Matt Fraction: Invincible Iron Man & Iron Man Movie Sequel

Matt Fraction: Iron Writer

When Marvel announced a second ongoing series featuring Iron Man, fans were somewhat skeptical. As a lead character, Iron Man’s always been something of a second banana behind Spider-Man, the X-Men and even Captain America.

But what raised eyebrows was the announcement of Matt Fraction as the writer of Invincible Iron Man. What raised them further – and quieted the fears of many – was the first issue, which blended elements from Tony Stark’s past (Obadiah Stane’s son, Ezekiel) with the looming future, where someone called “Iron Man” and all of his vaunted technology begins to look quaint.

What’s rolled out in the series first five issues – “The Five Nightmares” is the name of the arc – has been a tour de force as Fraction, along with artist Salvador Larocca, has made his mark with Iron Man, keeping him true to his comic book legacy, but yet contemporary with his Hollywood present and future.

With issue #6 in stores this week, we spoke with Fraction about the series, the ideas behind “The Five Nightmares” and being tapped to help out with Iron Man II.

Newsarama: Matt, take us back a little to the spark of "The Five Nightmares." Can you lay out a little of the groundwork on how things went from getting the book to knowing the central thrust of your opening arc on it?

Matt Fraction: Well, I knew there was a movie coming out, and clearly Marvel wanted a new Iron Man book out there to take advantage of the exposure the movie would bring, so I wanted to write an Iron Man book that launched a storyline that would be 100% accessible to people coming in from the film but still worked as an Iron Man book for folks that had been reading it forever. And was, y'know, the most kick-ass Iron Man book I could write.

I knew it needed to be somewhat self-contained from the rest of the Marvel U, just because that can be so intimidating to new readers. So that was easy enough. I was doing a book called The Order at the time. While I was planning The Order’s first year, Jeff Bridges was announced as playing Obadiah Stane in the Iron Man film, so I made the Big Bad his son, figuring, hey, by the time the Iron Man movie comes out, whomever is writing the Iron Man book at the time might want a Stane character on the board or in the toybox somewhere. Little did I know, right?

(I'd even planted a dumb little seed in Punisher War Journal that referred to someone out there buying up errant Stark tech for unknown reasons at top dollar-- I figured Skrulls, knowing where Secret Invasion was going, but just thought it'd be a fun little thing to toss out there, a little moment of interconnectedness that people might or might not catch. Now it works as Stane just as easily, so-- y'know, yay.)

So, okay, young Stane would be the villain of our self-contained opening arc. What was interesting about him? Who was he, how did he work, how did he think? I wanted Tony to face his worst nightmare-- more than just another guy in another suit, but his absolute ideological opposite. A futurist villain, rather than futurist hero.

To me, Iron Man is a science fiction book wearing a superhero's costume. Or he's a superhero starring in a science fiction book, I dunno. And to me, the most evocative science fiction, the most frightening science fiction, is the stuff that takes place in the next twenty minutes, the stuff that's recognizable just over the horizon. I mean, hell, William Gibson is writing books that take place in the past now, right?

I want to say I'd read an article on the plane about the saturation of cell phones in the third world on the flight; for some reason, the thing with the cell phone was in my head right away, so why not a Stark cell phone, and I saw the cut from the triangle lens of the cameraphone to the RT on the chestplate. So I dug around and found Tanzania has been identified as being ripe for nurturing emergent terror threats and the threat of terror attacks there is high. So there was an opening scene, right? And then I just kept spinning from there.

Anyway, that was kind of the start of things.

NRAMA: How do you see the theme of the arc? It could be easily categorized as young vs. old, age vs. experience...but rather, this is all about Tony at its core, right?

MF: Futurists-- even billionaire cool execs with hearts of steel-- are powerless to inflict their will upon the future. They're oracles at best. And no matter how much Tony doesn't want the toothpaste to get out of the tube, it's gonna.

They say in certain rooms that the first step to Recovery is to admit to powerlessness and to accept that one's life has become unmanageable. My take on Tony as a character is that he's an alcoholic that's not been treating his disease-- a dry drunk, as they say, trying to run the world. He refuses to think of himself as powerless. He's a futurist and a control freak, and sometimes things don't quite break in his favor, no matter how pure his motive, how bad he wants it, or how hard he tries to make it happen. Tony's core to me is that the smartest guy in the world can't figure out why the goddamn thing doesn't spin around him and obey his whims.

I wanted Stane to reflect that, to bounce off of Tony, to fly in the face of all of Tony's best intentions. How would Tony face that, stand up to that, react to that?

NRAMA: Ezekiel's comes as no surprise with Casanova under your belt, but you can put down some pretty believable (or believable-sounding) science fiction. Do you have a logic path that you followed in designing what upgrades Ezekiel had and how they would work? Something like, "Well, if he had this, he would need this, and if he had that, then he would have to do this..." or was it more or less whole cloth?

