To coincide with the release of Iron Man 3, Marvel teamed up with Madhouse to release a little title by the name of Iron Man: Rise of the Technovore. Focusing on Tony Stark coming up against a far more advanced being than himself or his suit, the story pulled heavily from the characterisations and developments that we’ve seen in the recent Marvel cinematic films. Featuring the likes of Tony Stark, James ‘Rhodey’ Rhodes, Nick Fury, Black Widow and Hawkeye, the film also had The Punisher make a typically grizzled appearance, as Stark essentially became a fugitive.
Whilst the full Starburst review can be found here, we also had the chance to pose a few questions to Marvel producers Megan Thomas Bradner and Harrison Wilcox, and writer Brandon Auman. Topics range from the anime style of the film, to the ‘90s comic book low, to Norman Reedus’ badass Punisher job, to what animated Marvel features we may see next plus much more.
Megan Thomas Bradner
Starburst: How did it feel to oversee such an aesthetically different Iron Man film?
Megan Thomas Bradner: Doing a direct-to-TV (DTV), versus the grind of doing 12 episodes concurrently with another series (the Iron Man anime series was done at the same time as the Wolverine anime) allowed us and Madhouse a bit more time to spend on the design and over-all look of the show. We wanted to make it a worldwide adventure, and have him flying all over, and feature a lot more of the Marvel Universe. We loved the opportunity to slightly tweak the Iron Man armour, as well as come up with designs for Nick Fury, Maria Hill, War Machine, Black Widow, Hawkeye and The Punisher. Iron Man’s armour and Punisher were the toughest, and we went through a few different design takes before we nailed down a version that worked.
With the use of anime, were there ever any thoughts on focusing on a different hero, or was Tony Stark always the plan from the get-go?
Iron Man was always the starting character. I think it was the idea of what Madhouse could do with his armour, the villains he could face and so on – to see that in an anime style made sense to Marvel.
Why was such a relatively obscure villain as Technovore chosen, especially given that the character is largely associated with such a downtime in comic book history?
Now, now, don’t judge a character by their time period! In a shared universe it’s not always about the starting point, but about the journey. Most creators eventually have to ‘pass the ball’ and it’s fun to see what the next person does with it, so to speak. Look at characters like Darkhawk (Abnett and Lanning and Cebulski ran with him) or Sleepwalker (Yost did a great job with him). And remember Ghost Rider, Cable, Gambit and Deadpool are ‘90s babies. Comics are rife with people taking characters once thought second or third tier and “reinventing them” (Grant Morrison and Geoff Johns have made a career of this! Or look at the recent hit –and awesome- Image books’ Propher and Glory!)
That said, I catch your drift. Technovore is a minor character in the comics (only appearing twice) – but that doesn’t mean the character didn’t and doesn’t have a lot of possibility. We liked the concept, the idea of placing that power up against Iron Man; a man aided by technology against technology unchecked.
How easy was it to cast the film, and did you always have clear visions of what you wanted from your actors for each role?
Animation takes a long time, so we had a long time to discuss our wish lists for the cast. It changed a lot as our dates firmed up and we got a better handle on release date and recording schedule. We’re really happy with the cast we managed to get – I think Matt Mercer did a really great job with Tony. Walking that line that Tony Stark walks, between charming and jerk, and still being able to play the heroism of Iron Man is no mean feat. And of course, the minute my colleague Harrison Wilcox suggested Norman Reedus for The Punisher, we knew we just had to get him, that he’d be perfect.
After landing Norman Reedus for the role of The Punisher, was there any thought given to expanding the character's role in the film?
Unfortunately given the way animation works, we didn’t lock down the cast until well after the story and script were finished and animation was done. It was already recorded in Japanese before we got our hands on it for the English revision. Love Punisher though.
With talk from Jeph Loeb of a Punisher/Black Widow animated tale, is this something you're at a stage to give full details on yet? Also, are there plans to move forward with any further anime style Marvel projects?
If fans want to see more anime, let us know. We’d love to make more.
Starburst: How easy is it to develop a standalone story like Rise of the Technovore given the looming shadow of the Marvel cinematic universe? Are there any compromises that have to be made as a result?
