By Chris Arrant
Tony Stark has faced all manner of foes, from the board room to the battlefield as Iron Man, but nothing can prepare him for Dark Phoenix. In the THE IRON AGE, starting this June, Armored Avenger goes up against one of the X-Men’s most dangerous foes—and it all begins with Earth’s destruction.
“The Dark Phoenix is beyond anything that Stark has faced before,” points out writer Rob Williams. “There's humility for him to learn in that. When we meet him he's the same cocky, arrogant Tony Stark we all know. But during the course of our story he's going to have everything taken from him—his Extremis armor, his technology, his friends, and his health. He's lost in time, stuck in an old version of his armor and he's got to find a way to get back to the future. And then, [if] he somehow achieves all this, he has to face off against Dark Phoenix. It's the ultimate challenge.”
Traveling through the ages using a version of Doctor Doom’s time machine, Iron Man recruits classic incarnations of the Avengers, Fantastic Four, X-Men and others to his cause.
“It's a love letter to the Marvel Universe, primarily,” admits Williams of THE IRON AGE. “Iron Man traveling through time to different Marvel eras and meeting older versions of Marvel heroes and villains, allowing us to meet favorites from our childhoods once again. But this isn't just a nostalgia-fest. This happens now, in continuity, and the stakes are huge. Dark Phoenix destroys Earth; everyone Tony Stark knows dies. It's up to him to travel through time and save the day. And in doing so he'll have to discover what it is about these heroes that have allowed them to survive and stay popular for so long.”
Just as Iron Man reaches out for assistance in this battle, Williams will have allies of his own in crafting this time-spanning tale. While the British writer pens the IRON AGE: ALPHA and IRON AGE: OMEGA bookends, he will have help on the central three issue series from Christos Gage, Jen Van Meter, Eliott Kalan and Louise Simonson.
“In my chapter of the THE IRON AGE, Tony Stark's been dropped into the Marvel of the mid-70's and almost immediately Doctor Doom captures him for his own plans,” previews Kalan, who will hop on in issue #2. “So who better to help Tony stop Doom than a member of the Fantastic Four, the high-flying Human Torch?
“Unfortunately, Torch was going through some serious self-confidence issues at the time, further complicated by the emotional minefield that is Iron Man knowing when and how Johnny's going to die. There's action, angst, and because the Marvel Universe was a pretty swinging place back then, our heroes go clubbing while Dr. Doom throws a party.”
Van Meter also contributes to the same issue, with a story of set on the early 80’s streets of New York City featuring two Big Apple staples: Luke Cage and Iron Fist.
“In my story, the Heroes for Hire and their friends are still dealing with the effects of Iron Man having gone on a destructive drunken rampage through their neighborhood as seen in INVINCIBLE IRON MAN #169, when all of a sudden Tony Stark shows up, hungry and battered, wanting to hire them as body guards,” she reveals. “They know something's not right and agree to the job as a means of learning more, but the trouble is, this thing Tony needs to find is—well, it's not going to be easy to get it.”
Van Meter jumped at the chance for this mash-up of the modern Iron Man with 80’s-era culture and heroes, especially since Stark knows what’s coming up in these characters’ future.
“It was great to have a chance to consider how Tony would see these people and events, knowing what he does about Civil War and other events to come,” she says. “I found myself having a lot of fun with the tension between Luke Cage and Tony, particularly.”
As a longtime editor and writer of various titles including UNCANNY X-MEN and POWER PACK during the 80’s, Simonson returns to her roots with THE IRON AGE.
“Tony’s bouncing around through the 80’s continuity, wearing the weaker ‘80s armor and getting help from characters in that milieu,” she explains. “Stark gets help from none other than Dazzler. The Hellfire Club lures her to a spot where their goons can nab her, but luckily, Iron Man arrives to help fight the bad guys off. She agrees to help retrieve a device, which leads to a confrontation with Donald Pierce, but Iron Man, because he’s from the future, knows what Dazzler will become and that proves a life-saver for both of them.”
Williams admit it took a significant amount of planning to make this time-hopping and writer-spanning series work, but it’s paid off in spades.
“There [were] a few times during the writing and planning of this series where I've cursed myself for suggesting a time travel story that takes place in a universe where the readers know a huge amount about what happened when,” he admits. “But really it all comes back to telling the story we wanted to tell.
“A great mantra for writers remains 'keep it simple, stupid' and never is that more important than when you're telling a time travel story, I've learned. But also, once we'd clarified Iron Man’s goal in each issue—getting a piece of Doom's time machine so he can eventually put the whole thing back together and return to his own time—then each of the other writers had free reign to tell whatever story they wanted to tell. I didn't plot breakdown their issues. So it's been a very collaborative process.”
The collaboration between creators factors heavily in the final product, with the brainstorming of ideas changing the story from the ground up.
“My initial pitch for THE IRON AGE centered on a different Marvel protagonist, but we quickly agreed that Iron Man acts a better tethering point,” reveals Williams. “We needed a character that goes back to the initial years of the Marvel age and who has visually changed over time. And Tony Stark's various armors fit perfectly. Also, for our central villain, we went back to a long forgotten Iron Man foe from TALES OF SUSPENSE in 1965. Tony Stark has serious history and that's partly what this series talks about. Looking back at what's changed and what's remained constant in these icons.”
Each issue transports readers to a different era in Marvel’s long history, giving them de facto tour of the high points and most memorable moments. When asked about how the line-up and time period of allies for THE IRON AGE were determined, Williams cites deep storytelling reasons but also moments of more surface attraction.
“Honestly, I admit that it was partly driven by 'who would look good in their old costume again,’” he confesses. “I think Tom Brevoort immediately said that Disco Dazzler had to be in there. Johnny Storm in his red costume was an easy add, and that took on greater weight when, halfway through the writing process, [series editor] Tom Brennan rang me up to tell me that Johnny dies in FANTASTIC FOUR. So this presents a chance for Marvel fans to see The Human Torch once again, which has added gravitas to those scenes, as Stark knows Johnny's not with us anymore. I became determined to get Captain Britain in there, as he's a favorite of mine. We had to see Luke Cage in old school headband, of course. It was a huge amount of fun picking our cast. These are the characters we grew up reading. “
Writing as both a professional and as a fan, Williams got the chance to inject THE IRON AGE with some of his own feelings on the characters.
“Writing Captain Britain in the era of the Alan Moore and Alan Davis Jaspers Warp was a huge thrill for me” he boasts. “That's possibly my favorite comic run of all time. But I had a similar amount of fun writing the Uncanny X-Men in the classic [Chris] Claremont/[John] Byrne Hellfire Club battle. There's a moment there where Iron Man looks at Colossus, Wolverine, Nightcrawler and he thinks to himself: ‘The X-Men. They were amazing.’ That was me talking. I couldn't help myself. This whole series has been such a blast for a long term Marvel fan to write.”
THE IRON AGE: ALPHA hits stands on June 8 followed by THE IRON AGE #1 on June 29.
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