Matt Fraction Takes IRON MAN From #500 to FEAR ITSELF
Fraction On IRON MAN Beyond #500
Launched in May 2008 to coincide with the first Iron Man feature film, writer Matt Fraction and artist Salvador Larroca's Eisner award-winning Invincible Iron Man has recently reached a couple of significant milestones. The title was renumbered with January's issue #500 — reflecting the long history of the character — and earlier this month saw the release of issue #500.1, a deliberately accessible "Point One" issue recapping Tony Stark's history against the backdrop of an Alcoholics Anonymous meting.
Both of these comics hinted towards upcoming developments in the series, especially #500, which was partially set in the future — all the way up to Stark's death.
Newsarama talked with Fraction last week on what's happened — and what's yet to come — in Invincible Iron Man, including how it relates to Fear Itself, the April-starting Marvel "event" anchored by him and artist Stuart Immonen.
Matt Fraction: I think new and lapsed reader friendly alike. Really, I wanted to tell a story about who the guy is. I didn’t want to just tell a first issue of another arc, I wanted to encapsulate everything before and show we can move forward from here.
And two, I hadn’t had a chance to touch on so many different things — to take an opportunity to kind of glance at Tony’s history, and just look at how he became the person he is. It was very much just a celebration of everything that’s happened to the guy, to set up so we could go forward.
I just wanted to write a self-contained issue that summed up who the character was so someone could come in completely cold, and not only get an introduction to who he is, but get a taste of the flavor of the book and suggestions as to where we’re going. I’m not going to have a chance to get back to Fin Fang Foom, so it’s like, alright, do the Fin Fang Foom panel.
Nrama: Given that your Invincible Iron Man run has generally been quite dense, writing an issue that’s designed specifically for new and lapsed readers seems like a very different type of storytelling than what your normally do with the book.
Fraction: Yeah, and there’s a lot of timing that’s very specific with where things are falling with the arc and all that stuff. And right after #500, when I had done the end of everything, a chance to go back and do the beginning of everything was really appealing to me. To have written in the same calendar of months Tony’s end and his beginning was cool. I’ve never had a chance to do the origin stuff. It was just a chance to put it all together in a done-in-one kind of story for all sorts of different readers. I had no specific insight into what the “strategery” behind the Point One stuff was, but I knew what I would want to read, and what I would want to see, and the response has been really terrific. I’ve heard from all kinds of folks, which has been really cool, so it feels like the mission was accomplished.
We’re toying around with actually running annotations in one of the letter columns, because it’s all sourced, it’s all specific and chronological. There was nothing additive there. That was all canon. That was all trolling through Iron Man collections and recreating scenes along a specific timeline. All reframed and sometimes modernized or recontextualized, but it’s all there. We were going around with the idea of just super nerding-out and showing the homework, but I kind of feel like the work’s the work, I don’t want to take it that far. But it’s all sourced, it’s all there.
And to tell the story, to kind of get into Tony’s sobriety — that act, when you pick up a chip, you go through and you tell your story. That’s what happens, that’s the ritual, that’s the thing that you do. You tell the story of what it was like, what happened, and what it’s like now. It just kind of gave us the right framework. It was fun to do, and Salva got to do that crazy, flashback art-style he was doing.
There’s a thing too in the next storyline, when he’s running into Dr. Octopus of all people, but there’s flashbacks to a time when they met before he was Iron Man, and before Doc Ock was Doc Ock. Me and [Invincible Iron Man editor Stephen Wacker] were kind of, “Wait a second, do you think they’ve ever met?” Why not? Why wouldn’t they have met (as civilians)? Logically, it makes sense. And Salva gets to do that same style of that flashback stuff again.
Maybe it’s just a reaction to looking as far forward as #500 was, I don’t know.
Fraction: Which printed a cover out of order, I discovered. I got my copy the other day and was looking at it, I was like, “Ah! There’s a screw-up there.“ But I haven’t brought it up with anyone at Marvel. Though they’ll read it here and realize that there’s a screw-up in the gallery.
Nrama: Obviously #500 had a lot of seeds of things to come. How quickly are we going to see some of that stuff picked up on — or is it kind of a slow burn?
Fraction: Very quickly. It is a slow burn. There is a über-arc to the Iron Man story I want to tell, a master plan, a long game. We’re building towards it. It remains on the road map.
The reveal that Mandarin is behind this reconstituted Hammer, and is sort of up to no good with getting Stane freed from jail and all that, was sort of a big reveal. Mandarin is a part of this story in a very big, very real way.
