Iron Man once protected the world, but these days he's on the run from it. When Norman Osborn began his Dark Reign over the Marvel Universe, he inherited Tony Stark's old job as the U.S. Government's top superhuman law enforcement officer. But one thing Osborn didn't inherit was a database containing the secret identity of every superhero on the planet -- that information was kept locked away in Tony's brain.
Chasing Iron Man down is... just about everybody: the intelligence agency H.A.M.M.E.R; the U.S. Government's superhuman army, the Initiative; and a secret criminal Cabal made up of the world's worst villains. To make matters worse, the only way Tony could make sure Osborn wouldn't get his hands on the database was to wipe that information from his brain. Unfortunately, Stark lost much of his own knowledge and memories as well.
How much longer can Tony evade Norman Osborn? Will the evil S.H.I.E.L.D. Director suit up in his own Iron Patriot armor and personally take Stark down? For the answers to these questions and more, CBR News spoke with "Invincible Iron Man" writer Matt Fraction.
In "World's Most Wanted," Tony Stark has been confronted left and right by the mistakes he made as Iron Man, like failing to anticipate the shapeshifting Skrulls' Secret Invasion of Earth, which ultimately lead to Osborn's rise to power. It hasn't been all bad, though. On this journey, Tony's been reminded of the close friendships he's forged over the years, like Pepper Pots and Dimitri Bukharin a.k.a. the Crimson Dynamo. "When I came on to the book I said there was a reckoning coming for Tony and I wasn't just talking about his recent history. I meant really for his entire life, his entire history," Fraction told CBR. "It's not all been bad. He's definitely made good choices along the way and met good people. He's done a lot of great things but he's got some dark chapters in his life. He's made some decisions with a lot of heavy consequences and this is sort of a marathon run through his entire history."
The trip of "World's Most Wanted" has also been a transformative one for Stark. "I think we're reducing him to his most primal self. I wanted to strip him to his core essence without the trappings of wit, money and the other billionaire playboy elements," Fraction explained. "I wanted to really get down to the absolute core of what is it about Tony Stark as a man that makes him innately a hero in spite of the mistakes he makes."
Tony is gradually losing memories and chunks of his superior intellect. This may remind some readers of the classic science fiction story "Flowers for Algernon" by Daniel Keyes, or the 1968 film adaptation of that story, "Charly," starring Cliff Robertson. "I never actually read 'Flowers for Algernon' but I get the reference," Fraction said. "This story wasn't a deliberate homage. It's actually a very classic Campbell Hero's Myth structure turned inside out."
In "Invincible Iron Man" #15, on sale now, readers saw just how much of his memory Tony Stark lost when he asked Pepper Pots who Happy Hogan was. Before tragically dying in a fight with the villainous Spymaster, Hogan was one of Stark's closest friends and most trusted confidants. "The 'Who's Happy?' line came to me really early on," Fraction said. 'I was writing issue two or three of 'World's Most Wanted' and I was very glad to finally get to the line here. I hope it speaks to the stakes of what's going on here; the fact that Tony could lose the entirety of Happy Hogan. If it's not clear by now, that should indicate that we're playing for keeps. These are very high stakes and this is a serious journey that Tony is on. I hope that's resonating now."
The stakes became even bigger for Tony Stark when his former lover and frequent adversary, Madame Masque -- who had been hunting Stark for Norman Osborn -- captured Pepper and threatened to torture her unless Stark did exactly as she ordered. Madame Masque joined the Hood's supervillain syndicate and has been more of a "New Avengers" cast member in recent years, so Fraction enjoyed the chance to reunite the two characters. "She has such a regular thing with the Hood at the moment and Tony is sort of forbidden fruit - the one that got away. And that's really exciting," Fraction stated. "She's supposed to have this other steady gig going and she's sort of on another job, so to speak. That's what I find most intriguing about her. She's been a big part of Tony's life and I think she's an interesting human reflection on Tony's philosophy on the world, its problems, and how to fix them. She's also an interesting reflection on Tony's failures. It's interesting to me that despite everything that's going on between Madame Masque and the Hood, here's this one guy that she's just not over. And I think all of us have been or known that person. No matter how bad the object of their desire treated them they'll never be able to say no. It doesn't matter how self destructive or unhealthy the relationship is when some people fall, they fall hard and forever."
Fraction has also used "World's Most Wanted" to give readers a parallel story featuring Maria Hill, former director of S.H.I.E.L.D. and now a close friend and confidant of Tony Stark. "I love Maria. She's terrific," Fraction said. "We're seeing her going through some real stuff that nobody gets out of unscathed. We're taking Maria Hill to a place we've never seen, which is always exciting."
Maria Hill's story in "World's Most Wanted" saw her recover some secret and sensitive data for Tony Stark. Doing so lead to a mental and emotionally scarring confrontation with the supervillain known as the Controller, and the tension of that meeting is starting getting to Hill. She desperately tried to convince the Black Widow to aid her, and the Widow agreed -- only after being convinced of the deadly seriousness of Hill's mission.
"Things are dire for Maria. She's a soldier and above all the mission is supreme. Orders are orders and you see the mission through," Fraction explained. "When she went up against the Controller she lost control of who she was. Even though it was for just a split second, the Controller got inside her head. She's never had that experience before and it's going to haunt her and shake her up for some time to come."
"World's Most Wanted" comes to a conclusion this fall, and Maria Hill and Tony Stark's separate missions will start to overlap as things move forward. "All the walls come crashing down in issues #18-#19, the arc's last two issues. Everything comes together," Fraction confirmed. "Tony goes back to where it all began and gets to reap a little bit of what he sewed. Hill and Widow make their move for good or for ill, and only one person comes out of that bunker . . ."
Matt Fraction has to be vague about the end of "World's Most Wanted," but promised before the arc is over fans will get the fight they've been clamoring for. "You're nuts if you think I've been writing this storyline for about a year and I'm not going to have Tony and Norman Osborn scrap at the end," he said. "Even Salva is asking, 'When are they going to fight?'"
Salva is of course Salvador Larroca, Fraction's artistic collaborator on "Invincible Iron Man." The writer feels that both Larroca and colorist Frank D'Armata have done a remarkable job with their pages for "World's Most Wanted," especially the storyline's final chapters. "Frankie is the Bill Pope of colorists and this is some of the best stuff of Salva's career," Fraction stated. "I've been a fan of both of them for an awful long time and I feel like we've hit a groove. Wait till you see what happens."
Fraction obviously couldn't say much about what happens after "World's Most Wanted" but could offer a few hints about what readers can expect from November's "Invincible Iron Man" #20. "Rian Hughes has done a gorgeous redesign of the book's trade dress and I believe that issues #20 will be the first book to feature that brand new look. It will look like a book from the future," Fraction teased. "'Iron Man' will look like an elegant, aggressive, and forward thinking piece of quite frankly gorgeous design. It will be a design artifact appropriate for the coffee table of any forward thinking home.
"The title of the story arc gives away and suggests a few things so I can't reveal it, but I'll give you the initials. They are T.S.D. So look for T.S.D. with issue #20. Also starting that issue, 'Invincible Iron Man' is going to leap 10 feet off the racks. You'll be able to see it a mile away. I'm so excited to have gotten to work with Rian."
"World's Most Wanted" is an epic 12-part story and Matt Fraction hopes readers enjoy the finale as much as he did writing it. "I'm having the time of my life writing this book," Fraction said. "Hopefully folks will be surprised with where it goes and feel satisfied, staggered, and dying to know where we're going in issue #20."