Harrison Wilcox: Every film in the cinematic universe stands as its own story but still fits into the larger picture of the franchise. Rise of the Technovore does the same.
What drew you to the story of Technovore out of all of the possible Iron Man stories that you could have ran with?
When you look at Tony’s suits, Technovore is a different evolutionary branch Tony could have gone down with the technology. It’s interesting to see Tony go up against something that’s different but also his equal. Following up with the Stane family from the first film was something that appealed to us also.
How hard is it to balance being truly respectful to the original source material yet making often necessary changes to attract a new audience?
We focus on telling the best stories we can while honouring what’s important about the characters, it’s what makes Tony and Iron Man special. That hasn’t changed since the original source material although in the books the characters themselves have grown and changed over time.
Is there ever a fear of backlash from the long-time Iron Man fans when making changes to certain parts of the comic book folklore?
We tell the best stories we can. With Iron Man in particular, it’s very easy to keep Marvel characters relevant and accessible for today’s audiences. It’s part of what’s so great about these characters - their timeless relatability.
With such a dialogue heavy villain, how important was it to encompass a lot of action into the film?
We pushed hard for a lot of action in this DTV; more action per minute than in the series. Whenever possible we tried to have dialog on action.
As a huge fan of the series, I have to ask, are there any plans to move forward with an Ultimate Spider-Man animated film at some point in the near future?
There are no plans for a feature length animated film at this point, but there is a big two part event that is almost done. It’s a lot of fun so stay tuned.
Starburst: Did the use of the anime style influence your writing at all?
Brandon Auman: Certainly. If you’re working with Madhouse, you want to write a lot of fun, crazy action sequences that will inspire the writer, and hopefully the board artists and animators. They definitely wanted battles between armoured characters, confrontations with other superheroes, monstrous tentacle-waving enemies… that kind of thing.
Did the Marvel cinematic universe have an influence on what you could or couldn't do with the story? The use of Obadiah Stane would certainly seem to be an inclusion that was geared towards the recent Marvel audience, as would Black Widow, Hawkeye and S.H.I.E.L.D. Was it a case of using characters that modern audiences are now familiar with in order to grab their attention and progress into a new, exciting story?
Well the MCU wasn’t really in the back of my head at all… other than Robert Downey Jr.’s portrayal of Stark. I hadn’t seen the scripts for either Avengers Assemble or Iron Man 3. The only thing I knew about Avengers was what they would tell me, based on notes. The script was super secretive at that stage. This is a little known fact, but I had a scene where Tony leaps out of the hellicarrier to escape. He summons his armour remotely and it attaches to him, just like in Avengers Assemble. Obviously they had me change that, haha.
With Tony Stark dropping a few more jokes than his comic-book equivalent, was Robert Downey Jr. in mind during the writing of the character?
At this point, it’s impossible to divorce the two, isn’t it? Robert Downey Jr. really is Tony Stark. Even in his personal appearances, he seems to rock the goatee quite a bit! So yeah, he was forefront in my mind… but because I didn’t know who we would cast, I didn’t want to make him too jokey or Downey-ish… so I went with the comic Tony approach as well.
With heroes often having to save face and be shown as super strong characters and experts in their fields, how much of a problem was it to pit hero against hero (or anti-hero in Frank Castle's case) in this film whilst making sure that each hero had time to show their skills?
It’s the same kind of balancing act that Joss Whedon had to do in Avengers Assemble. You want to see Black Widow kick ass, you want to see Hawkeye use some cool trick arrows, and you want to see the Punisher, well… punish. Madhouse really pulled it off. The Punisher scene was one of my favourites.
Was there any other heroes that you'd thought about incorporating into the story but who ultimately failed to make the cut?
Nope, that was pretty much it on the hero front. Although early on the concept wasn’t Technovore. It was going to be Ultron… and Zeke would have morphed into a cybernetic hybrid with its own emergent intelligence. It would have looked more like Ultron and the merging would have taken place sooner.
Despite Marvel still being way behind DC when it comes to their animated film, Iron Man: Rise of the Technovore was a welcome change of style. It had its good points, but ultimately falls into the shadow of its cinematic big brothers. Props to Marvel and Madhouse for trying a new direction and a more unconventional story, though. Here’s hoping that future Marvel animated titles can catch up with their DC counterparts.