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Man of Iron, Man of All-Ages

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Writer Fred Van Lente packs the all-ages magic in the newest addition to the Marvel Adventures line with Marvel Adventures: Iron Man. We discuss the book.

BROKEN FRONTIER: For those unfamiliar with the Marvel Adventures titles can you tell us a little about the philosophy behind the books that carry the Marvel Adventures banner?

FRED VAN LENTE: The idea behind Marvel Adventures is that every issue should be able to be read and enjoyed by anyone of any age, even someone who's never read a comic before in their lives, whether that person is 8 or 88 years old. No continuity, no crossovers, no multiple-issue arcs: just non-stop action, adventure, and fun from Pages One through Twenty-Two.

BF: The Marvel Adventures imprint seems to have quietly expanded into a line in its own right recently. What were the reasons behind Iron Man being chosen as the next character to gain his own Marvel Adventures book?

FVL: That would be a question for my able editors, Mark Paniccia and Nate Cosby. My guess would be there's a connection between the characters chosen and Marvel Studios' slate of straight-to-DVD and theatrical movie releases, but the truth is I just don't know.

BF: Can you tell us a little about the setup of the title? Is this version of Tony Stark still in the mode of inventor/industrialist? How many familiar faces will we be seeing in the supporting cast?

FVL: Tony Stark is largely the same in the Adventuresverse as he is in 616: he's the famous head and lead inventor for Stark International, a diverse multinational corporation that manufactures everything from mp3 players to aircraft. He's a major celebrity and trend setter -- sort of a combination of Bill Gates and Steve Jobs, only a lot better looking. (Laughs)

Tony is so successful and worshipped by his employees and consumers that in many ways he's very naive and boyish, kind of isolated from the real world. That quality surprised me, and seems to be the personality trait that's coming out more and more as I write scripts and develop the character. He wants it all -- he wants the wealth, the ability to tinker in his lab, but he also wants to help people viscerally, as a super hero. Except his investors would have a cow knowing he's jeopardizing his very valuable body fighting supervillains, hence his need to create this "Iron Man" persona for himself.

Shellhead only really has two supporting cast members -- his put-upon executive admin ("secretary" to those of a previous generation) Pepper Potts and his best friend and Chief Operating Officer, ex-Army pilot and jarhead, Jim "Rhodey" Rhodes, the only guy who knows Iron Man is really Tony Stark.

BF: Looking at the advance solicitations it appears the first issue gives us an honest-to-goodness origin story, which is something of a change for the Marvel Adventures line. How much did you tweak the established origin to fit the tone of the book?

FVL: Yes, indeed, that was a decision Joe Quesada and Dan Buckley made very early on. The origin is similar in spirit and broad beats from Iron Man's original one, except updated, obviously -- the Vietnam War being several decades in the past -- and tweaked to adhere to some of the necessary conventions of the Adventures line, like there not being any references to guns, and a downplaying of militarism. Now as anyone knows, those restrictions make telling Iron Man's origin a real challenge. (Laughs)

However, between the five of us -- me, Joe, Dan, Mark and Nate -- we hashed out a tale that I think will really surprise and please long-time Iron Man fans about how it adheres to the character's roots while bringing it into the 21st century.

Yes, Professor Yinsen is a major player!

BF: The Marvel Adventures books don't seem to actually all exist in one universe, rather each book seems to be its own pocket reality. Will this still be the case with Marvel Adventures: Iron Man?

FVL: Correct. In the first eight issues, no other super heroes appear – although I think we're going to use Dr. Doom in one, so the FF might get lip service then, I'm not sure, I haven't written that one yet.

BF: The second and third issues have appearances by old school Marvel bad guys like the Mandarin and Plant-Man. Anything you can tell us about which classic Iron Man villains may be turning up in the future?

