Tony promised GQ they could put a previously unseen photo of him in the article if he was ever caught kissing Stark Industries CEO, Virginia Potts. While the magazine thought they were being clever by publishing it anyway, the last laugh was with Stark, when not long after the June issue of the magazine went on sale, grainy photos of Iron Man kissing a redhead on a roof in Queens surfaced.
Stark Industries' marketing department also snapped up a golden opportunity to tease the new Stark Telecommunications handset, which Mr Stark was seen using at the infamous 'assclowns' senate hearing.
Author's Note:This is part of the MediAvengers blog, and is merely a transcript of an article that has been created to look as if it is a scan from a real magazine. Please take the time to visit mediavengers dot com to experience the piece as it is intended.
A huge thanks to Lancinate for all the hard work editing this piece. Also, a special mention to tumblr user clawfoottub for supplying that photo with the pants, after the Google failed me spectacularly.
Disclaimer: All characters and settings are the property of the original owners or creators. I am in no way affiliated with Marvel, and make no monetary gain from posting this work.
He's been in charge of one of the world's biggest companies since he was twenty-one. Now about to turn forty, Tony Stark talks to Sid Franken about redemption, resurrection, and handing over the reins.
Tony Stark carries with him a gleaming gold and red suitcase.
It remains next to his chair during our entire interview. You might expect he'd be nervous, leaving something so uniquely valuable out of sight, but he never once glances over or reaches down to ensure it's still there. "Trust me," he says, following my gaze. "You'll know if somebody tries to steal it". He claims it's obsolete, that he only carries it with him because he's afraid his CEO will 'fire' him if he doesn't. He picks through his pockets, and pulls out a stick of gum and what looks like a flash drive. It's monogrammed with the Stark Industries logo and a stylized icon of the Iron Man helmet, gleaming a cool metallic blue in the mid-morning light coming through the conference room window.
Stark looks up from the surface of the table and raises his eyebrows.
"Hope you don't mind me making my own recording," he says, not at all asking, and I nod.
Stark, despite no longer being the CEO of the company that facilitated his rise to infamy, is still the head of Stark Research and Development. And he knows an opportunity when he sees it. "There's a whole line of Iron Man merchandise now, action figures, phones, and of course, this wee baby here." He taps at the device. "But Pepper says I can't tell you what it is, because it's not out yet... and to be honest I kind of like screwing with you."
Our interview is taking place in the conference facilities of what most New Yorkers will know as the MetLife building, recently acquired by Mr Stark's company. When I ask him about the motivation behind the purchase, Stark claims ignorance. "Ask Potts, she made the deal. I just signed on the dotted line." He grins and takes a sip from his stainless steel water bottle. "When that woman tells you to do something, you do it."
Stark remembers staring at the Stark Industries insignia, as he tried to work out what direction he wanted the company to take after his imprisonment in Afghanistan. He was likely suffering from post traumatic stress disorder – a claim he refutes – and the shock of discovering he had almost been blown up by his own design. The child of a brilliant engineer, even more brilliant himself, groomed and encouraged to become a weapons designer from a very young age. Rich, powerful, and politically savvy, but existing in a world of decadence and excess.
For years, Stark was prefaced as "the brilliant son of Howard Stark." It wasn't until he shunned the core business of his company that Tony Stark became a lauded man in his own right. Pushing forward with innovative technology - and the continued development of the first ever stable high capacity clean energy generator (a design he is developing from his father's famous 'arc reactor') - he has gone from The Merchant of Death to Green Geek of the Year in record time. In a bizarre turn of events, he has also become the first real superhero we've seen in the modern era, using his mind bending engineering abilities to create the most incredible feat of robotics the world has ever seen.
When I ask him about what it's like to be a superhero turning forty, Stark is not at all modest. "I'm amazing. I know I'm amazing, you know I'm amazing. Let's talk about how amazing I am."
Still, even with his astonishing success, life isn't perfect. My interview is scheduled for just a few days after the highly publicized incident at the Monaco Grand Prix, itself closely following a senate hearing regarding the Iron Man suit, and Stark's right to the intellectual property. Footage from CSPAN has already amassed over ten million hits on YouTube, and when I ask about the already infamous 'assclowns' quote, Stark just grins."Come on," he says. "You would have called them something worse. Admit it."
