Bob Layton is having a Hollywood moment. Actually, it’s more like a decade.
The comic book artist, writer and editor now residing in the Tampa area has watched Iron Man — the character he turned from little known to mainstream hero — anchor the Marvel movie franchise for the past 10 years. The cinematic Tony Stark, constantly fighting inner demons and villains, is the version of the character established during Layton’s time helming the series.
Now, another of Layton’s creations is set to take to the screen. His bad guy, Ghost, is the lead villain in Ant-Man and the Wasp released nationwide on Friday.
And there is more to come for Layton. Valiant Comics, which he co-founded, is getting its own cinematic universe. And though Layton sold his rights to Valiant years ago, he will be to that film franchise what Stan Lee has been to the Marvel movies.
As Valiant launches its series of films with Bloodshot starring Vin Diesel, a story about a slain mafia hitman re-animated with superpowers, Layton will be on set this summer in South Africa as a consultant. We caught up with Layton.
Play movie critic. How was the new Ant-Man?
It was awesome. It is exactly what you would expect and more. It is the same sort of light-hearted, fun romp with lots of laughs. It is visually spectacular. How’s that sound? Do I have the job? But, to be honest, I was distracted during the premiere because I was sitting next to Andrea Roth and I have always had a bit of a crush on her.
Your Ghost was a man. In this movie, Ghost is a woman. Do you have an issue with that change?
In the case of the Ghost, I am perfectly fine with that. The Ghost was a gender non-specific character. When we created him, Ghost was a nickname for a spy and the fact that he had powers of a literal ghost. We never knew anything about him. We wanted to deliberately keep him mysterious. He could have been anybody. I don’t think changing the gender alters that in any way.
How has Iron Man and his alter ego Tony Stark successfully anchored the highest grossing movie franchise ever?
Tony Stark is the most credible character in the entire comic universe other than maybe Batman. All you have to do is believe his technology is real, and, honestly, we may be just few years away from flying Iron Man suits.
Iron Man is about Tony Stark, one of the most interesting characters in the comic book world. We care about Tony Stark, the fact that he had an epiphany and that once he was left for dead and had to fight his way out of the clutches of terrorists he realizes this is all his fault.
It is always about character with me, not about situation. That is the big difference between a good super hero movie and a bad one. If it is situation driven, it tends to be boring. It’s just a bunch of problems to be solved. What makes comic book characters interesting is their depth.
Is that the same reason Valiant will kick off its universe with Bloodshot?
Absolutely. Bloodshot is a down to earth guy. He is a mobster who was shot dead and revived not remembering who he was. He starts to retrace his past and realizes his former self was not a very good person. I think it is important for a character to struggle internally.
Will you pull a Stan Lee and make an appearance in all Valiant movies?
I don’t know. We haven’t talked about that. But, there is a distinct possibility I will make a cameo in Bloodshot.
Back to Tony Stark. Is the next Avengers his Marvel movie farewell?
I am only speculating, but I will guess that (Robert Downey Jr.) is done. He has been doing the same role for over 10 years now, and I think as with any actor sometimes, it is time to move on.
So, do you think Tony Stark dies?
That is one way of doing it, but I’d only be guessing. I know this — I wouldn’t want to recast Tony Stark. Who would want to try to top Downey? But, if Tony doesn’t come back, they can put somebody else in the armor and start a new generation of Iron Man.
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