In Which I Chat With Matt Fraction About Iron Man, Avatar and Watchmen

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So Matt Fraction’s been in town for the last couple of weeks for various Marvel-y things that just so happened to coincide with Sega’s showcase of upcoming video games for the press. I was offered the opportunity to interview the Eisner award-winning writer who’s currently working on Invincible Iron Man and Thor. I jumped at the chance as you can imagine.

We probably didn’t talk enough about the game, but I’m okay with that. I had a quick demo and Sega definitely made some much needed changes from the first Iron Man game. I’m sure we’ll have a review when it comes out in April. In the mean time check out the trailer below and hit up the microsite.

Anyway, Matt and I talked about a lot of things ranging from comics to movies to coffee. I didn’t know he lived in or around Portland, OR. The transcript gets cut short, BTW. I turned my recorder off for some reason. We pretty much continued to geek out. It was rad.

MF: …like Tony’s back and can speak English again. It’s weird. I got to write my first Tony and Pepper talking scene and I was like, “Ah fuck, I miss this so much.” Because he’s been – it just hasn’t happened in so long. It’s like new armor on everything. I’m excited to get into it, get it moving.

PH: Speaking of new armor. Over the course of last year’s World’s Most Wanted story arc, you sort of put Tony in some old sets of armor. Are we going to see any of that in this game?

MF: That’s definitely a question for the Sega people. Not only are there old armors, but there are Easter egg, unlockable armors based on game performance. I’m not sure which ones. They can give you the stats. There’s probably even art for them, too.

PH: Are we going to see the 2010 suit of armor in the game?

MF: No, because the paint is still wet on that one.

(More on Techland: Iron Man’s New Suit: Basically Void Of Change)

PH: So, Iron Man’s suits: His stuff changes pretty frequently because it’s cutting edge technology and what not but about the new suit? What is it that makes it 2010?

MF: It’s actually more like 3010. When Tony’s back, his mind is a blank slate, even when his life functions, everything is gone. The entirety of what his brain is used for is deceased. And through a variety of exciting comic book adventures, he’s able to reboot his brain the way you’d reboot an OS on a hard drive with an upgrade. And it gives him root over the entirety of his body process. He can control his own heart rate. I’ve got to back up for a second. He’s got the arc rigged in his chest. Not so much because it makes it like the film, but because it makes it like the comics used to be where he was tied to his repulsor. He had it in his chest all the time to keep him alive and I missed that link. So I wanted to put that back in his chest, but that gives root over the entirety of his body. So he’s hacking what his biology is capable of and flooding his brain with more energy. We stopped eating roots and berries and started to eat nuts and hunt because our brains were growing. So he’s just pumping power into his head and he’s literally the world’s smartest man, so he designs an armor like we’ve never seen before. That no one has ever seen before.

… We should maybe hold this until 25 comes out. So to cut out all of the specifics, the answer is the armor is more like 3010. We’ve never seen armor like this before. It’s really exciting and completely different. Let’s just say that the user interface is wildly updated.

(More on Techland: My Life as a “Science Fetishist”)

PH: So in the first game we saw a hand full of Marvel villains, including Whiplash. Is that going to happen in the second game as well?

MF: Yes. It’s a much richer Marvel experience and it’s definitely a much deeper Iron Man experience. If you’re a fan, you’ll see a lot of familiar faces and if you’re not and you’re just sort of a fan of the film or a fan of the game, the world gets much deeper or much richer and its great seeing some of that stuff.

PH: Are any villains that you’ve written going to end up in the game?

MF: I don’t know if I’m allowed to answer that. …Yes.

(More on Techland: Say Hello To Mickey Rourke’s Whiplash)

PH: You didn’t have anything to do with the first Iron Man game right?

MF: Uh huh.

PH: But I’m sure you’re familiar with the story line. Does two pick up where one left off?

MF: I don’t know actually. People seem so unhappy with two I think he means one!). I only played the demo and never went much deeper than that because I thought it was pretty lousy. No disrespect for those who were involved, but the demo really never game together for me. So we just took it from a blank slate in a way. I know there was stuff that they would say is from the first game, and they were looking internally to not have too much confusion, but it’s really sort of a parallel experience to the film and to the book. The three worlds sort of overlap in a way that makes sense, though they don’t necessarily repeat one another or echo one another or replicate one another. But, they all sort of feel united.

PH: So the game follows the movie storyline?

