When writer Matt Fraction and artist Salvador Larroca launched Marvel Comics' "Invincible Iron Man" series in 2008, it was if their protagonist had been hit by the old "may you live in interesting times" curse. As compelling as the past two years have been for readers, for Tony Stark they've been a test of his will to survive. Fraction and Larroca kicked off the series with "The Five Nightmares," an arc that found Iron Man and his company under assault by the heir of an old enemy. They followed that up with the year long epic, "World's Most Wanted," a story in which Tony Stark risked and lost just about everything; his company, his freedom and his mind to protect the secrets of the world's superheroes. "Stark Disassembled" came next, detailing how Tony's friends tried to restore his mind to his virtually brain dead body.
In the current arc, "Stark Resilient," Tony is back and he's waging war in both battle armor and business suits as he attempts to protect his new company from the assault of an old enemy's daughter and granddaughter.
All of these stories have all been leading up to a single moment, and this January, it arrives with the release of the anniversary issue #500 as announced Saturday at New York Comic-Con. What does the long-running creative team have planned for the big milestone? Which villain makes his return in the book? And how will the events of issue #500 affect Tony Stark's best friend, James Rhodes aka War Machine? For the answers to these questions and more, we spoke with editor Alejandro Arbona.
CBR News: So, Alejandro - you've been part of "Invincible Iron Man" since the first issue. How does it feel to be part of this upcoming milestone issue?
Alejandro Arbona: The most exciting part of being involved with "Invincible Iron Man" all this time is that it's been one continuous, kick-ass story - even more so than readers have been let in on just yet, but "Invincible Iron Man" #500 will blow that wide open. Every arc has built on the one before it, grown from the one before it, and when we hit 500, you're going to see all these seemingly separate threads weave back into one explosive story for Stark and Co. - and that's the way it's been since day one, with Matt always laying down track with great foresight and calculation.
In your mind, what makes a good anniversary issue? What sorts of extra features can we expect in addition to Matt Fraction's main story?
If you're new to "Invincible Iron Man" this is the issue where we're going to grab you by the shirt collar and haul you in, and if you've been reading "Invincible Iron Man" since the beginning, you're about to be rewarded in a big, big way. An anniversary issue is like sweeps week or a huge action blockbuster; it's the moment to pull out all the stops and give readers the grandest, greatest, most exciting story we can cram into just one issue. We've got an oversized story by Matt Fraction and Salvador Larroca, plus exciting guest artists, plus also a sort of "War Machine #0" short story by Nick Spencer and Barry Kitson to tee up the launch of "Iron Man 2.0," spinning directly out of the "Stark Resilient" storyline - and more!
Now, let's talk a little bit about Matt's story. In terms of plot and theme what is it about and just how new reader friendly is it?
It's totally new-reader-friendly. We're kicking the doors wide open for everyone to enjoy this book, whether it's the loyal reader who's been aboard since issue #1 and wants to see the continuing story unfold, or the curious customers looking for a monster ride of thrills, action, humor, brains and science fiction that's either too freaking weird to ever be real or too terrifying to consider - it's already right around the corner in our real world.
Not to be too much of a Stuart the Spoiler (that's that nasty character who nobody's fond of, because he spoils things - I just made him up), but this is the issue where we see what happens when Tony Stark fails. In addition to our killer present-day storyline, which builds directly on the previous arcs and tees up the next year, we also flash-forward to a distant future time as if the series had never renumbered and we've actually lived through forty years of stories all the way to "Invincible Iron Man" #500. And Tony Stark has failed. So we see Tony, the futurist, having to come to grips with a future that got away from him, where his worst nightmares came true and his best-laid plans to counter those nightmares were not good enough. It's also a family story, as we meet Tony's son, who at that time is about the age Tony is now, and his granddaughter, a hard-partying youngster. How does Tony deal with not one but two younger versions of himself and the mistakes people make when they're that age?
Issue #500 features the villainy of the Mandarin, a character who's been a thorn in Tony Stark's side since the hero's early days. What is it about the Mandarin that makes him such an appealing foil for Tony Stark and how dangerous is his latest scheme?
Anyone who hasn't read it yet, I'd encourage folks to check out the "Invincible Iron Man Annual" #1 from this past June, for sure, which was the one-stop, A-1 primer on all you need to know about the Mandarin. There, you met a man who was self-made in every way possible, including his life story. Mandarin, who started life with nothing, reinvented his past and used the power of a potentially world-breaking set of alien rings to rewrite his present and shape his future. He changes by sheer force of will anything he doesn't like in his own story or anyone else's. Compare that to Tony Stark, a man who, genius technologist though he may be, started out life with everything already within reach, if not served to him on a silver platter - his fortune, his own corporation - and who proceeded to play that hand of cards he was dealt without a second thought until he nearly lost it all. The Mandarin is out for more than just blood this time. Readers don't know it yet, Tony Stark doesn't even know it yet, but Mandarin's plot against Tony and Iron Man is already in play. It's already started cropping up in past arcs of Invincible Iron Man, plain as the nose on your face.
Earlier, you hinted that fans of James Rhodes might want to pay special attention to this issue because it contains a sort of "Iron Man 2.0" #0 short story. Does the War Machine story in "Invincible Iron Man" set the stage for his new ongoing series?
Holy hot dog, yes! After this book, Lt. Col. James "War Machine" Rhodes spins off into his own ongoing series, "Iron Man 2.0" by Nick Spencer and Barry Kitson, and it all starts with a War Machine backup in "Invincible Iron Man" #500. Nick Spencer is a writer who's at a really exciting point in his career right now; he's someone readers should definitely get to know now and get aboard on the ground floor of an exciting new talent who's going to blow some minds in a major way in the next couple of years. With the always awesome Barry Kitson illustrating, we're looking at a serious, solid quality book, bank on it. If you wish you'd gotten into Matt Fraction when he was tomorrow's next big breakout, now's your chance to get into Nick Spencer with this blowout anniversary "Invincible Iron Man" issue. What more could you ask for? Don't blow this opportunity!
Matt's run on "Invincible Iron Man" has been characterized by epic stories that build upon the events of what's come before them. How important an issue is #500 in terms of what's coming for Iron Man? Is this a done-in-one story or the start of a much larger saga?
It goes against every fiber of my being as an editor to say this, but if you only pick up "Invincible Iron Man" #500 and don't return, you'll be getting a huge, complete, satisfying, delicious package all in one. On the other hand, it tees up what's going to be a huge 2011 for "Invincible Iron Man," and for War Machine as well. Threads that have run through the title since issue #1 will come together, pay off and take off in new directions for you to follow when you stick with the title for the next arc. You're really going to want to stick around.
What can people expect from the interior art of issue #500?
Salvador Larroca! Surprise guest star artists! Each one more surprising than the last! I'm sorry to be coy, but I don't want to be a Stuart the Spoiler (there's that jerk again), and it's a little too early to talk about those surprises until we have some juicy preview art to show all you guys.
Mark my words: 2011 is going to be big. I tell you, there's a-doin's a-transpirin' in "Invincible Iron Man!"