- Posted: 3:46 PM, February 5, 2010
Recently, he's been happily hounded by a plethora of video game and comic geeks (slash reporters) eager to pick his brain about Sega's upcoming Iron Man 2 title.
I got the chance to sit down with Fraction while he was in New York. We talked about Lou Reed, the future of video games, writing, Tony Stark, and the horrible, horrible names teenagers call us on Xbox Live.
Matt Fraction: Once saw Lou Reed outside.
William Vitka: That's awesome.
MF: Yeah, Lou Reed works out these days.
WV: Is he jacked?
MF: Super jacked. He's all muscle.
WV: Is he sort of like the anti-Iggy Pop?
MF: No, no - he's very much like Iggy Pop. Not a lot of body mass, but it's sculpted. Like, clearly, he's a gym guy. And then, like, two seconds later, the dude from Pavement walked by.
WV: There's a secret super group meeting happening somewhere nearby...
WV: So why did Sega tap you for the Iron Man 2 game? You seem to be the guy everyone goes to.
MF: I think it's the combination of being the Iron Man guy and being a gamer and doing the consulting stuff on the [Iron Man] sequel.
WV: What do you think of [Iron Man 2 director Jon] Favreau?
MF: He's making a real movie, you know what I mean? He's not, like, "Well, it's a sequel, we gotta have three villains. We gotta-" I mean ... they start with the character, they start with the story, and then grow out from there.
WV: I think that's what everyone was saying about the first Iron Man film, especially after the Ratnerization of the X-Men. Like Marvel went, "Oh, Christ, we need someone who's actually talented to get behind this thing.
MF: I mean, It's clear when you're making a movie and when you're just making a spectacle. You don't have these actors [Robert Downey Jr., Don Cheadle] and this director when you're just making a spectacle. It speaks very much to Kevin Feige - the head of Marvel Studios - his vision for this.
WV: Going from your 'gamer' comment - how much do you play?
MF: I play a lot, very little ... very badly. 10, 15, 20 minutes, an hour of shooting friends in the head. And then going away. I don't have a single game these days that I've actually beaten.
WV: Is there a single game that you play more than other games?
MF: Whatever the new 'murder your friends' jam is. Right now it's Modern Warfare 2. And I played just a little bit of Bayonetta and Darksiders. Very much research kind of stuff - the games that I tend to play. But fun to watch, fun to look at. Opposition research.
WV: Bayonetta sort of played like a Takashi Miike fantasy or something. Just insane and over the top. To be honest with you, I've soured on Modern Warfare 2 just because I'm sick of going on Xbox Live and being a 'Fa---t' by thirteen year-olds when I kill them.
MF: Yeah! I just play in closed rooms, private matches, with friends. That's how we do it. We play with other people and they're calling us, you know [whole bunch of awful things]. What'd I get called ... oh, "Dude stop molestin'' and "Why you boy rapin?' - private messages sent to me. I was like, BLOCK. REPORT. I have no problem narcing on fifteen year-old punks.
WV: That incredible, prepubescent rage building up in moms' basements.
MF: You know what kryptonite is for that? In your deepest adult voice say "Shut up, McLovin." It breaks hearts. To be called "McLovin" breaks hearts.
WV: As a writer, is there a huge difference between writing the comic book and writing the game? I know you helped 'direct' the story.
MF: Well, there was a team of writers. Most of whom are intimately familiar with the game development cycle. And I'm not. I came in, and I was like [impersonating Patton Oswalt] "You know what, it should be like Need For Speed where you can customize your armor and paint it whatever color you want and give it wings and a big head and a fat ass and blurbada blawwrr. And then this level's gonna be a first person shooter and da da da." And they're like [shakes his head]. The joke has been all day that I was developing a game for the PlayStation ocho, you know. And that was my first kinda [experience] with this crazy stuff. They go, "let's ... focus it in."
Really what I knew I could do, what I could focus on, was tone. Was Iron Man. Was making sure the grain and the tooth of it all were all in place. Other than that - I've watched a cutscene where I didn't write a line of dialog in it. I know I offered notes. And I watched another one that was very much mine. So I was listened to sometimes, I wasn't listened to other times. It was collaborative.
WV: Were there any conflicts between you and the other writers?
MF: No, because, I have no real power there. So I offer my suggestions and it's up to Sega as the creators and the developers of this game to make it the best that they can.
WV: You mentioned previously - and you actually just did - that you were very interested in the tone. The Tony Stark tone. When you're writing or you're thinking about Iron Man - in terms of the game or the comic - do you see Robert Downey in your head?
MF: No, no. I have my own idea in my head. I mean, I was writing the book well before the movie had come out. I didn't have any special access. The first issue was in the can when I first saw the trailer - or was very close to in the can. I tried to get an in-helmet shot. The one thing I unabashedly stole was that 2001 shot. I tried to get that back into the first issue. I didn't have time to do it. But it's in the second issue. Right out of the trailer.
You know, I had my sense of who Tony was. And as I was reading the casting information, I was like, "they have that same sense." You don't put Robert Downey Jr. - you don't put these people in a movie if you want Christian Bale. You don't do Downey when you want Bale. You sorta say, "Alright, they're making a Robert Downey Jr. movie. They're making a story.
WV: Right, it's almost a character study of Tony Stark as opposed to some Michael Bay "Hey! Stuff's exploding."
MF: Yeah. Explain to me what Christian Bale brings to Batman that Sam blablablah doesn't.
WV: A carefully covered accent.
