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World-building through the eyes of Iron Man

Time for another writer’s commentary installment! This time we’ll look at world-building by using a character’s point of view. In this case, the character is Iron Man/ Tony Stark.

I also had a blast characterizing Stark and three of Gotham City’s leading players: Mayor Hill, Commissioner Gordon, and billionaire Bruce Wayne.

Establishing each of their personalities, with their differing opinions on how to protect Gotham, is all part of the world-building.

Let’s dive into Chapter Four of “Armored Underworld!”


“It’s customary to wait until after the presentation to celebrate, Mr. Stark,” Gotham City Mayor Hamilton Hill said.

After researching several Gotham city mayors, I went with Hamilton Hill from the “Batman: The Animated” series. Nostalgia.

Tony Stark looked over the rim of his martini glass at the man seated in the first row of stadium seats across from the stage.

Cover to "Demon in a Bottle" story featuring Iron Man, an excellent example of world-building
From Iron Man 120-128 by writer David Michelinie with art by John Romita Sr.

Confession: I really had no care at all for Iron Man until the MCU became a thing. I did know the character, mainly from the comic book version of the “Civil War” story and the infamous “Demon in a Bottle” story.

I leaned in hard on the alcoholic playboy who had way too much ego for my Tony Stark. This way, he’d parallel Batman’s Bruce Wayne persona but contrast with Batman’s hard-nosed, uber-responsible approach.

Hill was a straight-up politician, from his slick suit to his four-hundred-dollar haircut and neatly trimmed mustache. Despite his statement, Hill didn’t have the same curmudgeon expression as the gray-haired gentleman beside him, Police Commissioner James Gordon. Hill may still be receptive to his proposal.

Gordon? Not so much. His eight years in Gotham hadn’t been kind to him. Gordon looked like a beaten man, but one who’d continue taking that beating if it meant serving justice.

This may appear a heavy-handed way to describe the two men, but I’m using the conceit that Stark is here to sell a product. He’d size up his buyers in just this way to figure how to play them. If it allows me to drop some description, win-win!

Stark threw back the last of the vodka and vermouth from the glass. Setting the glass on the lectern next to him, he reached inside the lectern and withdrew a bottle of Belvedere vodka and an open shaker.

Product placement.

“Why wait, Hamilton?” Stark said. He poured a heavy-handed amount of vodka into the shaker.

“One thing I’ve learned as Iron Man, you never know what tomorrow may bring.”

As one of the planet’s resident geniuses, Stark had an imagination for all things technology. Trapped in an Iraq cave by ISIS terrorists, that creativity allowed him to turn scrap parts from various armaments his company had developed into the first suit of Iron Man armor.

Since then, he’d seen the alien Skrulls invade the Earth, necessitating an alliance with Nick Fury’s SHIELD organization and the outlaw mutant heroes called the X-Men.

The alliance with SHIELD continued when Stark tried to make an artificial intelligence named Ultron as the lead of a drone army of crimefighters.

Unfortunately, Ultron deemed Mankind as the planet’s greatest threat and tried to wipe them out. It took some ingenuity and Fury’s heroes to get out of that one.

And that didn’t include personal attacks from rival Obadiah Stane’s copycat Iron Monger armor and the son of a former employee coming after Stark as the hi-tech criminal Whiplash.

Stark had seen some things; he knew to celebrate when you could.

Have I written any of these stories? No. Will I write these stories? But by dropping them in I’ve established a history for the world. You can get a feel for what’s gone before. This drop allows a better understanding of the relationships between characters and that world.

World-building!

I’ve also managed to avoid writing an origin story for Iron Man. I hate origin stories. By that, I mean movies like “Batman Begins” or the first Sam Raimi “Spider-Man” movie. Both excellent films, but be honest. You liked the sequels with them already at the badass level better, didn’t you?

I’d rather see the hero as the badass out of the gate rather than watching them futz around for a full story. “Blade” did it. “Dredd” did it. It can be done. More on that another time.

He (Stark) looked to Hill and the two men sitting next to him. “I have three more glasses if anyone’d care to join me.”

Gordon removed his glasses, rubbing the bridge of his nose with his thumb and index finger. “If you’re not going to take this presentation seriously,” he said, leaving his implication hanging between them.

I cheated and told you via Stark how Gordon behaved. Now I’m showing an example of that with his put-upon gesture of rubbing the bridge of his nose and his feeling that Stark is wasting his time.

Could I have just shown and not told? Probably. But I would lose some of the worldbuilding that went with the description so…

If you laughed at this reference you’re as old as I am.