FVL: But of course! Unusually for Marvel heroes, Iron Man has exceptionally well-developed and exciting rogue's gallery. The bad guys he'll be tangling with in MAIM #1-8 are:

AIM
Monica Rappaccini (the AIM Scientist Supreme, whom I created for my Scorpion arc in Amazing Fantasy)
Mandarin
Plantman
Justin Hammer
Spymaster (Yay! Back from the dead!)
Commander Kraken and his Techno-Pirates (Arrh!)
Living Laser
Swarm (this is a new Swarm for the Adventursverse, though...)
Dr. Doom
Jolt (the Thunderbolt, unabashedly evil in MAIM)

BF: Accessibility and decent entry points for younger readers seem to be something that Marvel is taking very seriously at the moment, with this line and projects like the various Power Pack miniseries being good examples. Is the Marvel Adventures line meeting its objectives in establishing a new and younger reader base of its own?

FVL: That would be another question for Marvel. I tend to get fan mail only from adults, probably for the obvious reason. However, my mother, who tutors elementary school kids in her spare time, started using them with her kids to teach reading, and they seem to now be thoroughly addicted to them. So I feel like I'm doing my part to spread the faith...

BF: Following up from that, will Marvel Adventures: Iron Man be collected as digests? I'm hoping so because I honestly think the affordability and value of the digest format is one of the most commendable pieces of marketing from any of the major companies in a long, long time.

FVL: Yeah, I agree. All of my other MA stuff has gotten collected, so I assume MAIM won't be any different.

BF: What restrictions are there on the type of story you can tell in a Marvel Adventures book?

FVL: Not many, except the continuity-related stuff I mentioned at the top -- which, from a writer's point of view, is the exact opposite of a restriction, believe me, it's very freeing -- and nothing that would be a huge shock to anyone producing "G"-rated material: no guns, knives or related weapons; an avoidance of death and killing (although that's one rule we violate in MAIM #1 as you'll see, heh-heh...).

BF: Will each issue be a complete-in-one story?

FVL: Yup.

BF: One of the things I love about the Marvel Adventures books is that although they're aimed at a younger audience there are plenty of knowing references for older fans as well. Your Marvel Adventures: Spider-Man run made use of some fairly obscure old characters like Frog-Man and Rocket Racer for example. Will you be going the "Easter Egg" route on Iron Man as well?

FVL: Thanks, I definitely like throwing those obscure continuity references in there for fun -- to me, comic book continuity should be like a flavour enhancement, there for long-time fans to enjoy but not so integral to the story that newbies won't be left scratching their heads.

In fact, it's such an integral part of my writing, I'm not sure how to answer your question... Let's see here, throwing my memory back... Well, here's one example, in MAIM #1 , Professor Yinsen, Tony's mentor, is hailed as "an expert in miniaturized transistors," which as all longtime Marvel fans will recall, was Tony's schtick in his Stan Lee/Don Heck days.

Basically, I have to make these references really subtle, because if my editors catch them, they tend to make me take them out as being too obtuse for the casual reader. (Laughs)

BF: Can you tell us a little about the art team and what they're bringing to Marvel Adventures: Iron Man?

FVL: James Cordeiro is a terrific new artist from Brazil, and his intricate portrayals of technology makes him perfect for Iron Man; fans will be drooling over his work. He's being helped out on MAIM #3 by another great young Brazilian talent, Ronan Cliquet. This kid is only eighteen years old, and when you sees what he does with the all-new Plantman, it'll knock your socks off.

BF: How long are you on the book for at this point? I ask this because there appears to be a pool of Marvel Adventures writers who, to a certain extent, seem to rotate on the various books on the line.

FVL: Yeah, I think that's true. I know I'm on the book for the first eight issues, and after that we'll both find out what happens... I certainly love these characters and would be happy to stay on for much longer.

BF: Are there any other projects you're working on at the moment that you'd like to tell us about?

FVL: Sure -- July sees the debut of Super-Villain Team-Up: MODOK's 11, in which everybody's favorite Big-Headed One gathers together an eclectic team of Marvel's Most Wanted to pull off the greatest heist in 616 history! Black Panther artist Francis Portela has turned in some stunning art on this one, and The Goon's Eric Powell turned in a stunning cover. 'Tis available for pre-order now, kiddies, so check it out... It's time for supercrime!

Marvel Adventures: Iron Man #1 went on sale yesterday.

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