger," Bendis explained. "Even putting on the armor and risking his life is part of it; it's the ultimate addiction."

Stark's risk addiction may put him in some precarious situations but ultimately it's been beneficial for the Marvel Universe in that it resulted in Stark's creation of the Iron Man armor and the group he would help found and bankroll, The Avengers. "Tony has a checkered past and of all the things he may have done wrong he can look at his funding of the Avengers and always say, 'I did that right.' It was as close to a Utopian ideal that he could create and actually buy," Bendis explained. "The Avengers are also a family for him. It's hard to simplify because the group really means a lot of things to Tony."

Like all families, the various members of the Avengers didn't always see eye to eye, which is something Iron Man found both refreshing and useful over the years. "What I like about people like Tony is they tend to surround themselves with not like minded people. Tony liked that he and Captain America had differences of opinion and different points of view," Bendis stated. "I legitimately think it makes Tony happy to have conversations where all points of view are represented and I think he respects his comrades like Captain America immensely."

Cap's unique perspective made him one of Iron Man's closet friends and comrades in The Avengers, and even though their friendship turned sour during "Civil War," Stark still respects his former friend and misses him immensely, especially in the wake of the Sentinel of Liberty's untimely assassination. The "Fallen Son" mini-eries may have touched upon Tony Stark's grief over Cap's death but he's nowhere near a sense of closure or acceptance. "I think it's going to get worse," Bendis said. "You'll see that in some of my writing coming up. It hit him really hard and I think as time goes by and Cap doesn't show up that absence will get more intense and punishing. Anybody who thinks Tony is a villain or not somebody to root for may look at the loss of Cap as the punishment he deserves.

"If you ever lost anybody you'll find yourself in situations where, say something funny happens and you find yourself turning to the left to laugh with your friend who's no longer there," Bendis continued. "Iron Man and Captain America were warriors who've been in battle and now that Tony's got this new team of Avengers together you can easily see that he may forget Cap isn't there because he's so used to him being there."

In the aftermath of "Civil War," Iron Man's new "Mighty Avengers" team isn't the only one laying claim to the legacy of Earth's Mightiest Heroes. Luke Cage's fugitive underground of heroes has also adopted the Avengers moniker in defiance of the Pro-Registration victory in "Civil War." With all the resources and intelligence Tony Stark has access to both as Iron Man and as the new director of S.H.I.E.L.D. some have wondered why The Mighty Avengers haven't gotten around to arresting Luke Cage's team.

"That's an argument you'll see coming soon," Bendis confirmed. "With the chaos of things like Ultron and 'World War Hulk' how big of a threat to the nation are Luke Cage and a bunch of heroes who are doing good and who used to be their friends? Their heart is probably not into capturing them. If they really wanted to get them they could have gotten them. I don't think Tony and l [Carol Danvers AKA Ms. Marvel] are up for taking their old friends in and punishing them for standing up for their beliefs.

"The death of Captain America also factors in," Bendis continued. "Tony knows that was Cap's team. How much more punishment do they need? How's he supposed to go in there and destroy them for standing up for the same ideals his friend stood up for? I found the 'Civil War' victory to be so pyrrhic."

In "New Avengers" #6-7, Tony Stark and his team of Mighty Avengers learn of the threat that's been bedeviling Luke Cage's New Avenger team, when Spider-Woman presents the body of a deceased Skrull to the group as evidence of the alien shapeshifters "Secret Invasion" of Earth. Bendis revealed that Iron Man's reaction to the alien cadaver will be immediate and carry over into "New Avengers: The Illuminati #5."

The secretive actions of the Illuminati may seem surreptitious and even arrogant to some but Iron Man and the individual members formed the group with what he believes were the best intentions. "Tony is arrogant but so was Captain America. He thought he represented American ideals. That's arrogance but you need a certain amount of arrogance to get things done," Bendis stated. "It was the desire to do good that lead to the idea of the group but it was arrogance that made it a reality.

"The Illuminati are the perfect vision of Iron Man's futurist view of the world. That's what I love so much about the group," Bendis continued. "In the original Illuminati Special, he says to the group, 'There are civilizations out there who want Earth. They've made it very clear and we've escaped by the skin of our teeth. To them our government, the U.N., none of that matters. In their eyes we're the people who rule this planet. The President isn't going to stop them from blowing up the Earth or taking it over, we are. So we should do something. We should organize and get together so when things like this happen we're ready for it.' That's what the Illuminati was pitched as. It wasn't pitched as a secret society. It was pitched almost as a coalition."

The Illuminati may not have been originally envisioned as a secret society, but it became one out of necessity. "It was only after they realized that besides the other people in the room they couldn't trust anybody," Bendis explained. "There were members of the Avengers they didn't trust. There were members of the X-Men and the Inhumans they didn't trust and Namor was the least trustworthy over all, since he often teamed up with people like Dr. Doom. So the Illuminati was the compromise of Tony's original plan. It became, 'Let's get together, just us then, and try to deal with some of these situations.

"Now when the Skrulls hit, when the body of the Elektra Skrull is revealed, the argument will be that Tony was right," Bendis continued. "His futurist view of the world was correct and they're coming back. If we'd gathered and assembled the world's superhero community they'd stay the fuck away."

If fan anticipation right now is any indication, Iron Man readers won't be staying away from next summer's Iron Man feature film. They'll be flocking to see it in droves. "I'm excited about the movie," Bendis agreed. "I know a little more than most about what's going on in the movie and I think it's got a chance of being something really special. I'm actually a big fan of Jon Favreau. 'Zathura' was of the very few, exceptionally well-made children's movies and as a father of a five-year-old you get on your knees and pray to god for those. So I'm a big fan of Jon Favreau's and I know some behind the scenes stuff about the movie, which I think people are going to really dig."

When the Iron Man film hits theaters, Bendis has big plans for the Golden Avenger's four-color adventures. "He'll have a huge part in 'Secret Invasion," Bendis explained. "He'll get a lot of face time there and in 'Mighty Avengers as well. I believe 'Secret Invasion' comes out right around the time of the movie.

"I like doing crazy shit to the characters right when the movies are coming out and what's cool about Marvel is they let you. I outed Daredevil at the same time the movie was coming out," Bendis explained. "Marvel's belief is people have seen the movie so you don't have to repeat the movie story. They want you to show them something else in the comic so they go, 'Oh!'"

One of the more surprising things Bendis has seen in his time at Marvel is the evolution of Iron Man and his rise to prominence as one of the most important and interesting characters in the Marvel Universe. "I remember years back, Iron Man was going on along fine in his comics but there was nothing that really distinguished the books or him beyond the premise," Bendis said. "But you look now at all the people that have worked on the books like Warren Ellis and all the things that have happened and you go, Jesus! He's arguably the most interesting character in comics right now and easily the most talked about."

Strap on your jet powered roller skates because "Waxing Shellhead" continues tomorrow in part four, where we chat with Christos Gage, writer of November's "Iron Man: Director of S.H.I.E.L.D. Annual" #1

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