The Iron Man Armory Interviews Frank Tieri
Frank Tieri wrote/co-wrote IRON MAN from (Volume 3) issue #31 to his finish in #49, while also writing WOLVERINE and DEADPOOL. We spoke in several emails and finally over the phone in late 2001. Below is a transcript of that call. (Only the order of the questions has been changed for clarity.)
In your opinion what makes a good Iron Man story, what are the key ingredients?
A good Iron Man story doesn't just focus on the armor itself, it focuses on Tony Stark. What I've tried to do in my run is show what Tony Stark is all about. What makes a good Iron Man story is also the technology, corporate intrigue, women. You have to focus on the man behind the mask and what makes him tick.
Case in point: The Hogan Potts storyline. Automatically you realize that Tony Stark would never do that, just give away his fortune like that. So something was up there, you know what I mean? It was a tip off that, right away, the character of Tony Stark would never do that. And him giving away his fortune like that was a tip off that something else was going on there.
I think a lot of us saw that.
Some of you did and some of you didn't.
Some people were just outraged, right?
I kept thinking, well, he's gotta be saying something here.
Exactly. I realize with some things, after the Spider-Clone and all that stuff, that people were all: "Oh, no, this is the new status quo" and this and that, but it was never intended to be.
The reason I did that storyline, plain and simple is, from the moment I got on the book I intended for Tony Stark to go after Stark-Fujikawa. That was the minute I got on the book, because like other fans, it bothered me that Tony hadn't gone after Stark-Fujikawa. But instead of just doing it, I wanted to make it a little more organic. Instead of just doing it: Okay, next issue he's going after Stark-Fujikawa--Out of nowhere... I wanted to break Tony down and then build him up. And build him up to the point where he's: "Not only am I back, but I'm going after the thing I should have went after a long time ago--My company."
Obviously you want to break him down for the drama?
Nobody likes to see bad things done to their character, but it makes it compelling. It's why you tune in each month, to see where this guy's going with this. If you think about it, he lost his fortune for two issues. And if it was a different look, if you took it as, "Okay this is temporary," well, it's one way of looking at how Tony deals with being a normal schmo. It was never meant to be long-standing or anything.
When you came to the book, were there favorite issues or creative teams that influenced your take on Iron Man?
My favorite issues were the Doctor Doom issues, because Doctor Doom and Tony Stark, there are a lot of things they have in common and it just worked. These two men that are so brilliant, so technologically advanced, opposing each other against the backdrop of Camelot. In my opinion, I think that's the best Iron Man story ever told.
Did you ever try to work Doctor Doom into any of your storylines?
You know, what some fans don't realize, sometimes, to a certain extent is, sometimes you want to do things, maybe you want to use Doctor Doom, but the politics of comics...The (Fantastic Four) are doing something with him, whatever, and you can't use him right now, you can't use certain characters. But, yeah, I had a Doctor Doom story in mind, but they were doing things with him over at FF, or they had plans.
On that note, how many stories did you have rejected, where you had to do something else instead?
It's not really too many. Sometimes people have different views on how they want things done. Sometimes with a character like Iron Man, let's say, because he's with the Avengers you have a lot more restrictions then let's say you have with a charcter like Deadpool. With Deadpool I'm free to do whatever the hell I want. With Iron Man there are some restrictions that you have to adhere to if you write the book. And you understand that going in.
Iron Man is a cornerstone character.
How do you approach writing IRON MAN, how do you get into Tony Stark's mind and the Iron Man character?
Well, to me, Tony Stark, first and foremost, is an inventor. That is the core to the character, he is an inventor. That's why to me the Stark Solutions thing that Kurt did was interesting for a while, but in the long run I couldn't see Tony doing that forever. He's a perfectionist. He's a hands on guy. He wants to create his own stuff. He doesn't want to consult on other people's stuff and that was part of what came out of the Mad Bomber storyline. At the end of that storyline it was more than just him getting his fortune back. In a way, Tony found himself again and he realized, "Hey, I am an inventor first and foremost. That's what I am at the core of my essence and that's what makes me Tony Stark."
Iron Man's armor has always been more than just a costume, it's an evolving device, almost a character in it's own right-
And now it is.
Right. Exactly. How do you think you've dealt with this, using technology as a driving force of Iron Man stories?
