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Co-creator of Halt and Catch Fire on how his TV work helped him reboot Marvel Comics' Iron Man

By Jeff Spry

Celebrated TV writer/producer Christopher Cantwell, the co-creator behind AMC's Halt and Catch Fire and Marvel's recent Doctor Doom run, is teaming up with international artist CAFU to bring Tony Stark back to his roots.

This dynamic Iron Man series from Marvel Comics features a freshly designed armored suit and premiere issue wraparound cover by masterly illustrator Alex Ross — and SYFY WIRE has an exclusive preview of the debut issue for Old Shellhead.

Marvel Comics' Iron Man #1 arrives on September 16 with Cantwell hoping to explore questions of Iron Man's role and purpose in today's world and whether he should represent an angel, a god, or simply an honest man trying to do a little good. By reducing the concept and ideal of Iron Man down to its bare metal core, Tony Stark will clash with his colossal ego while nefarious foes harboring god complexes target the known universe as their own evil dominion. 

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The "lean and mean" storyline finds Tony Stark casting away his high-tech toys and mega-celebrity image so he can get his hands dirty once more. But can he truly humble himself and downplay his epic ego?

In a world where nothing is ever so simple, where does Iron Man belong, and what levels of support and resistance will he encounter from old allies and new nemeses? If you dare strip an egotistical billionaire down to his bottom-drawer bolts, does he tend to run solid … or overheat and boil over?

SYFY WIRE connected with Christopher Cantwell to hear his plan for delivering a revamped Iron Man, how his TV writing aided this superhero mission for Marvel, exposing Tony Stark's fear and nobility, CAFU's electrifying artwork, and having the Eisner Award-winning Alex Ross on his team composing painted covers. 

How did this Iron Man project with Marvel Comics come together?

I was already working on Doctor Doom, my freshman effort at Marvel, and my editor Tom Brevoort approached me about pitching with an email. I was so excited I might’ve peed a little bit by accident.

What is it about the Iron Man character that taps into your creative urges, and what fresh take did you hope to add?

Iron Man is at once classic and iconic, but the character is rife—dare I say ridden—with all of these details that have a very different context in the culture today. Here’s this seemingly invincible white billionaire with an incredible amount of power at his disposal, and no oversight. That has often gotten Tony into trouble in the past in some of his best stories, so I thought it would be really great to do another one, but start with Tony already reflecting on his life and legacy and wondering what he should change, and if there are ways for him to simplify himself and his mission as Iron Man, and perhaps become a more humble servant.

Of course, that’s going to be a lot harder than it looks for a guy with a planet-sized ego, and in that soul-searching he’s also going to come up against some brutal mirror images of his psyche, and even some temptations to go completely the other way with his arrogance and individuality.


Can you take us for a quick flight into the "back to basics" plot for this Iron Man book?

I think it’s threefold, maybe: As I said earlier, Tony’s going to cull through his legacy as Iron Man—the good and the bad—and try to find again what is at his very core. Dan Slott’s writing focused heavily on this blending of man and machine so well, so in order to change gears, I want Tony to focus on his humanity. Dan sets this up so well through the end of Iron Man 2020 (no spoilers), but Tony is really a flesh-and-blood clean slate by Issue #1 of our run. He’s going to assess his career, his material assets, his friends and colleagues, and even his armor. He’s been in such a heady techno-haze that he needs to clear the air.

So, just like the way a tech CEO might crack open an old IBM computer and try to rebuild it from the ground up with his bare hands … Tony’s going to take that same approach to Iron Man for a way. He’s going from technological mastermind to an expert mechanic, with grease-stained hands and armor that’s like a tuned-up American muscle car.

How has your TV writing and detailed worldbuilding helped make the transition into comics?

Both mediums are visual. Also episodic structure is very helpful in serialized storytelling that comes with comics. I’m very familiar with arcing a character within a specific issue / episode, and then over the course of a season, and then over the course of a series. It’s like a Russian nesting doll in that way. I love comics, but my least favorite issues are ones where like, something just happens. It depicts a linear event, like … someone shows up, someone asks who are you, and then the issue ends. I like to have the character(s) start somewhere that is emotionally different from where they end up.

However, this got me into trouble in some of my earlier comic work. I’d end up cramming too much plot into things at times. Honestly, Doctor Doom #5 has like an A, B, and C storyline and a lot of moves, and it’s a little head-spinning. Same with the second arc of my indie book with Karen Berger, She Could Fly. I think both are ultimately good and I love them, but what I’ve learned in the repetition of writing issues is that the emotional arc of an issue doesn’t necessarily require multiple big plot moves. It can be one plot move, very simple, even small.

Maybe Marvel will get mad at me for saying this, but Tony doesn’t even put his armor on in Issue #4. That freaks me out. Some kid is going to get it at the grocery store and then complain to his mom and the mom will come find me and berate me. But I also think it’s kind of rad. Not the berating, the not wearing armor. Do they still sell comics in grocery stores?

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What are some touchstone Iron Man stories you bulked up on to tackle this new series?

The Korvac Saga in Avengers, Demon in a Bottle, Civil War, a lot of Michelinie and Layton stuff.

How does CAFU's artwork illuminate and enhance your Tony Stark tale?

CAFU is never busy or cluttered in his work. He’s got this incredible elegance and simplicity in his style even in big action sequences, and that is perfect for what we’re trying to do with Tony in terms of cleaning out the closets of his life.

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What are your impressions on superstar artist Alex Ross' brand-new Iron Man suit?

Um … it’s a dream come true? When you get the email that says, “Hey, A-to-the-Ross is gonna do the armor and covers,” you just have to lay down in the grass and look at the blue sky and breathe in and out and savor the moment. I will say that the one piece of input I had in terms of the suit was being able to see Tony’s eyes again in the helmet. That was extremely important to me. No more glow, because our story is not about the blurring lines of man and machine.

It’s entirely about the guy inside trying to get his blood flowing properly again when it comes to his humanity. I want to see the vulnerability and the fear and the anger and the strength and the doubt and the nobility in real time. But I mean, that’s it, then Alex and CAFU go off and make the coolest thing you’ve ever seen. I’m honestly just happy to be along for the ride.

Now power up your imagination and blast into our 4-page preview for Marvel Comics Iron Man #1 in the gallery below!