Building 'Iron Man 2': The Comics Behind The Film

Iron Man 2Iron Man 2” hits theaters this weekend in the U.S., and while the first film served primarily as an origin tale and introduction to the character, this second film promises to expand upon the character and his world by drawing upon several different characters and storylines from the Marvel Universe.

MTV News took a look back through Iron Man's history to see how some of the film's primary source material from the comics world was adapted for the big screen.

One of the most anticipated additions to the “Iron Man” film series is the villain Whiplash, played by Mickey Rourke. Interestingly, the film version of Whiplash is actually a composite of two Iron Man villains. In the comics, there is indeed a member of Iron Man's rogues gallery named Whiplash (a.k.a. Blacklash), originally created by Stan Lee and Gene Colan in 1968’s “Tales of Suspense #97.” And like his film counterpart, Whiplash/Blacklash wields a high-tech whip capable of inflicting damage on the Invincible Iron Man.

But that's where the similarity ends. The screen villain's background and alter ego is drawn from another Iron Man foe, the Crimson Dynamo (a.k.a. Ivan Vanko), a Russian counterpart of Iron Man with his own suit of high-tech armor. The character was created by Stan Lee and Don Heck in 1963’s “Tales of Suspense #46.”


The Whiplash of the comics comes with a rather bland background, functioning primarily as a hired goon for evil financier Justin Hammer, so it makes sense that they'd opt to go for a more tragic and exotic Russian background. Plus, it gives Mickey Rourke the chance to practice his Russian.

Since the first movie already did the "evil Iron Man" bit in the form of Obadiah Stane's Iron Monger armor, it's clear why the studio went with the Whiplash motif here, which can provide for some dynamic action scenes. And as you can see from the accompanying pictures, they've wisely opted to drop the ponytail.


Next up is Justin Hammer, a character created by David Michelinie, Bob Layton, and John Romita Jr. as an antagonist for the seminal Iron Man storyline “Demon in a Bottle” (“Iron Man #120-128,” March-November 1979). Hammer's original visual design was based on British actor Peter Cushing (better known to some fans as Grand Moff Tarkin in the “Star Wars” films).

The film's version takes him in a different direction, being played by the much younger Sam Rockwell. But he remains in his role as rival to Tony Stark, and although Whiplash is closer to his partner than a lackey in this version of the story, Hammer’s use of supervillains is consistent with his comic book roots.

A large portion of the movie’s plot revolves around Stark's struggle with the US government over control of the Iron Man armor technology. This struggle was most prominently played out during Michelinie and Layton's 1988 "Armor Wars" (a.k.a. "Stark Wars") storyline, in which Stark learns that his armor tech has been misappropriated by the government and spread to criminals via Justin Hammer, leading him to resolve to take back control by any means necessary. In the story, the US government has adapted the Iron Man technology for their armored Guardsmen and Mandroids, and Stark comes into conflict with them and a number of other tech-based supervillains, including the Crimson Dynamo.

War Machine

Returning to the fold for “Iron Man 2” is Lt. Colonel James "Rhodey" Rhodes, this time played by Don Cheadle. Rhodes is also a creation of the Michelinie/Layton team, debuting in 1979’s “Iron Man #118”, but the character has undergone some changes over the years. Fans got a charge in the last movie when the character (then played by Terrence Howard) glanced at a familiar-looking armor and muttered "Next time, baby."

The tease pays off in this film, as Rhodey makes his debut as War Machine, a next-generation, highly-weaponized version of the Iron Man armor, originally created by Len Kaminski and Kevin Hopgood, in 1992’s “Iron Man #284.”

Another crucial and anticipated element of the Iron Man mythos is expanded upon in this movie, as Stark's drinking leads to his misuse of the Iron Man suit. Though not a direct adaptation, this is inspired by Michelinie and Layton's aforementioned "Demon in a Bottle" storyline, one of the first to show a hero who is charged with saving lives instead putting them at risk because of his addiction. The story explores the very real consequences of that addiction on his life and the lives of those around him.

Iron Man

Following up on his post-credits cameo in “Iron Man”, Samuel L. Jackson returns for an expanded role as Nick Fury, director of the intelligence agency SHIELD, in this sequel. As most fans know, although Fury was originally created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby in 1963 for the “Sgt. Fury and His Howling Commandos” series, Fury's portrayal here is based on Mark Millar and Bryan Hitch’s 2002 “Ultimates” series. His appearance in that series was deliberately modeled on Samuel L. Jackson, and placed Fury in the role of recruiter for a team of Avengers just as he is in the films.

Nick fury

Fury brings with him Natalia Romanova, a.k.a. the Black Widow, played by Scarlett Johannson, who debuted in the comics as an ally of the Crimson Dynamo in 1964’s “Tales of Suspense #52” by Stan Lee, Don Rico, and Don Heck, before adopting her more familiar costume in 1970’s “Amazing Spider-Man #86” by Stan Lee and John Romita Sr. There's no indication thus far of the Widow working for "the other side" as she did in her original comic book portrayals, but her later role as an agent of SHIELD is carried over.

Black Widow and Crimson Dynamo

Finally, the post-credits scene in "Iron Man 2" advances the "Avengers" storyline that is being promoted across Marvel films; but we won't reveal anything here — you can click through to find out more about it.

What other comic book elements may be next up for adaptation? Director Jon Favreau has been saying all along that Iron Man's arch-enemy the Mandarin remains on his mind, and he is just waiting to build up to him. Observant fans will notice the recurring ring motif seeded throughout the films, a reference to the Mandarin's Ten Rings of Power.


But to learn just how Favreau intends to update and reinterpret this character, who has his roots in the unfortunate "yellow peril" stereotypes of a less-enlightened age, fans will have to wait for future installments in the “Iron Man” film series.

What classic Iron Man storylines and characters would you like to see adapted in upcoming films? Let us know what you think in the comment section or on Twitter!

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