You try to keep as topical as possible. I'm lucky I can program my VCR, but you try to stay as topical as possible with some of the things. For example, the way the Mad Bomber delivered the bomb. I used the concept of e-mail viruses and then I took it a step further, where instead (the e-mail) was a trigger device. In the Ty Stone story I used the nannites, the Virtual Reality world...You try to be topical as possible.
And then with the armor, I give a little bit of new and a little bit of old and a little bit of the steadfast. Iron Man has to have repulsors in his armor and boot jets... When we had the contest with Wizard the fans wanted to see the cloaking effect back. That was by far the most requested thing. The tricky thing with that is that if you use it too often, it makes him too powerful. I mean why doesn't he just cloak in every battle? You have to put limitations on something like that. You put restrictions on it like it uses a lot of power. In certain cases, with technology you have to give it certain restrictions, you can't make him all powerful. If he's unbeatable, it lacks a certain amount of suspense when he's fighting.
With the new armor, Hogan Potts, Askew, etc., you've put a lot more technology into the stories, was there a conscious effort to move away from Joe Q, who was doing a little more character stuff, towards say what Kaminski had done--Was there a conscious effort to move towards that high-tech, to include a lot of gear?
Yeah, especially when we were building the new armor. I wanted to focus more on gadgets within and amplify some of the things he already had, like a magnetic ray and a sonic ray. I wanted to increase his use of gadgets, and not have him being a guy flying around shooting, blasting, and punching things. So I guess in that way we did make a conscious effort.
People like to see the gadgets. You can't have Iron Man defeat the bad guy every time with a repulsor blast. It's boring. So you come up with new things. Case in point: In this current storyline I had him use just his shields and magnetic ray with the Sons of Yinsen. You're always trying to find new and inventive ways for him to beat the bad guy every month.
The new armor recently debuted. Can you tell me a little bit more about the design process? You mentioned the Wizard design contest, you mentioned your knowledge of Iron Man...
The misconception is they didn't design the armor, Keron did.
Right, but tell me a little about that, did you guys sit down and did you say, "You know I really want to see this in an armor," or did Keron bring you sketches? How did that process go, was it collaborative, or something he designed?
To be honest, he brought in sketches and Marvel made a selection out of that. All the parties involved just made a selection of the sketches he did. I think he designed a very cool armor. I think the armor is cool looking.
So it's basically you and him and the Editorial Board?
It was more he did some sketches and we looked them over and we made a decision based on that.
Is there any kind of name for the armor, I know some fans sometimes dub them, do you have a name for it at all?
Oh, I don't know...I've seen it called Skin Armor. I don't have a specific name, that's something for the fans to take care of.
In your IM run, traditional supporting cast characters were sparse, or infrequent. How do you see supporting characters fitting into your Iron Man run or comics in general?
I made a conscious effort to bring back Happy and Pepper and to use them a bit more often. Happy, Pepper and Jocasta are really Iron Man's supporting cast.
The whole thing about Happy and Pepper, I showed a little bit in the Ty Stone storyline, where Tony tells them: "Things are going bad here, if you want to leave..." And they pretend like he never even said anything. It speaks voulmes about what Happy and Pepper mean to Tony Stark. They are the glue that keeps him together.
James Rhodes is another one who I've brought back. I would've liked to have brought him back as a permanent supporting cast member, but because he's evolved--he has his own company now--it makes sense just to bring him back in a small role.
But James Rhodes, Happy, Pepper and Jocasta... In many ways Jocasta is right in the thick of things with Tony Stark in the armor. She's almost like an assistant. She's the the armor's assistant. Not that he really needs her, but he relies on her to some extent. It's a neat thing to have an operating system that also happens to be your friend.
Do you think it's harder to integrate some of the supporting cast members when Marvel's made a decision to do trade paperback-sized story arcs? Is it harder to do larger stories?
To a certain extent, yes. There's pros and cons to that. Marvel wants you to do three and four issue story arcs and so you have to tie as much as possible up in the allotted time. Fans tend to like to see big arcs, but one good thing is that the new policy prevents things from going on for too long. Sometimes you'd like something to last a little bit longer. Sometimes you don't, so you try to work within that framework as best as possible.
Where do you see Iron Man--both the book and the character--in the overall Marvel Universe?
