The Marvel universe will soon look “All-New All-Different” thanks to the massive crossover series Secret Wars. One change will see Tony Stark’s Iron Man going global in new series International Iron Man from Brian Michael Bendis and Alex Maleev. By and large, Marvel superheroes have been based in New York since their creation, but in the wake of Secret Wars, creators are itching to figure out the new global landscape. Tony also has a personal reason to go exploring: He recently discovered he’s adopted, and doesn’t yet know the identity of his biological parents. True to its name, International Iron Man not only will feature its main character on a globe-trotting adventures; the series itself also will be translated and published in more than 20 different countries, including Argentina, Poland, and Spain. International Iron Man will debut early next year.
Bendis and Maleev have worked together several times before, most notably on an acclaimed five-year Daredevil run in the early-2000s in which they deconstructed and rebuilt the popular protagonist. Bendis, who is also writing Invincible Iron Man with artist David Marquez, talked to EW about bringing that same treatment to Tony Stark, the differences between his two Iron Man series, and how his personal experience with adoption influenced his take on the character.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: The motto of the Marvel line right now is “All-New All-Different.” Can you explain what makes this Iron Man series different than what’s come before?
BRIAN MICHAEL BENDIS: Quite a few things. We have this character Tony Stark, who has over the course of the last two years become the crown jewel of the Disney-Marvel empire. People couldn’t be more interested in Tony, and we have all this opportunity, with the fabric of the Marvel universe changing so much, to find out where Tony fits into all of it. Quite a few things have happened to him in his life over the last few years that are prime, choice cuts of yummy story to look into Tony’s character in ways we haven’t before, including the fact that Tony was adopted, and we don’t know who his biological parents are. He’s going to find out this year, and in this brand new book, the quest for who he is and why he’s wired the way he is — which is very unique and different — is something he’s gonna face. We have some really great stories to tell about Tony.
It feels in a sense the same way that Alex [Maleev] and I came at Daredevil. By propelling the character forward, we found different levels in him that weren’t shown before. It just seemed that Alex was the perfect person to join me on this character re-examination. One of our favorite books we did together was Civil War: The Confession, which was Tony confessing his sins at the time to a then-dead Captain America. People almost daily tell me it’s their favorite thing we’ve ever done. It just seemed appropriate for us to team up for this big quest of character.
That Civil War one-shot was kind of mournful and intense in tone. How would you describe the tone of this series?
What’s unique too about Tony is he’s anchoring two titles now. I’ll be continuing Invincible Iron Man with David Marquez going forward, and that’s Tony in the Marvel universe teamed up with Dr. Doom, who says he’s repentant and is showing Tony things about the Marvel universe he did not know existed. Whereas International will be Tony discovering where he belongs in this world.
That’s one of my favorite things about Tony. He’s a futurist who can close his eyes and see the future and see what the world will need from him and try to make that happen. It’s very different than other superheroes. A lot of superheroes are all reaction. The villain does something and they react. But there’s something different with Tony, and that’s one of his struggles. He can close his eyes and see different version of the future that he may be able to help with, and maybe proactively do something to make that happen. It’s such a noble effort, but it’s so frustrating, because he can’t control all the variables. All of these things speak to his character and what’s unique about Iron Man in the Marvel universe, and in all of superheroes.
We also have new relationships in his life. Some of it’s been teased already in the first series. There’s a tendency in comics sometimes to go, “oh he knows Pepper and Happy and that’s all the people he knows.” Every superhero has those, but Tony’s world seems much larger. We’re going to open up all the relationship doors that we can and discover new things about them, just like you do in your life when you meet someone. It shines a light on the best part of you or worst part of you. We’re gonna try that with some interesting players that already exist in the Marvel universe.
How much will the two series be overlapping? Will it be like what Jonathan Hickman doing with his two Avengers series, where you had to read both series to know what was going on?
It’s actually gonna be closer to what I was doing when I was writing both Avengers and even the way I did X-Men. If you read both, I promise you an extra layer of icing, but I will not punish you for reading the one you want to read. I think what people are gonna like and hopefully be surprised by is how different the Tony flavors can be, even coming out the same month.
Tony seems like a character very uniquely set up for this. He’s got a very insular quiet life as a scientist and a very large life as an international superhero. Both of those things can happen at the same time. I like the creative challenge of attempting this. But the artists I’m working with, it’s hardly a challenge. They both inspire me to work at the top of my game. Alex is an artist whose talent is so precious to me. He draws the way I wish I drew. We know that when we came on Daredevil, some people knew us together but they didn’t know, and now we’ve raised the bar for ourselves very high. We’re gonna attempt to leap it. Who better than Tony Stark?
What did you learn from working on Daredevil that you’re going to bring to this series?
Alex is an artist, one of the very few in the business, who can illustrate subtext. That means you look at Tony’s eyes and you know he’s saying “yes” when he means “no.” I don’t have to write it, you can see it. He’s good at drawing smart people whose wheels are turning. That adds to the level of storytelling that we’re allowed to tell.
We did this with Matt Murdock. He’s a similarly intelligent person whose wheels are turning, who’s playing a chess game in his head that’s steps ahead of us. We can do that with Tony, even though Tony’s worldview and quest and things that make him special are very different than Matt Murdock. They’re, in my opinion, deserving of equal time in terms of “what makes a man like this?”
