Iron Man, Iron Man,
Does whatever an iron can!
Makes a pleat, grills some cheese,
Bashes crooks in the knees.
Here comes the Iron Man!
OK, I'll admit that maybe I don't have a career as a cartoon theme song writer in my future.
So in the last few days a couple of friends have asked me some questions about Iron Man 3, which you probably now is now playing at your local theater (unless you've been living under a rock, in which case, congratulations on figuring out how to get access to the Internet down there so that you can read this). I did intend to write a blog to address some of this stuff the weekend that the movie premiered, but as I thought about the movie, I realized that I wouldn't be able to say much without revealing some stuff about the film. So, SPOILER WARNING...if you haven't seen IM3 yet, and don't want to potentially have some plot twists ruined, then stop reading now. Or at least scroll to the end of the post for a surprise. Now, in no particular order, here are some things that may have confused you, and some general thoughts about the Iron Man films and where they might go from here.
Question 1: What the heck is Extremis?
Answer: The bulk of the movie's plot is based on the first story arc of the fourth volume of Iron Man, called Extremis (reprinted in the Iron Man: Extremis trade paperback, shown above). In the comics, Extremis is described as a (presumably non-contagious?) virus that re-writes the human genome, basically rebuilding the body from the ground-up and imparting a set of predefined powers in the process. It was originally intended to help promote the healing process in cases of catastrophic injury or illness, but this tech has been weaponized and fallen in the hands of terrorists. This theme comes up over and over again in the history of Iron Man comics; the "good guys", often Tony Stark himself, lose control of technology due to unscrupulous corporations or terrorists, and then Iron Man has to run around trying to put the genie back in the bottle (see the excellent Armor Wars trade paperback for one of the most significant examples of this theme). In the comics, the military version of Extremis is the result of another attempt to create a super soldier like Captain America. (Remember that Dr. Erskine, who created Cap's Super Soldier serum, was assassinated by Nazis and took his formula to the grave with him, leading to repeated attempts to replicate the success of the original program by other means in the Marvel Universe). This isn't mentioned in the movie, but wouldn't have been much of a stretch, considering that other Marvel films introduced the idea that Bruce Banner's failed attempt to recreate the original Super-Soldier serum resulted in the creation of the Hulk.
Question 2: What's AIM?
Answer: In the movies, Dr. Aldrich Killian (played by Guy Pierce) is the leader of Advanced Idea Mechanics, or AIM, which is described as a defense think-tank, sort of like the Rand Corporation in the real world. In the comics, things are significantly different. AIM is a technology-worshiping offshoot of the terrorist organization HYDRA, the opposite of Nick Fury's SHIELD. AIM agents are hilariously dressed like beekeepers for some inexplicable reason (I've always guessed it's a call-back to the way the SPECTRE agents are dressed at the end of Dr. No), and are obsessed with the promotion of anarchy through the use of technology. In the film, Killian is the founder of AIM and the mastermind behind the Extremis plot, but in the comics, Killian isn't associated with AIM at all and dies in the first ten pages of the Extremis story arc (though he is the co-creator of the Extremis virus).
|A typical AIM Agent, obsessed with the latest technology and possibly Honey Smacks|
|MODOK, a "fearsome" giant robot created by AIM. I just can't be intimidated by Humpty Dumpty with a bad haircut.|
Question 3: Is the Mandarin really just a washed-up actor?
Answer: If I have one big gripe about Iron Man 3, it's the reveal that the Mandarin is just some alcoholic actor playing a part. In the comics, the Mandarin is Iron Man's archenemy, wielding 10 alien rings of power, each of which shoots a ray with a different, devastating effect. The idea that the whole character is a farce is like finding out that Heath Ledger's Joker was actually a hapless circus clown in the last half hour of The Dark Knight. While the character's origin in the comics is very firmly rooted in the Cold War era, the films had done a pretty good job of alluding to the Mandarin here and there and rooting him in a more contemporary setting (watch the original Iron Man closely to see what I'm talking about), which makes the reveal all the more troublesome to this viewer.
|The Mandarin, Iron Man's archenemy, painted by the incomparable Brothers Hildebrandt|
Question 4: Does Pepper really wear the armor in the comics?