I must have made a pained face, because he doesn't give me much time to respond. "So I make this thing, right? It's like nothing anyone's ever seen before. But my company gets funding from the DOD to make weapons, so by default this… let's keep calling it the thing… so yeah the thing by default belongs to the US government?. No. It came from my brain, and my hands. You don't see them laying claim to my future spawn, so why should I hand over the nearest thing I have to a kid?" He crosses his arms and leans back in his chair. "I feel like I need to apologize to Iron Man for calling him a thing, but that would be apologizing to myself, and that's weird. It's weird, right?"
Do you think it's weird?
"I guess the world's getting weird. Who knows what constitutes weird now. Two years ago you may have thought Tony Stark risking his life for the good of humanity was weird. Now that happens every Tuesday, and occasionally on the weekends so… weird is relative."
Stark suggests now that he has begun to think about his legacy, rather than living in the here and now. "I'm not going to be here forever, and things like Monaco aren't exactly few and far between... I need to think about what's going to happen if I'm not here to pilot Iron Man for much longer. It's got nothing to do with age, and everything to do with statistics. People wanna kill me... comes with the territory."
Still, in the middle of the chaos that has been the past year of his life, there's one certainty. Stark has a solid, steady woman leading the charge for Stark Industries, leaving him to focus on his heroics. "Pepper is... Pepper is amazing. Did I tell you that? She's been my executive assistant for... well for a long time, and I honestly can't think of another person who would put up with my shit." Stark grins, eyes twinkling and the corner of his mouth twitching. "If you ask her, she'll say she's been running the company for years, but don't believe her. It's all lies. Part of her business acumen."
I ask him what he was thinking when he hired her.
"In two words: Nice ass. Wait, that's incredibly sexist, isn't it? Would it make you feel better if I told you I said it out loud, and she replied with would you like some misogyny to go with your chauvinism? I hired her on the spot."
Potts may have been justified, had she turned down the job, but more than a few years on, Stark is visibly and vocally glad she didn't. "Without Pepper, there couldn't be an Iron Man, and Stark Industries. It's a simple fact. Everyone knows I suffer from tunnel vision, it's part of being a genius. Which I am." He laughs, and fiddles with the stick of gum, unwrapping it quickly and tossing it in his mouth.
Being considered the third most intelligent person in the world must be a thrill.
"Number one. Don't believe anyone who says third, Richards' got nothing on me, and... who's the other?"
It's only been a few short weeks since handing over administrative control of Stark Industries. The way Stark describes it, it was the easiest decision he's made in his life; a thought that came to him in a moment of clarity, while hanging up a piece of artwork in his workshop. "I realized that I didn't really want to deal with all that company running bullshit, y'know? And then I kinda realized that Pepper's the one who does most of the mundane bullshit anyway so... why not?"
We talk about Potts for a few minutes, but eventually, I turn the spotlight back on him, with another question about how it feels to be forty. "Forty? Who says I'm forty? I'm not forty, am I?"
Nearly forty, then, I reiterate, and he smirks.
"Does anyone really give a shit about age? I mean, it's kind of irrational, isn't it? Paul Newman drove race cars in his eighties. Look at Betty White, she's almost ninety and still going strong. I bet you if Captain America were still alive right now, he wouldn't stop being a patriot just because he's getting a bit creaky."
Some call Captain America the first superhero, what's your take on that?
He raises an eyebrow at me, and frowns. "Are you insinuating that I'm chasing after some kind of glory that went out of fashion when my dad was in his twenties? No. Who gives a crap about some long dead guy in tights? Read the comics, dress up in a flag at Comic-Con, whatever." He snaps his gum and leans back in his chair. "The military wants to take my suit, give it a paint job, and turn some lunkhead into a symbol for American strength. Sound familiar to you? It's the same old story, just without a magic potion."
He moves on then, back to Iron Man, birthday parties, and Potts' replacement as his assistant.
"She's something else, seriously. This gorgeous redhead with the most amazing..." he holds his hands in front of his chest for a moment, "...skills in the boxing ring. First time I met her, she took out a good friend of mine, three times her size, probably four times her weight – he's a big boy – anyway, I was looking at photos of her in her underwear at the time and I turned to Pepper, and she just looks at me and says 'no'."
I point out that the story is awfully familiar, and he looks at me pointedly. "I expect the best from my assistants, is that wrong?" I shake my head and he chuckles. "I'm just messing with you. Anyway, she's organizing this great party for me, celebrities up the wazoo, world's best scotch, freakin' [DJ AM] Adam Goldstein on the decks. I mean sure, it can't be hard to get people there, it's me after all – I'm Tony Stark – but she's only been in the job a couple weeks."
Having a conversation with Tony Stark is a little like swimming in shark infested waters with a small cut on the inside of your palm, and no cage to keep you safe You now it's only a matter of time before you get bitten, and for me, it's when I ask about the nature of his relationship with Virginia Potts.
