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The ‘Iron Man 2′ Annotations: Breaking Down the Blockbuster

It is the duty of geeks everywhere to go over certain movies with a fine tooth comb, to look in the background for hidden jokes and Easter eggs, to ponder what throw-away jokes may be deliberate allusions to future plot points or the original material the film is based on. This is especially true of superhero movies, and naturally, we have cast our eyes on the most recent superhero blockbuster, “Iron Man 2.”

Because I have too much free time and am delightfully mad, I present to you my in-depth annotations of the film “Iron Man 2.” Trust me, you might be surprised just how many nods, jokes and references were shoved into this one movie.

* The character of Ivan Vanko was only recently introduced in the comics as the latest person to use the name Whiplash (in the mini-series “Iron Man Vs. Whiplash”). Though he has the same last name as Anton Vanko, the original Crimson Dynamo, it has not been stated in the comics whether there’s a connection. Here, we’re told that Anton was Ivan’s father.

* Although no one calls Ivan Vanko “Whiplash” in the film, the name was used in the first movie. When Iron Man was flying back to the U.S. from the Middle East, he encountered two USAF jets that had the call-signs “Whiplash 1″ and “Whiplash 2.”

* Later in the film, Tony will learn that Anton Vanko defected to the U.S. in 1963 and began working with Stark Industries. This is a joke on the comic book history, since Anton Vanko first appeared as the Crimson Dynamo in 1963 and then, in the same issue, was convinced by Iron Man to defect and work for Stark Industries.

* On Ivan’s wall, there’s a news article about Iron Man stabilizing violence in the Middle-East that is written by “Rob Downey.” An obvious joke on the lead star, Robert Downey, Jr.

* According to the Stark Expo web-site, the Stark Expo began in 1954 and ended in 1974, which explains the 1954 Expo posters around Howard’s office later. The StarkExpo takes place where the World’s Fair was held in Flushing Meadows, Queens. In the comics, one of Stark Industries’ major facilities was also in Flushing.

* On the website StarkExpo2010.com, there is a map of the grounds showing all the corporate sponsors. It also shows subsidiaries of Stark Industries: Accutech, Stark-Fujikawa and Cordco.

On the Accutech Web site, a video shows it to be an R&D program that has been making great progress with robotic exo-skeletons (such as their experimental HazTech suit) based on the Iron Man armor. It also seems to be responsible for the creation of the Jericho missile seen in the first “Iron Man” movie and for the sonic cannons used in the film “The Incredible Hulk” (although when that movie showed the design specs of those weapons, only the Stark Industries logo was visible). Accutech seems to be still involved with military projects to a degree, though presumably only with non-lethal technology since Tony made it clear in the first film (as the Accutech web-site reminds us) that Stark Industries no longer makes weapons.”

Stark-Fujikawa first appeared in the comics in the series “Spider-Man 2099″ and later showed up in modern-continuity as a new merger that happened when Tony Stark was temporarily believed to be dead. A video shows that Stark-Fujikawa is attempting to commercialize sunglasses that can give digital read-outs and analysis similar to Iron Man’s visual displays.

According to the Cordco Web site, it is headquartered in Australia and specializes in security systems. A video shows that Cordco (along with Accutech) has been coming up with non-combative ways to use Iron Man’s tech, such as using it to take out forest fires.

* Tony has been brought before senate hearings more than once in the comics. Years ago, Senator Byrd wanted Stark investigated for possibly sabotaging American military weapons and he later asked Stark to turn over the identity of the hero Iron Man (back when Tony’s identity was secret). Years later, Senator Burch and Tony Stark butted heads because Burch wanted the Iron Man systems turned over to the military.

* Justin Hammer has been a long-time rival of Stark in the comics. Several times in his career, Hammer has hired various super-villains and given them advanced weapons, sometimes using stolen Stark technology. Currently, Hammer’s wife and daughter are causing problems for Tony Stark in the comics.

* Rhodey’s opening line is “Look, it’s me, I’m here. Deal with it. Let’s move on.” This is likely meant as a message from actor Don Cheadle to the movie audience, since he has been repeatedly asked why he replaced Terrence Howard, who played Jim Rhodes in the first “Iron Man” movie.

* In the film, Jim Rhodes is said to be a Weapons Procurement Liaison for the USAF. In the comics, although he was a combat pilot, Rhodey was a member of the Marine Corps, not the Air Force.

* Tony makes a joke that he’s “not a joiner” but would be happy to become the Secretary of Defense. This is ironic because although a self-described loner, Tony actually became a founding member and leading force in the Avengers and later spear-headed the team Force Works. What’s more, Tony actually did become Secretary of Defense for a while in the comics.

* In the first film, Tony wore three suits of armor: the make-shift suit he made in the cave, the Mark II that was steel, and the red-and-gold suit. Here in Tony’s lab, we see two red-and-gold suits, one seriously damaged, one shining and new. This is because Tony’s armor suffered catastrophic damage during the first movie when he battled Obadiah Stane, leading to the construction of a new suit.

