In preparation for the release of The Avengers, I wrote up these annotations for Marvel’s Cinematic Universe that were originally posted on the now-defunct Movie Metropolis. This is a detailed breakdown of all the hidden references and surprising ways in which each picture connects to one another. The first film, Iron Man, forms the foundation of Marvel’s cinematic universe, which has been designated as Earth-199999 in the Marvel multiverse. The primary Marvel Universe has been labeled, Earth-616, a term originated in a story written by Alan Moore, who wrote Captain Britain for Marvel UK as well as Watchmen and V for Vendetta. The number 616 was chosen at random and in contrast to DC, who called their primary universe, Earth-1.
0:01:23 – Robert Downey Jr. as Tony Stark Tony Stark first appeared in Tales of Suspense #39, which was originally published in 1963. Stan Lee created the character along with younger brother Larry Lieber, Don Heck and Jack Kirby and loosely based him on Howard Hughes. Stark was originally wounded and captured by a warlord named Wong-Chu while testing new weapons during the Vietnam War. Warren Ellis and Adi Granov updated Iron Man’s origins during the six-part “Extremis” storyline, which informed much of this film and Iron Man 3. Stark’s capture now takes place in Afghanistan just before the first Gulf War. Granov’s artwork was well received so much so that he was hired to work on Iron Man as a conceptual artist helping to design Stark’s armored suits. Iron Man had been in development for years with the rights being held successively by Universal, Fox, and New Line with Nicolas Cage (who’s been attached to almost every comic book movie) and Tom Cruise previously talked about to play the lead role.
0:04:49 – The death of Howard & Maria Stark In the comics, Howard and Maria Stark were killed in a plane accident. Much like the movie version, Howard was later revealed to have worked on numerous government programs, including the creation of Captain America. A pre-Marvel Studios version of the script took a cue from Ang Lee’s Hulk and depicted Howard Stark as the villain, who eventually donned the War Machine armor to battle his son.
0:04:57 – Jeff Bridges as Obadiah Stane (Ten Rings) Obadiah Stane first appeared in Iron Man #163 (published in 1982) as a business rival, who used psychological warfare to defeat Tony Stark and assume control of Stark Industries. Stane sabotaged Stark’s business deals and attacked his friends causing Tony to relapse into alcoholism. He eventually pulled himself together and defeated Stane’s Iron Monger with a newly designed Silver Centurion armor. Rather than go to prison, Stane committed suicide. His son, Ezekiel Stane, has since become one of Iron Man’s most dangerous enemies. While the ring on Stane’s finger is likely a class ring, it’s also a subtle clue to his involvement with the Ten Rings terrorist group.
0:05:31 – Terrence Howard as Lt. Col. James Rhodes Combat pilot James Rhodes first appeared in Iron Man #118, published in 1979. He was a POW during the Vietnam War when he aided in Iron Man’s escape. Rhodey not only became one of Tony’s closest friends, but also substituted as Iron Man following Tony’s relapse.
0:06:43 – Jon Favreau as Happy Hogan, Iron Man theme song “Tony Stark makes you feel…he’s the cool exec with the heart of steel.” The music playing over the awards ceremony and casino scenes is a cover version of the Iron Man theme song from the 1966 Marvel Super Heroes cartoon. It’s also used as Rhodey’s ringtone.
Director Jon Favreau took on the supporting role of Harold “Happy” Hogan, a less-than-successful boxer, who saved Tony’s life and became his chauffeur and bodyguard. He made his first appearance in Tales of Suspense #45, published in 1963. This isn’t Favreau’s first foray into the Marvel Universe. He previously played Foggy Nelson in Daredevil opposite Ben Affleck and made a cameo appearance in Batman Forever. Thus far, Favreau is the only individual to work for both Tony Stark and Bruce Wayne. This also gives him the rare distinction of being employed by two different Batmen.
0:07:45 – Leslie Bibb as Christine Everhart As far as I know, Christine Everhart only appeared in Iron Man (Vol. 3) #75, originally published in 2004. Everhart was a reporter for the Daily Bugle, the same paper that employs Peter Parker and Ben Urich. With Sony holding the rights to all things Spidey, Everhart now works for Vanity Fair.
0:10:00 – JARVIS Edwin Jarvis was the butler for Howard & Maria Stark, first appearance in Tales of Suspense #59 and published in 1964. He continued in that capacity for the Avengers when Tony converted his Manhattan mansion into the team’s headquarters. The human version of Jarvis was introduced into the Marvel Cinematic Universe in the pilot episode of Agent Carter. He was played by James D’Arcy, who coincidentally enough, co-starred in Master and Commander with the voice of the computer J.A.R.V.I.S., Paul Bettany. Obviously Marvel couldn’t do another rich superhero with a British butler so Jarvis became J.A.R.V.I.S. According to comic book writer Peter David’s novelization, the acronym stands for “Just A Rather Very Intelligent System.” Bettany was recently in The Tourist with Timothy Dalton, an actor some comic book artists (like Alex Ross and Mike Deodato Jr.) have used as a model for their interpretations of Tony Stark. Bettany is also married to Jennifer Connelly, who played Betty Ross in Ang Lee’s Hulk. Connelly was the female lead in The Rocketeer, based on the comic book series and directed by Joe Johnston, who also directed Captain America: The First Avenger. Bettany and Connelly named their son, Stellan, after Stellan Skarsgard, who plays Dr. Erik Selvig in Thor and The Avengers.
