Catching Up with MATT FRACTION, Part 1

In 2011, we talked monthly with writer Matt Fraction about Fear Itself, discussing the intricacies of the Marvel event series.

Two months after our final Fear Itself Q&A, we caught up with Fraction to talk about everything else he has going on, and, as usual, it's a lot: Monthly ongoing series Defenders, Invincible Iron Man and The Mighty Thor, along with his contributions to currently unfolding miniseries Battle Scars and Fear Itself: The Fearless, plus his creator-owned Icon title Casanova. And, oh yeah, another Marvel event series — the April-debuting Avengers vs. X-Men, which he's co-writing along with Jason Aaron, Brian Michael Bendis, Ed Brubaker and Jonathan Hickman.

In the first part our interview, we zeroed in on his newest ongoing series, Defenders and the book he's been writing since 2008, Invincible Iron Man. Read on for more on both of those series, Fraction's thoughts on writing "Marvel method," word on who will be joining the Defenders cast, discussion of the undeniable charm of Bethany Cabe, and to find out what he describes as "John Oates cosplaying as Crockett from Miami Vice."

Defenders #4 cover.

Newsarama: Matt, the last time we talked at length about Defenders it was in July, when the book was about to be announced at Comic-Con, and you spoke about wanting to make it something new and outside your comfort zone. Now that three issues are out and you're several months into it, do you feel that you're getting to where you'd like to be with the book?

Matt Fraction: Yeah, I definitely think it's certainly not like anything else I've done, and it's not like anything that Marvel's done or that Marvel is doing. Especially coming out of something as massive and as time and brain and energy-consuming as Fear Itself was, it was nice to get into something completely different, and upside-down, and crazy, and weird, where I was writing the rules as quickly as I could think of them.

Just in terms of a creative endeavor, if nothing else, it's satisfying.

Nrama: And you're also sticking to writing it plot-first, then scripting over art — the old "Marvel method" — right?

Fraction: Yeah, that is the rule. There have been three guest artists — after the first arc, there are three standalones. [Newsarama note: issue #4 is illustrated by Michael Lark, #5 by Mitch Breitweiser and #6 by Victor Ibanez.] I said up front, "Look guys, here's the mission with this book, and it's incredibly new and uncomfortable for me, so hopefully it'll be new and uncomfortable for you, and we'll figure it out." It's been a different experience every time. I don't know that it's actually saving time, but it's certainly exercising new muscle groups and making me think about stuff in different ways.

Nrama: It's interesting to hear that you're doing it with the guest artists, too, because I think at least part of your motivation initially was just that you had built up a comfort level with the Dodsons after previously working with them on Uncanny X-Men.

Defenders #5 cover.

Fraction: Yeah, that, and just, it was a busy year last year, and the last thing you want to do is get bored, and start writing bored, because then you just become one of those guys keeping a seat warm with nothing else to say. I wanted to avoid any risk of that, and keep myself uncomfortable and challenged, and out of my zone. I think the book shows it — I think it looks different than it would have looked had I scripted it traditionally. I don't think anyone can notice; I think Terry and I are the ones who can probably tell the most, just because we know how we used to work together. But it's been really great and really freeing.

Nrama: Another thing that distinguishes the book are the '70s-style endnotes at the bottom of pages — both the "continued next page following" ilk and the plugs for other books, plus the more story-related ones. What motivated you to use that device?

Fraction: It was going through old Defenders and a bunch of old books for research. They used to be a part of Marvel books; every Marvel book had those. I always liked them. I liked it as a device, I liked it as sort of an aggressive extension of the Bullpen Bulletins, like it was annexing the Sudetenland or something. When I started to do it, for whatever reason, just the notion of turning it into a story element, turning it into a non-diegetic opportunity to extend on the third-person omniscient narrator voice was too good to pass up. We're dealing with new production cycles, and figuring out how all this stuff works, so I think it took us a few issues to get it working properly, but I think by #3 we're kind of where it needs to be.

Now it's just sort of part of the book. It's the last thing that I do when it's all together — looking to create a book that is unlike anything that Marvel's done, and that's part of it. As we continue onwards, and the riddle of the Concordance Engine starts to become a little more clearly elucidated — I'm not going to say it's going to make sense, but you'll understand where the impulse comes from. It's not just, "Oh, here, this will be a goofy thing I can do." It's born from the character of the book very deliberately and specifically.


Nrama: Even beyond the storyline uses, those types of endnotes in old comics, along with things like the Bullpen Bulletins and letter columns in every issue, all kind of helped to give those old comics a unique, full type of experience, and I can see that in Defenders.

Fraction: I hope so. That's definitely the goal, and it's not just about having it be a throwback, but to grow the experience in a new and different way. It's like the narration — it goes from a close-third omniscient, to a first-person narration, across multiple characters, in the same panel. There's all kind of no-nos that have turned into yes-yeses with Defenders.

And all praise be to Clayton Cowles, our letterer, who didn't even break a sweat when it came to that. He just looked at the page, and immediately knew, "Oh, this is going to be four different fonts, in four different boxes, so nobody gets lost." He found Surfer's font right away. He found Strange's font. If you sit there and look at it and read it, rather than blast through it in a race to get to the next one on the stack, it's this beautiful work that Clayton is doing.

Nrama: The first three issues have focused on Silver Surfer, Doctor Strange, Namor, Iron Fist and Red She-Hulk, but early promotional material for the book also showed other members, like Nick Fury and Ant-Man. Can we expect to see the cast expanding in the near future?