And then right after “Resilient” was #500. It just seemed fun. Do a book about the future with the same futurist. It just seemed like a big, weird chance to zig and zag all over the place while we gather speed for what comes next. It all fits together, it’s all telegraphing future events.
Nrama: So we should expect to see the Mandarin in the present day again soon?
Fraction: Oh yeah, very soon.
Nrama: Another interesting thing about #500 was making Spider-Man — and Peter Parker — the co-star of the issue. What led you to that decision, and also, is that the first time we’ve seen Peter Parker and Tony Stark interacting since Tony forgot Peter’s secret identity post-”One More Day”?
Fraction: I believe so.
I kind of consider Peter Parker to be the moral center of the Marvel Universe, and I consider Tony to be the most morally flexible, the most morally unhinged hero in the Marvel Universe. So it’s nice from time to time to put Tony and Peter together in a room and look at how they measure up next to one another. See how they compare, see how they work together. It’s a fun relationship. I like the idea of Peter and Tony cracking a case and Iron Man and Spider-Man cracking a case, but Tony not realizing they’re the same. It was fun, it was a story I hadn’t seen before, and it’s always fun to write Spider-Man.
It gave us the gag at the end. The Human Torch reveal was Wacker’s — I had something else there. I can’t remember what it was. But it wasn’t as funny.
Nrama: The Spider-Man/Iron Man relationship is definitely an interesting one, especially when they were working closely together before and during Civil War.
Fraction: It’s a little bit like putting Doc Ock and Iron Man together. As far as I know, they’ve only met once, in a Marvel Fanfare that Ken Steacy did like a hundred years ago. But the idea that Tony and Otto Octavius would overlap makes total sense. Surely, they could be at a conference. I absolutely believe that. It’s just one of those, “Oh look, these pieces fit together really nicely. Look what happens when you put these two guys in a room together.”
Man #502 cover.Nrama: And the Doc Ock stuff will be in the next two issues, starting with #501?
Fraction: It’s #501, #502 and I actually pushed it to #503 because I was having so much fun with all the fights. While Doc and Tony are going at it in New York, Doc has sent a couple guys from the Sinister Six to shut down some of Tony’s people, so we’ve got Pepper and some of the Stark Resilient guys versus Electro and the Sandman. Which again, what a fun fight scene that is to write. It was just kind of, “I can keep on writing this for another 20 pages. I’m gonna!”
Nrama: So it sounds like there’s going to be a lot of Spider-Man-y type things in the next few months of Invincible Iron Man.
Fraction: Yeah. Spidey doesn’t show up in #501, #502 or #503, but we get a taste of it.
Man #503 cover.Nrama: And after that, the comic’s going to start tying in to Fear Itself?
Fraction: Yes. Actually 503 is the start. One story dovetails into the next.
Nrama: I imagine that’s going to be a pretty close tie-in, given that you’re writing both books.
Fraction: Iron Man is sort of the pyramid that recedes a little bit, in the way that Thor sort of receded during Civil War. And I hope Tony’s role surprises people. He is not necessarily — well, I don’t want to give it away. Tony has a big role, and it’s an important role, but he’s not just the guy next to Captain America. Fear. Fear Itself is the story of Cap and Thor fighting against their worst nightmares coming true — and Tony catches the fallout from it all.
The Iron Man story in Fear Itself, there’s a cataclysm that befalls one of Tony’s favorite cities in the world, and he goes to investigate it. As the Avengers resources are split, and they’re running around the world dealing with Fear Itself, Tony goes to take care of this one thing. It’s kind of an arc about science versus magic. A man of science, an atheist, dealing with gods. It really speaks to a lot of Tony’s greatest fears. How deep does Tony’s faith in science go, and what happens when you shatter it on an anvil? The ultimate man of science is forced to stare deep into the eyes of what can only be described as a god. A god that wants to kill him.
Nrama: Also, the solicitations for #501 mentioned that Stark Resilient was going to be working on rebuilding Asgard.
Fraction: #501 opens and it’s sixth months later. The car stuff is happening, they’re making money, they’re on their way, they’re on the move, they’ve successfully achieved stage one and now they’re looking for stage two. They, as we, are on to the next one, on to the next idea. As Tony’s actually hinted a couple of times in a couple of different places, what’s next is we’re going to build cities. Well, gosh, here’s a big city that needs rebuilding.
The backdrop of #501 is they’re dealing with all this business stuff, and prepping to basically pitch Asgard on, “I know you can clap your fingers and this will rise up out of the ground, so let me pitch you on why you should let a bunch of men build this city of gods.” Which is maybe some of my old advertising agency experience bleeding through. We get to see Tony and the Resilient gang getting ready to basically pitch the Asgardians on this gig, while all this Doc Ock stuff happens. Never a dull moment for the employees of Stark Resilient.
