Though Kieron Gillen is leaving Uncanny X-Men and Journey Into Mystery in October, he's not straying far from the big names of the Marvel Universe. Starting with two issues in November, as part of the "Marvel NOW!" revamp, he's writing one of the biggest: Iron Man, launching with a new #1 and art from Gillen's aritstic collaborator Greg Land. The book is replacing , which wraps in October after a Ripken-esque four-and-a-half year run by Matt Fraction and Salvador Larroca. Gillen typically has a lot of interesting things to say about his projects, and Iron Man is no exception, as the writer opened to us about the unbreakable professional bonds between him and Fraction, how Extremis plays into his opening issues, the looming influence of Robert Downey Jr. and which classic Iron Man villain will be showing up in the early going. Newsarama: Kieron, one thing that sticks out from the news of you relaunching Iron Man is that it's another example of your career being intertwined with Matt Fraction — he took over Thor after you, you co-wrote Uncanny X-Men with him and then became the solo writer, and now you're following him on Iron Man. Is it safe to say that your careers are inextricably, cosmically linked at this point? And though clearly your plans for the character are in a different direction than what Fraction's been doing the past few years, have you been picking his brain at all on any Iron Man-related topics?
Kieron Gillen: Yes. In fact, cosmically linked is an incredibly kind way of putting it. I'd probably say that I'm beginning to feel like a stalker. Actually, that Matt was the previous writer on Iron Man was the one thing which almost stopped me going for the book. I mean, I'm going to end up writing Casanova if this continues.
We've talked a little, though less than you'd think. Primarily we've just been making sure our books line up, in terms of where he's leaving Tony and where I'm starting off. I'm a little nervous of showing him anything actually — I haven't shown any scripts, or any of the lettering copies of the finished art (we've got three issues in the can at the time of writing, actually). Actually, [Iron Man editor Mark Paniccia] tells me he's lobbed him the first issue and my scripts, so — er — go ask Matt what he makes of them.
Don't tell me.
Nrama: And on another personnel note, you're paired on Iron Man with Greg Land, who you've already been working with on Uncanny X-Men. How is the dynamic between the two of you different in this series? It seems there's definitely a different visual palette in moving from a team book to a solo one, and, from the sounds of it, maybe one less blatantly "superhero"? Also, Land's work tends to be polarizing among some vocal fans online — as a creator who's always been open and accessible, do you feel a need to respond to that type of criticism targeted at your collaborator, or is it enough to simply let the work speak for itself?
Gillen: Greg can't escape me either. I'm Marvel's answer to cold sores.
Yeah — as a solo book, it's different. For the first arc — which consists of five standalone episodes connected by a larger plot — has a pacing miles away from anything we did on Uncanny. Is it less "superhero"? Hmm. Not entirely sure. The book is more adventure-led than Iron Man has been under Matt, and Uncanny had an almost paramilitary ambience at times. We're leaning heavily into the glamour of Iron Man's existence, that glossy showiness. Greg does that particularly well, both the sleek technological lines and the curve of a champagne flute. There's even some mild formalist stuff we're including, which I explicitly nod towards in issue #4. To state the obvious: how on Earth do you think Tony Stark sees the world?
In terms of the polarization, I don't respond to lines lobbed at me, mainly because — as you note — I do make myself pretty accessible as a creator and that means people message at me a lot about it. I can't argue with everyone who comes my way, so I just hope icy silence makes my position clear. I'm just not interested in hearing you insult a work colleague. We're in this trench together.
In person, I'm more likely to talk about the many areas that Greg excels in which people tend to overlook. Equally, if you look away from comment threads of people who aren't reading the books, you'll notice that there's actually been a trend of people who've been anti-him before warming on what we did on Uncanny. I'm not exactly sure why, but I hope that it's because we've clicked a little. With any luck, we'll be able to build on that as we move into Iron Man.
Nrama: You've stated that first five issues of your Iron Man run all deal with Extremis, which has been a regular fixture in the Iron Man books since Warren Ellis introduced the concept in a few years back. It seems that writers tend to both embrace it and also, at times, back off from it with regards to Tony Stark himself — it seems like a tough balance between taking the character to a natural direction and also essentially making technology a superpower (if that makes sense?). What's your take on Extremis, and the type of addition it's been to the Iron Man mythos? And with the Iron Man 3 movie established as dealing with Extremis to an as-yet unknown extent, is there any degree of timely corporate synergy there, or was this your plan for the book from the start?
Gillen: I think you're angling on exactly the problem — for me, the joy of Iron Man is that it's a suit. That's part of the fantasy. It's something he dons, the superhero costume as superpower. While it can be fun for a while to play with the tech-as-superpower aspect, I think it does detract from part of the core appeal.
