Matt Fraction: Deconstructing IRON MAN For Games & Comics

Trailer: Iron Man 2 - Video Game

Matt Fraction is in a unique position with Marvel right now, and particularly with the character of Iron Man. As Iron Man 2 flies toward its big-screen debut, Fraction anxiously awaits the movie, where he can see some of his work as a consultant translate onto screen. With the monthly comic book Invincible Iron Man, he tells the tale of a Tony Stark who has sent himself to a figurative hell and is trying now to claw his way back. In Iron Man 2: The Game his contribution to the writing team made sure they had an "Iron Man nerd" in the room to make sure this game doesn't fall to the curse of movie-based games, namely that they tend to be less-than-fun.

We sat down and had a frank talk with Fraction about what makes Tony Stark who he is, and how that character translates between the three mediums. We get some insight on the writing process for comics and games, and find out what he'd like to see games be able do in the future.

Newsarama: So, you've gone from writing the comic, which you're still doing, to consulting on the movie Iron Man 2, and now what is your title, co-writer? Scripter, on the game?

Matt Fraction: I don't know what my title is, actually. I didn't script the whole thing and I didn't write the whole thing, one of a team of writers. I was the Iron Man nerd on the writing team.

Nrama: Having been writing the comic for a couple years now, what are the fundamental differences between comic Tony Stark and movie-game Tony Stark?

Fraction: Well, comic book Tony Stark's comic has been around since 1968 and he started as a Howard Hughes send-off, amongst many other things over the years. The movie is Academy Award nominated actor Robert Downey Jr. I don't mean to be glib, but I mean there's a difference between them.. I mean, my mom thought Iron Man was a robot before the movie. But now you have this incredible good will engendered to the character, and when people who aren't familiar with the comics see the book, they go like, "Oh, that one's Robert Downey Jr. I have good will towards that character cause that is the guy that's the pictoral representation of this actor that I think is amazing or this character that I like.

So there's this weird history; that's the very long way of saying the history is the difference. In the comic, I struggle to be aware that we're dealing with new people, new readers, and life long readers. Consistency is the key, so how do you find the consistency between those two?

Nrama: The juggling act.

Fraction: Right. I was lucky to have 3 or 4 issues of the book in the can before the movie came out, and one was off to press when I saw the trailer. So I didn't have any special access or any stuff like that on the first movie, I just lucked out that the movie I wanted to see was very similar to the book I was writing. I mean, I made some intelligent guesses. You don't cast Robert Downey Jr. if you want Christian Bale, you know what I mean?

Nrama: Right. RDJ's a little more rogue-ish.

So he's part of what makes the movie's Iron Man who he is...

Fraction: Right, but I didn't have to calibrate; the book I wanted to write just kinda matched up with the movie. I was writing a book I wanted to read, and hoping they were making a movie I wanted to see and got very lucky.

Nrama: And that the book you were writing would be something accessible for the moviegoers...

Fraction: Yeah, that was always sort of the mission statement, I would like to write something people can get into.

I always think back to the disaster of this X-Men comic that ran in TV Guide, like in 1999 or 2000, right before X-Men 1 the movie came out. It was the most impenetrable piece of $#*@ possible. Here's a free Marvel comic running in the most-subscribed to magazine in America, and it might as well have been in heiroglyphics, that's how impossible to understand it was. I guarantee you no one read that TV Guide and went "Man, X-MEN!"

So with that in the back of my mind I thought well how do you write a satisfying story for people like me that've been reading it for a long time, and for my mom who thought he was a robot, or anybody's mom, you know.

Nrama: So you tackled that, and you've had critical success and a good fan following. How do you now go to the game and write an Iron Man for the game that achieves some of those same goals.

Fraction: Again consistency is the watchword. The game is a much richer Marvel experience and a deeper Iron Man experience than the previous game. The genius of the first film is that it ends putting us somewhere that really no mass-media superhero franchise has been before. There is now no alter-ego. So that's gone. So we got to extrapolate out from there. The good thing with Iron Man and all Marvel characters is when you extrapolate out [from a new version] there's this rich history to draw from.

So a lot of the history for the character is there for fans of the book who are familiar with him, and it builds on the thematic elements of the film, and goes off and is allowed to be a kickass game on it's own right.