"She's the CEO of the company I own. What else were you hoping to hear?"
There have been rumors of a romantic liaison between the two of you. What's your response to that?
He tosses his head back and laughs. "You seriously believe that? That a woman like her would be my PA for a decade, and sleep with me? I mean sure, I used to hit on her all the time, but suggesting we're in some kind of romance is one of the most ridiculous things I've heard all week – and yesterday someone told me that there's some kind of enormous green monster on the loose in South America."
You mean The Hulk?
The eyebrow is raised once again. "The Hulk is an urban legend propagated by the military to induce fear in the minds of their contractors. Trust me, there is no green giant running around in the jungle in Brazil. And there is no romance between myself and Ms. Potts. You ever see me sucking face with her, I give you permission to release that photo of me in tight gold pants that your magazine's had stashed away since the early nineties."
I'll hold you to that.
"Well, you have it on record." He gestures to my own recorder. "Don't worry, I'm not going to zap this interview into obscurity with the click of a button."
He's appears to be joking, but I've learned very quickly that you never know with Tony Stark.
The conversation eventually turns to his disappearance, and subsequent rescue, in Afghanistan. While many of the details are been classified, he admits that it was a hard few months.
"You're probably looking at me thinking 'oh, he's Tony Stark, used to opulence and comfort and people waiting on him hand and foot,' and yeah that's right, I guess, to a point. But at the end of the day, I'm an engineer. I get greasy and grimy, and whack my head on the underside of cars when I get up too fast. This was a different level, sure. But when you're thrown into these situations, you do what you have to to survive. You scramble and claw for whatever you can find, and you think Nike."
"Just do it." He grins.
And how did your ego handle having to just do it?
"My ego?" He barks a laugh and runs a hand through his goatee. "You know what, there's no place for egos in situations like that. You're not you anymore, you're not famous, you're not rich, nobody gives a shit that you're there. You sit there in your own filth, and sometimes you wonder what's happened for your life to come to this, but at the end of the day, you stand up, and get through another day. And I can't give you any specifics or the military will have my guts for garters, but I can tell you that when it's not just you – when there's someone else there who is relying on you or they won't make it through the day – well it sure as hell is a humbling experience."
He goes quiet for a long while, chewing at his gum, and flicking through something on his phone, and I wait.
Eventually, Stark asks me if I'd like a drink. I decline, and he heads for the wet bar, pouring himself a healthy measure from a decanter, and sitting back down.
"Sometimes... sometimes when I get into the suit, I wonder which is the real me. This incredible piece of engineering I'm wearing, or the meat-suit underneath."
You said it yourself, you're Tony Stark.
"This is true... you ever spend so much time doing the one thing, that you lose sight of who you are?"
Yes. Doesn't everyone?
"That's what I mean. I am Iron Man. I am Tony Stark. Identity's a strange thing. You spend years and years building up a persona – an armor, if you like – to protect you from the vultures circling, waiting for you to screw up and fall on your face. I guess in some ways, I've just swapped the metaphorical armor for a physical one."
And that's just the reality of life in the public eye, I suppose?
He laughs without mirth, and takes a sip of his drink. "Billionaire families, society, geniuses... sounds glamorous and wonderful, doesn't it? I guess in a way it is, but it would be nice to go to go to the fucking store to get some milk without everyone getting out their camera phone. Sometimes I miss the eighties. Everyone looked ridiculous, and cellphones were the size of suitcases.
You ever think about being the one to make them smaller?
"You're going to think I'm talking out my ass, but I saw modern cellphones coming when I was a kid. No way was I going to invent something that would impinge even further on everyone's right to privacy. As much as I would have loved to take the credit."
And yet you make them now.
He laughs. "Whatever, man. I grew up. Privacy's dead, and I'm a fucking superhero. You don't see me running around like Clark Kent, bein' all covert, do you? Humanity's moving at a pace a lot of the world is struggling to keep up with, and I'm not one to be left behind."
So despite complaining about a lack of privacy, you accept it?
"Do you seriously think I go to the store and buy my own milk? No." He waves his hand flippantly. "You expect me to hate it, like everyone else. Every celebrity out there bitches about their right to privacy and blah blah whatever. I'm kind of... ambivalent about the whole thing."
"Yeah, I mean... I've got better things to do than spend hours planning the best disguise to hide from the paps. They exist, everyone's gotta make a dollar... survive however they can..." he trails off and glances out the window for a moment before tossing back the last of his drink, setting the glass back down on the table, and standing up. "You know what? I have no idea what the fuck I'm talking about. Walk with me."