* In this film, the arc generator in Tony’s chest is poisoning him. Tony has had many health-problems over the years, sometimes due to his own technology. When he was crippled by a gunshot wound, he used experimental surgical techniques and a special microchip of his own design to repair the nerve damage, only to later discover the chip had been rigged to poison his entire nervous system. Sometime after defeating that problem, Tony found out that the energy fields created by his own armor was causing a cellular breakdown in his body and was forced to redesign the suit in order to salvage his health and allow his body to heal.

* Pepper becoming CEO has precedent in the comics. It happened in the storyline “World’s Most Wanted” in Matt Fraction’s “Invincible Iron Man.”

* When Ivan Vanko gets a fake passport, the name reads: “Boris Turgenev.” In the comics, this was the name of the second Crimson Dynamo, a man who made his first appearance working alongside the Black Widow, who debuted in the same comic (Tales of Suspense #52). Boris was killed by Anton Vanko, the original Crimson Dynamo, who died in the process.

* It makes sense that Harold “Happy” Hogan is giving Tony boxing lessons; in the comics, Happy was originally a boxer.

* The Black Widow is using the cover identity of Natalie Rushman. When she first began operating in the U.S. as a S.H.I.E.L.D. agent, she often used the cover identity of Nancy Rushman.

* When Vanko attacks Tony on the race track, a couple of cars explode behind him. One of the cars is obviously sponsored by Roxxon. In Marvel comics, Roxxon is a corrupt corporation that has clashed swords with Tony Stark on many occasions and was apparently responsible for the deaths of Tony’s parents.

* Happy saving Tony on the race track is a callback to the first time they met in the comics. Tony was driving a race car and suffered a near-heart attack because the power cells keeping him alive began failing. He crashed and Happy Hogan, who had been watching the race, went out onto the track and saved Tony from the flaming wreckage. In gratitude, Tony made Happy his driver since the ex-boxer was looking for work.

* The briefcase armor is a big nod to the comics. For years, Tony built his armor in such a way that it could fold and collapse into parts small enough to fit into a specially-made briefcase that had tiny anti-gravity pods so it wouldn’t be too heavy to carry. At one point, he built a suit of armor that actually turned into a briefcase-like box itself and would then expand and wrap around Tony when he summoned it.

* This version of the briefcase armor resembles Tony’s “Silver Centurion” suit which he wore for a few years in the 1980s.

* Pepper tells Tony, “Not everybody runs on batteries …” In the comics, Pepper eventually suffered an injury that required Tony to implant an electro-magnetic battery into her chest to allow her body to heal enough for regular surgery later.

* When Rhodey arrives to confront Tony in his lab, Pepper is drinking Dr. Pepper. Although Dr. Pepper is a sponsor of the movie, this is probably also a deliberate wordplay joke.

* Rhodey tells Tony, “You don’t have to do this alone,” and Tony’s response is, “You have to trust me.” This is the essence of their constant conflicts in the comics. Several times, Rhodey has offered help to Tony and has tried to convince him to seek help from friends or other superheroes, whereas Tony has often preferred to either keep secrets or to manipulate events and friends to do what he wanted, Rhodey included. This clash of philosophies has led to the two physically fighting each other more than once, which happens in this film as well.

* Natalie’s flirtation with Tony is reminiscent of the comics when she, as a Russian spy, attempted to gain Tony’s trust by becoming a romantic interest.

* At his birthday party, Tony wears and operates the armor despite being drunk. This happened in the comics and the chaos that resulted is what convinced Tony that he had fallen off the wagon and needed Rhodey to temporarily become the new Iron Man.

* During their fight, Tony asks Rhodey, “You wanna be a war machine?” This is, of course, a nod to the comics in that War Machine is what Rhodey calls himself after Tony gives him the Variable Threat Response Battle Suit.

* Nick Fury showing up in an Iron Man movie makes sense. In the comics, the two have often worked together and not only has Stark Industries and Stark Enterprises provided S.H.I.E.L.D. with most of its tech, but it was Tony Stark himself who nominated Fury to take over as director of the agency after the original director was killed.

* For those who missed it (and amazingly there are some of you still out there), Nick Fury and Iron Man first met (in film continuity) at the end of the first movie, in a special scene after the credits where Fury mentioned he wanted to talk to Tony about the “Avengers Initiative.” Since Tony says in this movie that he doesn’t want to join Fury’s “Super-secret boy band,” we can assume he turned down the offer. If this seems to contradict a scene from the recent “Incredible Hulk” movie, keep reading.

* In the donut shop, Natalie/Natasha is now outfitted in her Black Widow costume. Although she doesn’t say that codename out loud, she is wearing her trademark “Widow’s Sting” wrist-blasters and her belt buckle has a black widow hourglass design on it.

* Nick Fury tells Tony he has “bigger problems in the southwest region.” This is a nod to the Hulk, who is often operating in the American southwest (at least in the comics). In the movie “The Incredible Hulk”, S.H.I.E.L.D. databases are used to track down the green-skinned goliath and a memo from Nick Fury can be seen in the opening credits where he discusses surveillance of Dr. Bruce Banner.

