If you pay really close attention to these things, maybe you've noticed that with December's issue #33 on Invincible Iron Man, the comic is nearing a milestone issue — even if takes some math to get there.
332 issues of the original volume + 13 issues of "Heroes Reborn" + 89 issues stretching from "Heroes Return" to "Avengers Disassembled" + 35 issues of the relaunched run starting with "Extremis" - 3 issues of that volume starring War Machine + 33 issues of Invincible Iron Man, thus January's upcoming issue #500, by series creative team writer Matt Fraction and artist Salvador Larroca. As announced Saturday at New York Comic Con, it's an extra-sized affair full of hints at the character's future and a guest spot from Spider-Man, so it's worthy of attention even if you're not a number-obsessive.
Newsarama talked with Fraction via e-mail to look back on his nearly three-year run, and (as Tony would want it) look towards the future of the title, as readers learn that during the period he can't remember, Tony built a powerful device. But that's about all he remembers about it, and that could mean a lot of trouble.
Newsarama: It'll be nearly your three-year anniversary on Invincible Iron Man when #500 is out. Reflecting just a bit on your run thus far, is there anything you're uniquely proud of introducing or implementing? Your development of Pepper has been popular with fans.
Matt Fraction: I saw there's a Rescue Super Hero Squad toy. I am inordinately and inappropriately proud that I now have a toy of a super hero I've worked on that shares a gender with my daughter.
And, I'm going to lie, I'm proud that a book that had ostensibly been around for 40some years and 400some issues won an Eisner.
The book's a joy to work on. I'm proud of it all.
Nrama: It's absolutely a cliché to say "everything so far has been leading up to this point," but it sounds like — between the appearance of the Mandarin and tying in to Tony's "Stark Disassembled" memory loss — that might literally be the case for #500. Is that fair to say?
Fraction: That was sort of the punchline-- what if everything really did lead up to this? So while there are parts that take place in the present day, the bulk of the issue is a flashforward to Invincible Iron Man #500 as if we didn't renumber after 33 — so it's a forty year flashforward where Tony is now, like, seventy something, his son is the age Tony is now more or less and he's got a granddaughter about his age when he was an international hell-raiser.
And there's a macro-story my run's been telling; this issue is what if, as "everything so far has been leading up to this point," Tony, somehow, loses? What if Iron Man doesn’t save the day?
This is what that world looks like.
Nrama: That said, it looks like this is also a jumping-on point — is it fair to say that #500 sets the stage for the next, this is just a guess, year of storylines? Maybe more?
Fraction: Yeah. You get a portrait of who Tony is right now and what his day-to-day is like, and we get to see precisely what he's fighting for and the price he'll pay if he fails. It's kind of fun; we're not really in the business of telling the story of our heroes blowing it. And this is Tony blowing it.
Nrama: A high number may not be the most significant thing in the world, but writing issue #500 for such an iconic character still has to be pretty cool. How meaningful Is that to you?
Fraction: It’s bonkers. It’s nuts. When we started, we were the other Iron Man book. And that was at a time when, in my opinion, as a guy reading the book since 198, the title had never been stronger. What the Knaufs were doing, and what Ellis did before them was, for me, a high-water mark in the character's history.
So it's completely nuts.
Nrama: Like Tony Stark himself, your Iron Man run has been all about moving forward, but historically anniversary issues have always had at least a little bit of nostaglic-looking-back-at-the-past-ness. Will that be a part of #500?
Fraction: On the contrary. This is about vaulting forward with great gusto.
There is a Howard Stark story I'm working on but it's not a part of the main story, it's a backup feature. Howard Chaykin and I will be doing it... it's as close to the Mad Men/Iron Man mashup as I think we'll ever get.
Nrama: So the storyline involves a device Tony doesn't remember creating, and a threat that spans his lifetime, his father's and the future. I may be taking this entirely too literally, but does that mean ... time travel?
Fraction: No. Or at least it doesn't mean the device he doesn't remember making isn't a time machine. We the reader are traveling through time. The characters are not.
Nrama: Looks like this issue is also bring Mandarin into the book, after your extremely well-received take on him in the Invincible Iron Man Annual. To what degree have you been intentionally holding off on using him in the title, building up to this point?
Fraction: He's already been in the title. Nobody caught it, though.
That said... well. "Everything so far has been leading up to this point."
Nrama: Are the threats posed by the device and the presence of the Mandarin related? Or is it more like, "Tony already has all this to deal with, and now Mandarin has to show up, too?!" Or is that something that will become clear as the story progresses and I'm probably jumping the gun by asking?
Fraction: There's clearly a connection between the mystery device and the Mandarin's state in Invincible Iron Man #500 but to find out what that is, you'll have to keep reading.
Nrama: One last thing: the text released to press says the issue also helps to lead-in to the Iron Man 2.0 ongoing, launching the month after. Since Rhodey has been a regular character in the book, it would be a lead-in either way, but does that title continue pretty directly from things in this issue?
Fraction: Rhodey's status quo is established at the end of "Resilient," and the new Iron Man 2.0 team are doing a short that's running in this issue to help give Big Bad Jim a high-profile launch pad for his series.