Tony Stark is perpetually looking to the future, but Marvel Comics' upcoming new volume of his Iron Man ongoing series hinges on the idea of bringing Tony "back to basics" – getting his hands dirty and taking on much more concrete level threats.
And it's written by perhaps the ideal person to take Tony back to his roots: Christopher Cantwell, the co-creator of AMC's television series Halt and Catch Fire, which depicted the rapid innovation and competition of the early computer age of the '70s and '80s.
But it's not all nitty-gritty – along with some classic Marvel villains like Arcade and Absorbing Man, Iron Man will take on the classic cosmic villain Korvac, and tangle with the one-time herald of Galactus, Terrax. He'll also cross paths with '70s Marvel icon Hellcat, and '90s vigilante Cardiac.
Newsarama spoke to Cantwell ahead of Iron Man #1's September 16 release to find how Cantwell has synthesized all these different components into the next era of Iron Man.
Newsarama: Christopher, you're launching a new era of Iron Man, and that usually means new tech and a new vision of the future. With the AI crisis of Iron Man 2020 behind him, where is Tony Stark heading next?
Christopher Cantwell: The truth is, the road is open for him. Maybe a little too open. I think we'll find him in a place where he's a little directionless and needing to take stock. He's encumbered with a lot of legacy and baggage and triumph and defeat.
This run starts when Tony decides to put a foot forward on a new road, one that he at least believes is more humble and sincere, and truer to who he ought to be, both as Tony and as Iron Man.
Nrama: You've mentioned focusing on the "man" in Iron Man in this new series. What does that mean in terms of Tony's place in the Marvel Universe?
Cantwell: It's funny that you say in terms of his place in the Marvel universe, because this story arc is really going to get there. Eventually. I'm very excited about where we're headed.
But in order to go to some of the crazier places that are coming down the road, we're starting Tony on the sidewalk in Manhattan, with one simple (but awesome) suit of armor and a single brownstone apartment. In a way, without spoiling the ending of Iron Man 2020, he's been given the opportunity to start from scratch, so he's seizing it in a way that he thinks is virtuous.
But of course, he's encumbered by a lot of things that have gone wrong in the last few years, many of which were direct results of his own actions. So he's carrying some guilt with him, too, which I think is a newer shade of Tony we haven't seen in a while.
Nrama: Alex Ross's cover for Iron Man #1 features some of his most classic foes. What's Tony up against as this series kicks off?
Cantwell: It's no secret at this point that Tony will be facing off against Korvac in this first big story arc. Korvac is this great baddie from the '70s that went from weirdo legless android to God (with a house in Forest Hills, NY), and literally killed all the Avengers.
'The Korvac Saga' is very special to me and odd in its own way. The tone is wild.
Al Ewing teased a return of Korvac in Marvel Comics #1000, and I got all tingly by that single-page story. I talked to Tom Brevoort (my editor), who talked to Al, and I got permission to continue that story pretty much right after Al's story ends.
Fleshing out the lineup of foes are some great Bronze Age folks we haven't seen in a bit, and early on one person from the '90s that has always stuck in my mind since I was a kid. The whole book right now is focusing not on nostalgia in a sense, but a lot of the characters are looking back and trying to reclaim something.
Tony is trying to 'go back to basics.' His armor is evocative of suits past. Korvac will be doing the same thing, as well as other people showing up to cause trouble. But as we all know, we can't relive our glory high school football days over and over. The demons we've developed and fallen prey to in the years since haven't gone anywhere, and they're always on our shoulders.
Nrama: You're working with CAFU on this series. What makes him the perfect collaborator for a story like this?
Cantwell: I'm humbled by CAFU's art. He's fantastic. He has a timelessness to what he does that works very well for this narrative. It feels contemporary but also classic. That's exactly what this story needs.
He's crystallizing this universal idea of what we all consider to be Iron Man, but also giving us something new. It's also great to see him carry forward and revitalize some of the dustier characters, even just in cameos here and there. His art also has an urgency though, it moves and has momentum.
I feel like I'm actually writing to his tempo at this point.
Nrama: Tony may be going back to basics somewhat, but he's rarely been able to stay out of the Marvel Universe's business. How does Tony feel about something like the X-Men claiming their own sovereign island?
