Marvel NOW! teaser by Joe Quesada

By Ryan Haupt

After helming UNCANNY X-MEN from a Schism to Utopia, Kieron Gillen and Greg Land have decided to eschew the ensemble to take a stab at Marvel’s biggest celebrity scientist: Tony Stark, aka IRON MAN.

Known as a writer who can handle the fantastic elements and larger-than-life personalities of some of comic’s most notorious outcasts, Gillen should have no trouble with Marvel’s own renegade tech-wizard playboy. Land’s pencils will take the Golden Avenger into new armors and up to new heights. Coupled with themes harkening back to Camelot and beyond, Gillen and Land definitely have what it takes to bring the iconic Avenger into the world of Marvel NOW!

Gillen sat down to talk with us about how he hopes to put his own mark on IRON MAN beginning this November. First and foremost, what prompted your change from the magic/mutant side of the Marvel Universe with JOURNEY INTO MYSTERY and UNCANNY X-MEN to the technological world of IRON MAN?

Kieron Gillen: It just seemed like an interesting way to mix things up a bit. It wasn’t just the fact that [Tony Stark is] such a tech hero, because beneath some of the stuff I’m doing in UNCANNY X-MEN there is a modicum of science even though I often fire it through quite a few filters. This is actually the first solo hero I’ve ever written. The THOR run really doesn’t count because it was a bit strange; every book I’ve written has been a sort of team book. Loki, abstractly, is the lead [of JOURNEY INTO MYSTERY] but in practice he isn’t and, on a larger scale, has gone 23 issues and hasn’t hit anybody. That’s not a traditional Marvel super hero. This is different, this is the iconic Avenger.

Iron Man #1 cover by Greg Land

When I started writing Wolverine in UNCANNY X-MEN, I called my mom once and told her what I do for a living and she said “Ohh, I fancy that Wolverine.” When you’re writing characters that members of your family fancy you’re in an interesting place and, in the case of Iron Man, that’s totally it.

When Marvel NOW! came around, I had reached a suitable place in UNCANNY X-MEN to move off of, and there were a variety of options with Iron Man [which sounded] really interesting. Of the major Marvel characters he’s the one most aligned to me philosophically, as in he’s a very straightforward person, and in terms of the heroes, there are none more forward than Tony; that’s what attracted me to [him]. That’s intriguing because Tony has been one of the more dynamic characters in how he’s been portrayed. It seems like he’s constantly shifting his position on things to the point where he’s sometimes seen as the bad guy because he’s willing to do things that seem extreme, while at other times he’s a stalwart and upright hero.  So it’s very interesting that you see yourself as closely aligned to him.

Kieron Gillen: Exactly, as you said he’s a morally complex guy. Just the fact that he found himself put in, inarguably, the position of the bad guy for a while, and that he defended it. He crushes it, actually, and there’s a lovely bit in Avengers Vs. X-Men here he goes to Cap, “You know, you’re actually arguing what I was arguing [in Civil War],” which I loved.

It’s funny, he’s moved his position a bit and his heart roams but the main thing is the question of belief. Anyone reading AvX can see what Tony is going through and he’s wrestling with stuff he doesn’t normally touch. It’s him looking at two plus two and asking why it equals four. That’s kind of the heart, the underlying theme of [IRON MAN], the idea that Tony Stark starts prodding areas where he hasn’t prodded as much before, while at the same time being a clear scientific, technological book. I stress, I’m not trying to turn Iron Man into Mystic Knight in issue one. That was the joke for a while actually, I had a list of ideas of everything I could possibly do and after looking at it I thought, “This is the worst thing I can possibly do.”

Iron Man by Adi Granov

The symbolism that I bring immediately into the book [is] a lot like the Arthurian concept of the grail-knight: the idea that Tony Stark is the grail-knight, or at least aspiring to be the grail-knight. When we meet him he’s left Resilient and he’s digging into what’s going on. Pepper has a line in the first issue saying, “Oh, you’re not having a midlife crisis are you? Just buy yourself a suit of armor.” That’s where we start and he begins to ask questions.

The story will focus on him questioning things about himself and trying to find out exactly how the universe ticks, what’s this all about and why he does this anyway. It’s going to be one of the major themes of the book going forward. For as long as I’m on the book it will be one of the two major themes I’m working on, like on UNCANNY X-MEN [with] the theme of power and the corruption thereof. You talk about Tony exploring how the universe ticks; it sounds like it will be pretty grand in scale.

Kieron Gillen: It will be. Grand scale is an interesting way of describing it. I want to put Tony in situations he’s not used to being in without compromising the essential Tony Stark-ness of it all. Does the ‘Tony Stark-ness’ of it all involve women?