I find it very interesting that Tony knows he’s adopted and is kind of waiting for the right moment to go on this quest. Not to speak too privately, but of my four children, two are adopted. I have gone through, and will continue to go through for rest of my life, their very unique identity quest, as they discover things about themselves. There’ve actually been publishers who have come to me asking me to make graphic novels about the experience. I’ve shied away from it because I don’t think telling my kids’ stories would help them. But at the same time, it is something that takes up the majority of my day and mind power. So when this came to me, Tony hadn’t dealt with his adoption at all. People close to me at Marvel knew it was a great opportunity for me to express myself and this life that I’d led through a character without damaging my children in the long run. There’s a lot of personal stuff going on for me, which in my experience always brings the best stuff.
Marvel is usually tied up with New York. What does this globe-trotting setting do for the character?
I think we all, no matter where we are in our lives, feel that the world has gotten much smaller. We can all reach out to each other no matter where we are in the world. We feel each other’s pains and victories. I think for Tony it’s like that times 100. He’s much more aware of the global situation and how a big fight with Galactus in New York would affect things in other parts of the world. And yes, why do the villains always attack New York? Why is New York the house of Legos that constantly needs to be rebuilt? If I was a villain, New York is the last place I’d attack, because you know, just by math, there are 700 superheroes in a 17-block radius. I’d go anywhere else. We’ll be dealing with some of the criminals in the Marvel Universe who are smart enough to put that together in their head finally. Tony’s gonna be racing to help people that don’t necessarily always get the attention of the Marvel superheroes.
One of the things I really enjoyed about the Secret Wars build-up in the last year or two was the way some international politics between Atlantis and Wakanda came to the fore. Will you be playing with any kind of Marvel universe realpolitik?
One thousand percent. It’s not only my title. This is part of the fun we get to have when we go to the Marvel publishing retreat, when we get all together and see how many people are threading parallel ideas.
What happened here was we all gravitated toward new characters after Secret Wars. Not to spoil, but I think people already have a good sense that after Secret Wars the Marvel universe has a new shape to it and new players in it that were not here before. It’s a whole new playground. Once you have your character and their quest, you can’t help but want to open the world up and see what all those pieces mean and how they all rub up against each other. A lot of books will be spreading their wings and seeing what’s out there past 56th Street. Tony’s book here is named, accordingly, International Iron Man because what character better illustrates someone with a global view of the Marvel universe than Tony Stark?
Dr. Doom is in the other Iron-Man series. Will we be seeing him here as well?
Not to spoil too much but he’s going to be a big part of Tony’s life. So, yes. You never know where Dr. Doom’s gonna show up. That’s one of the best parts of Dr. Doom, especially a repentant, but still crazy arrogant, Dr. Doom.
One of my favorite comics of all time is Iron Man #150. It’s a double-sized issue by John Romita Jr. where Tony and Doom go back in time to King Arthur’s court. I just completely loved these two geniuses in their armor who don’t like each other, maybe because they’re too much alike, going on a quest together. That was a great adventure and a little taste of what this interesting team up could bring about in the Marvel Universe. Doom knows where the bodies are buried. Not to get too Blacklist, but he knows a lot of stuff that Tony doesn’t know. If he’s truly repentant and thinks that there’s a way to earn his way back into humanity, then Tony may be the guy to help him.
You wrote Tony in Avengers for a long time. What is the difference between writing Tony as a solo lead in his own book versus part of a team?
I think people can feel this in their lives, that when you’re with a certain group of friends you tend to act a certain way. You’re not faking it, you’re just different alone than with your friends. When he’s an Avenger, he’s very at home. That’s his family. But then he’s alone in his lab, which is really his church. This is something I relate to a great deal. I have a big family and I’m here on a production with hundreds of people, but boy I love being alone in my room. My alone time makes me a better person for the other stuff. Spending time with Tony in the place he’s most empowered is something I think a lot of people can relate to.
Tony is a futurist. When writing him, do you feel pressured to keep up with the latest in science and inventions?
Instead of that, what I tend to focus on is I read a lot of books about futurists and inventors, the mindset of a futurist. The one book that inspired my Tony Stark years ago that I still hold dear and have built on since is called On Intelligence [by Palm Pilot inventor Jeff Hawkins]. The whole book is about why human beings are not capable of creating artificial intelligence. There’s a reasoning, of the way mind works and learns, that you can’t program. He talks about it at great length, and it gets very philosophical. A lot of scientists are very philosophical. Even the Steve Jobs movie that Aaron Sorkin wrote that’s out now, it’s about why they want to invent. They see it so clearly and they know people are gonna need it. That kind of philosophy is more important than actually inventing something.
The cycle of invention in our lifetime spirals so fast. In like three years we won’t even have to drive our cars. To me, it’s not so much keeping up with the science, which I do because I’m a big nerd, but I find myself gravitating to the philosophy behind the invention, what inspired it, and what kind of brain thinks of it that way. When you’re writing a character like Tony, that’s what you have to do. I’m not as smart as Tony Stark, so I have to think, what would he do? That’s the job.