We head for the balcony, high above the streets of Manhattan. Despite being directly above the hustle and bustle of the city, the alcove is quiet. Stark sits at one of the two small tables and gestures for me to join him. A personal chef serves us lunch: shepherd's pie. On the balcony nearby is a metal robot. He has an ax in one hand, and a potato peeler in the other. "Don't piss him off, he's dangerous," Stark says. "He gets into moods and the arms start swinging."
After lunch, Stark takes me on a whirlwind tour of the public areas of the tower. I feel a little like a bull in a china shop on some of the more research focused floors, but Stark insists if I knock anything over, it will only cause a single floor quarantine.
At one point, talking about Stark Industries' foray into clean energy, we stop at a laboratory door marked Authorized Personnel Only. "And this is where our tour ends," Stark says. "Please remember to sign the guest book on the way out."
Before I can voice my concern over the abrupt end to our interview, he claps me on the shoulder. "I'm just kidding, man." He steers me back in the direction of the elevator, and we return to the conference room we began in.
Almost immediately after we have returned to our seats, the sharp rap of knuckles sounds on the door, and a woman enters, files in hand. She is stunningly beautiful, curvy and feminine, with a glint in her eye that makes me shift nervously in my chair. Her unnaturally red hair is a shock against the monochrome tone of the room. "Ms. Potts requires that you sign this paperwork as soon as possible, Mr Stark."
"That's her job now," he responds.
"This is to do with Monaco."
He grins, and shoves the files aside. "Great. I'll do it when I'm free in about... never. Oh by the way, this is my assistant, Natalie. Natalie, this is GQ dude."
Natalie glances at me momentarily, and smiles tightly. "Pleased to meet you," she says, before placing one finger on the files, and sliding them back towards Stark. "Ms. Potts insists you sign these before we return to Los Angeles."
"Do I get to read them first?"
"Ms. Potts assures me everything is in order."
Stark reaches into his pocket for a pen, coming up empty. "Fuck, who has pens nowadays?"
Natalie's response is to produce a pen seemingly out of thin air, which he uses to hurriedly sign the four pages. "Okay, done. Anything else our lord and master requires?"
"Not today, Mr. Stark."
"Thank you, Natalie."
Natalie picks up the folder, and turns to smile at me. "I'll be back in an hour to ensure Mr. Stark hasn't done anything irrational. In the mean time, please be aware there is a panic button in your right trouser pocket." She nods at Stark, and leaves. I pat at my pants, a little alarmed. There's an object in there, about the size of a stick of gum, which definitely wasn't there before.
"Fantastic, isn't she?"
I nod - I'm sure something affirmative comes from my mouth - and glance down at my notebook.
Before the recent change in the direction of Stark Industries, Stark says he was not a particularly socially conscious man. "I mean... I donated stuff here and there, but how much can you do for the world when you're making weapons?" he asks. "What happened in Afghanistan was the best fucking thing that could have happened. It gave me Iron Man, it gave me a new direction. Not everything has been particularly comfortable." He stares thoughtfully out the window for a few moments. "I don't know, I guess we're all gonna die some day, right? May as well enjoy it while it lasts, do something worthwhile."
You think one day one of Iron Man's enemies is going to succeed?
He laughs sharply. "Yeah, you could say that." His smile is wry, and a little sad. Not at all the Tony Stark I've seen over the past few hours.
You seem like you've certainly come to terms with mortality.
"I've lived my whole life doing what everyone expects. Pushpushpush, take college classes in middle school, go to college early, triple major, be CEO, blow shit up... life flies by when you're living someone else's dream." He scratches at his beard for a moment. "Now that death stares me in the face every time I look in the mirror, I guess it's inspired me to live more."
That's a pretty bleak statement to make. You really feel that way?
"I have no fucking idea." He grins, and reaches for his water bottle. "You want another drink?"
I shake my head, and pour myself a glass of water from the carafe on the table. Stark pulls out a square box that beeps when he presses his thumb to it, and his mouth tightens. He shoves the box back into a pocket, and props his feet up on the chair across from him.
Is it easy for you to believe you're the same person who spent three months trapped in a cave?
"Yeah, of course. It's part of who I am."
It just makes perfect sense to you?
"Nothing makes perfect sense. Life doesn't make sense. Most of us are looking for some kind of higher meaning, when we're really just a bunch of fluid sloshing around in a bag, waiting to reproduce and then die."
So you don't believe we're here for a reason?