Kieron Gillen: Oh hell yeah. It’s actually a key part of my second theme. I’m going to explore Tony and his relationship with women. I’m interested in Tony’s selection of women in everything, from his mom, to Pepper, to the random people he’s sleeping with and everything that relates to them. He’s a complicated guy and he does bad things occasionally without thinking. Well, not [without] thinking exactly but he’s not always thinking about the right thing. He’s not the distracted genius but he always has something else going on.

Invincible Iron Man by Matt Fraction

Matt Fraction did a brilliant take on the corporate figure and his run is a defining arc, so I’m staying away from it. Tony is still a scientist and will still be working on the armor but it’s all about him going out into the world and the whole grail-knight comparison. All the traditional corporate motifs are there but they’re not the primary drive of the book. Tony will be in the armor a lot, he’ll be going out into the world.

The first five issues will be single stories that will share [both] a defining motif and a plot but it will be Iron Man facing new instances of technology and each is basically a new villain. Each issue will illuminate something about Tony and they’re all very different. Issue two is a lot like the Bruce Lee Kung-Fu Island story; it’s like a joust, it’s all about the knight imagery, essentially going to a tournament. Issue three is like a ninja story, Tony Stark trying to be a full-on stealth master, issue four is a horror story and issue five is something a little more romantic and scientific but I’m going to keep that one under wraps.

I really want to mix it up with single issue stories because I think that quite a few people are feeling the same way. Single issues are an exciting place to go and anyone can jump on with any of the first five issues, not just issue #1. [In] each of those issues I introduce Iron Man; I say something meaningful about a character that you may know already and I want it to be accessible and to pop. That’s the thing with Greg Land: his photorealistic style really pops and it’s a glamorous book in that way. You’ve collaborated with Land on UNCANNY X-MEN for a while and though he has a photorealistic style he also convincingly drew characters like Danger, who’s completely tech based. How has it been working with him on a character who is almost always in a suit of armor that doesn’t actually exist, thus precluding some of that characteristic realism?

Uncanny X-Men by Greg Land

Kieron Gillen: It really plays to many of Greg’s strengths actually. When people see the issue, they’ll say it makes a lot of sense that Greg is the one drawing this. I really want to play up the glamorous part though as well. Tony may be in the lab often but he’s also at glamorous parties and the Tony Stark-ness of it all. I bet Greg can draw a pretty glamorous party…

Kieron Gillen: He can! Issue #2 is Tony at the top of a hotel sitting in a recliner next to a pool working on an Iron Man helmet with people enjoying a party around him. That’s just how Tony would roll. That stuff is going to be really interesting. The opening scene of the first issue has Tony admiring a view and telling himself that he’s seen so much that any man would question what’s before him and yet he never did. That’s what the end of the five issues [is] going to be like.

As opposed to doing the [morphing] armor, he’s doing precision-based tech. He’ll have to switch out arms and legs. His argument being that you can get more kick out of a specific tool and the theme [of it will] be about making choices and living with it. It will be like choosing a specific suit for a specific mission, taking a certain arm configuration and taking a different piece off. There will be a lot of changes in the armor throughout the series; in the first five issues there will be a different armor every issue.

Iron Man by Salvador Larroca From a storytelling standpoint it has to be more interesting for a writer when he doesn’t have the right gadget as opposed to when he does.

Kieron Gillen: Exactly! Like the stealth mission issue, stealth missions always go wrong! I’ve never thought of Iron Man as a “stealth character.” He’s loud and bombastic in and out of the suit. What’s your own history with the character, have you been a longtime Iron Man fan?

Kieron Gillen: I didn’t read the comics when I was a teenager, I read them as a kid. I lived in a small town and we didn’t get the original American comics very often so I usually only got the British reprints. They were reprinting 80’s SECRET WAR stuff with 70’s MACHINE MAN and 60’s X-MEN in the same book. You lose the larger sense of the continuity. That was when I first read IRON MAN and I just got different bits at different times for it.

There was definitely a period when he was my favorite character, I loved the suit. It was the idea that I could be Iron Man if I had my own enormous robot suit. [It was] a childhood appreciation of what moved me then as opposed to the strict continuity of it. I dug into Matt Fraction and Warren Ellis’ runs, and Extremis is the device I use to drive the first five issues. The Extremis gets into the wild and five people use it for five different things. The point of Extremis wasn’t to make a guy who could breathe fire but to change what humans are. That brings the question of what is a human and what is the future going to bring. These are the themes. I’m taking more from the modern for my stories but I’m taking things from my childhood too.