My take on Extremis is absolutely cut to the core. This is a programming system for humans. With its striking uses, I think we tend to get confused between the applications of the tech and what the tech could be used for. I mean, Maya didn't make it because she wanted to make dudes breathe fire. She made it because she wanted humanity to be able to redefine whatever it could be.
So that's handy both as a metaphor for me, and as a device for generating new villains. Four Extremis kits, out in the wild, with four different groups, with four different ideas of what they want to do with it. And, for the sake of my over-arcing story, each one provides a different challenge to Tony, emotionally, physically and intellectually.
Is Iron Man 3 about Extremis? That's interesting. If it is, I'd imagine it'd be splendid for people to come out of the cinema and pick up my book. Awesome!
Nrama: Speaking of technology, obviously a big part of Iron Man is the high-tech, "futurist" aspect. That seems to be something that matches well with your sensibilities already, but in writing Iron Man on an ongoing basis, have you felt a need in keeping up closely (more closely?) with tech blogs and scientific publications? Is it ever tricky to write credible dialogue for a guy as smart as Tony Stark, or is it all just part of getting any fictional character "right"?
Gillen: Now this is an ominous thing to say, but less than you'd think, actually. I follow science anyway, but I haven't (bar researching certain story relevant areas) expanded my reading too much, for reasons which will become clear down the line.
In terms of writing Tony as tech genius, some of it is about communication. As smart as Tony is, he's not a guy who really just likes making people feel dumb. He's actually good at explaining — and in terms of his dialogue, it's more about how to get complicated ideas across in an accessible way to people who don't have his peerless level of knowledge. Tony's a visionary, after all, and visionaries have to be able to provoke followers. You can't do that if you just talk in assembly code.
Nrama: In talking to Jason Aaron about his Marvel NOW! Thor: God of Thunder plans, it seems that a big part of his goal, at least at first, is keeping Thor away from some of his more traditional surroundings and characters and thus exploring some new aspects of the character. Based on your initial interview, it sounds like you might be planning on something similar for Iron Man — is that a correct read? And given how Fraction is using a host of classic Iron Man villains in his last couple of stories on the series, are you going to be avoiding that crew for a while?
Gillen: I'm going to give a tentative yes. At least part of it was a feeling — I know Rick Remender felt like this as well — that we wanted to make some new stuff up. We talk about accessible comics, and a great way to be accessible isn't to just bring back a character who's been around for 50 years. If you give a new villain, and work out a way to make it personal, you're in the same position as Tony.
Also... it feels more honest to me. As a writer, it's a little too easy to just drop Doctor Doom in, knowing everyone is going to completely respond to him turning up. Because who doesn't love Doctor Doom? But I haven't earned that. That's me standing on the shoulders of giants.
It's telling that villains I do use, I tend to rework in fairly extensive ways, and build on them. If you look at the Uncanny run, there's nothing but radical reworkings (Sinister, Juggernaut), new characters (Unit, The Immortal Man, The Savage,) or at least leaving them much more developed than how I found them (the Breakworld aliens).
I'm actually using a few of the re-worked Iron Man villains in one of the first five issues, but they're for a specific purpose in the story. The first five issues are kind of putting together an argument, dramatically, and showing “These are the sort of guys I normally fight — and is what links them together” is useful. Also, I reeallllly loved The Living Lase re-design, and couldn't resist it. Actually, my favorite two pages Greg's done so far are Living Laser ones. Some really interesting things with panelling.
Nrama: Obviously, Iron Man is a much bigger character in pop culture in general now than he was five years ago, and Robert Downey Jr.'s take on the character has been so iconic, that it would seem hard for a writer to not at least be a little bit influenced by him. At the same time, the Marvel Universe Tony Stark is inarguably a different guy than Marvel Studios' Tony Stark. When writing Iron Man, how much does RDJ's take on the character affect your approach? Is there an amount of perhaps deliberately highlighting some similarities? With a new #1, attracting some of the people who only know Iron Man from the movies seems like it must be at least part of the goal.
Gillen: The plan is to make Iron Man recognizable, both to people who only know the movies and people who are embedded so far into the Marvel Universe they're pretty much characters in it. One of the ways I've tried to do it is actually to stress the differences a little, so that people who come from the films recognize something, and see that it's in a different but intriguing place. I mean, movie Tony is with Pepper. Comic Tony isn't. It's funny — people say that Comic Tony is so much more responsible than Movie Tony to me, and I find myself thinking, "Well, which one is managing an adult relationship with a serious woman?" I'm not saying they're wrong, but I see the differences as more complicated. And that, for me, is a useful device to make stories that are both interesting and accessible.
But does RDJ influence me? I suspect a bit. Tony has more of a smart mouth than he had — say — 20 years ago, and that's totally RDJ. That said, I don't think anyone who's read my stuff would be surprised to see a Tony who's handy with his mouth in one of my books, y'know?
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