MF: You know what I mean. There's nothing spectacular about the 'Bruce' stuff. You don't look at that and go, "that's UNactable by anyone else." Those movies were James Bonding every two years. It's Keaton, it's George Clooney, it's Val Kilmer - because the actor didn't matter. Bruce Wayne didn't matter. Robert Downey Jr. is CRITICAL to Iron Man. He IS Iron Man. That was a great 'meta' moment, you know, at the end of of the first film.
WV: With regards to working with Sega and the Iron Man 2 game, was there a high point? Something inexplicably awesome?
MF: Realizing how deep the toy box was. A game is very different from a comic - which sounds like a dumb thing to say - but in terms of what its narrative demands are, you need a lot of action in a game. You have to have a lot of playability, a lot of enemies, you have to churn through stuff very quickly. So I got to bring in Iron Man guys that I haven't gotten to in the comic yet. Just because the demand, thr turnover in the game, is so high.
WV: And as a storyteller, what kind of potential do you see in video games as storytelling devices, not just as button mashing things.
MF: With 3D coming into the home, we're really creeping up on immersive interactive experiences. And the sooner writers get in the room, the better. Because then, the sooner it will stop being viewed as a medium for juveniles. Which ultimately games are. It doesn't matter if it makes a hundred million dollars. The technology doesn't matter, the scope doesn't matter, the depth, the breadth - the beauty, even. 'It's a thing for kids.' Games aren't taken seriously. But the sooner we can look at telling real stories, better.
WV: It remind me, I was talking to [author] Warren Ellis for a story I was doing when I was at CBS. And I was trying to figure out if there was ever going to be like a 'Moby Dick' of gaming. Warren, if I remember correctly, seemed to be of the position that that wasn't going to happen.
MF: Yeah, yeah, I mean you can keep quiet and make the same game nine times and make 600 million dollars. I don't know if it's gonna happen, but the potential is there. Someone like Ken Levine comes along and clearly there's someone thinking of a story - and he's wondering how to we make a story. How to we make the game and how do we make the story. And as we get towards PlayStation ocho - and the capabilities expand - you know, the first truly 3D first person shooter is gonna make a trillion dollars. The second one is gonna make four dollars. It's a trick you get once. Something works today and [mimicking holding a game controller, lowering it] it's "oh, it's this again." You're paying $80 for the exact same experience. Imagine a 3D Katamari.
WV: It'd be terrifying.
MF: Right? Imagine Okami, with the brush. Imagine 3D Bayonetta. Now, aside from the sense explosion, which hits you right off, it's not a long experience. You need to find a way to keep people coming back.
WV: There's a certain amount of addiction slash masturbation going on with games.
MF: Yeah. So, the possibility is there, yes. Will it happen? I don't know. Has Hollywood had its 'Moby Dick'? It's had its 'Citizen Kane,' but that's not 'Moby Dick.'
WV: Now for the obligatory 'movie video games tend to suck' question -
MF: They do.
WV: Is Iron Man 2 its own animal or is it like Iron Man 2: The movie: The Game.
MF: It's not an adaptation of the film. It's a parallel experience. In the same way that, in the comics, there's a Marvel universe an Ultimate universe. They have their own rules and their own masters that they need to serve.
WV: When Sega approached you, did they say, "we want to make a game taking ideas from the movie."
MF: Yeah. Well, not even ideas, Tony is really the main idea - who he is. They're both [the movie and the game] about early 'in the public' days of Iron Man. That's what they both share, but they go off in their own directions.
WV: Is there any way that you can tell me about Tony in the game versus Tony in the movie? Without giving anything away, obviously.
MF: They are very similar. They've both declared to the world that they're Iron Man and think that means that life is just gonna get super awesome, when in fact it just makes life much more difficult.
WV: Do we see any of the torment that Stark goes through?
MF: You know, it's hard to get torment in a game. You definitely see the torment physically. And punchable. It's hard to punch torment. And games need stuff to punch.
WV: At any point did anyone from Sega say, "we tried to do this in the first game and it didn't work and boy, we'd like to avoid that mistake again"?
MF: There was one character ... I can't remember who it was. I had some character, and they were like, "Ahhh, he was in the first game so let's just stay away from it." They wanted to do a clean break.
WV: I can imagine they would. I think GameSpot called it the 'Worst Game Everybody Played' or something.
WV: Yeah, it was a bummer.
MF: I know the controls were a big part of that.
WV: Did you play the first game?
MF: Just the demo.
WV: What were you personally aiming to do with this opportunity?
MF: I was given a chance to try and protect this character - that I'm really fond of. To try and make sure that Iron Man 2 is not received the way Iron Man 1 was. So, I just tried to add little bits. You know, like, one of the cutscenes I hadn't written a line in. But one of them was very much me. And I said, "Alright, that sounds like a line from the Iron Man book. That sounds like a line from the Iron Man movie. That works. Mission accomplished in that instance." I just wanted to protect him. I have a tremendous fondness for this character. I have become quite protective of him.
WV: Well, there's a reason you won the Eisner award.
WV: Have you seen the completed game?
MF: I've seen snippets but I haven't had the chance to play it yet.
WV: Do you see yourself working on more games in the future?
MF: I'd like to, yeah. And hopefully sooner so I can get more involved in the process.
WV: How involved would you want to get?
MF: I mean, it would depend on what else I was doing. I'm a Marvel employee first and foremost. Contractually if nothing else. It's kind of catch as catch can. We'll see.
WV: Would there ever be an opportunity for you to approach Marvel and say, "Hey, I've got a game idea"?
MF: I don't know, it never occurred for me to do that. I would know who to talk to if I wanted to. I've got the guy's phone number. So if I ever wanted to bark up that tree, I know where the tree is.