MF: I was trying to figure out what a new Iron Man would look like, and I figured, well, there wouldn't be a suit anymore. The user would be the suit. I just started to riff on that, on cybernetics and riffing on weaponized bodymod culture stuff. Tony's old money, old world, old school and old model manufacture. So where would Stane, a guy that had no manufacturing base and no assembly facilities, get his tech? Everything would need power sources, so how would that work? Where would the surgeries be performed? How would he pay for it? What's his ideology? I started reading up on 4G war and warfare. And on and on until I understood Stane's reality, and how Stane would wage war on Stark Industries and Tony both.

NRAMA: Speaking of what’s going on in Ezekiel’s head…he’s messed up, and a lot of this is all about revenge for his father's death. That said, how does Tony see Ezekiel? Is his past with Obidiah affecting his reaction and responses to Ezekiel?

MF: Zeke doesn't want his father's love-- he wants his hate. Rejected by the old bastard, Zeke wants to be his father's better in every way. So it's not revenge-- Stark isn't ultimately who Stane's fighting. He's not trying to avenge his father; he's fighting his old man's legacy, in his way.

Tony sees Ezekiel the way any establishment sees an insurgent. And tragically he reacted to him the same way.

At first.

NRAMA: What did/do you want to explore in Tony with this story? While this isn't a "Born Again" style tearing the hero down to nothing to build him back up, you are tearing him down figuratively by having him confront all of his nightmares... Tony's what...late '30s, and he's just finding that kid who's better, faster and smarter than he is...

MF: What happens when the future wants to kill the futurist? Can Tony make the leap from the 20th century to the 21st? Can Microsoft adapt and become competitive with Linux?

And our "Born Again"? That's coming next.

NRAMA: Fair enough. On a side note, it was revealed recently that Jon Favreau is looking at bringing over the sensibilities of what you're doing in Invincible to Iron Man 2. First off, obviously, the Tony and world of the Iron Man film and the Tony and world in IIM are kissing cousins. Was the plan all along for Invincible Iron Man to make it close to the film's world?

MF: Well, I had no idea what the film was gonna be. I had no special access to anything different than anyone reading this. I saw the trailer when everyone else did, I read the casting announcements in Variety like the rest of the world. So basically I just made a lot of lucky guesses. I saw the movie opening night like everyone else. I had three scripts in the can and was starting on #4 and couldn't have been happier with how close we were, tonally.

I just wanted folks coming out of the movie to be able to plug into a character with forty-five years of history to him, and those who've read those forty-five years to get a book worthy of their time and attention.

NRAMA: You came up through the ranks - worked in a comic shop, did some other things while keeping your eye on comics, and here you does that feel - hearing that the next Iron Man flick may be borrowing from what you're doing? Did you geek out…at least a little?

MF: Oh my yes. Are you kidding me? It's all downhill from here.

NRAMA: What, if anything, does Favreau wanting to bring in your sensibility on Iron Man 2 mean for you? Have you been officially contacted or anything like that?

MF: Yeah-- I've already been out to LA for three days, working at Marvel West with Jon, the screenwriter Justin Theroux, Kevin Fiege, the head of Marvel Studios, and Jeremy Latcham, the film's producer. We went over the thing, basically, the spine of what Iron Man II is and how it moves and why and who's in it and what they want and how they get it and what happens and were it takes place and why and everything. Workshopped it all.

So, in a very literal way, it meant me, being in a room, with those guys. Which is brain-meltingly awesome. And the movie's gonna be amazing.

NRAMA: Back to the comic itself, let's catch up for folks picking up this week's issue - Tony's head has been blown off...well, "Iron Man's" head has been blown off...where do things go from there for him?

MF: Right. Iron Man has no head. Now, clearly, as the centerpiece of a comic book legacy, the vanguard of a multimillion dollar film empire, and hallmark of the Marvel U, there's no chance at all that Tony's actually dead, so the question is, what's he up to? And what comes next? Stane and four teams of superterror suicide bombers are striking at four-- well, three, at this point-- Stark facilities around the world, with the idea that if these four sites are destroyed then they'll have delivered a killing blow to Stark Industries. So he's gotta recover from not having a head, then try to stop Stane from decapitating his empire, too. In short, Tony has to evolve.

NRAMA: Stane's "Who's next?" at the end of #5 - what does he have in mind? What are his larger ambitions and goals?

MF: Tony would say Stane's an anarchist, at his core, and a sociopathic and psychotic one at that. Stane, inspired by the failure of his father, views Tony as an international fascist oppressor and death-dealer. Tony views the world as a place of laws and nations and rational actors; Stane as a cluster of ideologies and corporations, all systems to be gamed and asymmetries to be exploited. Tony is closed, possessive, and proprietary; Stane wants everyone to have access-- for a price, which sorta shoots holes in his altruism-- to his playing field-leveling technologies.

NRAMA: Finally Matt, in broad strokes - where are things headed after this arc?

MF: Invincible Iron Man #7 is the epilogue to “The Five Nightmares”, and it guest stars your friendly neighborhood Spider-Man (in their first appearance together since Brand New Day).

And then our new arc starts-- it's a year-long storyline and I got the outline all approved last week.

And summed up, in three words, I'd go with

Things. Get. Worse.

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