I was kinda the guy, the three circles all overlapped on me. With the comics, the movie, and the game, I could go "Oh, I can help a little bit!"

Nrama: Creative Director Kyle Brink said the game is "movie universe" with its own story?

Fraction: Yeah, they're all parallel experiences to each other. The comic isn't the film, the film isn't the game, the game isn't the comic. And they're all tonally similar, but nobody wants to make the famously bad ET Atari game.

So they're all parallel, and they use the means they need to in order to be successful in their own medium. I hope! That's the goal I mean, maybe we blew it.

Nrama: So what is the advantage for you of working across different mediums?

Fraction: It keeps me from getting bored. I get to sort of write "filmically" again, which I hadn't done for a long time. There's different language when you can move a camera; it gives you a different range of story tools that you don't have in a comic book.

Nrama: So is writing for a game much closer to film writing for you?

Fraction: No, it has similarities in the way that comics have similarities. When you're writing three pages of script and the camera is floating through a crowd and you have different sounds and audio cues and al that stuff, it's a different thing that you can't do in comics.

Nrama: Was it a good experience then? Something you'd like to do more of?

Fraction: Yeah, I'd like to get involved even earlier. I'd like to be in the room sooner. Historically game writers are the guys that six weeks before the game ships, they're like "Oh wait, we should write it." Then some poor intern has to write a game that's already finished, and that's not really writing.

Nrama: What stage did you come into it?

Fraction: I don't really know, there were pieces in place already, some of them driven by mechanics, some by the development cycle. So they said these are assets that you can use. So if you have a section in the game where you have a character that can fly around and go anywhere, and you have a foe that can't chase you, that's not visually impressive.

So the bosses needed to be large, so we needed a reason to make the bosses large for TOny to fight.

There was a general shape of the story, so it wasn't quite page 1.

Nrama: Was there anything you wanted to do that couldn't be done gamewise or vice-versa where they wanted to do something and you said "I don't know if that fits"?

Fraction: Oh, sure, sure. Yes, to both cases. I have a big bee in my bonnet about letting Tony be Tony, the essential Stark-ness of it all. But no one should be able to do exactly what Tony does. No one can invent another Iron Man suit, just an imitations. Tony's the effing captain. That's my biggest thing.

And I did it in the comic, that's why I put the thing in his chest and blew up every other Iron Man suit, it didn't make sense for him to have a warehouse of them, and still say that he couldn't get them out to other people. And all these villains take them all the time, so it takes away from the specialness of Tony and Iron Man. He's not a pilot, he's THE pilot. That's the difference for me.

That was always my notes. And their notes were always ones of scale. I'm used to the comic where I write whatever I want and it's [artist Salvador LaRocca] Salva's problem! Salva'll figure it out, so I can do whatever crazy stuff I can think of! So I wanted the armor to be as customizable as Need for Speed. I wanted to be able to paint it and add big wings, or oversized feet, or whatever...

Nrama: And they said "we have 14 months to make this game"

Fraction: Yeah, they said "what if it looks like the thing that's in the movie, guy?" And I'm like, okay, that makes sense.

And I wanted there to be like a first-person shooter level in the game, so I write it like he's gettin from point A to point B "And it's a first person shooter!" and they just say, "Um, no. It's not." So aside from me writing games for like the PlayStation 8, apparently, there are those limitations but it wasn't bad.

And of course a game is different than the movie. So if we can keep someone's attention while their thumb is off the button for just a little bit, it's a success. We don't have 15 pages of comment, 7 pages of fight. We want less than 3 minutes of movie, and that's a long one, then the gameplay.

I don't think the technology is there yet, either, the look, to tell those long-form stories there.

So the idea is can you be entertaining, can you be hook-y, can you be exciting and can you transmit what you need to, those themes of time, character, and place in this brief little moment before you then go and be Iron Man. So I'd write some longer scenes that they'd tell me that's too long, that we can't have those long scenes of Tony and Pepper just standing in a room talking.

Nrama: Do you feel like that's translating in anyway to your comic writing?

Fraction: No, my comic writing remains as turgid and interminable as always (laughs)

Invincible Iron Man ships monthly from Marvel Comics. Iron Man 2: The Game is scheduled to ship late April for all major gaming platforms.

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