Writers Joe Ahearne and Karl Kesel go behind the armor this June with "Iron Man: Kiss & Kill," an upcoming one-shot from Marvel featuring two stories starring the man in the iron mask. Both focus on Tony Stark in espionage-inspired tales, relying just as much on his ability to wine and dine as his ability to fire repulsor rays from his palms. The one-shot comes hot on the heels of the "Iron Man 2" film, which hits theaters a month before the June 2 release of the book. The two writers took time out of piloting the Iron Man armor to talk about the upcoming title and spill the details on Tony Stark's James Bond-esque adventures.
The first story partners Ahearne with artist Brian Ching and teams Iron Man with his former love interest - and "Iron Man 2" co-star - Black Widow. "When Natasha first met Tony, she was a Russian spy sent to seduce him and steal his gadgets. Now, Tony wants to steal some hardware from a glamorous Russian arms dealer," Ahearne told CBR. "Natasha teaches Tony how to speak, dance and seduce like a Russian. But once he gets inside the arms factory he finds, just like Natasha did, that he's underestimated the opposition. Natasha can't rescue him, and when she finds out the truth about their mission, she has to kill him. So we've got spies, seduction and explosive action sequences. And a very unexpected death."
The British-born Ahearne first encountered the red-and-gold hero in black-and-white UK reprints in the 1970s. "I followed him right from his origins," he said. "He stuck out as a character who, far from having any superpowers, had a weak heart and could croak at any moment if he failed to recharge. Plus the gadgets. I'm a sucker for toys. I soon became hooked enough to jump over to the full-color U.S. imports at around issue #50-something and followed him through George Tuska and Herb Trimpe and John Romita Jr. and Bob Layton till around #150 or thereabouts."
What originally attracted the writer to the character was how much Tony differed from someone like Spider-Man. Whereas Peter Parker's private life pretty much oozed tragedy, Tony Stark's private life was downright enviable. However, despite his sinfully stylish suits (the non-iron ones), overly confident attitude and insanely successful financial life, he still succumbed to all-too-human vulnerabilities, be it in terms of his health or his alcoholism.
"Women were drawn to him as a playboy - very unlike some of the other damaged Marvel characters. His damage was elsewhere," explain Ahearne. "He's got a cold, ruthless streak. He started out as an unsympathetic arms manufacturer - very countercultural for a '60s liberal comic book company. But then, Doctor Strange started off as an arrogant jerk, and even Peter Parker was a selfish kid. As with them, Tony's irresponsible nature comes back to haunt him. His love of excess and need to prove himself through his inventions, whatever the consequences. We see the result of that fierce single mindedness in our story. He's an inventor. He's not happy with how things are. He's always pushing the boundaries of technology and sometimes, morality."
Like many of the men in the Marvel Universe, Ahearne also succumbed to the seductive spy, the Black Widow, and felt her sultry sting while reading comics growing up. The writer said he liked her intense drive despite her lack of superpowers. "I've followed Natasha from her spy phase through her reformation and her first solo outings in 'Amazing Adventures,'" said the author. "I thought she really came into her own when she guest-starred in 'Daredevil' for a few years and she began to worry she was becoming a sidekick. I always remember the story where she tried to beat a mugger to death and wouldn't apologize afterwards for it. She's got a killer instinct, and it was always great to see that play out alongside some of the more conventionally moral superheroes. Her code name, Black Widow, tells you everything you need to know about her."
Considering their past, an interesting interaction comes out between the two characters in the pages of the one-shot, especially considering the bizarre memories that resurface as Natasha teaches Tony the same tricks of the trade she used to seduce and fool him all those years ago. "In this story Natasha is the expert and Tony is the novice, so that gives the proceedings a nice frisson," said Ahearne. "She gets to do a makeover on him - shaving his 'stache off and dyeing his hair red. It's a sexy, professional relationship, but Tony keeps his cards close to his chest. He doesn't tell her the full story about the hardware he's trying to steal, and when she finds out, she has to kill him. What could be more romantic?"