Iron Man by Marc Silvestri

I like Iron Man in different armors; I like things going completely wrong. I like the issue where it’s stealth Iron Man against Titanium Man, it was one of my favorites as a kid and it was part of “Armor Wars.” I want to write something that feeds the underlying emotional truth of Iron Man in terms of the personality, the heart, the writing but also the super hero fantasy stuff. Who doesn’t love the swapping bits of armor and tech of it all? Jamie McKelvie, one my favorite artists, loves Iron Man and loves the fashion of it all.

When I was researching this [book] I saw that it took Iron Man 50 issues to finalize the armor. He was walking out in bits and pieces before that and that’s kind of what I want to focus on. I kind of do that in the first five issues. I love focusing on the idea that Tony is always working on something and have that as part of the ongoing theme. It’s focusing on the fact that he’s a tinkerer.

Kieron Gillen: Exactly. He has that hall full of armors and he’s looking and saying to himself, “I’ll take that piece, and reuse this piece,” and seeing the glamorousness and seeing him be conflicted. He’ll be making his wisecracks and making mistakes and there will be awesome fight scenes.

The best thing about the character is the character. I just want to do a lot of new things and Iron Man is all about invention. It’s why I’m using Extremis to drive the plot. Throughout the first five issues you’ll meet new villains. Tony always has been the type of character who’s driven by himself more so than his enemies.

Kieron Gillen: That’s completely true. He’s always working on something but I want his villains to speak to him. In the first five issues each of the villains will pose a sort of question for him. Like issue #2 is about an organization who believes in better pilots. Iron Man fundamentally wins battles because he’s the better scientist but what about better pilots?

Iron Man: Extremis by Warren Ellis Like maybe there’s someone who can pilot the armor better than he can?

Kieron Gillen: Yes, that’s the question. You’re good at the Iron but what about the Man? Issue #4 is a horror story and me almost going Lovecraftian via technological method and it’s about someone trying to do something that makes no sense and using their belief to try to create something through the Extremis. It’ll go terribly wrong. It takes place in the Paris Catacombs. We’ll see Iron Man don the Heavy Duty armor which will be reminiscent of “Aliens” or the game “Space Hulk.” I realized after I finished the issue it was my teenage dream of Terminators fighting Gene Stealers coming back to me. Does this mean your Tumblr page will now be full of Iron Man cosplay instead of Kid Loki cosplay?

Kieron Gillen: I don’t know yet! I would imagine I’ll still be posting Kid Loki cosplay but I’d assume that there will be a degree of mustachioed men in armor as well.

I’ve noticed that all my villains have had mustaches so far. It’s like I’m making them all dark mirrors of Tony. They’re all a bit like Tony. Issue #5 is a Warren Ellis analogue as well, so that should be funny. Does he know that it’s coming?

Kieron Gillen: Yes but I haven’t shown him anything yet. It’s very funny writing Warren. He said it was fine this time but next time he’ll tear my head off. I’m using Warren’s creation, Extremis, so I thought I would give a nod to him by putting an analogue of him in the book. From your work on writing about computer games, it seems like you’ve made the first arc a sort of level sequence that Tony has to get through.

Invincible Iron Man by Matt Fraction

Kieron Gillen: There’s a bit of that but it’s more like each one is a short story with a unifying theme. Each one has a different setting but they’re all relating to that overarching theme. It does kind of make it like a video game. There’s definitely some game stuff coming in. It’s part of the way I think. Each of the different components to his armor and what he’s going to use is like a character build in a game. It’s one of the most interesting parts to video games as well, the thought process. Tony is nothing but a problem solver and I think it speaks to the character.

Matt Fraction did it so well; [INVINCIBLE IRON MAN] can be seen as a classic at this point and even won an Eisner, and I’m not doing that. I’m focusing on going out into the world and adventuring. There will be action every issue of one kind or another. It will be about the armor and about him being the grail-knight. It’s going to focus on whether or not he’s worthy and the internal/external factors affecting him.

It’s going to be a book that hangs off its theme; Tony questioning his fundamentals and his relationship with the world. That’s the backbone. Everything else will build around that. It’s why I’m confident, there’s a load of things I want to do with it. I have a load of pieces and I’m choosing how to approach them; improvisation and free. It sounds like you’re playing mix and match, just like Tony.

Kieron Gillen: Exactly, it’s why I can only write books that are personal. You never turn the character into you but you look at what parts of you are in the character. Tony is asking questions of the universe and I’m using Tony to ask questions of myself.

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