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All-New Marvel NOW! Q&A: Iron Man

Kieron Gillen puts Tony Stark up against Malekith and nine more ring-bearing villains!

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By Ryan Haupt

Tony Stark must be exhausted after everything he’s been through these past few months, but writer Kieron Gillen has no intention of letting up.

Still reeling from the discovery of his own adoption and his long-lost brother Arno Stark, Tony must make plans for the future of the Iron Man legacy while confronting new villains coming out of the woodwork. With the 10 rings of the his old foe the Mandarin now being sported by 10 new threats, including the deadly dark elf Malekith, Tony will have his work cut out for him in if he hopes to survive, let alone thrive beginning with IRON MAN #23.NOW! in March.

Gillen shares some details about just how he plans to make life miserable for everyone’s favorite Iron-clad Avenger!

Marvel.com: What you want the people to know about the Mandarin as a character coming in to this new arc?

Kieron Gillen: The Mandarin is probably Iron Man’s greatest villain, and he was used repeatedly in the big arcs. He was the main villain in Matt Fraction’s run [on INVINCIBLE IRON MAN].

Iron Man #23.NOW! cover by Mike Del Mundo

For “Iron Metropolitan” we were thinking about what areas we’d want to explore and basically I've done completely new stuff for the first 18 issues. I wanted to do something a bit more familiar, playing with some parts of the Iron Man iconography. The idea that this is a book about essentially coming from the idea that this is Mandarin City, let’s play with the concept of legacy. And we’ve got these rings.

Matt did little things about the rings being alien [entities], I thought I could build on that enormously and then I thought “What would happen if you just gave the rings to 10 different people?” And then we could have each one of these people have a grudge against Tony Stark and they all have different motivations that don’t all agree with each other. The bearers don’t get on at all. It’s like a war of the rings. I’m completely mashing up my references, but obviously there’s a bit of playfulness with a certain ring-based choosing bearer theme.

I also always thought this scenario would be creepy, an alien dropping a powerful weapon on our planet and saying, “Right now you have to protect this place.” That’s weird. I thought that this is basically an alien culture interfering with the native culture for reasons of their own interest.

That is the logic of these really creepy alien weapons being delivered to a people on a planet being told now you’ve got this mission. So who’d they give it to, why do they give it to; who could have an oversight on that? I thought I’d play with that. I’ve given out these rings, and it’s immediately a really fun mystery: who gets the rings? And a lot of these characters are as we’ve seen so far all in our “Iron Metropolitan” arc, all-new characters. I gave one to Abigail Burns, who got the fire ring, the incandescence ring. She’s like a liberal political journalist loosely based on Laurie Penny, a British politician, political journalist friend of mine. Because you know, a radical journalist is going to hate Tony Stark.

Marvel.com: He is kind of a weapons dude.

Kieron Gillen: Exactly. That’s an interesting way you can give to somebody who isn’t completely unsympathetic, and shall we say some of the other people are less sympathetic than Abigail. I want to give some of these the rings to people who we know. That’s kind of where we’re heading in the second arc, where it turns out that Malekith has one of these rings. And Malekith, shall we say being a major player, is a little bit more proactive than someone like Abigail is.

Right in the first scene, Malekith drops the line pretty much as he meets one of the rings: insufficiently advanced magic is indistinguishable from technology.

Marvel.com: Yeah, the reverse of the Arthur C. Clark quote?

Kieron Gillen: Exactly; the thing about the Clark line, it’s very much the thought of science fiction, from a science guy, looking at magic through his ideological prison. With Malekith, I kind of invert that, and with how the magic people look at technology.

Marvel.com: Which is very much what you’ve done with Phonogram and Loki, and other magical characters you’ve written. You’ve given them a set of rules to play with that are pretty rigid, you know.

Iron Man #19 cover by Paul Rivoche

Kieron Gillen: Yes, as you’ve said, this is not untested ground for me. I kind of introduced this idea in issue #4 in my run, with the bride of the abyss. The Bride is normally the short way of basically mashing together the technology and magic and trying to play games with that a little. And this arc is going to be coming back to that a bit, especially with Malekith, and being the main sort of ring bearer involved in the plot.

