Iron Man – The End, and an interview with Bob Layton





I finally have my copy of the new Marvel release, Iron Man – The End.  It’s been one busy week, so I didn’t have a chance to read it until tonight.

The issue is about 98% Iron Man and 2% Space Elevator, but hey, 2% of a Marvel Iron Man issue is nothing to sneeze at.  I was initially going to do a review of the storyline, but decided against it because a) I am not competent to do so as I really know nothing about the comic book genre and b) I thought it would be more interesting to tease out the 2% Space Elevator bits to see how they stack up against the ‘currently accepted model’.

To begin with, the earthport of the Stark Space Elevator (Tony Stark = aka Iron Man) is based on a tiny island.  This does not fit the currently proposed model, which calls for an an ocean-based, movable platform.  The Edwards-Westling book gives eight reasons why we would want to have a movable base;

  1. Able to move the ribbon out of the path of orbiting objects and also any storms strong enough to be dangerous.
  2. Can be located directly on the equator in the most weather-friendly position possible.
  3. Can be located in international waters.
  4. Can be located near populations or not as selected.
  5. Large-scale, mobile sea platforms are tested technology (Sea Launch).
  6. If the ribbon breaks, much or all of the lower portion will probably fall into the ocean.
  7. No high-altitude operational challenges (snow, thin-air, etc.)
  8. Easier to ship really large, bulky, irregular-shaped items to a Space Elevator via sea than on land.

Some difficulties of a ocean-based earth-port vs. a land-based earth-port are also mentioned in this book;

  1. Vertical movement of the anchor
  2. Movement of the power-beam(s)
  3. Salt
  4. Remoteness

Personally, I’ve never liked the idea of an ocean-going earth-port – the idea has always seemed a bit dodgy to me.  When I first read The Space Elevator, everything proposed made sense EXCEPT for the earth-port.  Having to move the earth-port itself to induce a wave in the tether in order to make it miss a bit of debris (or a satellite) is really inefficient.  Why not have lasers zap the 99.99% of the debris that no one cares about and have thrusters mounted on the ribbon every 1,000 Km or so and let them move the ribbon as necessary for the rare bit (live satellite or whatever) which cannot be zapped?  Just find the thruster that’s closest and use it.  And, with the portion of the tether which is in the atmosphere now probably going to be a cable rather than a ribbon, it will be minimally affected by the wind.

So, my heart is with Stark on this one, though the ‘prevailing wisdom’ says otherwise…

The next item mentioned is the tether itself.  To quote from the relevant frame; “Basically a giant nanotube ‘grown’ from a geostationary Space Station.”  Travel on this tether will be by (again quoting); “…magnetically levitated shuttles (which) will carry passengers and cargo at less than two percent of current costs making the stars accessible to the common man.”  Hmmmm.

Again, the current model says that the baseline tether will be shipped to GEO, assembled, and then simultaneously deployed downwards (towards earth) and upwards (away from earth), this to keep it stable.  If the tether is only ‘grown downwards’, as is shown in the comic book, pretty soon (very soon, in fact), gravity will have its say and will pull everything down.  Yes, you can have a counterweight at GEO (with nothing above it) to hold the tether in place, but it would have to be ginormous, far bigger than the space station shown in the comic.  Also, later on in the issue, there is a picture of the tether in the clouds, looking like it’s being ‘grown downwards’, but it’s not a tether at all, but rather a very large structure.  This is reminiscent of the ‘Clarke model’ from his Fountains of Paradise novel.

So, IMHO, I don’t think the tether scenario in the comic would work at all…

The next Space Elevator item was, well, there was no ‘next item’ – that was it.  Like I said, 98% Iron Man, 2% Space Elevator.

If you want to find out if Tony Stark succeeds in building his Space Elevator, you’ll just have to go out and buy the issue 🙂

When this issue was first announced, I emailed one of the storyline artists, Bob Layton, and asked if he would be willing to answer a few questions for us.  He graciously consented and below, is our short interview with Bob.

[Space Elevator Blog – SEB] Have you been following the evolution in thought regarding the development of a Space Elevator? Do you consider it to be a realistic possibility or just a crazy idea?
[Bob Layton – BL] I believe that it’s a totally realistic concept and I hope that we eventually apply our energies as a society to make this science into a reality.

[SEB]Why did you pick a Space Elevator as Tony Stark’s “Ultimate Project”? Were you at all influenced by author Arthur C. Clarke and his fictional engineer (Vannevar Morgan) building a Space Elevator as his ‘ultimate project’ or was there another inspiration behind this?
[BL]When David Michelinie and I were originally concocting the plot to Iron Man: The End back in 1999, I had just finished reading Arthur C. Clarke’s ‘Songs of Distant Earth’.  The scientific theory around the Space Elevator in that story served as an inspiration.

[SEB]If it’s not revealing a plot line you’d rather keep secret for now, does Tony Stark use the ‘Edwards model’ for building a Space Elevator (a carbon nanotube ribbon as the climber cable, anchored in the ocean at the earth-end) or the ‘Clarke model’ (a more solid structure anchored on land) or some other model?
[BL] We use a little bit of the “Edwards Model” and the “Clarke Model” in IRON MAN:The End.

[SEB] Reading your Bio on your website ( <>), it’s obvious that, to date, you have had a long and successful career in the comic book industry as well as in film and television. During your career, have you used the concept of a Space Elevator in any other project? If so, could you tell us a little bit about those projects?
[BL] No. But I have a proposed TV series in the works entitled “Jett’s Way” that revolves around the first commercial Space Agency. In the premise, the lead character is trying to get permits to construct the space elevator and encounters political and corporate opposition from every imaginable source.

[SEB] There is support building for a Space Elevator in both Europe and Japan and I think they would be very interested in this issue. Are Marvel Comics available in other languages?
[BL] Yes.

[SEB] Finally, if you had a chance to ride on a real Space Elevator, would you do it?

Thank you Bob!  And, please keep us updated on the “Jett’s Way” project you mentioned.  It sounds fascinating.

Go out and buy this issue, dear readers.  More than most comic books, I think this could become a ‘Collector’s Item’.

(Cover Text/Graphic and frame from this issue)