Comic Movies 101: Iron Man 3


With comic book movies, it’s not always easy keeping up with all the influences and references that the film-makers draw upon from the wealth of source material. Comic Movies 101 serves as a primer for newcomers to the movies and a refresher for fans who might not possess the Rain Man-ian comic recall that I’ve been cursed with. 

Despite having one of the weaker rogue’s galleries of all the A-list, top-tier super heroes (right next to Superman), there’s still a lot going on in the world of Tony Stark. The guy changes armors like most people change outfits, deals as much with villains in three-piece suits as he does with guys in armored suits, and is currently (in the comics, mind you) traveling through space, guarding the galaxy with guys like Star-Lord.

Needless to say, there’s a lot going on in Iron Man 3, and it draws from a variety of source material, so join me as we dive in so you know what to expect this weekend at the theater! But be warned, there are some heavy-duty SPOILERS regarding the comics, and some very minor ones regarding the movie up ahead.

You’ve been warned!

The Mandarin
First appearance: Tales of Suspense #50 (1964)
Who is he? In the mainstream Marvel universe, the Mandarin is Iron Man’s ultimate nemesis. The Lex Luthor to Tony Stark’s Superman, if Lex Luthor had ten magic rings that all did different things (to be fair, Lex Luthor did briefly have an Orange Lantern ring, but that’s neither here nor there). Most recently, he appeared as the final boss of Matt Fraction’s excellent run on Invincible Iron Man, where he forced Tony Stark to build giant death machines to host the alien spirits in his rings. Or something to that effect.

In any event, he is ruthless, brilliant, and will stop at nothing to achieve his goals. In the Ultimate universe (a separate Marvel universe with drastically different incarnations of our beloved characters), the Mandarin is actually Mandarin International, a company that helped Tony Stark’s father build his company into a successful one that comes back years later with a vengeance.

The reason I bring up these two different incarnations is because the Mandarin featured in Iron Man 3 is yet another variation of the original, this time the vicious leader of the Ten Rings terrorist organization. See what they did there?

First appearance: Invincible Iron Man #1 (2005)
What is it? Essentially, the comic book version of Extremis is a ‘super soldier solution.’ The one dose that was released into the wild gave Mallen, the homegrown terrorist who took it, fire breath, super-strength, super-speed, little electro-things on his fingers, and a blue energy beam, turning him into a veritable killing machine. Tony Stark has Maya Hansen (see below) inject him with a modified version of Extremis so he can compete with the Extremis-powered bad guy. The modified version basically takes the thin membrane-like suit that Stark wears under his armor that transmits his movements from his brain to the suit and puts it INSIDE THE HOLLOWS OF HIS BONES. What that accomplishes, is it takes away the delay between thought and movement, because it’s going straight from his brain to the suit. If you’re as confused as I am, you can thank phenomenal comic writer/all-around weirdo Warren Ellis. Extremis-imbued Tony Stark then proceeds to demolish the bad guy in the climax of the Extremis arc, of course.

Aldrich Killian
First appearance: Invincible Iron Man #1 (2005)
Who is he? Despite the movie version being one of the two main villains in the film, the comic book version of Aldrich Killian was a scientist who developed the Extremis virus that, after selling the a single dose of it to some domestic terrorists, became wracked with guilt and blew his brains out. The movie version is infinitely more interesting, mostly because he has more than four pages worth of development from introduction to untimely death.

Maya Hansen
First appearance: Invincible Iron Man #1 (2005)
Who is she? A scientist who worked alongside Killian that shared a past with Tony Stark, Maya reached out to him for help after the Extremis virus made its way into Mallen. She helped Stark inject a modified strand of the virus into himself, and after he took down Mallen, he discovered that she had acted alongside Killian in the sale of the virus to Mallen and his cohorts and she was sent to prison. She popped up several times since her introduction, the last of which saw her death and the Extremis virus ending up in the hands of several different nefarious organizations.

Iron Patriot armor
First appearance: Dark Avengers #1 (2009)
What is it? Once upon a time, Norman Osborne (as in the Green Goblin) was handed the keys to the castle after killing the Skrull Queen during Secret Invasion. He replaced Tony Stark (who had replaced Maria Hill, who had replaced Nick Fury) as the director of S.H.I.E.L.D., disbanded it, started up H.A.M.M.E.R., and generally cleaned house. Having his very own team of Avengers consisting largely of villains playing dress-up, the literal god of war, and a deeply disturbed Superman analogue, Norman decided the only thing missing from his team was a symbol. Breaking into Tony Stark’s armory, he gave all Stark’s suits a Captain America paint job and led his Dark Avengers as Iron Patriot. In the movie, it’s more simple: War Machine got a paint job and a new name. Less interesting, sure, but still hella cool to see on the big screen.

Eric Savin
First appearance: Marvel Comics Presents #26 (1989)
Who is he? Better known in the comics as the villain Coldblood, Eric Savin was a cyborg with highly-trained fighting skills. A hero rather than a villain, he still found himself working for Roxxon (see below), and after the Civil War crossover, he is listed as MIA. In the movie, he is a badass super-human full of swagger and probably my favorite new character that was introduced.

Ellen Brandt
First appearance: Savage Tales #1 (1971)
Who is she? Believe it or not, Ellen Brandt is a supporting character from Man-Thing, of all places. While she did have connections to A.I.M. (see below) like her character in the movie, she bears little resemblance to her counterpart (similar to Savin). Essentially, she attempted to steal some of her husband Ted Sallis’s bio-chemical research for A.I.M., but it resulted in Ted becoming Man-Thing and burning off half of Ellen’s face. The fact that they chose to use her in the film fills me with hope that we’ll see a Marvel Studios Man-Thing (the character, not necessarily a movie) at some point.

First appearance: Strange Tales #146 (July 1966)
Who are they? A.I.M., or Advanced Idea Mechanics if you’re nasty, are a fictional terrorist organization of scientists bent on world domination through SCIENCE! Requiring their members to have at the very least a Master’s degree in some relevant area (like SCIENCE!), the group is as ruthless as they are intelligent. They deal arms and technology for profit, and other generally terrorist-like things. They currently have a whole island nation as a base, where they spend their time making super-WMD’s with SCIENCE! Also, they all wear awesomely goofy yellow Hazmat-looking suits. It’s awesome. The movie counterpart is considerably more humble, but still full of evil and SCIENCE!

Roxxon Oil
First appearance: Captain America #180 (1974)
Who are they? Currently known as the Roxxon Energy Corporation, or just Roxxon, these guys are pretty much how everyone imagines companies like BP of being: money-hungry monsters with no concern for who they crush or what laws they break in their pursuit of the almighty dollar. They’re the Marvel universe’s biggest conglomeration, was responsible for the deaths of Tony Stark’s parents, and was, for a while at least, owned by the Red Skull. So yeah, basically BP.

So there you have it! Everything you need to know before heading into Iron Man 3. Take it all with a grain of salt, of course, because a lot of the characters and elements (pretty much all of them) are drastically reinvented for movie purposes, but that’s okay! This is the Marvel Cinematic Universe, a separate continuity from the comics. They’re allowed to do things differently. Sure, it’s great when they get things right, but it can be really cool when they do things in a new way.

At least, that’s what I tell myself to prevent my head from exploding with nerd rage every time I watch The Walking Dead.