The stories behind the stories

Crimson Dynamo #5

“I am reluctant to put any more of my ideas into the armor. But the work is fascinating! Maybe I should just make one for myself…” — Anton Vanko

“My Dinner With Anton”

Escaping Devereaux’s thugs, Gennady reads Anton Vanko’s journal, learning what the Crimson Dynamo is and how it came to be. He also discovers the danger it poses is far more than he ever imagined — mostly because of his own actions. Can even the Invincible Iron Man bail him out?
Published by Marvel • December 31, 2003
Written by John Jackson Miller

Art by Joe Corroney

Lettered by Thom Zahler

Colored by Thomas Mason

Cover by Steve Ellis

Packaged by Marc Patten

Edited by Stephanie Moore and Cory Seldmeier

This 40-years-late origin story for the original Crimson Dynamo was a fun challenge, as I had to keep the Cold War beginnings for the character — and yet bring things forward enough that Tony Stark could still have met Vanko without being old enough for Social Security now.

Most of my original solution was approved. I had thought to put Tony Stark’s father, Howard Stark, into a more visible role in the “turning” of Anton Vanko — but Tom Brevoort suggested keeping as close in spirit to the original Stan Lee story as possible. So it is still a Stark Industries-era Tony who convinces Vanko to defect — only here, we don’t depict him in the Iron Man armor.

And that really underlines how tightly I was being allowed to work the continuity. Where some may have thought the Epic label meant this was in an alternate universe, this issue surely puts that to rest. Iron Man’s conversation with Gennady fits right into the action in Iron Man #73.

Vladimir Putin has a starring role in one scene. It’s interesting that while in Iron Man my initial assumption was that the sitting president would not be used — it was Marvel that urged me to use the real-life administration – I didn’t think twice about using the real-life Russian president. But then, in Vanko’s origin, I had already planned to include many real Soviet-era figures — and even in that first Lee story, Nikita Khrushchev was “on camera.” So Crimson Dynamo comics continue to be your one-stop shop for Russian Forrest Gump moments…

One lesson this series taught me is to describe all the characters, regardless of their relative importance. Initially, I had regarded the goons Slava and Sergei as simple toughs, and described them as such. As drawn, Slava somewhat resembles Devereaux from the front (the back of his head is shaved). That wasn’t a problem, generally – but this issue they’re dressed similarly, complicating one scene.

Gennady stuns the goons with a deafening play of the J. Geils Band song, “Centerfold,” from my favorite album in junior high. It seemed to fit because of the taunting chorus — and our story also has an “Angel.” I resisted throwing in another in-joke, that Gennady was probably the first Russian ever saved by Peter Wolf. (Get it? Peter and the wolf — lead singer Peter Wolf? Hah? Never mind.)

“If the armor wants to follow the helmet, get the helmet out of town!” — Iron Man

The story title is a play on the film title, “My Dinner with Andre.” Gennady’s “dinner with Anton” is fast food in Red Square in the middle of the night while he’s reading Vanko’s journal.

Gennady tunes to audio channel 823 to get the J. Geils song — and if you dialed up channel 823 on DirecTV when this issue was out, you got the 1980s station.

The Kremlin war room video screen has an accurate map of the armor’s movements – in English, not Russian. But no no-prize, here – they’re watching CNN International on the big screen – we just can’t see the “bug.” (Didja buy that? Whew!)

Lots of guest stars this issue, if you know where to look. Alex Nevsky, the second Crimson Dynamo, appears here and actually wound up in two Marvel comics this month, also appearing in flashback in Iron Man #76.

And that’s the Black Widow, reprinted from her first comics appearance, in Vanko’s “death” scene.

The montage scene of Iron Man battling various Crimson Dynamos includes the cartoon Crimson Dynamo, the one that got made into the action figure.


EXTRA: Inside Vanko’s Journal!

There’s an over-arching timeline to the Crimson Dynamos — borne of many Marvel comics over the years. Then there’s Anton Vanko’s Journal, from Crimson Dynamo #5, which had to put the creation of this Cold War menace into some kind of historical context.


But to be convincingly set in a Cold War rivalry, the official deployment of the Crimson Dynamo, I figured, could come no later than the last period of tense relations between the U.S. and U.S.S.R. — that is, before Gorbachev and Perestroika. Yet it had to follow enough of the computer revolution that we could assume that even the genius Vanko wasn’t starting from scratch with the Mark II. And if it was too early, Tony Stark would be a child at the time. Comics tend not to print much in the way of dates – they’re too hard to explain later when characters don’t age fast enough.

But there are actual events listed in Vanko’s Journal, which are there for those who want to read between the lines – or this site. Entirely “unofficial,” here’s the dates behind those events…

  • Jan. 25, 1982: Death of Mikhail Suslov, chief Soviet ideologist.
  • Nov. 10, 1982: Death of General Secretary Leonid Brezhnev
  • Sept. 1, 1983: Soviets shoot down KAL flight 007, ratcheting up international tension.
  • January 1984: General Secretary Iurii Andropov drops from public view, with a “cold.” He dies the following month. Konstantin Chernenko takes over (enacting the education reform that will bring Gennady into contact with the helmet), beating out his rival, Mikhail Gorbachev.
  • August 1984: U.S. President Ronald Reagan rattles Soviet nerves a bit at the Los Angeles Olympics with an accidental open-mic joke about bombing Russia…

…and thereafter Chernenko sends the Crimson Dynamo to the United States.

When Tony Stark meets Vanko, he’s already a college graduate. If we accept that he’s 19 at their meeting, that puts him in his late 30s by the time this story appears.

Of course, these dates are all in fun, as comics character ages stay the same while history keeps on moving. Trying to attach a Cold War origin to the Crimson Dynamo that involves Iron Man 40 years from now is the next generation’s problem…