Tony Stark is one of the Marvel Universe's premier men about town. He knows which clothes to wear, which clubs to be seen in and who to be seen with. He's also a man of science and principles. He built the Iron Man armor and other pieces of technology to expand his understanding of the world and help it work fairly and efficiently for everybody.
Tony Stark isn't just heroic because he stops villains that prey upon the innocent. He's also heroic because he seeks to understand his world by asking questions and challenging or recognizing the answers he uncovers. This November, Stark's penchant for asking questions will turn him into a modern day knight errant on a quest for a grail of ultimate knowledge when writer Kieron Gillen and artist Greg Land expand the Marvel NOW! initiative with the launch of a new volume of "Iron Man." CBR News spoke with Gillen about his plans for the series.
Gillen begins this latest volume of "Iron Man" after his protagonist has his world rocked by two separate and powerful incidents. His war with the Mandarin, currently unfolding in the final issues of Matt Fraction's "Invincible Iron Man" run, and trying to unravel the mysterious and metaphysical nature of the Phoenix in "Avengers Vs. X-Men."
"Tony has a science fixation and in 'AvX' he suddenly found himself up to his nose in all this esoterica, which I imagined he would have dismissed as hogwash before," Gillen told CBR News. "I'm using that as my sort of starting point, but not really talking about it. In issue #1 what leads Tony to have this crisis of faith is actually less important than the fact that he's starting to ask questions he's dismissed previously.
"That's one of the many areas I find interesting about him. He's asking questions about what is right and how he can make sense of the world he finds himself in. That's the theme going forward; a thirst for knowledge, and Tony is going to handle that in a different way than you or me," Gillen said with a laugh. "The way Tony approaches these problems speaks to him as a character."
Unlike some of the other gifted scientists in the Marvel Universe Tony Stark never really searched out knowledge just for knowledge's sake. He's a very pragmatic man and is more interested in solutions.
"Reed Richards is a more of theorist than Tony. He explores the hows and whys and Tony is a guy who makes stuff. He's a technologist. So in our first issue he's exploring questions in a way that he's not really used to," Gillen explained. "He's one of comics' great inventors. He wants to understand a problem so he can make a proper solution. His interest in theory is kind of a means to an end. It's something he needs to understand so he can move forward and do what he wants to do."
In Gillen's initial "Iron Man" issues Tony Stark's practical approach to science and knowledge will collide with some of the more impractical parts of the Marvel Universe. "We'll see how that impacts his philosophy. There are some things that are implicit in the way Tony has acted and the way he's been as Iron Man," Gillen said. "The first five issues are sort of standalone stories about Extremis in the world and each one of the issues is basically someone using Extremis to do something different. The point of Extremis is not to make people breathe fire or give them super strength. That's one way to use it. The point of it, though, is that it reprograms a fictional part of the human anatomy and recreates a person's body according to its program. Basically it's a programming system for humans.
"There are lots of ways for changing humans in the Marvel Universe, but this is the most precise and it's infinitely replicable. It's basically a technology to redefine what humanity means. That's a real useful device to drive four separate stories and explore Tony's different feelings on things,'" Gillen continued. "We've got four very different organizations in issues #2-5 who acquire the technology and they've got a plan for it and perspective on it different from Tony. That means I don't have to retell Iron Man's origin story. Every one already knows it and I'm not really interested in doing that. So the point of Extremis getting into bad people's hands is a comment on Tony's origin. It's Maya -- the inventor of Extremis' -- version of his own nightmare (i.e. his technology being in the wrong hands). We'll see him combating those people and we'll be using that story to talk about how Tony feels about this sort of transformative tech."
The thematic idea of Extremis falling into the wrong hands ties Gillen's first few issues together, but the wide variety of ways in which the technology can be used means that issues #1-5 of "Iron Man" will be wildly different tales. "There is a larger story that connects these first five issues, but I've actually created something meaningful in each one. The second issue is kind of a joust story with armored knights facing off against each other. Three is a stealth mission. Four is a horror story," Gillen stated. "The great joy of Tony is that it's something I'm sure of. I'm pretty insecure as a writer, I'm always paranoid about what works and what doesn't. I look at what I do and really pick it apart and see what I can 100% trust. And what works is Tony. The one thing I'm sure about is how Tony Stark operates and the questions he's asking. It allows him to make mistakes that are so dramatically interestingly. So I've set him on a quest where he's asking questions. Tony has had crises of faith before, but the specific crisis of faith he has here is very particularly to this time and place."
