Kieron Gillen came to the comic book scene as an indie sensation, mixing his love for pop music and the art of conversation with literal magic and multiple-viewpoint storytelling. He smashed into Marvel Comics on major properties like Uncanny X-Men before relaunching two titles for the Marvel NOW! series of first issues in 2012 and 2013.
Of course, it is hard to find a person on the street these days that doesn’t know a bit about the star of one of those series, Iron Man. After two initial solo movie successes, the character has starred in back-to-back billion dollar plus blockbusters and his Q rating couldn’t be higher. For Gillen, that meant it was the perfect time to completely deconstruct Tony Stark and find out not just how but why he became Iron Man.
Now, as Tony returns to Earth and the aftermath of the upcoming Infinity crossover washes across the Marvel Universe, a new story arc comes to the series entitled “Iron Metropolitan.” Details are scarce this far ahead of the November 2013 storyline that sees Stark back on his home planet after traversing the stars and seeking to build his biggest armor of all time: an entire city.
Artist Joe Bennet joins Gillen for the arc as he looks deeper into how Tony Stark’s mind works, what his ultimate goals for himself and humanity are, and tries to show the world just what his mind can do.
Newsarama: Kieron, you’re currently in the midst of “The Secret Origin of Tony Stark.” What made it important to you to explore more of Tony Stark, and give this reason for his genius?
Kieron Gillen: I think the idea came when I was talking about the 50th anniversary, and [editor] Mark Paniccia said it would be a really good idea to have a story hearkening back to the early days of Iron Man. Of course, by this point I knew Tony Stark would be in space, and I thought, “how on Earth do you do a story hearkening back to Iron Man’s early days while he’s in space? What on Earth could he… oh!” And it just kind of dropped to me, the entire structure for what I was doing. Then I took a couple of steps back and thought “oh, I couldn’t do that,” and Mark said, “No, you really could!”
I saw a really interesting way to basically existentially interrogate Tony. Tony is a self-made man, so let’s take that away from him and see how he responds. For me, the most important thing in a story is the question marks around it. Tony isn’t convinced this is the whole truth, these kind of things, for me, the existential interrogation of the character is what interests me. It’s a character based story.
Nrama: What’s interesting to me, it’s strange – if he is in fact programmed to be this genius that looks at things logically and pushes aside the emotional for the rational, then it seems that programming will actually work against this revelation to him. He’ll push it aside and move on, or is this something that will affect him so deeply he has to confront it?
Gillen: I think when we get to “Iron Metropolitan,” up to around issue #17, it’s called “The best defense is a good offense” I think – I always forget which way around that is, but it’s the last part of Secret Origin of Tony Stark. But that’s the whole structure, up until #17 when he’s back on Earth and the final chips are played, is all Secret Origin. Iron Metropolitan is coming out the back end of that, and dealing with the complete emotional upheaval of these discoveries from Secret Origin. It’s how Tony gets a chance to deal with this, process everything he learns, he doesn’t get a chance until then. Best Defense is all set around the Godkiller, it’s high-stakes, death-of-worlds; while he’s dealing with that he’s basically on speed – it’s a high stress environment and he has better things to do than sit down and have a nice cry. (laughs)
So Iron Metropolitan is in a lot of ways the “morning after.” It’s about what you choose to do when you find out that so many things you thought you know about yourself were actually misguided. This is all character grist. Especially for people who have problems with this story, which I completely respect. I don’t want to say they’re confused or wrong, or that sort of thing, but they’re missing that this is the story – the question of what it really means to Tony, what Tony’s going through. They are in some ways the same position that Tony is. That’s kind of what I’m playing with, and we’ll see where that leads. It’s annoying because there’s another five issues? to go in it, so there’s not a small amount of plot left. (laughs).
Nrama: Well tell us if you can, what does “Iron Metropolitan” mean for the story arc?
Gillen: There’s a British designer called Matt Jones that said, the quote is, let me see if I can get it right, “a city is a battle suit for surviving the future.”
Basically, the concept of Iron Metropolitan is, what if the Marvel Universe’s greatest designer of battle suits put his mind to design a city? Iron Metropolitan.
Tony’s reason for going to space was to open up new ideas. “I want a new way of looking at things,” and all that kind of thing. So this is Tony, he’s back on Earth, and he’s going to do it. A lot of the character motivations come from everything he’s learned in Secret Origin. But really it’s about Tony Stark builds a city, and what could possibly go wrong?
Nrama: Something I feel [previous writer Matt] Fraction started to approach, and seems like you touch on, is that Tony Stark seems to compartmentalize himself into different armors – yes, he builds them for different situations, but also kind of for parts of himself. Is this building a city indicative of that? Is this him trying to push as much as he can to the outside?
Gillen: There’s a line I wrote in the latest issue, the issue I just handed in. Tony says, he’s explaining why he built the AI P.E.P.P.E.R. because Pepper Potts has just finally found out. Tony says something like “I’m not an artist. This is me painting a portrait, this is what I would do because I missed you.” Tony’s art is science. So yeah, what you say is interesting, that Tony builds armors and Tony builds tech as an expression of who he is and where his head is at. So if he’s building cities, that’s a man with an eye on posterity. So yeah, I think that observation is interesting – I’m trying to think of what I can say – but yes, that’s an interesting way of looking at it.