"Look, I'm an engineer and a scientist. I make things, and I fix things. I study things. I don't spend my spare time looking for some... higher meaning to why we're here."
I ask Stark what the key thing that finally enabled him to move away from the weapons business was.
"I was almost blown up by my own bomb, and it wasn't because I was fucking about with the electronics." He's almost flippant with his answer, and I'm silent for a moment.
And there was no other reason?
He asks me if he needs any other reason, and I shake my head.
The conversation turns from the serious back to the irreverent after that, with Stark regaling me of some of his adventures in the Iron Man armor, mocking some of the assailants he has subdued.
"Of course, half of it I can't tell you about because... well stuff."
"Yep." He sighs and stretches back on his chair. "What's the point of being a public superhero if you can't tell people all the awesome adventures you've had, right?"
Have you injured yourself while out in the armor?
"Oh you have no idea. The first time Pepper saw me disassembling she nearly had a pulmonary embolism." I ask for him to elaborate.
"There may or may not have been bullet holes."
So there were bullet holes, then?
"I've improved the alloy since the early days. Takes a bit more to punch a dent in the Iron Man now."
How much longer do you think you'll be able to pilot Iron Man?
"Right now, I'm thinking the rest of my life."
Would you walk away if your body told you to stop?
"Probably not." His smile is surprisingly self-deprecating. "Here's the thing. At this point in my life, I am Iron Man. Iron Man is me, and it's nobody else. For me to throw that all away, and go back to being just Tony Stark, womanizing genius billionaire well... that's just not going to happen."
And if you were to have a family?
He laughs. "Yeah no. Not gonna happen, man."
I admire your decisiveness, but can you really know what's around the corner?
I let the subject drop, instead steering the conversation back to Iron Man, and how Stark fits heroics into his busy schedule. He talks for a moment about Potts, and then Natalie, going as far to say without a competent assistant, he would have never made it past twenty-five.
What about Obadiah Stane? Surely he would have been there to steer you in the right direction.
Stark shuts down at the question, clearly aggrieved by the loss of his mentor and former business partner. He pours another glass of liquor, and sips thoughtfully. We're silent for a few minutes, as he gathers his thoughts.
"Yeah, we don't talk about Obadiah. Next question."
There's something fascinating – and perhaps very telltale of the odd and impressive person Tony Stark has grown into – about the fact that he wants to be a superhero, rather than slipping back into his playboy lifestyle. "The funny thing is," he clarifies, "even as Iron Man, I still get to live like a hedonist. I just have a few more unexpected scheduling conflicts. Although to be fair, there are... people... who like to run incredibly thorough security checks on whoever I take out for a drink."
If focusing on Iron Man missions means turning down this year's Maxim cover models, that's fine. "Saying no is great. I love saying no," he explains. He also believes he has come to be a wise judge of character. "I'm awesome at spotting an asshole," he says. "I love saying no to people who aren't worth a moment of my time, and it's even more satisfying when I don't use Iron Man as an excuse."
Somewhat ironic, I point out, given that he spent the first twenty or so years of his adult life splashed all over tabloids with his latest conquests, and in later years, youtube (and some more adult sites). Stark smiles somewhat bashfully, surprising for someone so arrogant.
"Yeah, well," he says, smirking a little. "Even my butler is glad I don't pop up naked on the internet anymore."
Do you ever consider yourself lucky that you've risen above becoming a potential punchline?
"That's being generous. Last time I had a party, I remember three people sharing Tony Stark jokes, and then things got a bit blurry after that."
Were they funny?
"I really don't care."
Do you think it's fair that people feel the need to tell jokes at your expense?
"It's human nature to make fun of those who succeed. People say and do whatever the fuck they want."
Is that the real Tony Stark talking, or just the public persona?
"That's just a fact. I couldn't care less."
I'm impressed by your ability to ignore criticism.
"If I dwelt on shit like that, I would probably be lying on the couch in a depressive state of catatonia. Instead, I'm here with you."
Do you think there was ever a time you could have been on the couch?
"God like, every day? You look at your life and go hey, you know what? I might be rich and handsome, and famous, and have my pick of whoever I want to fuck, whenever I want, but life's hard. Life sucks. Life is when you sell your soul to a corporation before you're even old enough to sign a contract. Life is deciding who is going to die today, because you only have enough bullets to kill half the bad guys. Life is about making decisions that could put you on the couch at any moment. But life ends, and you have to make sure you've made the most of it before it's over. And you remind yourself that every day, and that's what keeps you off the couch."
Is Iron Man what keeps you off it?
"Who am I?"
"You're dead right."