Fraction: Yeah, absolutely. Omega being the secret member, and then there's more coming up. Black Cat kind of gets wrangled in in our next one, and the gang goes to Wakanda, so we get some interaction with the Black Panther family. It's kind of a quietly expanding roster.


Nrama: Moving to Invincible Iron Man, I've heard Jonathan Hickman discuss in the past how serialized fiction is continually in second acts, but it definitely feels like things are coming to a head in that book.  

Fraction: We're very much in the third act part of our second act. Four years has been building to now. All of the pots are boiling all at once.

We're in the final stretch for sure. Everything I've been doing since the first arc has been building to where we're at, and the end is much closer than the beginning at this point, if I'm being honest.

Nrama: In the current arc, you're getting to revamp and revisit a lot of classic Iron Man villains, like Blizzard and Living Laser. How fun is that to get to do?

Fraction: It's awesome, just as an Iron Man fan. There's a baker's dozen of them, we're getting to a double-page spread reveal of everybody we have in an issue or two, where we get to see who Stane and Mandarin have been tweaking. It was so much fun to write. I printed it out and taped it up next to my desk, it makes me so happy to look at.

Nrama: A lot of those villains are ones that haven't really been around much in recent years.

Invincible Iron

Man #514 cover.

: Yeah, and Iron Man's sort of one of those dudes that has a rogues gallery; it's not incredibly common at Marvel. Some characters do and some don't. The Living Laser pretty much just f*cks with Iron Man, so it's cool to make it, "These are your dudes, this is your mess to clean up." It's very personal, on some level.

Nrama: Right, Iron Man doesn't get the rogues gallery credit like a Spider-Man or a Flash, but it's definitely there.

Fraction: It's just the nature of a tech hero, you have to have writers staying on top of that stuff, otherwise you end up with that unfortunate phase of the '90s where Tony story of looked like John Oates cosplaying as Crockett from Miami Vice. [Laughs.] That sort of weird belief that technology means "bigger." No, it doesn't. Suddenly everything has shoulder pads. It looks dated and odd. Salva has a real gift for outthinking that — that kind of really high-tech look, and that crazy armor stuff he does.

Nrama: And it's not just villains that are showing up, Jim Rhodes is back in the book and looks to be playing a pretty big role.

Fraction: Yep. It's great to be able to write Rhodey.

Invincible Iron

Man #515 cover.

: Though the cover and solicitation for April's Invincible Iron Man #515 suggest that things don't go too well for him.

Fraction: [Sad trombone noise.] Not writing Rhodey for long.

Nrama: I think we know by now to perhaps not take those kinds of comments completely at face value, though.

Fraction: This is true. I'll lie like a bastard on these things. But sometimes I just totally, straight-up, drop sh*t, which freaks people out later.

Nrama: In the past year you've also had a lot of fun with bringing back Bethany Cabe, who seems in a lot of ways to be a perfect foil for Pepper.

Fraction: Yeah, and to Tony, too. Impervious to both of their charms. She has big, big stuff coming up. I brought her back just in time to put her on the bench for Fear Itself, which was a bummer for me just as a Cabe fan — wanting to bring back this incredibly awesome, super-rich, super-talented, lethal, beautiful woman, who has absolutely no interest in sleeping with Tony Stark.

She's got big stuff coming up. I'm crazy ahead on scripts, so I kind of forget where we're at. Salva is just such a machine, and we have a pretty aggressive schedule coming up, so I think we're six or seven issues ahead.

We're at this point, not just the longest consecutive team at Marvel, but the longest Iron Man run ever. And it's been everybody, with the exception of those first few pages of issue #1, done by Stephane Peru before he passed away, it's been Frankie ever since. So it's been all of us, for 50-some issues now, and that's more than anybody's done.

Nrama: And it seems like you're not stopping anytime soon.

Fraction: Well, soon is relative to the cosmic heat death scale of the universe.


: Since Fear Itself, you've dealt a lot more directly with Tony Stark's alcoholism. Was that inspired at least partly by maybe wanting to handle a relapse and recovery story in a little bit more of a realistic fashion than seen in the past?

Fraction: Absolutely. There's this thing where fandom memory has kind of perverted that actual storyline. "Demon in a Bottle" wasn't quite what you think it is, and the real alcohol stuff came later, when Tony was out of the suit for like two years and those stories, leading up to 200, aren't collected yet. You remember the mirror cover, and the gist of those much-later issues, and you conflagrate them in your mind...  Tony wasn't even in the book for a long time. He would wander through as a homeless dude with a beard and, because it's Tony, a tux...

I didn't want to do a story about a relapse. I wanted to do a story about recovery. To sum up the entirety of my Iron Man story, it's been, "Tony cleans up his messes." That was the story I wanted to tell. We've done relapse stories — that stuff bores me, especially with Iron Man. Seeing drunk Tony crash into walls isn't what I want to see. I want to see Tony be a hero, and have the better parts of his nature overcome his flaws, and his frailties, and his weaknesses.  All in the public eye, under global scrutiny, all that.

Nrama: Right, the relapse wasn't very long at all.

Fraction: Yeah, it was brief. He had a rough couple days.

Nrama: But it's still been treated like a very serious thing.

Fraction: Oh yeah, no doubt. And even more serious with where we're going in the next few issues. Tony pays the ultimate price for his transgression.

I've said this before, so forgive me if I’m repeating myself, but look: If a cop gets drunk while on duty, he doesn't get to be a cop anymore.  If a pilot gets drunk and flies a plane, he's not a pilot anymore. The end. Why should Tony Stark get to be Iron Man? 

Check back early next week for more with Matt Fraction, talking about The Mighty Thor, Avengers vs. X-Men, and more!

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