10 years ago, the Marvel Cinematic Universe launched with a dice roll of a movie: Iron Man. Now, with Avengers: Infinity War destroying the box office, we wanted to look back at the film that kicked it all off for any hints, glimpses, references or Easter eggs planted by the movie’s creators for the sprawling Marvel Cinematic Universe that would follow.
Let’s get to work.
The Origin Story
– For starters, the film updates Tony’s origin from the comics. In his 1963 origin story (Tales of Suspense #39, written by Stan Lee and Larry Lieber with art from Don Heck and Jack Kirby), Tony was kidnapped by communist Vietnamese guerillas. That origin has been updated in the comics several times – later to the first Gulf War, and then most recently to Afghanistan, which matches the movie.
We could talk here about Marvel Time, the continuity solution/framework for Marvel that says that everything in the Marvel history since the dawn of the Fantastic Four has happened in the last 10 years on a rolling basis, but that would require me explaining how Franklin Richards is actually the solution to the problem, and how that theory means the whole Marvel Universe is just a figment of Franklin’s imagination and that’s why Kitty Pryde gets older while Artie and Leech are still 8 and nobody really wants that.
– Speaking of everything happening in the last 10 years, that box that the AC/DC music is coming out of in the Humvee is called a “Compact Disc player.”
– Ho Yinsen’s presence has been remarkably consistent through Iron Man’s history. Even though Tony’s origin has moved from Vietnam to Iraq to Afghanistan, Yinsen was there for all of them. He first showed up in Iron Man’s origin in 1963, and his daughter is currently running around the pages of U.S. Avengers as Iron Patriot.
– Another thing this movie does really well: every Iron Man suit looks perfect to the comics. That goes from the thrown-together suit from the cave to the Mark 3 armor he ends up in. The later models we see in the movie closely mirror the work of artist Adi Granov…and a story he worked on went on to become the (loose) basis for Iron Man 3.
– Interestingly enough, the circumstances of Howard and Maria Stark’s death (a “car accident” that ends up being a murder at the hands of the Winter Soldier) stay consistent through multiple movies, and of course, the culmination of that comes in Captain America: Civil War.
– This movie does a really good job of seeding stories from the comics for future use by the movies. “Demon in a Bottle” is probably the most famous Iron Man comic of all time – it has Tony losing his company and battling alcoholism – and right away, the movie is toying with those themes at Ceasar’s when he misses an awards ceremony because he’s womanizing at the craps table.
– There are two actors in Iron Man who don’t come back to play those roles in the future. The first is Gerard Sanders, the actor who plays Howard Stark in photos in the magazine retrospective/stealth origin story for Tony. His part is recast as John Slattery for Iron Man 2.
– The other recast is James Rhodes, the man who would eventually don the War Machine armor. He’s played here by Terence Howard, who reportedly demanded a lot of money to come back for Iron Man 2, so his role was recast as Don Cheadle.
– Happy Hogan, played in the movies by the director of Iron Man, Jon Favreau, first joined the comics in Lee and Heck’s Tales of Suspense #45. Back then, he was a garbage boxer who saved Tony’s life and got hired as a bodyguard/driver for Stark. He was a key part of Tony’s support squad, marrying and divorcing Pepper at one point before he was killed shortly after Civil War. He is, to the best of our knowledge, still dead.
– Following Tony’s brief fling with Christine Everhart (who also comes from a few issues of Iron Man from 2004…where she worked for The Daily Bugle), we’re introduced to J.A.R.V.I.S., Tony’s AI butler who manages his Malibu house. In the comics, Edwin Jarvis was the Stark family butler who went on to maintain Avengers Mansion for the team. It wasn’t until Agent Carter that we discovered that there was an actual, breathing Edwin Jarvis who existed in the MCU. Prior to that, Paul Bettany’s disembodied voice and later his multicolored synthezoid Vision were the only Jarvi we knew of.
– Tony’s gal Friday, Pepper Potts, was also introduced by Lee and Heck in Tales of Suspense #45. She was his assistant there, and remained his assistant off and on throughout their partnership. She was married to Happy for a time, and was the one who requested that Tony shut off Happy’s life support when he passed after Civil War.
– We get the first appearance of the about-to-be-famous Phil Coulson of the Strategic Homeland Intervention and Logistics Division, or S.H.I.E.L.D. here. As you know now, he goes on to become no big deal.
