The stories behind the stories

Iron Man #82

“We’re dead already. All of us. Some just don’t know it yet.” — Vitriol

“The Deep End, Part 4: Force Projection”

Iron Man #82

As Vitriol puts her plan into action, Carl Walker (Force) arrives on a rescue mission. But rescuing Tony Stark isn’t what he has in mind…
Published by Marvel • May 19, 2004
Written by John Jackson Miller

Art by Phillip Tan

Lettered by Randy Gentile and Cory Petit

Colored by Chris Garcia

Cover by Adi Granov

Edited by Tom Brevoort, Andy Schmidt, and Nicole Wiley

In death, Sonny Burch still causes Tony Stark problems. Thanks to David Michelinie, whose original Force stories gave me just enough of an opening to establish a way for the government to find Carl Walker out.

I had considered several characters from Tony’s past along with Force in determining who his “rescuer” would be, but none fit the bill the way Force did. A memorable Michelinie character, he seemed to have simply dropped out of sight a decade ago — making him the perfect candidate for a surprise return.

As noted for earlier issues, I had pared back this storyline from five issues to four – and you can see here where I changed one of the elements. The dilemma of two tanker groups heading in opposite directions would’ve caused Tony and Force some problems — but as it is here it’s dealt with very quickly.

General Krebs was enjoyable to write — and it’s interesting how much different he appears than I visualized him. I pictured more of a career soldier in a terminal rank – playing it safe until Tony Stark’s visit upsets his ordered world; physically, more John Goodman than Arnold SchwarzeneggerPhillip Tan went much more the tough-guy route in his depiction, which probably works better, given the many physical things he’s made to do. He still gives us the comic relief we need when we need it.

Finally, a note about this storyline’s setting. One of the dangers in placing a story in the middle of a real-life battlefield is that things may change greatly, events overtaking your story. I began the story during a relatively calmer stretch of the occupation —Saddam Hussein was captured while I was writing the second issue — and I feared overplaying armed dissent. Opposing factions making common cause together, too, seemed remote in the beginning — but before I turned in the final page, it didn’t seem nearly so unlikely. These are the sorts of things that have led for years to comics stories taking place in “fantasy geography” — fake countries, so nothing is overtaken by events. I continue to feel that it’s worth the extra work, though; it’s tougher to get worked up over a threat to Outer Phredistan.

“Anything happens to you, they’ll give my star to Pauly Shore!” — General Krebs

Phillip designed the new Force armor seen here, which resembles the old pretty much only in its yellow coloring. I told him to imagine it as an inverse version of Iron Man’s – which made sense given that Walker had been working on Iron Man armor at the arsenal for the last two years. Clearly, he picked up — or ripped off — some more of Tony’s ideas.

Being no chemist, I was surprised to learn that “milk of magnesia” was a generic chemical term and not a brand name. I have to say I have no idea whether a river full of neutralized acid and dead little microbes would be any safer for those downstream, but it at least avoids this issue’s apocalyptic opening situation.

This would be my last work with Phillip Tan on the series; we would next work together again many years later on a Conan story for Robert E. Howard’s Savage Sword.