This latest crisis of faith will initially bring Tony face to face with new menaces and antagonists. "I'm using a few established villains in this story, but I want to make some new stuff up. Let's put Tony Stark up against new obstacles and adversaries. Let's try and make some new history," Gillen stated. "So in our first five issues we have five different organisations. The first is a twist on the familiar, but the other four are new. And I have long term plans for at least three of them, so it's far from throwaway. I think Marvel NOW! Is a great chance to make some new stuff up. By the end of issue #5 there's a bunch of new and interesting stuff lying around the Marvel Universe. Me, Rick Remender, and Jason Aaron talk quite regularly. So we'll seed things for each other. Plus there's quite a bit of long term planning like in my 'Uncanny' run."
In writer Matt Fraction's final "Invincible Iron Man" stories Tony Stark has distanced himself from his friends and allies at his company, Stark Resilient, in order to protect them from the Mandarin. When the new volume of "Iron Man" begins Tony Stark is a bit isolated and will come face to face with new supporting characters and potential allies. Of course, Tony's closest friend Virginia "Pepper" Potts will still be around to help out and counsel him in his latest quest.
"In 'Uncanny X-Men' I had a core team of nine plus a couple of other characters I used quite regularly. That's a big cast. With this book I want to make it more about Tony and the people he directly interacts with. So our supporting cast will move in and out as the story requires it," Gillen explained. "The fact that Tony is heading into different places and asking questions means our supporting cast in the first few issues is people who are really close to Tony. So, for space terms as much as anything else, it's pretty much just Pepper. Pepper is his anchor, his friend, and his confidant in those first five issues. Everything else revolves around the mission and the new things I'm making up."
Since Gillen's initial cast of supporting characters in "Iron Man" will be quite small, the writer will employ a technique that proved to be quite effective during his run on "Uncanny X-Men." "I'm going to use the villains to speak to something in the hero. When I put Tony in a confrontation it doesn't always go straight to violence. The characters are bumping up against each other because of the choices they made and the choices Tony makes. So that speaks to Tony and allows us to illustrates areas of him," Gillen said. "Going forward I've got some plans that I can't really talk about yet, but in the initial burst we'll have Tony go out on some adventures and explore his character through action (and his actions) instead of boardrooms."
In "Iron Man" #2, one of the villains Tony Stark encounters views himself as a knight on a quest, and while he may not perceive himself as such, Tony Stark will have more in common with this self styled knight errant than just a fancy suit of armor. "In the second issue there's a character Tony encounters who doesn't call the Extremis technology by its proper name. He calls it the Grail. He believes this is about human transformation and is very much interested in myth," Gillen explained. "So in a way I'm using Tony as a sort of a Grail Knight. There's some ultimate knowledge out there that he's looking to discover and hold on to. He's a knight errant. That's a good device for him.
"Matt Fraction's Iron Man run is a genuine epic and a dramatic masterpiece. So I had no interest in repeating much of what he did, and with Tony asking questions and seeking knowledge I've found some new ground to explore," Gillen continued. "In some ways this will be similar to the 'Daredevil' relaunch in that we're taking a back to basics approach. Tony isn't the good guy with a plan to remake the world. He's entrusted Pepper to finish that. He's going to be going on adventures. So our back to basics approach is basically, 'Here I am. I'm a super hero. I'm going to go out and do these things that need to be done, and in the process of doing what is essentially his job he'll learn interesting things and ask questions that will lead him to a fairly radical solution."
When you ask question and search for knowledge in a fantastic place like the Marvel Universe you're bound to end up confronting some strange and frightening phenomenon like supernatural or alien entities. If and when these characters and elements show up in "Iron Man" readers will see them from Tony Stark's perspective.
"Tony is a character in the Marvel Universe, which means I get to play with and prod at the universe a little. The supernatural exists in the Marvel Universe, but generally in 'Iron Man' it's less of a thing. There's a question over it. There's a monologue in the first issue where Tony is talking about the concept of belief and says, 'Gods? Don't talk to me about Gods. I've met a few and I'm not even sure I believe in them,'" Gillen said. "Tony's comic is a science fiction comic and that has an element of normality to it; as in the world outside your window. So you have to approach the weirder parts of the Marvel Universe as if they were something to discover and understand."