I’ve reworked the rings a little; you know traditionally the rings haven’t been flying around and taking over people, presenting themselves to the people as weapons. I’ve played games [with] the power sets, in some ways. The incandescence ring is the heart of a star on your finger, and okay what can you do with that? As opposed to blasting stuff with fire.

Marvel.com: There’s a lot if you really mentally flex that muscle to see where you can actually take this power

Kieron Gillen: Exactly, just playing a little bit. Part of the fun for me is, kind of refreshing this stuff. Okay what else could we do with this? How else could we make the Mandarin rings feel like their own things? These are very much alien intelligences, we’ve seen some of that in the first two issues, but later on, we see that the rings [are] all sort of talking to each other as well. There’s also something they do, essentially dilating the perception of time for the users so they [get] the time to teach the basics to someone like Abigail. We have this bit where we slow down the perception of time and the ring will talk and they will choose what attacks they will do.

Marvel.com: It’s like a comic’s version of a training montage

Kieron Gillen: Yes, or like a turn-based strategy game. They pretty much pause time, and then they select which attack next from the menu, and then they go.

I’m really trying to make these rings interesting weapons; the idea that they are weapons from a culture beyond ours. Primitive but yet robust technology is how the rings describe Iron Man suits at some point.

Marvel.com: You said the rings were going to people who have a problem with Tony Stark. I didn’t realize that Tony and Malekith had much history.

Kieron Gillen: They don’t. The rings also come to the right personality. The Nightbringer is a very particularly picky one. Some of the rings are slightly less particular shall we say? But there’s a reason why they went to Malekith. Pretty much the joke that’s been said: The ring goes and makes an offer. And Malekith says: Are you seriously asking an elf if you have a problem with a man of iron?

Marvel.com: I get it.

Kieron Gillen: Malekith’s an incredible alien sadist. I’m trying to make elves not just like humanity and this is very much like the older sorts of elves. These guys are really scary. And they’re scary because they don’t really think like us. And they [are] not very good at things like empathy. And what amuses them is not really what amuses us.

Marvel.com: Which I feel like plays into very old archetypes of what elves and fairies were. They were malevolent. You know?

Kieron Gillen: I am 100% playing with fairy lore in here. I’m trying to get really into the dark, into the scariness and the darkness of it. Against the background of all of this is Tony Stark who’s dealing with the fact that he was adopted. He’s dealing with his issues; he’s kind of in denial, and a lot more anger. What the fairies do, they’re famous for stealing babies.

Marvel.com: I was going to make a comment about how Tony has also just recently gotten through with dealing with an alien intelligence meddling with humanity in the form of 451. So he’s really got to be getting tired of this.

Iron Man #20 cover by Paul Rivoche

Kieron Gillen: The elves’ relationship with kids is very much [feeding] into the long running Tony’s emotional plot. What I’m doing with the rings kind of does build off some of the stuff that’s going on with 451 and the rest of that. This is Tony with Iron Metropolitan taking what he learned in space and putting into practice on earth. We’ve seen GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY and all these other books. There’s definitely the sense that people want to meddle with Earth but with some plausible deniability, that what these rings are up to. These guys are kind of different. This isn’t much like 451 at all. 451 had a plan. The only plan these guys have is bizarre and obtuse and pretty much doesn’t really have an end. Trying to look at what the hell these guys are up to is very much in part the fun of it.

We get new ring bearers. We get new characters to play with. We get a new spin. I like the idea of Tony fighting Malekith, which is a very different kind of person for Tony to meet.

Marvel.com: Pepper Potts just got a ring that Tony is not happy about either.

Kieron Gillen: [Laughs] Yes. Well, I wouldn’t say he's not happy.

Marvel.com: He’s doing his best.

Kieron Gillen: Pepper’s fiancé Marc ends up doing the PR for Iron Metropolitan. So they end up having to work together.