MF: Movies are better movies than they are games. So there’s a parallel experience. It really takes the seed of the end of the last film – “I am Iron Man” – and kind of goes from there. But it has a sort of a different set of masters than the film has.

(More on Techland: Iron Man 2 Trailer: ‘I have successfully privatized world peace’)

PH: So the story of the game more or less intersects with the Iron Man universe and what’s going on right now?

MF: Not literally, but we see Tony dealing with being a hero with the history of an arms dealer and a weapons designer. We see Tony having to learn about what responsibility is in a real way for the first time in his life. It’s similar themes. You’ll see in the film, too.

PH: What are your thoughts on all of these superhero movies coming out right now?

MF: They’re good when they’re good. One of them does terrific and then you can have a couple of stinkers. You can have The Dark Knight, which makes a billion dollars and then you can have a Watchmen and it’s fine. Watchmen can suck all it needs to.

PH: Did you think Watchmen sucked?

MF: I did, but I thought The Dark Knight sucked to, save from the Joker bits. I loved the first half, I was little tired in the second half, and in the third half I wanted to leave. “Really, we’re going to spend another 20 minutes with Aaron Eckhart screaming in a limousine?” But attention is attention. Avatar is the first movie I’ve seen where it made me feel like I needed to up my game. In terms of what comics could do, Avatar was the first film that touched anything close to what comics can do. Everything else is limited by budget and time and imagination and technology. It’s a Grant Morrison line, but Jack Kirby’s been drawing what Hollywood could only just now do 60 years ago. But Avatar was the first where we were like, “Ah, we’ve got to sharpen up.” That’s the first time we felt any hint of competition.

PH: Is there any particular scene in that movie that you thought…

MF: From Avatar? After the tree falls and the bass in the theater made the hairs on the back of my neck stand up, the rumble was so huge and the camera swings around and there’s sunlight coming through smoke. So there’s atmosphere and I swatted at a burning ember that went by my face and that’s when I realized that comics have to up their game. It was amazing. A lousy film, but an amazing experience. It was weird, you couldn’t pay me to go see it in any other format than 3D IMAX.

PH: Yeah, I think that if you see it in a regular theater, you’re going to be like, this is just a shitty movie.

MF: Yeah, I think I’m just going to take my headphones next time. I’ll take them off for explosions, but I’ll just zone out for a while. I remember my mom and dad saying that people would bring lawn chairs for the 2001 Space Odyssey and lay down underneath the screen, like “Oh, I’m nuked on LSD watching Kubrick.” This is the first thing we’ve had that comes close to that.

PH: Do you think there’s anything that these superhero games can learn from comics?

MF: Narrative. Superhero games can learn narrative from comics. I refuse to believe that you can’t tell a story with a game, that a game is a ray of cut scenes that link together levels. And the sooner writers get into the room, the better. Comics can learn from games, I don’t know what the grammar is. Their lighting, their cinematography, their perspective. There’s really inventive “filmmaking” going on in games right now. Games cinematography, and like I said, I don’t know what the language is, but really immersive game environments where there’s kind of a (raison d’etre?) for what you’re doing. There often times a design unity in games, not so much a narrative, but in the visuals and the consumer’s experience that comics I think can learn from. I play a lot of games and I watch a lot of games, more than I play, just to kind of get inspired or look and see what does cool shit look like today. Comics always used to be the place to go for stuff that looked cool. I think games beat us to the punch as far as inspiration. There’s a lot of visual fuel going on in games right now, personally for me.

PH: So now that Marvel has sort of started the engine on the Avenger movies, can we expect to see some other characters in the game?

MF: Some of the characters are in the game. You’ve said the name of one of the characters (Nick Fury) that is in the game. Other than that, there are kind of, well again, depending on how far inside baseball you go there are things there for you, hints, clues. The myth is being built across the platforms.

PH: So Heroic Age is coming up, obviously. What do you think makes Tony Stark heroic?

MF: Ultimately, his humanity. How frail he really is, and how fragile. That his very best and very worst are locked in a permanent struggle, but we’ve spent two years taking apart everything the guy was and just pushing him as far down into the ground as we can to see what was left. And what was left was a guy who wouldn’t stop fighting. And ultimately as you see the dawn break in the blue sky world, shadows are never darker than when the sun is brighter, so it’s about to get more dangerous, more deadly for all the heroes. The bad guys got a taste for power and they really like it, so where the good guys might come out on top, that doesn’t mean that it’s smooth sailing. Tony’s different. Tony’s a changed guy from what he’s been through. You don’t live through the two years he lived through and…

PH: Right, because he’s done some not so admirable stuff.