Iron Man is one of Marvel's cornerstone characters. But fans have to be realistic, it's not going to beat the X-Men. IRON MAN, if you notice, it stays around the same place as THOR and CAPTAIN AMERICA. And right now that's the niche it has in the markert, around the Avengers related characters. He still remains one of Marvel's most enduring and important characters, but we have to face reality, (his book) isn't going to beat the X-Men books.
A question based on your inside the office political perspective... You know people say why doesn't Iron Man get his own crossover, why isn't he the hero of one of these big Marvel events. We can be practical and say it's because they want to feature the X-Men, but have you ever been part of these discussions, of Iron Man getting a larger role in some these (crossovers)?
Well, MAXIMUM SECURITY, he did sort of play an important role. They told us we had to do Max Security in IRON MAN, so we played along. Marvel's really shyed away from the big crossover that DC is more inclined to do, like WORLDS AT WAR and stuff like that. But (crossovers) are good and bad because you're in the middle of something and you have to stop and participate in the crossover. There's pros and cons...
You had your own Message Board at Marvel.com and you go to some other fan boards and chat areas... What effect does fan reaction from letters, message boards, etc. as opposed to sales, have on your work?
Very little. I listen to what the fans have to say all the time but... I mainly have my message board on X-fan. I listen to what's said there. I don't, unfortunately, have the time to go to every single message board out there. And if you do listen to message boards, you'll hear 100 different things. No fan wants really the same thing when it comes to a character. Sometimes the fans themselves don't know what they want, you know what I mean?
You can't please them all?
Exactly. You have to realize as a writer what you do is, for the most part, you write for yourself. You write what you think is cool. And you listen to what fan reaction is, but you can't be strangled by it.
How much does the marketplace, or sales, impact what you do?
Well, you always try to be cognicent of sales, but case-in-point with the current storyline with Ultron, we knew full well that if we spelled out that Ultron was going to be in the story arc, it would boost sales. But on the flip side, you'd lose the surprise you got at the end of #47.
And with that storyline, with Ultron, when Joe first told me the Sentient Armor story, I said to myself, it's Ultron. Ultron's gotta be behind it. And you'll see next issue how it all pulls together, why it makes so much sense that the Sentient Armor became sentient.
But getting back to your question, sure, you're cognicent of sales but in the case of Ultron we would rather have that genuine surprise, because when I was a kid reading comic books, you didn't have all these solicits that ruin all the stories--Sometimes the solicits ruin the comic for you.
Everybody knows so much of what's happening now.
It's like being told the secret ending of "The Sixth Sense" before you see the movie. Part of that is having that impact. You say, "Holy ____, it's Ultron." And you'd lose that if you spelled all this stuff out ahead of time.
So the whole thing with the solicits is you've got to be careful what you say ahead of time. I know Marvel's making a conscious effort of being careful what they reveal there. You opt for surprise and good stories rather than an automatic sales boost.
Could you talk for a moment about your use of extensive flashbacks in Iron Man, in "Remote Control" in particular, that is, the way you've set the first few opening pages of the issue in present time and then use a flashback to tell a story affecting the opening pages in the present.
I used that primarily in the Ty Stone story. It was just a different way of telling the story. When people see Tony Stark running around with a gun and being shot at, they'll wonder how the hell did he get there.
Could you also comment on how you started your stories off with the same line, "I'm Tony Stark..."?
That was mainly started by Joe Quesada. I think it helps. It ties everything together. Like in issue #47, when he makes a speach about his views on religion. It gave me an opportunity to do that. And it helps recap what's been going on.
Please describe your writing process. How do you write a book as a regular writer? Do you generally sketch out long story arcs, outlining key points, or do you go story by story? How many issues do you write at a time, that is, do you write a story and then break it down into issues?
What I usually do is write a proposal for a story arc. Basically it's a loose thing of what you're going to do in each issue. It's sort of a proposal, but it's a little more in-depth than that. I use it as a guideline when I'm writing each issue. You use it as an outline, you basically say what's going to happen in the arc and you break it down within that, within issues. And then you go in there and you take what you want to in each issue and break it down into plot for each issue.
I write one plot at a time but I know where it's eventually going to end. There have been writers that begin storylines and they don't know where it's going. They may say, "A shadowy figure appears" and they themselves don't know who the shadowy figure is. I think it's a big mistake to do that. I think you should always know who the shadowy figure is.