As a genre, Ahearne said he enjoys spy stories for their copious amount of creative elements - from unexpected plot developments to questionable romances to the tons of tech. "Spy stories demand twists and turns and double agents and triple crosses, and we've got all those. As many surprises and reversals and switches as we can cram into 22 pages," he teased. "Spy stories need twisted romance and duplicitous lovers. They license characters to behave in outrageous and reprehensible ways while still retaining our sympathy. In this story, Tony himself is part of the danger, and Natasha is required to use her license to kill to take him out when things go wrong. Spy stories are great, because they involve people lying to each other, and watching people lie is the best. Also, don't forget the gadgets. They can lift conventional action scenes into something stellar."
Artist Brian Ching helps bring all that stellar action to the page visually. Ahearne referred to his collaborator as a "great storyteller with tremendous flair" and said that readers need look no further than Ching's cover to the issue for proof of his penciling perfection. "He's had to design a new suit of Iron Man armor for this tale, something Tony has collaborated on with our mystery villain. What Brian's done is very intelligent and stylish," said the writer. "All the clues are there. And his Natasha is gorgeous - wait till you see the culminating splash page. Totally retro, and yet totally current with what's going on with the new direction of the Marvel Universe. I can't wait to see him take on some of the other greats."
The other half of the one-shot unites Karl Kesel with artist Eric Nguyen, and as in the first story, teams Tony with an old ally - only one with less curves and more claws. "Things start as a young female thief named Glitch steals a prototype from Stark Industries," revealed Kesel. "As it turns out, Wolverine's crossed paths with Glitch before, so he and Iron Man team up. But things never go as planned, or are as simple as they seem."
While trying to solve his Glitch issues, Tony ends up infiltrating the Hellfire Club, the old-school enemies of the X-Men and former stomping grounds of the White Queen, Emma Frost. Although this tale takes place in the past, the events occur shortly after Wolverine joined the Avengers, so don't expect to see Emma walking around in her infamous thigh highs and corset. However, the author teased, "It isn't the Hellfire Club without Sebastian Shaw, if you ask me."
Kesel also said that since the world knows Tony Stark and Iron Man are one and the same, he doesn't treat Tony any differently inside the armor than out. "They can both be charming, and they can both be hard-asses," he said before revealing a deep, dark secret regarding his history and thoughts regarding the high-flying hero.
"Don't tell my bosses at Marvel, but I was never a big Iron Man fan," said Kesel. "Maybe because it seemed he could suddenly have any gadget he needed, I don't know. Which isn't to say there weren't good Iron Man stories - he just wasn't a character who resonated with me. The movie was the first time I really liked Iron Man - and a big part of that was Robert Downey Jr., of course."
Kesel admitted that his relative unfamiliarity with the character means he doesn't quite fully understand what makes Iron Man tick as of yet. As such, the writer said his story focuses on the ideas of honor, respect and trust and how differently Tony and Wolverine view those values. "Wolverine is, for me, an instantly likable character," he said. "He differs from Iron Man/Tony Stark most obviously in that he isn't very interested in diplomacy. He sees what needs to be done, and does it. He doesn't have a lot of time for social niceities. Also, Iron Man wears his armor on the outside - but Wolverine's armor is on the inside, protecting his thoughts and feelings.
"You can expect that they will interact - a lot," continued Kesel. "This is set just after Wolverine joined the Avengers, remember, so he and Iron Man are still feeling each other out. Being teammates doesn't mean they're instantly friends."
Considering Tony's obsession with technology and Wolverine being more of a rough and tumble scrapper, it creates an interesting dynamic between the two characters. It's almost like the nerd and the jock teaming up. "You hit it on the head," said Kesel. "Nerd and jock is one way to look at them - although I was thinking more along the lines of knight and cowboy, which are similar archetypes, but also very different. The fun in putting any two characters together is to see what the differences are between them, and finding out unexpected ways they're similar. There's a lot of that in this story."
"Iron Man: Kiss and Kill" rockets it's way into comic shops on June 2.