– Jeff Bridges plays Obadiah Stane, Tony’s business partner. Stane was created in 1982 by two comics creators better known for their DC work – Dennis O’Neil, of Green Lantern/Green Arrow, The Question and Batman fame; and Luke McDonnell, who helped make Suicide Squad an all-time DC classic. Stane was very much the evil businessman archetype he is in the movie, except he was more explicitly a foil for Tony early on, heading a rival company and going right after Stark International. Stane became the Iron Monger in the comics, too, donning the Iron Monger mech in 1985’s Iron Man #200.
They play up the Mozart/Salieri parallels pretty hard with these two, right down to Stane noodling around with one of Salieri’s compositions on the piano.
– At the time that Iron Man came out, “The 10 Rings” was actually a clever way to bring up The Mandarin without dealing with the comics version’s…how do I put this…INSANELY RACIST backstory and coding. Making The 10 Rings into an ill-defined terrorist group allowed them to sidestep a lot of the comics version’s problematic Asian stereotypes (instead we got problematic Middle Eastern ones!). The Mandarin was first introduced in Tales of Suspense #50 as basically an evil Green Lantern – he found a crashed alien spaceship and adapted 10 rings of power, each with a different ability.
– You can hear the 1966 Iron Man animated series theme tune several times in the movie, notably as background music in the casino and as Rhodey’s ringtone. Sing it with us, kids! “Tony Stark, makes you feel…he’s a cool exec, with a heart of steel…”
OK, it’s not the best.
– The song playing while Tony is fixing his car is “Institutionalized” by Suicidal Tendencies. I don’t know why I expected subtlety out of an Iron Man movie that actually used Black Sabbath’s “Iron Man” in the credits, but here we are.
– Speaking of subtle, the song on the plane is “Slept on Tony” by Ghostface Killah.
Ghostface’s most prominent alias is Iron Man. He also appears in a deleted scene in this movie, but since his scene ended up on the cutting room floor, then Method Man gets to keep the title of “Best Wu Tang MCU cameo” for his appearance in Luke Cage.
– By the way, Tony would have actually won that last bet on the craps table. The only time you can bet the Don’t Pass line (the back one) is at the beginning of a round, and if you bet Don’t Pass and the shooter then rolls a 2 or a 3, you win the bet.
– Jim Cramer’s Mad Money was inexplicably popular with college kids when this movie came out. It was probably the combination of terrible stock tips and the abrasive morning zoo soundboard he used to distract away from his terrible predictive record. How this guy isn’t in the administration right now is beyond me.
– The Forbes cover in the magazine retrospective/origin summary for Tony has a spelling error. Tony Stark took the REINS of Stark International at 21, he didn’t take any reigns anywhere. Sorry, pet peeve.
– Tony’s competing with the SR 71 Blackbird for an altitutde record when he ices up and falls during his test flight. Two things on this: the Blackbird was the basis for the X-Men’s jet in both the comics and the original movie. And second, icing was the opposite of the problem that real Blackbirds had. The original supersonic spy plane actually got so hot during flight that it grew. It would leak fuel when on the ground because they had to build it with heat-related expansion in mind, because it got so hot from friction.
– You can hear the old Space Invaders laser sound whenever the armor’s targeting display locks on.
– Rhodey looks at the Mark 2 armor, the silver suit, and says, “Next time baby.” Alas, for Terrence Howard, “next time” went to Don Cheadle, Iron Man 2’s War Machine. And don’t forget, Rhodey wasn’t just War Machine, he took over as Iron Man for a good stretch, too!
The Post Credits Scene
– Nick Fury was created in 1963 by Stan and Jack, but he was made famous by Jim Steranko, who drew some incredible, weird, groundbreaking stuff on his books. However, Fury-as-Sam-Jackson is a conceit of 2002’s “what if the Marvel Universe started today” Avengers reimagining, Ultimates, by Bryan Hitch and Mark Millar. He was specifically drawn as a photoreal Samuel L. Jackson, which led to the real Jackson lobbying to play Fury in the movies, which ended up with him cast as Fury here.
– Fury introduces Tony to “The Avenger Initiative,” which leads us right into the MCU and the first big crossover, the “bigger universe” that Fury’s talking about. It’s a shame that never went anywhere. Wait…what?