The stories behind the stories

Iron Man #74

“My fellow Americans, if I’m named Secretary of Defense — no one need ever die in war again!” — Tony Stark

“The Best Defense, Part 2: Logistics”

Iron Man #74Knowing that Sonny Burch has legally appropriated his old patents for production, Tony Stark seeks and gains the nomination for the open Secretary of Defense slot. That’s more than Stu Conrad was expecting, and he and Press Secretary Artie Pithins can only see disaster ahead in preparing the political neophyte for mass consumption…
Published by Marvel • November 12, 2003
Written by John Jackson Miller

Art by Jorge Lucas

Lettered by Randy Gentile

Colored by Antonio Fabela

Cover by Jorge Lucas

Edited by Tom Brevoort, Andy Schmidt, and Marc Sumerak

The coloring really does nice things for this issue. Antonio Fabela pulled out all the stops in adding shadow and drama to scenes that were less active, and the Oval Office in particular is really accentuated by his lighting.

The Aberdeen scene grew in length in a later draft, and introduces the naval officer who’s Sonny Burch’s attaché, Commander Rayburn. I honestly can’t remember if I named him after the senator or the guy on “Match Game.” There’s a bit of a staging problem with his introduction — the dialogue doesn’t quite match up with where everyone was eventually drawn – but that’s a rare exception.

I was happy to bring back Artie Pithins this issue. He was sort of a prissier Jarvis back when David Michelinie introduced him in the 1980s, and even had an issue more or less to himself at one point. I’m writing him as a little older and perhaps a little looser, but he obviously still remembers what it was like covering for Tony Stark all day long.

Tony’s relationship with Pepper (both as Potts and Potts-Hogan) is very complicated, and even having read it all I admit I’m not entirely sure about everything that went on between them. It’s clear that in recent years he’s pined for her, and it’s clear they’ve danced up to the brink of an affair — but enough more has been implied that I felt she was the only name that could be thrown at him in the “practice session” that would evoke a defensive reaction.

Friday’s presence is one of those things I didn’t take time to explain to the new readers — there just wasn’t time. Fortunately, she’s kind of self-explanatory as the genius’s automated secretary. Where I had originally planned to have Tony open his speech with his bold proclamation — and go out on that — Tom Brevoort suggested moving the entirety of Tony’s speech into this issue. A good call, and one that meant this issue ran 22 pages, bumping the recap page. But Jorge’s opening splash page is so nice, it probably opens the story better.

I’ve heard that people have read two completely different things into the reactions of Colin Powell and George W. Bush to Tony’s speech, depending on their political persuasion. Since the story was originally conceived without real-life politicians in mind, no messages are implied. It’s a testament to Jorge’s art that people have been able to read in the characters the emotional subtexts they prefer to see, I think.

“I said be yourself, not your other self!” — Stu Conrad

Page four really is our nod to The West Wing, with the moving conversation in the hallway. Interestingly, they don’t seem to have the show in Jorge’s neck of the hemisphere, but he was able to find the pilot to get an idea of the rhythm of the action.

Aberdeen Proving Ground really exists, of course. One of my coworkers was stationed there for a while, and I learned only after the scene appeared in print that my paternal grandfather, living in Harford County, worked as one of the civilian employees of the base during World War II, keeping the boilers going and that sort of thing.

You can see a lot more of the different kinds of military testing that go on at this location in the satirical 1998 HBO film The Pentagon Wars with Kelsey Grammer.

That Motel 6 that’s depicted is really in southern California somewhere. But as I said to Jorge, most hotels here look like they were all dropped from a factory in orbit, so just remove the palm trees and we’re back in Virginia.

Jorge depicts Friday here as Ernestine, Lily Tomlin’s irritating phone company employee. Coincidentally, Tomlin later played the president’s secretary on The West Wing, bringing us full circle…

The motorcade begins on Roosevelt Island bridge, with Georgetown in the background, and wends its way past Arlington National Cemetery. You wouldn’t get the same sights on a direct route to The Pentagon, but the limo driver was in on our dramatic needs.

I first read the quotes about Robert F. Kennedy in an Arthur Schlesinger biography, and they just sang out to be included somewhere — especially since Robert Novak and the publications mentioned are all still publishing. I don’t think their usage by Stu Conrad means that he, obviously a Republican, has a view on RFK one way or the other — simply that he understands the history of cabinet nominations and the job before him.

Yep, that’s a tiny Sonny Burch up in The Pentagon window there. It’s not even his office — he sure gets around! Originally, I had thought to see the angles reversed so we could get Sonny’s reaction to Tony’s announcement — but Jorge decided (rightly, I think) it was more important to keep the focus on Tony.

On the day this comic book was released, my daughter was born. I seem to remember having the issue at the hospital, so I guess they sent it to us in advance. The same daughter would later help edit this site!