Iron Man’s fought all over the world, in the far ranges of outer space and even in other dimensions, but in the new Marvel Infinite Comic Iron Man: Fatal Frontier he’s visiting an overlooked but deadly place – the Moon.
Launched on October 8, Iron Man: Fatal Frontier is a three-part Infinite Comic pitting Tony Stark against Doctor Doom and a host of outside interests racing to the moon to learn more about a mysterious new element that promises limitless energy. But even if Marvel’s two most famous men in armor can get along for two seconds, they have another threat to worry about: a Soviet-era robot sent to the Moon in the 1970s with some outdated ideology but still deadly weaponry. In the text promoting Iron Man: Fatal Frontier, Marvel described this three-part comic as “the next step in the evolution of Iron Man.” When we asked the writers what this means for the armored Avengers, they say it’s big.
“Well, there are definitely rubicons that he crosses during this story - I can't get deeply into what those are without spoilers, but there are events that happen and decisions he makes that will affect both him and the larger world he inhabits,” says Ewing. “And during the course of this we get the first glimmers of what will hopefully be a massive plotline for Tony involving... and again, I can't actually say what it involves without spoiling future storylines. Annoying, I know. Let's just say Tony likes poking at things. And sometimes that's not so good for him.”
The first installment of Iron Man: Fatal Frontier is kicked off with the discovery of a new element under the Moon’s surface that holds the promise of free energy. The discovery of this element, dubbed Phlogistone, kick starts a space race and gold rush for various corporations and government to get their hands on it.
“Essentially [Phlogistone is] a kind of mercurial, flowing metal that's a storehouse of massive cosmic energies and exists slightly outside of the known laws of physics,” Ewing explains. “The various corporations and governments coming to the moon for it want it as a source of free energy, even better than Repulsor tech, but it has all sorts of other uses too. It's a sort of mysterious, alchemical substance.”
The exact kind of thing that would raise the interest of not only Tony Stark, but also another billionaire playboy – Doctor Doom. Although the writing duo didn’t want to spoil what exactly Doom is up to in Iron Man: Fatal Frontier, Ewing did say that Victor and Tony have more in common than you think.
“[Victor Von Doom and Tony Stark are] both dependent on suits of armor which, at least in the beginning, neither of them could remove - Tony because of his failing heart and Doom because of his hideous face,” Ewing explains. “They're both arrogant - they both think they know what's best for the world. Tony would deny that, but look what he did to poor Eli back in Iron Man #5. Eli's one of the people coming to the Moon, by the way, so expect that to come up again.”
And although they might share some similarities, they’re squarely set on opposing sides of the fence of good vs. evil. When asked how Iron Man and Doctor Doom view each other, Ewing describes it as “mutual underestimation-slash-contempt.”
“Tony sees Doom as a dangerous demagogue with less advanced scientific knowledge, Doom sees Tony as a dangerous ideologue with less advanced magical knowledge,” explains Ewing. “They're not arch-nemeses exactly, but they'll never be on first name terms - I think if Doom ever called Tony 'Tony', it'd be a sign that something was very off.”
Iron Man and Tony Stark aren’t the only two mechanical men that end up on the Moon – it turns out there’s a Soviet-era robot named Udarnik that’s been mothballed there for decades.
“Udarnik is a robot build by a rogue Soviet scientist in 1972 for the purpose of colonizing the moon - but by the time he got there, everyone else had gone home,” says the Mighty Avengers scribe. “He's been there ever since, waiting for someone to land on the moon, and nobody except the occasional superhero ever has. So Udarnik's been wandering around waiting for humanity to come back and going steadily more and more insane. He's basically a communist robot Incredible Hulk.”
The Russian word “Udarnik” means “superproductive worker” or “shockworker” in English, and could also be used to describe Gillen’s productive work creating new and scary robots into the Marvel Universe. In addition to Iron Man: Fatal Frontier’s Udarnik, Gillen also created 451 in Iron Man as well as S.W.O.R.D.’s excellently deadly UNIT. When asked about his penchant for building robots of mass destruction, Gillen says it comes from a variety of places including PIXAR, 1970s scifi films and real-life space explorers.
“Robots are pretty much a great metaphor to talk about almost everything in 21st century society. Robots are the new zombies, probably,” Gillen says. “Udanik is a little different to any of my other core ideas, I suspect. At the core, he came from the place of me that loved WALL-E, Silent Running and the iconography of Cosmonauts.”
Interestingly enough, the idea for what became Iron Man: Fatal Frontier started life as Gillen’s original idea for this first arc on Iron Man last year. It’s a concept he describes as “Deadwood on the moon.” As the planning for Marvel NOW! came about and Tony was been written to go out into space, Gillen put his original idea aside and for what you now read in Iron Man. When the possibility of doing an Iron Man Infinite Comic came up, that original idea was at the top of Gillen’s list to revisit.
“The core of it remains, but the execution is miles across,” explains Gillen. “[The Moon] just struck me as a great, closed setting to do stories with a limited cast and see them all interact. The emotional core was just my sad country ballad to the death of a 1000s cuts of NASA and the romance of the space. It struck me that if Tony is about 30, humanity hasn't walked on the surface of another body in our solar system as long as he's been alive. There's a little of the ideas of that original core idea over in issue 5 of my Iron Man run - and Eli turns up in this as well. What most appealed was a story about technology and romance, and a man who is both a futurist and a capitalist and what happens when there's a conflict between the two.”
Although there’s conflict on the page, the working arrangement between Gillen and Ewing, as well as artists Carmine Di Giandomenco and Lan Medina are anything but. Describing it as a “very intense” version of the Marvel Method, Ewing wrote the plot based on the outline he collaborated with Gillen on, then giving it to the penciller to draw before he finalizes the dialogue. Doing this for Marvel’s Infinite Comic format also means that instead of telling a story in a page-by-page format, each panel is its own standalone moment.
“I like the Marvel Method for its ability to surprise me and force me to think in directions I hadn't originally considered, and this digital version is even more like that, so on the good days I like it even more,” says Ewing. “And panel by panel means that every panel has the capacity to be a cliffhanger, which is... freeing. And exciting. Episode One is a very intense thrill-ride because of that.”
Speaking of thrill rides and a story about frontiers and cool technology, Ewing confirms with Newsarama that Iron Man will be debuting several new suits of armor for this lunar mission.
“We have the Saturn V armor, for lunar travel - Tony can't use his space armor for reasons we'll go into in the comic - and then, later, we have Drone Suits, what I'm personally calling the Double R*lex Armor although obviously no branded watches are used, we have special Digital Armor for cyberspace, we've got the incredible Mark Zero Rescue Suit... it's all armor all the time. I'm absolutely sure we'll get another couple of suits in before it's all done.”