Iron Man: Testing His Mettle

Writers Charles and Daniel Knauf talk about putting Tony Stark through the wringer in IRON MAN as a showdown with the Mandari

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IRON MAN #26
preview art by
Roberto de la
Torre

By Marc Strom Tony Stark has seen better days. Or then again, maybe he hasn't. The current director of S.H.I.E.L.D.'s past reads like a laundry list of nervous breakdowns, and in recent issues of IRON MAN he's…well, he's started seeing ghosts. Determined to make sure Tony doesn't get a moment's rest, the father-son writing team of Daniel and Charles Knauf, along with artist Roberto de la Torre, have been pushing Stark further than ever before. The stress has been mounting for months, and now Shellhead's set to confront the man behind many of his recent troubles, the Mandarin, when IRON MAN #26 hits shelves on February 20. As Daniel sees it, "Stark's been tempered in a forge of personal loss, financial loss, professional loss—you name it—and he's done it alone." That forge has been

IRON MAN #26
preview art by
Roberto de la
Torre

working overtime in the past year, beginning with the death of Tony's longtime friend and bodyguard, Happy Hogan. Since then, Tony's also lost both Captain America and his former mentor, Sal Kennedy. Surrounded by death and mounting pressures as the new director of S.H.I.E.L.D., those around him have started to question Tony's sanity. A recovering alcoholic, Tony Stark knows a thing or two about hitting rock bottom. During one of his darkest periods, he lost his company to rival Obadiah Stane and found himself living on the streets. While he eventually picked himself back up and regained control of his family's company, the experience taught him an important lesson: It's not hard to fall, and the higher you climb, the greater the stakes. This time around, things aren't much better. "He's walking a real thin line," Daniel points out. "I think the writer is cheating if he or she doesn't put the character through the wringer. I'm sure there are some fans out there who would like to see Stark as the carefree millionaire playboy, but to us,

IRON MAN #26
preview art by
Roberto de la
Torre

that's not terribly interesting." "[Tony's] a victim of the Law of Unintended Consequences," Charles adds. "He directed the Extremis enhancile to give him full interface with digital technology, allowing his body to keep up with the technical advancements in his armor." This upgrade has done wonders for Iron Man's fighting capability, but it also explains at least partially his increasingly fragile psyche and the "ghosts" that have begun to haunt him. "He's tapping into literally the entire information grid," Daniel explains. "Unfortunately, he hasn't perfected his ability to filter, refine and collate the flood of data. It's like, yeah, he's got real-time satellite imaging coming in, but he's also got stock reports, Ask-A-Ninja, World of Warcraft…" So in order to cut through all the clutter, his brain sends him pertinent information that he may have missed in a format he won't be able to ignore: his dead loves ones.

IRON MAN #26
preview art by
Roberto de la
Torre

"That's the major theme of the 'Haunted' arc, the second part of the [Mandarin] trilogy," Daniel says of the ghosts' appearances. "People who touch us don't die. They still occupy our hearts. My Dad's been dead for over a year, and if I wanted to, I could have a conversation with him right now. Not recall a conversation, mind you, but have a talk about a subject we never discussed while he was still here. I know him. I know what his reactions would be. Everyone who knew him carries a piece of him around with them." Now that Iron Man knows it's the Mandarin who's been behind a lot of his recent troubles, at least some of the guilt he feels has been lifted. "He's been validated," Charles comments. "The only problem is that nobody believes him. [However] Doc Samson's been there to help him make sense of what's happening to him, to explain the ghosts and the function they're serving." "The guilt is still there," his father adds, "But it's no longer hidden. So Stark can deal with it."

IRON MAN #26
preview art by
Roberto de la
Torre

If by "deal with it" he means "punch the Mandarin repeatedly in the face," then yes, that's exactly what Tony's going to do. If he fails, though, it means the death of 97.5% of the world's population. This time Iron Man's willing to go "all the way," according to Charles: "That's how Stark does everything. And the fact is he has nothing to lose by going to the wall. The Mandarin's agenda is apocalyptic." With so much riding on his shoulders, will the pressure prove too much? Daniel doesn't think so. "Frankly, I think the only thing that could break him is his death. And, no, we don't plan on killing him." With a clear plan of attack and an awareness of what's really been going on these past months, Iron Man's ready to roll. "Fear is only useful in that it makes us alert in the presence of an unknown threat," Charles notes. "But once that threat has been defined, as it is for Stark in our story, fear is a liability, a loser's game unless it's embraced and that adrenaline is put to good use." While you're waiting for February 20 and IRON MAN #26, pop over to Marvel Digital Comics Unlimited and sample some more IRON MAN courtesy of the Knaufs and others.

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