“Serious is for tomorrow, for the crowds,” Stark replied. “That’s why I wanted to have this cozy private session in this giant exhibit hall with you three tonight.”

Stark waved his arms like a showman, motioning toward the space around them.

The men were in the exhibit hall space of the Gotham City Convention Center. Decorators and other artisans had installed stadium seating for six thousand people in a proscenium arrangement.

The seats faced a stage decked out with Stark Industries logos. A giant LED video wall comprised the stage’s back wall. It displayed images of Iron Man in his various armors defeating a multitude of threats.

Several more LED walls hung from the ceiling at intervals as delay screens. Speaker cabinets hung close to them as well as at the front of the stage.

Stark stood at the lectern, stage right. It was a good fifty feet to the side and forward of the main object on stage: but a fifteen-foot-tall Kabuki fabric suspended by truss hid the object. Said truss worked in with several other rows of truss supporting a complete set of lighting fixtures.

Here I’m setting the space for a future action sequence. It also characterizes Stark’s showmanship, using the vast area to impress just three people.

I’m also “writing what I know” by using my twenty-plus years of experience in live events.

“And we appreciate your impromptu private screening,” the mayor cut in, casting a glance at Gordon. The commissioner returned his glasses to his face but didn’t look to Stark onstage.

Defining the relationship between the mayor and the commissioner in a glance.

“Getting back to our business,” the mayor began, “you’re correct, Stark, in that we don’t need all the seriousness we’ll see tomorrow. Which means we also don’t need to see the entire presentation.”

I’ve read you shouldn’t use anything other than “said” or “asked” when assigning dialogue to a character. Since writing this story, I’ve subscribed to that idea.

Take this example of “the mayor began.” If you change “began” to “said” can the reader still tell the mayor began to speak? Yes. This means “began” is redundant to the rest of the text. Lose it.

As for things like “shouted,” “cried,” “screamed,” in the context of the situation, the reader should figure out this is what happened.

But like every rule, the exception. For moments of high emotion, you can slip through an adjective. Who holds their dead lover in their arms and “said” nooooooooooo?

Stark closed the shaker and gave it a good shake. While pouring some of the liquor into his martini glass, he said, “The techs backstage will thank you for that. Besides; I could show you videos all day explaining why this new marvel is the greatest thing on Earth, but that won’t do justice to —”

He motioned his glass toward the mystery object center stage.

“The Iron Legionnaire, Mark II!” he said triumphantly.

The Kabuki curtain dropped.

Behind it was a raised area. Standing in that area was an eight-foot-tall robot painted midnight black. It was a hi-tech piece of machinery on par with the latest Mark 37 Iron Man armor, only bigger and meaner-looking.

“Tomorrow there’ll be music and lights, maybe even some fireworks for the reveal,” Stark said. “Make it a bit more dramatic.”

“We’re not here for drama, Mr. Stark,” Gordon said. “We’re here to see the viability of your drone for law enforcement. Though I for one —”

“Let’s not dismiss the idea out of hand, Jim,” Mayor Hill said. “Stark’s drones have been a success in Metropolis, preventing that Intergang trying to take the city.”

More world-building. I also reveal the tension between Gordon and Hill. Gordon relies on his men and, explained later, Batman. Hill doesn’t trust Batman and is looking for options.

After the Ultron thing, why he’d put faith in robots… more on that later.

“And those were the Mark One models,” Stark said. “Though I did have to smooth things over with Lex after that. Boy, was he pissed about getting upstaged in his hometown! Hope you don’t get as hot and bothered, Bruce.”

Hill and Gordon turned their attention to the third man seated in the stadium seats, Bruce Wayne.

The man was asleep.

“Or maybe you’re just not impressed,” Stark deadpanned.

Bruce as the irresponsible playboy! Why is he even here? I’ll say now that Stark invited him, but we get more into that later.

Note too that I mentioned a third person here but didn’t reveal them until the end. This heightens the suspense and gives the reveal more punch, especially showing how Gordon and Hill were into the meeting, and Bruce is asleep.

Character bits are part of world-building, folks!


Poster to "The Empire Strikes Back," another example of excellent world-building

That’s it for today. If you want to forge ahead reading “Armored Underworld” or any of my fanfictions, check the links below.

The “Star Wars” story is especially appropriate as we’re celebrating both the 40th anniversary of “The Empire Strikes Back” and the 15th anniversary of “Revenge of the Sith.” Also, I think of all my fanfics that story is the best.

Catch you Wednesday with the next installment. Stay safe this Memorial Day. Enjoy it, but remember there’s still a virus that’ll kick your lungs even if it doesn’t (heaven forbid) kill you.

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