Gwyneth Paltrow as Virginia “Pepper” Potts Pepper Potts was originally Tony Stark’s secretary and first appeared in Tales of Suspense #45 (1963), along with Happy Hogan. Pepper has had on-again/off-again relationships with both Tony and Happy, eventually marrying the latter. Recently, she suffered severe injuries in an attack by Ezekiel Stane, requiring a similar magnetic device placed in her chest. Tony gives Pepper her own armored suit (complete with JARVIS artificial intelligence) allowing her to operate under the alias of Rescue. The proprietary repulsor technology used in the Jericho missiles is later implemented for the Iron Man armor’s flight stabilizers, which have a secondary use as offensive weapons. It’s also a refined version of the “gravitic reversion” technology invented by Howard Stark as seen in Captain America: The First Avenger.
0:18:10 – Ho Yinsen Yinsen was a fellow prisoner with Tony Stark and a brilliant scientist, who assisted in building the electromagnetic chest piece and the Mark I Iron Man armor. In both movie and comic book origins, Yinsen sacrificed his life to buy Tony Stark time for his suit to power up.
0:22:07 – Raza, The Ten Rings The Ten Rings is a reference to the ten power rings wielded by Iron Man’s arch-nemesis, The Mandarin. A descendent of Genghis Khan, the Mandarin recovered his rings (each giving him a different power) from a crashed alien spacecraft. It was ultimately decided to not use him as the antagonist due to his science fiction origins and his stereotypical “yellow peril” look.
0:44:00 – Clark Gregg as Agent Phil Coulson This is the first appearance of Phil Coulson, a new character created specifically for the film though he has just recently been introduced in the comics. Initially intended to be a one-off character, the role was expanded upon and Coulson has come to represent the everyman in a world full of fantastical superheroes. Clark Gregg also provides the voice of Agent Coulson on Disney XD’s Ultimate Spider-Man series. He made his directorial debut with Choke, an adaptation of the Chuck Palahniuk novel, which starred Iron Man 2 villain Sam Rockwell. Coulson is a member of S.H.I.E.L.D., Marvel’s preeminent intelligence agency. It originally stood for “Supreme Headquarters, International Espionage, and Law-Enforcement Division” then, “Strategic Hazard Intervention Espionage Logistics Directorate.” Here, it’s “Strategic Homeland Intervention, Enforcement and Logistics Division.” SHIELD first appeared in Strange Tales #135 (1965) as a means to capitalize on the popularity of James Bond and The Man from U.N.C.L.E. SHIELD has operated under the auspices of both the United States government and the U.N. In the cinematic universe, SHIELD is under the command of the World Security Council.
1:02:00 – Fin Fang Foom billboard The billboard for the Golden Dragon Casino features an illustration of Fin Fang Foom by Adi Granov. Fin Fang Foom was a massive dragon that arrived on Earth in the same spaceship containing the Mandarin’s ten rings. He was the villain in the mini-series Iron Man: Viva Las Vegas by Granov and Jon Favreau, which took on a similar tone to the film. Only two issues were released before the series was cancelled due to Favreau’s busy schedule.
1:07:05 – “Throw a little hot rod red in there…” The all gold color scheme was one of the earliest versions of the armor. Tony switched to gold when he discovered the drab gray look of the Mark I armor frightened the people he tried to save.
1:08:12 – Stan Lee, Carrie or Christine Stan Lee has done cameos for nearly every film based on a character he had a hand in creating with the notable exceptions being X2: X-Men United and X-Men: First Class. Here, Tony confuses him with Hugh Hefner. Tony also gets confused about Christine Everhart’s name, mistakenly calling her Carrie. Both are the first names for central characters in Stephen King novels.
1:15:30 – Mark III Armor, Genghis Khan The red and gold design has become THE definitive look for Iron Man. Raza namedropping Genghis Khan is a reference to the Mandarin’s claims that he is a descendent of the infamous Mongol.
1:25:25 – Captain America’s shield Captain America’s iconic shield makes its first appearance here, albeit in an incomplete form, amidst the clutter of Tony’s workbench. “Well, I’m sorry. I’m not Tony Stark.” Peter Billingsley, one of the film’s executive producers, plays the apologetic engineer. He has worked with Jon Favreau on films like Made, Zathura, and Couples Retreat. Despite his work as a writer, producer, and director, Billingsley will forever be remembered as Ralphie in A Christmas Story.
1:42:59 – “Next time, baby.” Rhodey eventually dons his own suit of armor as War Machine. Unfortunately for Terrence Howard, there was no next time for him as the role was given to Don Cheadle for Iron Man 2.
1:47:00 – Roxxon Corporation Roxxon is an oil and energy conglomerate that made its first appearance in Captain America #180 (1974). They represent everything Tony stands against in terms of greed and corporate irresponsibility. In the comics, it was Roxxon that arranged the accident that killed Howard & Maria Stark while in the MCU, Hydra was responsible. Since this initial reference, Roxxon has popped up in each subsequent Iron Man flick as well as Agent Carter and Daredevil.
1:54:27 – My bodyguard? On occasion, Tony Stark has convinced the world that Iron Man was his bodyguard whose identity was kept a secret. The Iron Man picture on the front page is actually taken from a spy video that leaked onto the internet in 2007.
2:05:40 – Nick Fury, The Avengers Initiative Ah, the beginning of a grand tradition – the Marvel post-credits sequence. Nick Fury first appeared in Sgt. Fury and his Howling Commandos #1, which was a WWII series that began publication in 1963. Known for his trademark eye-patch, Fury was injected with the Infinity Formula, which slowed down his aging. He transitioned from the military into espionage as SHIELD’s first director. Previously portrayed as a white man, Nick Fury was redesigned and modeled after Samuel L. Jackson in the Ultimate Marvel universe, a radically different and modernized take on the Marvel characters. It seemed only natural that Jackson himself should play the role. The majority of comic book fans would like to forget the 1998 made-for-TV movie called Nick Fury: Agent of SHIELD, which starred David Hasselhoff as the titular character.