|"Iron Man: Director of S.H.I.E.L.D. Annual" #1|
It was Gage's previous Iron Man tales that landed him the Annual. "[Editor] Tom Brevoort liked what I had done on the two 'World War Hulk' issues of 'Iron Man,' so he contacted me about writing an annual that combined the feel of a James Bond film with the classic Steranko 'Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D." stories," Gage told CBR News. "Naturally, I enthusiastically said yes!"
One of the reasons Gage said yes to writing this year's "Iron Man Annual" was that he finds the Armored Avenger to be an immensely compelling character to write about. "What fascinates me about Tony is that he has put himself in a role I would never take in a million years - one in which he is going to have to make difficult, terrible choices, with lives hanging in the balance, on a daily basis," Gage explained. "There's a story, probably apocryphal, about Winston Churchill during World War II. It says that the British had cracked the Nazis' code and were monitoring their transmissions when they picked up a message that the Luftwaffe was going to bomb a rural British town. Churchill could have evacuated the town, or sent defensive forces, but he knew that doing so would alert the Nazis that their code had been cracked, and they'd change it, and that would mean the British would have no knowledge of future enemy movements. So Churchill had to make the choice to allow the bombing to proceed, sacrificing the lives of innocent civilians, because he felt more lives would be saved in the long run by knowing what the Nazis were planning. Those are the kinds of situations I'd imagine Tony has to deal with every day - ones with no good answer. It's not easy, but he knows someone has to do it and he's willing to be that man. Whether you agree with the choices he makes or not, there's something heroic about that. I also think Tony's past, with his alcoholism and other struggles, makes for a very rich character."
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Madripoor was most recently seen in the pages of "Wolverine: Origins Annual" #1 and in that story one of the supporting characters closely associated with the principality perished. "Our story takes place after Tai's demise," Gage stated. "Presumably there's a new chief of police, but he's not a character in our story."
Gage's story opens with Tony Stark focused and on the job as Director of S.H.I.E.L.D. "We start off with Tony and S.H.I.E.L.D. realizing they have a major problem concerning Madame Hydra," Gage said. "She's the leader of the deadliest terror organization in the world, but she's also the lawful ruler of the Principality of Madripoor. As long as she is in power, Madripoor will be a haven for her faction of Hydra and its resources will be funneled into furthering Hydra's plans. But S.H.I.E.L.D. can't just go in guns blazing and depose her, because certain member nations who support S.H.I.E.L.D. don't like the idea of them removing legal monarchs from their thrones and because then they'd have to become an occupying force, which they're not equipped to do. Someone has to go in covertly and bring Madame Hydra down from within, in such a way that keeps the country stable. The man for the job? Stark. Tony Stark."
Tony's trip to Madripoor will definitely put him in some serious peril. His mission to remove Madame Hydra from power will pit him against two of Madripoor's most infamous citizens - the super powered criminal enforcers known as Roughhouse and Bloodscream. "They almost killed Wolverine!" Gage remarked. "What, those aren't enough? Okay, how about that Madame Hydra blocks Tony's Extremis powers, removing his ability to control machinery with his mind. And his Iron Man armor is floating above him in geosynchronous orbit, available only for emergencies! Pretty tough odds, wouldn't you say?"
Stark won't be facing those odds alone. Readers may have noticed that Jim Cheung's cover for "Iron Man: Director of S.H.I.E.L.D. Annual" #1 has a bevy of beautiful women hanging around the Iron Man armor. "The women on the cover, who are posing as billionaire playboy Tony Stark's 'companions,' are actually very capable S.H.I.E.L.D. agents with specific skills," Gage said. "Two of them, Nails and Senyaka, have been seen before in S.H.I.E.L.D. stories."
As readers may have guessed, Gage wrote this story with the tone of the Sean Connery era James Bond films in mind. "That's definitely what we were going for, as well as the feel of the classic 'Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D.' stories," Gage stated. "Of course, fans of the Iron Man armor will have something to enjoy as well."
Gage also expects that readers will enjoy the work of his collaborator on "Iron Man: Director of S.H.I.E.L.D. Annual" #1, artist Harvey Tolibao. "Harvey is amazing," Gage said. "If you check out Tom Brevoort's blog at marvel.com, you can see some of his character designs as well as (in an earlier entry) the splash page of the annual. Harvey's art is beautiful, lush and dynamic. This is his first work for Marvel, but I'd bet it's not his last!"