Answer: In the movie, Pepper Potts (her real first name is Virginia, by the way, but Stan Lee loves alliteration) gets to use the Iron Man armor to save Tony's bacon when AIM helicopters attack Tony's house. She uses the armor like it's not a big deal, which might seem suspicious, but there's precedent for this in the comics. Long story short, at one point Tony is a fugitive on the run and it's up to Pepper to come to his rescue in a suit of armor that Tony made especially for her. She appropriately chooses the name Rescue, and has become a break-out character in the series. It only took her fifty years, but she's come a long way from being the perpetual damsel in distress. You can find Pepper's debut as Rescue in the Invincible Iron Man: World's Most Wanted Book 1 and Book 2 collections.
|Pepper's alter ego as Rescue|
Question 5: Why did Rhodey change his name to from War Machine to the Iron Patriot?
Answer: This was a weird inclusion to me, though I thought the movie came up with a plausible reason for the change (it was supposedly a PR move because the name War Machine sounds too aggressive). In actuality, when Tony Stark's friend Jim Rhodes has worn the armor, it's only ever been in the guise of Iron Man (where he filled in for Tony in the mid-80's) or as War Machine. The Iron Patriot was an alter ego devised by Tony (and Spider-Man's) enemy Norman Osborn, who you might know better as the Green Goblin. When Tony was on the run, he lost his day job as head of SHIELD (which he took from Nick Fury) to Normie, who then seized all of Tony's armor variants and repainted one in red, white, and blue. He then proceeded to make the lives of Tony and everyone else in the Marvel U hell for the next year or so. The inclusion of the Iron Patriot armor was a neat nod to fans of the comics, but didn't really have anything to do with the plot of the film.
|Norman Osborn and his crazy hair in the Iron Patriot suit|
So where does the film version of Iron Man go from here? A lot of speculation is going around about whether Robert Downey, Jr. will return to the Tony Stark role now that his contract is up. Marvel Films certainly seems to think that someone will be back in future films...just look at the Bond-style "Tony Stark Will Return" tag at the end of the credits of Iron Man 3. And while not every Avengers story needs Iron Man, and the other actors all did a great job in The Avengers, both RDJ and Marvel would be stupid not to sign up for another go in 2015's Avengers 2. Tony is a fan favorite, and a lot of that has to do with RDJ's charisma, which anyone with half a brain knows. So I think that it's just a matter of getting down to brass tacks and settling on a price now. As for other Iron Man movies, I'm not so sure, and the end of Iron Man 3, rushed as it was, could serve as a end point for Tony's individual story. One big area that still needs to be explored is the idea of Tony's alcoholism. In the early 80's, Tony Stark's drinking caught up with him in the comics in the classic Demon In A Bottle storyline, and Tony lost everything, which eventually lead to James Rhodes becoming Iron Man for a time. Other than Tony's heart injury (which was eventually fixed by the end of Iron Man 3 when Tony undergoes the Extremis treatment, as it was in the comics by other means), alcohol is Tony's weakness, and is a unique vulnerability seldom explored in comics. I really hope that future films go there, but other than some drunken shenanigans in the armor in Iron Man 2, I feel that the films have been disappointingly mute on this issue to date, and it might be too far along to introduce the topic now.
|Tony Stark hit rock bottom during the classic Demon In A Bottle storyline, as exemplified by this cover to Iron Man #128 by Bob Layton|
I'll leave you with the real Iron Man theme song from the 1966 Marvel Super Heroes cartoon. You can hear an instrumental version of this played several times in the background of the first film if you listen closely. After hearing these lyrics, I'm not so sure my theme song is so lame after all.