MF: Yeah. In his life before Iron Man and as Iron Man. There are landmines in Korea with Stark Industries logo on it, or missiles in Afghanistan with Stark logos on it. Someone says it in one of the books that there hasn’t been a battlefield on earth that hasn’t had blood spilled thanks to Stark technology. And that’s a shitty legacy. It’s difficult, if shitty isn’t acceptable. Difficult. But, he’s a guy who wants to do better than that.

PH: So you probably obviously had a story of what you wanted to do with Tony and with Iron Man before you started, and now that you’ve gone in and done that and you’re 23, 24, 25 issues in, has your perception changed? Have you gotten to do what you wanted?

MF: Yeah, it’s been terrific. I’ve sort of maneuvered around events, we even had secret invasion banners, dark rain banners, and we might have had initiative banners. I don’t remember, but I wasn’t event laden. Secret Invasion happens off panel, Siege happens off panel. We’ve just been able to tell the stories. It’s been great. Marvel’s been amazing. I don’t know what their expectations were, but they gave me the book and just said go nuts. It’s been good. This next arch is about the end of what I pitched when I got the book. I pitched four story lines off the top of my head, so we’ll get an ending where Resilience ends, it takes me about half way to what I’ve got in my head. That’s not to say it won’t get bigger from there, but I’m at the half way point of where I know I’ll have to have a serious re-evaluation. But it’s been terrific and everyone at Marvel has been amazingly supportive. And getting to write Thor, now they show up with each other. Tony shows up at Asgard and everybody’s all mixed up together. It’s nice too that as the Heroic Age as a kind of mission statement, there’s kind of an open border policy, so it’s fun have all of the pieces that I have, to have everybody walk around. It’s a lot of fun.

PH: As far as Thor goes, can you talk about what you think has worked and what hasn’t worked in the past as far as that character goes?

MF: I’d rather talk about what worked. I think the bigness works, the scale and the Zeppelin of it all, the Black Sabbath of it all, the heavy metal of it all really works. And I think the science fiction works. I love that Thor was psychedelic science fiction metal, and that’s kind of the tone I’m looking for. We’re leaving Midgard and going up the World Tree. We’re going into Asgard space and we’re going to see what’s up there. I love that third and fourth essential. You can see the Genesis stuff of the fourth world that Kirby would go on to do, it was all at the end of his Thor run. Mark Gruenwald and Ralph Macchio did a thing at the eternal saga, it’s called. Thor sits in a giant hand and talks to a floating eyeball for a year and then it ends in Odin fighting celestials. I love that crazy shit and I love the mythical underpinning of it all at the root of it. It’s the scale of bigness, he colossal science fiction that works really well. Like colossal hero science fiction.

PH: Is there a lot of collaboration as far as what you’re doing with Iron Man and what the other guys are doing for the upcoming Heroic Age?

MF: Well I’m actually out here not just for this event but because last week we did an editorial retreat, where me (Ed) Brubaker, Jeph Loeb and (Jonathan) Hickman and Jason Aaron and Greg and Fred were all together with the editors talking about the next year and everybody kind of presents their stories in a workshop in the room and you’re made aware of what everyone is up to and you make connections. It’s a really cooperative environment to work in and a big mandate of the Heroic Ages is to really open borders. Let’s get everybody. There’s been a kind of prevential thinking. Well, Thor can only stay in Thor right now. So we’re looking to get that feeling of anybody can get that feeling of any Marvel comic and Thor doesn’t have to just fight Thor villains. He can fight Juggernaut. Or the X-Men could fight Mandarin or Iron Man could fight Arcade. Those are all terrible examples, but you get the idea. A shared universe is a fun thing that we’re all looking to do.

PH: Is there anything that you pick up on a regular basis?