And you mention Matt, and this ties to Matt’s run in a more obvious way: the actual place where Tony is building Iron Metropolitan is the ruins of Mandarin City from the end of Matt’s run. So he’s building this great city of the future on the ruins of his greatest enemy’s place. Read into that what thou wilt. (laughs).
Nrama: Your current arc of Secret Origin is obviously a very inward-looking arc. Is this going to be more outward-looking, of how he can affect everything around him now that he knows more about himself?
Gillen: I think it’s both. Secret Origin, when we get to the Best Defense arc (or Best Offense arc – whichever one it is), that’s much more Tony active, stuff happening with the underlying question of what’s really true. This is both, it’s set in the aftermath, but also Tony trying to affect change, while someone is trying to prevent change – who wouldn’t want something like this? So yes, this is very much a sense of “Year two.” It’s a great point for jumping on. When we get to Issue #17, that’s a very clear end of year one. If this was an HBO series, that would be the end of Season One, and it would be entitled “The Secret Origin of Tony Stark.” This is the start of Season Two, and we’re building up the meta-plot for what year two is, and that will also have a title. Unfortunately, I can’t give away the title here, but that is very much the first motion towards that. Big things are introduced here, and will play out for the next year.
Nrama: The Secret Origin of Tony Stark naturally lent itself to isolation and focusing just on Tony and his own journey, but it sounds like this is something that the rest of the Marvel Universe is going to have to react to, and I imagine some of them won’t be thrilled with the idea. Is that something that will be explored right away?
Gillen: Yeah, definitely. One of my favorite things about this arc is that I’m back on Earth! I get to use Tony’s supporting cast! (laughs) That’s kind of my, I haven’t written Rhodey at all, I haven’t used Pepper. Since I knew I was leaving Earth right away, I couldn’t really introduce anyone because they weren’t coming with him.
So I get to use them, and the thing is, Tony’s keeping secrets. Tony’s keeping secrets and not everyone in the Marvel Universe knows about what Tony has brought back with him from space – that’s a good way of putting it.
This is a very Tony Stark thing, throwing himself enormously into this work. Then that brings up the question “is it healthy?” how Tony copes is the perennial Tony Stark story. It’s the perennial “us” story, all of us.
Nrama: You’re bringing in Joe Bennett on the book, and I’m curious how it is for you when you start with a new artist. Especially as someone who tends to find an artist and kind of glom onto them (laughs), work with them for a long time, what’s it like working with somebody new, and what do you do to alter your writing for them?
Gillen: “Glom onto them.” It’s like Jaime [McKelvie], I can’t escape him! He’s actually attached to me.
With Joe, I did a ten-page story with Joe before, in A+X, the Loki and Sinister story, and he had a really gothic sensibility to the page, he completely got the story. And this, he gets that it’s science fiction, it’s utopian, but it’s also about human squalor, it’s about the contrast. When you’re building a city here, it’s a mixture of Marvel science and kind of me doing some reading about 21st Century city design problems. There are real-world city building things in there mixed with the more traditional Marvel Universe idea of a space-age city.
But back to Joe, the thing about all that tech and buzzwords, Joe is a great designer, he has a really good sense of making it feel real and lived in. So at the moment, as tends to happen when I’m working with a new artist, the scripts are quite heavy. I’m also doing a lot of character work, we’re building a sort of rogues gallery going forward, building a city, the supporting cast, stuff like that. So the scripts are quite heavy. I always say “please, I write a lot, but move stuff around, add panels, subtract panels, talk to me if you’ve got an idea.” You definitely get some artists who may think “no no no he doesn’t mean that,” but Joe is strong-willed enough to tell me when he has a different idea. And we’ve made changes to the script, and we’ve changed things into spreads with panels beneath, all that kind of thing. He has great story-telling instincts.
It’s one of the greatest things about comics, it’s great having a long-term relationship with an artist, because you learn to get to know someone and create quite together. But the early stages of courtship are fun too. Being in that stage where it’s learning to work together is all really good too.
Nrama: You just brought up Rogues and Villains, and it’s not something I would have instinctually asked about this, because we’re so focused on Tony and how he’s evolving. What kind of people and things does he naturally face because of this project?
Gillen: Well, how do I put this? It’s set in Mandarin City for a reason. I will say I’m not bringing back the Mandarin, but I’ve set it in Mandarin City for a reason.
That’s a proper enigmatic answer, isn’t it?
Nrama: (laughs) Yes, it is! How far out are you thinking with Iron Man? How much do you feel like you have to say about and maybe for him, because it feels your focus has been more about speaking for Tony Stark than just telling a story about “here’s Iron Man going and fighting villain X?”
Gillen: Good question. I was at the Marvel Summit a few weeks ago, and I said early on in my Iron Man run that I was not going to have an ending planned, I was going to try to do it like Mark Waid or someone and keep it looser, but that sort of changed. At the Summit I had a moment where I just said, “I know the ending.” I don’t know it arc by arc, but I have a pretty strong shape of the emotional ring of the rest of my run now. This is the end of Year One, I could see at least another two years, probably right around sixty issues total. No ones actually asked me that. I see the end now, I guess it might be about sixty issues, but that’s my very rough feeling though.