The stories behind the stories

Iron Man #83

“Dizzy… heavy. Dear Lord… please … don’t let me be drunk again.” — Iron Man

“Heavy Metal Homicide”

Iron Man #83

Tony Stark wakes up in a mysterious place — wearing his high-gravity armor and accompanied by the Titanium Man. Somethin’ ain’t right here…
Published by Marvel • May 6, 2004
Written by John Jackson Miller

Art by Jorge Lucas

Lettered by Randy Gentile

Colored by Studio F

Cover by Adi Granov

Edited by Tom Brevoort, Andy Schmidt, and Nicole Wiley

While I was simultaneously finishing up “Best Defense” and getting ahead on “Deep End” for the upcoming biweekly run, a one-shot was scheduled for #83. In case cover-artist Adi Granov‘s schedule allowed him to try his hand at an issue-length story, I knew I had to take the action someplace other than Washington – crowds and complex backgrounds being time-consuming to digitally render. This story, pitting Iron Man against Titanium Man in a spare setting, seemed like a fit candidate for the slot. So it’s by design that this issue favors the artist (who turned out to be Jorge Lucas, done with “Best Defense”), giving him room to work his magic.

One of the appealing factors of doing a story involving a high-gravity setting was how the physiological affects tied in with the series’ concepts. Tony’s armor — and T-Man’s — are basically environment suits delivering mechanical advantages to their wearers, and that’s something you’d want to have under heavy acceleration. As I read about how G-forces can cause nitrogen narcosis and forgetfulness, I saw a good springboard. When you’ve got Tony Stark’s past problems and you wake up under a crushing, invisible weight, your first thought isn’t that you’re on an accelerating rocket.

Given how grounded in an Earth-based reality the storyline had been, though, I was reluctant to send Tony off into space. It didn’t seem like the thing a politician would be allowed to do, generally, unless your name is Jake Garn or John Glenn. One early thought had even been to set the storyline in a hypergravity chamber on Earth, where T-Man might have been tricking Tony into thinking he’s in space for some reason in an elaborate hoax. Editor Tom Brevoort wisely suggested the better visual potential of the space setting – and it just took a top-secret, horrible calamity that only Tony could resolve to make things work. Voila: Secretary in Space.

I ran portions of the idea past a scientific advisor, who pointed out that oxygen becomes toxic under extreme pressure. Thus I added the masks to Tony and T-Man whenever their helmets needed to be off. There’s no doubt a host of other physiological effects involved with these forces (could you open your eyelids unassisted?) but it was hopefully enough to give the nod to the potential problems.

We saw this Titanium Man (the third, by my count) for the first time back in Frank Tieri’s “silent issue” during Nuff Said month. (Can you imagine a better place to set a silent story than in space? Good thinking!) What that meant was that we had very little knowledge about him, other than he seemed to be a Communist mercenary. His silence, there, gave me an opening to interpret his speech patterns anyway I wanted – in a manner, here, surprising to Tony.

Believe it or not, there are places you can go to find out how much time will dilate on you at high rates of acceleration. Check out this site at Georgia State. It took me a lot longer since I needed a combination of things. The amount of dilation needed to be on a scale meaningful to the readers – and yet I didn’t want the ship accelerating ridiculously fast, since that would be beyond what we might imagine the Iron Man armor could handle. Plus, Tony could only have been unconscious for a few hours, and too great a rate of acceleration would’ve put the ship — and the comet threat — so far from Earth we’d wonder why the mission was prepared quite so urgently.

This turned out to be one of my favorite issues of the run, in part simply because the story was entirely resolved in the same issue. It’s more work, but I think it’s more immediately rewarding for the reader.

“It’s relativity. I stink at relativity.” — Iron Man

I was certain “Heavy Metal” was too obvious a name for this story, but it was hard to go anywhere else. (“Mission of Gravity” was taken.) So I fell on the old trick of borrowing from song lyrics, altering the “heavy metal suicide” phrase from Billy Joel’s “We Didn’t Start the Fire.”


There may appear to be more than one acceleration chair in the “torture chamber” early on; it’s actually just one, since Tony was the only authorized passenger. He broke free to where we found him at the beginning of the issue. T-Man didn’t have a chair, and in Tony’s haze he just didn’t notice — or figured it was someplace else.

I sure wouldn’t want to be behind that big metal door Iron Man knocks down at 50 Gs. Seems like it would be a real “Yeowtch.”

The spaceship, The Clement, was named for the late Hal Clement, author of “hard” science fiction tales like “Mission of Gravity” and “Star Light,” involving creatures from high-gravity worlds. I figured Tony would have been a fan – and would’ve considered the name appropriate for a heavy-lift vehicle. I got the chance to reread those stories after umpteen years during this sequence; they’re great stuff.

The comet, Stuart-Barnes 2, recalled two pals from high school — Carlin Stuart, now with the Memphis Science Fiction Association, and this site’s first designer Ken Barnes, who introduced me to the works of Hal Clement, among others, way back when. Salute, gents.

The two-shot strategy for altering the comet’s path recalls a similar device in “Deep Impact,” the big SF disaster movie. Not a classic but I’d watch it ten times before seeing “Armageddon,” out that same year, again…

I’ve never been to T-Man’s stated hometown of Bude, Mississippi, but there was a transmitter there in the family of public TV stations I used to watch “Doctor Who” on as a kid.

I didn’t think anyone but Tony would catch the “Energiya” slip of T-Man’s – certainly not when a hard and a soft G read the same way — but expected a few readers would catch the “cosmonaut” slip, and they did. Generally, it was older readers; if you were born after the space race ended, they’re probably all astronauts to you.

The Hammer is the same bunch mentioned over in Crimson Dynamo, my second reference to that series in this one.

For an issue that includes a plot point about a pronunciation difference, there’s a visual artifact of a minor translation difference between me and Jorge. When I saw the issue, I couldn’t for the life of me figure out what Iron Man was holding at the story’s climax. Checking the script, I realized I’d meant to write that, when T-Man smashes the skylight, Iron Man would, not knowing whether the “glass” would blow in or out, “raise a protective arm” to protect his face — his own. Jorge must have translated that into his own language as meaning a piece of machinery — a “protective arm,” of course! It’s a tiny point, but it further illustrates for scripters how it helps to be as specific as possible. (Actually, I kind of think the skylight would’ve burst outwards anyway — since it’s already accelerating equally relative to the ship. Any physics professors out there?)