There’s lots to look forward to. Lots of villains. Lots of personal things with Tony and Marc and Pepper and Arno and the other characters. And I’ve got Tony trying to deal with these emotional issues, the fact that he’s really trying to work out how he sees himself now. Three different strands melding together.

The first year [was] the “Secret Origin of Tony Stark.” And the second year is pretty much Mandarin-related. I’m not going to give the full title yet. But it’s definitely playing with the legacy of the Mandarin. There’s a really basic fun-ness. Alright, we’ve got 10 new villains; we don’t know who they are. Some will be new characters, like Abigail, and some will be Marvel legends, like Malekith. Who else gets the rings? There’s a big pop thrill.

It’s easy to understand. A lot of my plots are fairy lore and all that kind of stuff, well on some level this is kind of here we go. Who are they? What do they want? What are they going to do? This is quite easy to grasp. Easy to grasp without reducing the possibility that the plot is going to go on.

Marvel.com: So the Mandarin wore all 10 rings, how much can a single person do with just one?

Kieron Gillen: None of the rings are weak kittens now is a good way of putting it.

The actual rings’ powers are contradictory depending on which bit of history you're reading. This is classic Mandarin stuff, so I’ve done some streamlining and generally speaking, the people who like powerful villains will be happy here. If there’s a choice of two contradictory powers of the ring, I give them both. Actually the ring I given Malekith which is the Disintegration ring, it’s basically a kind of assassin weapon. You can cloak yourself and you get one big stab and then you run. And that’s the point of that weapon, it’s the ultimate assassin.

I only made this decision fully after I watched the new Thor movie, because I was already kind of leaning that way anyway. With all the stealth stuff we got with the Malekith in the movies, this is kind of a nice way to give some soft continuity between the Marvel Universe and the [Marvel Cinematic Universe]. It makes sense, that ring is an assassin weapon. That’s conceptually solid if you see what I’m saying.

Marvel.com: Let’s talk for a minute about Luke Ross.

Kieron Gillen: Yes! Oh man that’s exciting. When I started plotting this I didn’t know who the artist was. Luke’s an incredibly exciting artist.

Marvel.com: I haven’t seen him do a ton of tech stuff. He did the Captain America book for a while; his style was so incredibly fluid in the way that he had Bucky Cap leaping and moving, and I loved watching his choreography in that. How has it been working with him?

Iron Man #21 cover by Paul Rivoche

Kieron Gillen: He gives a sense of authenticity to it, how characters move and the weight. That’s kind of what I’m looking for in the book is the duality between the elf realms and the real realm. And of course [Mike Del Mundo’s] one of the great cover artists I think of the moment. Everything he’s been doing in the last few years has been astounding. And that kind of really gives a sense of strangeness to it all.

Marvel.com: Yeah, I love the image with Malekith holding up the face-plate for the armor with the smile on IRON MAN #23.NOW!, it’s just so creepy.

Kieron Gillen: That image says a lot about the arc. I haven’t really said some of the sub-textual parts of the image out loud. It’s a really good aesthetic package. We did the kind of art deco approach in “Iron Metropolitan;” in the design, the intro pages, we’ve got a very clear lore, kind of fantasy style type of title page. Feels like a kind of talking map or something. I’m quite happy with how the book’s been with aesthetic objects at the moment.

Marvel.com: Anything else should people know as they wade into the first issue of this new arc?

Kieron Gillen: We’re expanding into a completely different way of seeing the Mandarin. And we’re still building on what we had before. Come see Iron Man fight the villain of “Thor: The Dark World.” That sounds interesting to a random person on the streets, which is a plus.

Marvel.com: I have one last very important question. You get one of the rings, only one. Which one?

Kieron Gillen: The Liar. Which is the telepathic ring. Because then I would have all the rest very shortly.

Marvel.com: That’s like wishing for more wishes. That’s not allowed.

Kieron Gillen: Totally. The Liar is the trickier one shall we say.

The rings start flying in IRON MAN #19, out now! And get all the latest All-New Marvel NOW! news and more at the official event page!

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