Cantwell: This is what I've realized in writing things that take place in 616: there is like, a crapload of stuff going on at every minute of the day everywhere. I learned this on Doctor Doom quickly when there was a coup against him in my book and he was getting assassinated in Amazing Spider-Man in the same month.
Iron Man has this even more so because Tony is a big figure in the Marvel Universe. Not that Doom isn't, but Doom can easily be written as completely self-involved and self-absorbed. The trick is… so can Iron Man. Both guys have massive egos and can become wrapped up in their own stuff very quickly. That character trait allows me to not have to address every single thing happening at any given moment.
What I've also learned from my editor Tom Brevoort and also guys like Devin Lewis and Donny Cates and Gerry Duggan is that connections can be subtle and nuanced and in fact, that might be better for the solo stories as a whole, otherwise every panel becomes 'Well because, you know, Ghost Rider went to space and Venom is Prime Minister of Canada' and casual readers will just be lost and the story will halt and start the whole time and suck. Someone needs to be able to pick up this book at #1 and read it and go 'That was rad' and not be scratching their heads going "Who is Kindred and why was he Tony's roommate in college?"
Also what helped me is the story timelines of series events. Not every book is contemporaneous. A massive crossover might actually take place over a single week. Things like that. In Issue 3 of Iron Man, there is a kind of montage where Tony is just doing his thing as Iron Man. Well, that's where other things in 616 might've happened, things that Tony was even a part of in a big way, other stories that haven't even been fully told yet. But it also gives me the freedom to focus on this story. Which isn't to say there won't be references to tons of things. I mean that's half the fun of comics.
Nrama: On that note, what does 'back to basics' look like for the richest man in the universe? How does that extrapolate to his relationships with the Avengers and his other fellow heroes?
Cantwell: I did a TV show a few years ago called Halt and Catch Fire which was about the dawn of the personal computing age. We did a ton of research on actual figures from that time, including of course Steve Jobs. There's an incredible promo video on YouTube that is for Steve Jobs' second company he created after Apple, which was called NeXT.
The video literally starts with Steve Jobs planting in a garden and there's a voice-over that says "Steve Jobs is getting back to his roots."
It is hilarious to me. What's not discussed in the video is his volatile removal from Apple, or his millions of dollars, or mercurial attitude, or how he thought he was God's gift to technology. Oh no, look, he's just this humble guy getting his hands dirty in the earthen soil. Yeah, right.
So I mean… take Tony's intentions with a grain of salt.
He's also going to quickly end up hanging out with Patsy Walker, a.k.a. Hellcat. I love Patsy because she too is someone who's gone through several iterations. So she can be someone who sees what Tony's going through and kind of hold his feet to the fire a little bit.
Nrama: Iron Man has been called Marvel's 'flagship' character for a few years now. How do you see Tony Stark fitting in that role?
Cantwell: Jeez, I haven't heard that. That scares me now. Now I'm nervous. Should I have him shoot webs? I mean, look, I have a lot of anxiety writing these characters. I get very fretful.
Ask my wife. Hell, ask my seven-year-old son. "Hey, bud, I know you're reading Ballpark Mysteries but what do you think about Korvac doing this?' The thing is I know - at least intellectually - that I can't satisfy everyone. Comics fans are vocal and I respect that, being one myself.
But I have to be a writer first and tell the best story I can with this character and not succumb to intimidation from the larger machine and mythos. At the end of the day, this is another story about Iron Man, take it or leave it. If anything, some of what you're talking about is present in the actual story. Tony is weighing his own importance. How important should he be? How important does he really think he is, deep down, even if he might want to deny it to himself and others?
Also in the last issue of whenever my run ends I plan to have Iron Man kill every character in 616. Just kidding.
Nrama: Tony Stark often identifies himself as a 'futurist.' How does this story set up not just Tony's future, but the future of the Marvel Universe?
Cantwell: Man, you guys are hitting me with earth-shattering stakes here.
If anything, Tony is someone who is often looking ahead. But there is a saying: the more you focus on the future and the past, the more the present grows dim. So the more Tony wrestles with "who should I be?" and struggles with guilt over his past failures, the more he's going to lose focus on the now.
And that gets him into trouble early on. So as we pick up steam Tony switches to focusing on the present moment, mostly because he has to in order to stop something catastrophic. Still in terms of the future of the Marvel Universe, as we know, Tony certainly has opinions on how things should be run.
That will definitely become a main story point of this arc in a way I think is pretty novel and unexpected.