Like the Ultron storyline that's currently going on, we knew about that months and months ago. I don't just write this on the fly. I knew that Tony was going to give away his fortune, get it back and go after Stark-Fujikawa. We all knew that way in advance. It's better to work that way because the further you know in advance the further you know what you're doing. When you write on the fly, not knowing what's going to happen next issue, that's when you get yourself into trouble.
I guess that answers my next question, which was about "The Frankenstein Syndrome," was it a conscious thing you developed after the whole Sentient Armor, was this something you worked out with Joe Quesada, or did he just say this is how it happened and you wrote your own story?
When he was first writing IRON MAN, he was talking to me about the Sentient Armor storyline. He got quite busy with Marvel Knights at the time and he knew that he needed a co-writer to help him out and he was prepping me for this. I knew Joe because I was the editor on-line, so I had a relationship with him from there. So when he was talking about the Sentient Armor storyline, I said to him it's gotta be Ultron. I knew right then and there, even before I got on the book, it would be Ultron. Ultron would be the one behind the Sentient Armor. And you'll see in the next issue how it all ties together, how it all makes sense.
Nowadays what's the time between when you write the story and it's on the newstand?
It depends. Some issues you have more time, some issues it's a rush. Thankfully I don't think I've missed a single deadline on IRON MAN. I'm pretty good on my deadlines on all of my books. But on IRON MAN in particular I don't think I've ever missed any deadlines--Which they like.
I know solicitations are out months in advance, is your writing on that issue done, or are they working off something that marketing got from your outline?
Yeah, it's not neccessarily done yet.
Generally, when do you have to have your story in for printing?
It depends on how fast the process is going. When I write, when I do a script, let's say, I like to have all the artwork in. When I can, I'll full script in the plot. But you can't hold yourself to that because you may have called for something and the artist does something different from what you asked for. And then you have to explain it in the script. And also, writing three books doesn't allow me to write full script all the time. What I put in there is like shell script--that's what I call it--it's just giving an indication to the artist of how much space I might need here, what's the tone of the people, what they're saying and what not. But I do like to do my scripts only after I have all the pages. And to be honest with you it depends on how long the artist takes to do something. So the answer is, there's no set time period. Ideally, you'd like to do it months in advance but sometimes it doesn't work out that way.
So what's the shortest time it's been?
There were times on some books where if I didn't get it out, it was down to the wire. If we didn't get it out on Tuesday it wasn't going out on time.
So when was the issue on the stands?
A couple of weeks later, it's not printed overnight.
I spoke with Joe about this, I don't know if you saw my interview with him... (Read the Quesada interview in the Creator's Corner.) In bringing back and using Yinsen and even Wong Chu, you are radically changing Iron Man's origin. What would you say to someone who says origin's and fundemental events shouldn't be tampered with or revised?
The thing of it is, is what was done with the Sons of Yinsen arc, it doesn't really affect Tony's original origin. You could still leave the Stan Lee original origin as it is, there's nothing really different about it. All the Sons of Yinsen are is kind of a sidebar to his origin. You're not really tampering directly with the origin. What you really have is the Yinsen part of it. It gives a little backstory on Yinsen, how important he was to his community, how they would go on and form this, basically, a cult around him. So it doesn't necessarily tamper directly with Iron Man's origin. It's a sidebar to the origin, it's something that you see in between the scenes.
Ultron has never appeared to fight Iron Man alone, can Shellhead take him?
Well, that's the thing isn't it. Ultron has defeated the Avengers as a team by himself on numerous occasions. I mean the team including: Thor, Captain America, Iron Man and Vision and whoever else. So it appears that Tony's got his work cut out for him. Short answer: Iron Man's not in Ultron's weight class. Ultron is one of these guys that it takes a team to beat. So it's how Iron Man--if Iron Man--ultimately defeats him that we'll make the crux of the next story, the next issue. He's going to be on his toes and he's got to use all his wits about him if he has any chance against Ultron. But he certainly has his work cut out for him.
Will "The Frankenstein Syndrome" leave open the possibility of a return of the Sentient Armor?
You'll see at the end how everything's tied up. But you'll be the judge that yourself.
Will Tony still have artificial parts afterward?
I believe Mike Grell wants to keep the artificial heart.
I've read the solicits, but what is the basic story for the Silent Month issue?