Nrama: That also sounds relevant to the theme of science versus magic.
Fraction: It’s interesting having Tony and Thor in my wheelhouse. It’s interesting having them show up as often as they do. We’re kind of foreshadowing, in a way, where Tony’s going in Fear Itself. Thematically, it all unites, if not necessarily moment-to-moment. This next year is very much about science and magic.
Fraction: Yeah, very much so. Very much so. She is critical to the book, and my plans therein. Pepper going forward is a big deal.
Nrama: Obviously you’ve added a great deal to the character, dating back to 2007 and The Order. What makes the character an important one to you?
Fraction: She was kind of the only tie I had to the Marvel Universe in The Order, back before I knew I was doing Iron Man. At the time I was putting The Order together, my wife was pregnant and we didn’t know if we were having a boy or a girl, and I started to think what it would mean to be a dude writing comics largely about dudes if I did indeed have a daughter. I’d have an awful lot of explaining to do one day for comics’ many, many transgressions against both women characters or women creators. That my silence, that my lack of conscious effort to not fight back against that stuff by simply being complicit was inexcusable.
She was, at that point, the only marquee name I had in The Order. She was the biggest name in the book, and I wanted to invest her with this grand scheme. Had The Order continued, a building would have fallen on her and she would have gotten an RT rig put in her chest. I had been heading towards that ever since The Order. She just became vital to me.
I was in LA researching The Order when the casting announcement came out that Gwyneth Paltrow was in it. It was like, “Oh, well that’s a real actress. She’s going to be around.” Why not invest her with this dramatic arc, and have her be more than just a secretary? Have her kind of ascend this hero’s journey, in parallel to Iron Man, but in a completely different direction. A chance to retell the Iron Man story within the pages of Iron Man. If he did it with Rhodey, it made sense to me that he’d do it with someone else if presented the chance. It’s just my crazy bugaboo, maybe there should be more interesting, strong women in comics.
I didn’t want her to be a danger magnet or a damsel in distress, and I also didn’t want her to go out there and just start beating people up. I liked the idea of the Iron Man being like an extraordinary search and rescue rig, the kind of thing that would be the first responder to a plane crash or a fire. Logically, that’s where these things would be, so why not have it be Pepper?
Nrama: At this point, it looks like Invincible Iron Man is the comic you’ve written the most issues of, right?
Fraction: I was doing this and Uncanny X-Men at like the same pace. At this point, yes, Iron Man is in fact the book I’ve written more than anything else of.
Nrama: And it sounds like you’ve got ideas for a few years to come. What is it about this book — the characters, the concepts — that keeps you so engaged?
Fraction: The character speaks to me. I like writing Tony Stark. I find him endlessly fascinating.
Nrama: And having Larroca on the book the entire time must help.
Fraction: It’s the only bummer about Mark Bagley coming back to Marvel. The good news is that we’ve got a 37 issue lead on anything him and Bendis might do, but the bad news is we’re no longer alone in the long-run contest.
But yeah, it’s crazy. We finally met, right before Christmas. It was like meeting a brother or something. “Holy sh*t, look at all we’ve been through.” So crazy.
Fraction: Yeah, I finished #3 this week. It is craaazy.
The first issue is 44 pages. It’s huge. Every issue is huge. It’s like Civil War, every issue has some gonzo, jaw-dropping — when it’s all done, you’ll be able to bullet point the issue by these kind of shocking events. Each issue has some kind of [gasps] moment, and it’s just crazy that I get to write it. I finished #3, and it ends with one of those scenes, and it’s like, “I can’t believe I just wrote this.” And then I sent it. It’s not like fanfic. This is happening, I just wrote this huge thing that’s happening, and it’s like, “I just did a thing.” Oh, Jesus. Huge ramifications from every single issue. It’s big and beautiful and berserk.
Nrama: It’s heartening to hear this kind of genuine enthusiasm.
Fraction: It’s killing me. I tweeted this last night — I’m going to have to just go up to Multnomah Falls and get to the very top and just start screaming secrets because it’s driving me crazy. There’s still people at Marvel who don’t know what we’re doing. It’s that big, it’s that nuts, they’re keeping it that on the QT. There’s crazy sh*t coming, and it’s a thrill to be a part of it. And wait until you see how gorgeous it looks.
Boy, oh boy. It’s driving me nuts. We gotta stop talking about it, because I’m just going to start saying stuff. Nine steps. Sh*t — sh*t — sorry. Nevermind. Ignore that.