Another danger of asking questions about the Marvel Universe is that you'll attract the attention and ire of forces who don't want to challenge or even examine the status quo. "Tony will encounter some interesting people. He's a knight errant in search of his grail, whatever that means, and that quest spans quite a length of time into the book. We'll get inside his head and see what he's thinking. When someone discovers something and comes to a realization; that knowledge can be threatening and change things. So yes, you can imagine if Tony does discover something down the line that's going to cause problems. That sounds like the type of story I would tell. Doesn't it?" Gillen said with a laugh.
Tony's quest for knowledge is partly driven by his natural curiosity about things. That kind of curiosity can be both a virtue and a flaw, and Tony Stark is man with many flaws. These flaws cause the brilliant billionaire to often act irrationally and part of the reason why Gillen is having so much fun writing "Iron Man" is that it offers him the chance to examine why a smart man can do some incredibly stupid things.
"Despite being done in one adventures with a connecting theme, each one of our initial issues involves Tony walking away and realizing something about himself that he overlooked or something that he hasn't looked at hard enough; something he's taken for granted," Gillen explained. "There are a lot of conflicts and contradictions. Issue #5 is about the difference between Tony's beliefs as a capitalist versus his beliefs as a futurist. Tony tends to believe that those things are one in the same. He generally believes capitalism is about creating things that advance humanity. He's weirdly an idealist in that way.
"Issue #5 looks at that and Issue #2 looks at the concept of pilots. Iron Man is about the concept of having a better suit, not necessarily a better pilot. So who's the Bruce Lee of robot suits? Tony has the best suit, but he's not necessarily a top gun pilot. That makes him ask that question," Gillen continued. "Just like everyone else smart people have things that drive them and insecurities. Why does Tony need to try so hard? Why does he show off so much? Why can't he ask his friends for help? Why is he such a smart mouth? He's not a perfect guy and makes mistakes, but at the same time he's not wishy washy. When he makes a mistake he tries his best to fix it. That's one of Tony's best qualities."
One area where Tony has made repeated mistakes is his relationship with women. He's had many relationships that were purely physical, but he's also been involved in quite a few deep, romantic relationships that just don't seem to last. Gillen will examine the reasons for that during his "Iron Man" run.
"In the first 4-5 pages of our comic, somebody makes a really hard analysis of what Tony goes for and they come to the conclusion that Tony Stark is bad boyfriend material. He gets involved with these intelligent and brilliant women and if he had any sense had he'd still be with one of them, but he's not. So that's why he's bad boyfriend material," Gillen remarked. "Tony is attracted to equals. He likes women who challenge him. That's what changes things from a one night stand to someone he actually really likes. He clearly respects powerful women and that's an interesting aspect of his character that we will explore.
"One of the interesting things about the movie Tony Stark, by the time of the 'Avengers' film, is he's a lot more together romantically speaking than the comic book Tony Stark. The comic Tony, of course, isn't that way. When he fucks up, he fucks up epically," Gillen joked. "There's all this fascinating stuff churning around with Tony. He's constantly asking himself, 'Why did I do that?' He did do that though and he does it again. So will he ever get the self knowledge required to escape this circle?"
While Gillen is certainly interested in the types of emotional armor Tony Stark dons when he enters relationships, the writer is equally concerned with the types of Iron Man armors he clads himself in before entering battle. "Instead of doing the liquid armor stuff, which was great, I wanted to embrace the mechanistic nature of Iron Man. I want Tony to have a problem where if he doesn't have the proper suit he's screwed. We've got a great visual with his hall of armors. It really works that knight imagery," the writer stated. "There's that scene in the 'Avengers' movie where they have to cut the suit off him and he has to get version four of his armor. I want to do that times a thousand.
"The liquid tech is great for making lots of different things. It's not exactly a precision tool though. If you know you want a specific hammer or tool, it's best to have that than a generalized tool like liquid tech. And I like the idea of specialist suits. Issue #3 is a stealth issue. The suit featured in that issue is designed to make sneaky and shadowy characters like Black Widow obsolete. And issue #4 involves a bulk and really heavy duty suit," Gillen continued. "So Tony analyzes a problem and then picks the proper tools to help him solve it. In a way it's his attempt to try and be more responsible, as opposed to playing fast and loose.