MF: Oh shit, yeah. It’s Wednesday, I’m trying to figure out when I have time to leave here to go down to Midtown. What am I reading now? I love Hickman’s Fantastic Four, Jason Aaron’s Scalped is unmissalbe, I love Romita’s Punisher. It is insane right now. Are you reading that? It’s the closest thing to a Sam Raimi movie ever since Sam Raimi stopped making Sam Raimi movies. It’s incredible. Powers is amazing as always. Ed’s still putting out incredible archs of Criminal. There’s a new Criminal out today that I have to pick up. The Love and Rockets book that the Hernandez brothers just put out , and one of the characters in one of Gilbert’s stories was a B-movie actress and just as a side project, Gilbert has decided that once a year he’s going to put out a book that’s one of her movies. And he’s done two of them now, I don’t know if Speak of the Devil was supposed to be one. He’s done two, possibly three and it’s just a self-contained weird noir story, but one of the characters you’ve seen before and you know that this is the film she’s starred in. I read it on the flight out here and fuck, it’s just a throw away project and it’s light years better than anything else out there.

PH: Are there any little indie ones that you’ve picked up lately?

MF: I guess technically you could say that Love in Rockets is a little indie one. I love everything that Picture Box publishes. I know that there’s going to be a new Power Masters soon. Multiforce was great. Cold Heat is great. Frank Santoro’s Cold Heat. Terrific. Greg Rucka has just started a book called Stumptown from Oni. It’s like the lesbian Rockford Files. This is weird but my pal Howard Chaykin is writing Die Hard for BOOM!, but it’s set in 1977 with a beat cop in NYC that happens to be named John McClane. So there’s no connection to the films, but it’s like John McClane: Year One and it’s all 77 so it’s punk, it’s Reggie Jackson and the Yankees, hip-hop, the City’s bankrupt, the garbage strike and it’s leading toward the blackout. So it’s like this incredible fertile time in New York City and he’s doing a crime story throughout it, so that’s been really cool. We’ve just moved and I have a two-year-old so my reading pile has … I missed everything over the summer so I haven’t read. There’s a ton of stuff I’m behind on.

PH: I guarantee that I don’t read anything that you’re not aware of. I’ve actually scaled back on what I’ve picked up. I’ve always been a big Batman Fan and I don’t pick up every single Batman thing they put out, but it was interesting what Kevin Smith was doing.

MF: I’m loving Morrison’s Batman. His Batman before and then his Batman & Robin. I think it’s terrific.

PH: Yeah, I haven’t picked up a B&R for the last two issues…

MF: Bryan Lee O’Malley is creeping up on being finished with the new Scott Pilgrim. So the new Scott Pilgrim is coming, I suspect sometime this summer. Which makes sense because the movie’s coming out but I’m excited for the last Scott Pilgrim.

PH: What else, Ultimate Avengers.

MF: Oh I really like what’s Brian’s (Brian Michael Bendis) done with the new Ultimate Spider-Man. It mimics my experience as a kid now, where my house was sort of like the orphan’s home, like friends who got kicked out or needed a place to crash would stay with us. My mom just couldn’t not open her door to one of my friends so now all of Peter’s pals kind of live with Aunt May. It’s really, wow, like 100 and some issues in and he’s really found a new take on it and it reads very true and very real. So I’m really enjoying Ultimate Spider Man. I’ve always liked it but now it has an emotional resonance with me.

PH: Yeah, I’m trying to catch up… Iron Man’s always been one of those characters where I’ve always thought he’s just badass, but I’ve never known where to start.

MF: It’s hard to find the great Iron Man story. It’s hard to find their moments, but it dates. It’s the paradox of Iron Man. He’s the futurist, and yet he had Hall & Oates hair and Don Johnson sleeves until 1990. For a comic book about the future, it’s going to date very quickly. It’s sort of laughable. “Oh, my transistors!” You have to like the character. You have to have a lot of good will for the character to be able to look at his history without shrugging it off.

PH: I think one of the problems I’ve had with Marvel and DC is that there are just so many story lines for one character. I get sort of confused.

MF: And they don’t number trades all the time so you have to kind of compare which comes first and which comes second.

PH: There are trades for Invincible, right?

MF: Mmhmm. The third one might come out today as a matter of fact. There’s been two and a third one is coming. And the Omnibus is coming with a movie with a hard cover that I’ll collect, one through four. All in one big book.

PH: I don’t know if I can wait that long.

MF: I know the first two are on trade. I know there’s three hard covers, but I think the second trade comes out today or is just coming out next week.

PH: How many issues in each trade?

MF: The first one is 1-7, the second one is 8-14 and then the third is 15-20 or 15-19 or whatever it is.

More on Techland:
Official Iron Man 2 Poster Revealed
International Iron Man 2 Poster Revealed

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