* At Tony’s house, Fury reveals he knew Howard Stark personally and implies that he is older than he looks. In the comics, Fury has been around since before World War II and gained a retarded aging rate due to an experimental “Infinity Formula” that he was given towards the end of the war.

* In this film, Howard Stark is said to be a founding member of S.H.I.E.L.D. In the comics, Howard was indeed a member of the organization and worked alongside Nathaniel Richards (father of Reed Richards of the Fantastic Four), but could not be a founder since the agency’s roots stretch back to Ancient Egypt. Then again, the modern-day/American version of S.H.I.E.L.D. may have only formed a few decades back, in which case Howard could indeed have been one of the founders of this modern incarnation.

* When Tony goes through Howard Stark’s locker and finds the film reels and scientific journal, you can also see a copy of the comic “Captain America” #1 inside. According to director Jon Favreau, Howard Stark will be revealed to have been involved in the project that created Captain America’s super-soldier serum in Cap’s upcoming film, starring Chris Evans.

*This is not the first time we’ve seen hints of “Operation Rebirth”, the project which created Captain America. In “The Incredible Hulk” movie, the program was discussed by General Ross as an early “bio-weapon” project during World War II. The character Emil Blonksy, who refers to it as a super-soldier program, is later given a modified version of the Operation Rebirth formula. We know this because the chemical is removed from a storage chamber that labels it to be part of the “Weapon Plus” program and was developed by “Dr. Reinstein.” When the Weapon Plus program was formed, the data of Operation Rebirth was folded into it and Captain America was retroactively designated as “Weapon I” (years later, Wolverine would be designated “Weapon X” when the Weapon Plus program laced his bones with adamantium). And in the comics, “Reinstein” was the code-name of Dr. Abraham Erskine, the man who invented the super-soldier serum in the first place.

* Throughout the film, and especially at Pepper’s office, Tony finds he can’t tell her his true feelings because he’s self-conscious and fearful of the fact that he’s so close to death. In the comics, this was the reason why he was silent about his feelings for years, because he felt that as long as his heart was reliant on the Iron Man tech attached to his chest, he risked death if his power cells ever failed and thus he couldn’t ask Pepper (or any woman) to commit to him.

* In Tony’s workshop, Agent Caulson finds an uncompleted replica of Captain America’s shield. We first saw this in the original film. You can glimpse it on Tony’s work table when he’s just returned from the Middle East and is having his armor removed. Originally, that was meant as a joke by the visual effects team but director Jon Favreau decided to leave it in for fans. Captain America’s shield is a one-of-a-kind alloy that has been said to be impossible to recreate. It makes sense that Tony would see this as a challenge and attempt to recreate it himself, though since he didn’t finish it, we can guess that he failed.

* Agent Caulson mentions he is going to New Mexico and Tony refers to its slogan of being the “land of enchantment.” This is true, but it’s also a subtle nod to a certain mystical weapon Caulson will find there that came from a certain enchanted land.

* When he arrives on stage, Justin Hammer is dancing. Actor Sam Rockwell seems to make a habit of dancing in many films he stars in. What’s more, the song that is played was featured heavily in “Swingers”, which was written by Jon Favreau, who also starred in it.

* Justin Hammer unveils his Hammer drones and reworks the Mark II armor into the War Machine suit (which, like the comics, is called the Variable Threat Response Battle Suit). Hammer usurping and corrupting Tony Stark’s Iron Man technology to outfit his own soldiers and weapons is very reminiscent of the famous comic book storyline “The Armor Wars.”

* In this film, Ivan Vanko displays a talent for hacking into and controlling other peoples’ systems and weapons. In the comics, the original Crimson Dynamo Anton Vanko invented a weapon in his armor that allowed him to do the very same thing, giving him control of nearly any weapon or computer system in his vicinity.

* J.A.R.V.I.S. accesses the Oracle grid. Since the company is a major sponsor of the film, Iron Man has been appearing in several Oracle ads recently and an Oracle building can be seen at the Stark Expo. Likewise, Audi, another major sponsor, has their presence at the Stark Expo.

* After saving a child from one of Hammer’s drones, Tony flies past several large banners of companies who are represented at the Stark Expo. One of these banners reads “Circuits Maximus.” In the comics, this was the name of a small company Tony started after he lost Stark International to Obadiah Stane. Circuits Maximus was in operation for a few months before Tony regained his fortune and converted it into Stark Enterprises.

*In Nick Fury’s office when he is meeting with Tony Stark, a screen shows live news footage. This footage is from a news report seen in the film “Incredible Hulk”, so the events of “Iron Man 2″ are happening simultaneous to that film. In the final scene of “The Incredible Hulk”, which takes place at least a month after the main story of the movie, Tony Stark shows up and seems to speak about the Avengers Initiative. In that same scene, Tony implies that by that time he is an official part of the Initiative, since he asks General Ross, “What if I told you we were putting a team together?”

* The scene after the credits is reminiscent of an event that occurred during J. Michael Straczynski’s run of “Fantastic Four”, just before he left that title and began writing Marvel’s “Thor” series.

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