The stories behind the stories

Iron Man #80

“You think I need body armor?” — Tony Stark

“The Deep End, Part 2: Magic Bullets”

Iron Man #80

Visiting Iraq, Tony Stark goes out into the field to investigate the disappearance of an Army fire team and encounters something else altogether…
Published by Marvel • April 28, 2004
Written by John Jackson Miller

Art by Phillip Tan

Lettered by Randy Gentile

Colored by Chris Garcia

Cover by Adi Granov

Edited by Tom Brevort, Andy Schmidt, and Nicole Wiley

The metal-to-acid bioweapon described here was inspired by a 1998 Scientific American article on a real metal-to-acid bug living in a pretty foul river in Spain — as was the notion, floated in the following issue, that there’s a fungus that can exist in symbiosis with it (and thus permit Vitriol to get near the stuff).

Given that the location of the story was in Iraq — where the vehicles were in desert camouflage — we were going to be looking at a lot of browns and yellows this issue no matter what we did. I was torn over how to suggest the mutant substance be colored, going from green to red before settling on orange, which, while not as high-contrast, probably said “fiery acid” a little more.

One of the reasons I wanted to get Tony Stark “into the field” quickly was to get him in contact with actual soldiers — to make the professional army less an abstract thing for him. The conversation about outfitting issues — about some soldiers using batting gloves — is based on reports from the theater last year that made it into the media. These sorts of practical concerns struck me as the small-scale counterweights to the huge-scale big thinking Tony had already engaged in.

It was gratifying to receive a note from a reader, following “Deep End,” who thanked me for trying to make the soldiers and their concerns seem human, given that some comics (and movies and TV shows) don’t. As the son of a Marine and with several friends in the various services, I wouldn’t have considered doing otherwise.

“You want to meet the fisherman? Take the bait.” — Tony Stark

I actually found a sign for the Baghdad airport written in Arabic and traced a rough facsimile of it for Phillip for the sign in the first panel. I’m not that good at tracing, though, so that sign might read as a recipe for falafel.

I actually heard a soldier in real life refer to the hinterlands of Iraq as “Indian country”, prompting the exchange Tony has with the general.

I had a military Humvee model on my desk while writing this episode, giving me the inspiration for the SATV. Though I like the design, I just had to melt it in #81: anyone who remembers the Spider-Mobile experience from years gone by has to look at all super-hero vehicles as something where a little goes a long way. But if they need an extra toy for the line, here’s a candidate…