Gillen also feels there's a certain sense of fun in watching Tony Stark analyze a situation and pick the best armor to employ in that specific scenario. "'Thunderbirds' was a great British TV series with puppets and stuff. One of the things I always loved about that show was that Thunderbird II was always part of the show and it was a big green jet that carried all the equipment they were taking on the mission. So one of the joys of watching 'Thunderbirds' was watching them pack the jet, 'Oh they're taking that, which means they're going to do this!'" The writer explained. "There's a certain basic genre joy of seeing the hero choose his weapons as opposed to having them all available. I like that. What's Iron Man without his toys?"
Tony's various specialty armors will also lend his adventures a sense of authenticity. "Authenticity is important to Iron Man, not necessarily 100% scientific truth, but the idea that you want to see the machine and its moving parts," the writer remarked. "There's a panel in 'AvX: Consequences' of Captain Marvel and Iron Man about to dive in and do something. I talk about how they change direction in the air. Iron Man changes direction in a way similar to a fighter jet, while Captain Marvel turns more like a diver. They just fly differently because one of them is herself and the other one is more like a machine. That's what I mean by authenticity; a sense of what makes Iron Man different."
Gillen's initial five "Iron Man" issues are complete tales with plots and themes interconnected by the idea of Extremis. Going forward the writer will tell stories of varying length and genres. The tone and feel of these stories will vary as well, but there will be an underlying sense of sadness to Tony Stark's quest for knowledge.
"'Uncanny X-Men' had a darker feel to it and 'Journey Into Mystery' has a light surface but there's a darkness underneath that was always there. In 'Uncanny' I knew what Namor was going to do to Wakanda during 'AvX.' That added an element to all the plots of power and corruption, which was my theme in 'Uncanny X-Men,'" the writer explained. "I don't think I've done what they did in 'Daredevil' exactly because I think I lean towards the downbeat anyway. Humor is a defense mechanism and Tony has a bit of that as well. He's a smart ass and that's a really fun part of him to write. Occasionally he'll smart off in the wrong way, which is covering up something entirely, and when Tony stops making jokes I genuinely find that something has gone quite wrong.
"So in issue #2 Tony is incredibly angry and Issue #3 is a very emotional story," Gillen continued. "Issue #4 is dark as hell. And issue #5 has a weird melancholy to it. I wouldn't say it's a light book."
Tony Stark's adventures won't just be emotional roller coasters. They'll also be exciting and glamorous affairs thanks to the art of Gillen's frequent "Uncanny X-Men" collaborator, Greg Land. "I joked yesterday that we finally got Greg to draw some sports cars which is something we missed in my 'Uncanny' run. Tony is rich and he's not like Batman who doesn't enjoy being rich," Gillen said with a laugh. "He quite likes being rich, but he's also incredibly hard working. There's a scene in the second issue where Tony is in the middle of a roof top party and working on the Iron Man helmet while sipping a non-alcoholic cocktail.
"So we'll have the ridiculous 'here's my beautiful house' shots in magazines. Tony is a celebrity, but at the same time we'll have scenes late at night with him in his underpants working on whatever he's currently obsessed on," Gillen stated. "Greg does those scenes great as well. He does really pop images which give the stories that cinematic sense of heightened reality."
When Gillen and Land kick off Tony Stark's adventures in November's "Iron Man" #1 they aren't sending their protagonist on a simple fact finding mission about the realities of the Marvel Universe. They're kicking off an epic quest about truth and consequences that will unfold over the course of several story lines and years.
"This story could easily go very long. I'm thinking about what I've got so far and what happens a little further down the line. Even then I'm well into the twenties in terms of issues. That's just my initial plans without thinking where I'm going after that. It's a book where we ask questions and I want to keep it quite true in that way. I know the places where Tony will end up. And the answers he gets lead to more questions and solutions lead to more problems," Gillen explained. "This is a book about using Tony as a device to ask questions about the possibilities of genre fiction in the Marvel Universe.
"I know my themes; I know what I want to say. I know what it's about, but I don't think I need to be incredibly meticulous about things. I'm doing what Tony's doing. That's kind of the heart of the book," Gillen continued. "This is 'Iron Man.' It's one of those things where the character is genuinely brilliant. The first time you write Tony it's so incredibly natural. Fundamentally, I think he's the best and worst parts of any writer. We've got a really cool first five issues and what happens after that is going to be very, very interesting."
"Iron Man" #1 by Kieron Gillen, Greg Land and Jay Leisten debuts in November.