Did they say that Titanium Man's coming on? The Titanium Man will be back. Who he is... Well, let's not get into that. You're going to see the Titanium Man back and this Titanium Man, whoever he is, has a big mad-on for Tony Stark. Some people may speculate that he's the original Titanium Man, some people may think he's somebody new. We'll see about that.
Is this going to be a self-contained one-shot or is Grell going to pick this up?
It's a one issue story.
Let me clarify: I know Silent Month is a one time thing, but is Grell going to continue with T-Man, or will he be dropped?
Let's put it this way: There's some things in my last issue, and in a couple other issues, that I'm setting up for Mike Grell. You should do that as much as possible. If you're leaving a book, you should alwyas make it as easy as possible to make the transition as easy as possible to the next team. It makes for better Iron Man storylines. So, in other words, I am setting up certain things in my last few IRON MAN's that Mike Grell will pick up on.
But not neccessarily Titanium Man?
Let's put it this way, there is a revelation that you'll find out about Titanium Man at the end of the issue that I can't imagine Mike Grell not picking up on.
You did IRON MAN, you're doing WOLVERINE and DEADPOOL, is there anything else that's next on your plate, on your schedule?
There's a couple of things I have in the works, a couple of secret projects. One of them Wizard already talked about with the Weapon X one-shots. They're still in the works, but that's one of the next things I'm doing. I'm writing one of the one-shots, a couple other writers are doing the others.
How long will you be on WOLVERINE?
I'm on WOLVERINE until--Hey, I ain't going nowhere.
The shame of it was that I had to give up IRON MAN because if I was going to do Wolverine, there's only so much you can write. I wanted to make sure I gave IRON MAN the attention it deserved. Barring that, I'd rather leave the book then just producing stuff that I'm not proud of just for a paycheck. There's only so many hours in a day. Writing three books is a lot harder than people might think.
I guess I would be remiss if I didn't ask something about September 11th. Do you think there is going to be a tone change in the level or violence in comics, in WOLVERINE?
The thing with the violence in WOLVERINE, believe me Wolverine fans love it. The book has never been as popular as it is now. People love that book. They like the level of violence.
If you look at Wolverine, it's always been a violent book, especially Barry Windsor Smith's WEAPON X. That is the definitive Wolverine story, in my opinion. That is a very violent book. He chops the head off a bear, he cuts a puma to pieces, he kills millions of people in that issue and pops his claw directly in the head of the department's face and blood is pourng down his face... So Wolverine has always been a violent book. I just brought it back to where it was really as far as the violence.
My theory is that with a character like Wolverine, when you have a hero with adamantium claws, who's crazy, who kills people, the villains have to be that much more. The villains always have to contrast the hero. The villains have to be that much more over the top in their violence to justify why Wolverine is going to kill them, or try anyway.
Do you see any of that changing now? Is there a move within Marvel, within the industry to change things because of the attack?
What happened on September 11th was probably one of the worst things that ever happened in the world. We've seen worse violence in those couple of days on television than we did in comic books.
To a certain extent we can't allow what happened on that day to change what we are as a people. We can't allow them to change our way of life. We like our violence to be make believe. We like to see our violence on paper, to live it vicariously. It's tricky and Marvel's going to have to decide what's appropriate and what's not.
Have their been any meetings, memos?
There are storylines that are done months in advance, that you started playing out and you can't change all that.
Right after it happened, we're all more cognizant of what happened. But eventually you have to get back to your normal course of life. If a book was running before, if a book was violent before--maybe not right away--but it's got to return. It's what the fans want in that particular book.
Has my IRON MAN been violent?
I wouldn't say at any unacceptable level. It's right where it should be.
Right. It's not appropriate for a character like Iron Man; For Wolverine, it's appropriate. That's who he is. A lot of people who say it's too violent, number one, they start off with, "I never liked Wolverine..." So if you never liked Wolverine, then why are you commenting? Just say it's not for you and move on.
Is there anything else you'd like to say to the fans?
I had a great time writing IRON MAN. I really did. I'll always treasure it because it was my first break in comics. It directly led into WOLVERINE and everything that's steamrolled after it. I always liked the character of Tony Stark. I'll always have a fondness for him, especially since it was my first gig.
Interview copyrighted by Tim Rassbach 2001, 2002.