Robert Downey Jr. is Iron Man. The character exists in comic books and various animated television shows and direct-to-video films, but as far as we’re concerned Tony Stark just ain’t Tony Stark unless he’s played by a dude we know could relapse at any given moment. Now, the Iron Man story as told in the Downey Jr. films – Iron Man, Iron Man 2, The Avengers, Iron Man 3 – is the definitive take on the character.
But upon a recent viewing of the 2006 direct-to-video animated film Ultimate Avengers: The Movie I was startled to see Jarvis depicted as an actual person. J.A.R.V.I.S. is a computer program with a disembodied British voice. So, what the heck is he doing showing up as a laconic old butler?
Because that’s how it is in the comic books.
It served as a reminder of the following: Iron Man has been around in the comics since 1963, and while the Downey Jr. films have been more faithful to the comics than some other superhero franchises there are still discrepancies, ranging from major to minor to storylines the films may not have gotten to yet. Listed below are 6 such discrepancies:
*BELOW ARE SPOILERS FOR IRON MAN, IRON MAN 2, THE AVENGERS, and A POTENTIALLY BIG SPOILER FOR IRON MAN 3*
1) Secret Identity Not So Secret: Tony Stark Being Out and Proud as Iron Man is Relatively New
FILMS: Superheroes have secret identities. They just do. They can’t help it. They are as obsessed with it as they are with pithy one-liners and occasionally dying and coming back to life. As such, to the uninitiated, it was relatively stunning when Iron Man cliffhanged us by having Tony Stark stepping in front of a podium and proclaiming before a national television audience, “I am Iron Man.” Our superheroes don’t voluntarily reveal their identities to anyone, let alone the entire world. So, kudos to you Tony Stark. If you listen closely though, before Tony steps onto that stage he tells the Terrence Howard version of James Rhodes that he’s not really sold on the cover story they had come up with where he would claim Iron Man was just his bodyguard.
COMICS: That was actually a sly reference to the fact that until 2002 as far as the world in the comic books knew Iron Man was just Tony Stark’s bodyguard and corporate mascot. This entailed multiple storylines in which some bad stuff went down that was Iron Man’s fault, either collateral damage or intentional evil-doings while under the influence of a bad guy. However, Stark was free to whore his way through Eastern Europe as far as the US government was concerned because they had no idea he and Iron Man were one in the same.
Eventually, close loved ones (including Pepper Potts) would discover his secret, but the world was none the wiser. When Tony did finally come out of the secret identity closet, the President of the United States made him the Secretary of Defense. As would be expected, he ended up having to resign his post like one day later (okay, not quite that soon). Iron Man 2 has a quick joking reference to this development when Tony is called in front of the Senate Armed Services Committee. He responds to a suggestion from the Don Cheadle version of Rhodes that Iron Man be folded into the existing chain of military command with, “I’m not a joiner, but I’ll consider Secretary of Defense…if you ask nice.”
2) What Kind of Name is ‘Pepper’ Anyway? Wait, It’s Just Her Nickname?
FILMS: Pepper Potts is a classically alliterative Stan Lee comic book character name. Due to a notoriously faulty memory and an insane workload during the formative years of Marvel Comics, Lee used alliteration in naming his characters to help keep them straight. So, you’ve got your Reed Richards, Peter Parker, Bruce Banner, Betty Brant, Doctor Doom, Green Goblin, Sue Storm, Scott Summers, and Pepper Potts, among several others. However, after three films with her and a fourth about to open we don’t need alliteration to help remember Gwyneth Paltrow’s fantastic turn as Pepper Potts in the Iron Man films.
COMICS: It’s a good thing, too, because Pepper’s name isn’t actually Pepper: it’s Virginia. Or at least that’s the truth in the comic books.
Even with the Stan Lee alliteration effect, her full name is Virginia Potts, but she goes by Pepper, which is her nickname. This is an incredibly minor discrepancy, but if simply going by the films you might be surprised to learn that Pepper has an actual first name which is not mostly thought of in association with salt (unless you’re some kind of weirdo who commonly asks, “Could you pass me the Virginia and salt?” at meals). To be fair, if you listen very, very closely you’ll hear Bill O’Reilly, of all people, refer to the new CEO of Stark Industries as Virginia “Pepper” Potts in a talking head segment in the background of a scene in Iron Man 2. To my knowledge, this is the only time the films have acknowledged Pepper’s real name.
3) Pepper & Tony Aren’t Actually That Close – She Kind of Has Eyes for His Driver
FILMS: Due to the incredible popularity of the films, Pepper Potts has arguably become as synonymous a love interest to Tony Stark/Iron Man in the popular consciousness as Lois Lane is to Clark Kent/Superman. Such is the on-screen chemistry between Paltrow and Downey, Jr. that our hearts collectively broke at the end of The Avengers when Stark attempts to call and say goodbye to Potts prior to saving the Earth (well, technically just New York, but as far as movies are concerned that is the Earth) only to have her fail to answer in time.
COMICS: As a reflection of the popularity of the films, as of late Pepper and Tony have moved to the foreground in the comic books as a potential romantic couple, but historically the man in her life has actually been Harold “Happy” Hogan (there’s that dang alliteration again). Of course, Pepper had a crush on Tony in the beginning before she moved on to ultimately marry Tony’s chauffeur Hogan, who is played by Jon Favreau in the films. Their relationship was typically troubled – they marry, he turns into a gigantic monster, they divorce, they remarry and adopt some kids before trying to have natural kids only to have her miscarry. He dies, she almost does but becomes a cyborg and superhero instead. You know – typical marriage stuff.
4) Pepper Becomes a Cyborg Who Can Fly and Has Her Own Iron Man-Style Suit of Armor
FILM: Pepper’s primary superpower in the Iron Man films to date has been mostly defined as “sass with a side of Olympic-grade eye-rolling.” That’s why Paltrow gets paid the big bucks, people! Plus, at the end of Iron Man she does run across a glass surface while wearing high-heels without falling or hurting herself. which is possibly more impressive than anything Tony Stark does in the entire film (big whoop, he replaces his heart with a shiny battery). However, in Iron Man 3 Pepper is seen at one point wearing the Iron Man armor. But, wait, how is that going to work?
COMICS: Because Pepper became a straight-up superhero of her own in the comics! Around the same time the first Iron Man film was coming out, the comics had Pepper almost die at the hands of an enemy of Tony Stark, who saves her much in the same way he saved himself – by giving her a new electronic heart implant. However, he goes even further and gives her additional cybernetic enhancements, making her more cyborg than human. Tony also builds a unique set of armor for her, which she names Rescue and occasionally uses to do superhero stuff. Then the computer program controlling Rescue falls in love with her, and it all gets very complicated. But before that robot-on-woman action Pepper is a proper superhero of her own. Pepper ending up in one of the Iron Man suits in Iron Man 3 is apparently an homage to Rescue.
5) Jarvis is a Crusty Old White Man
FILM: Suck it, Batman! You’ve got your British butler, Alfred, around to impart meaningful exposition, either in support of or against your actions depending on the plot. Tony Stark? He has an interconnected computer program with which he can interact as if he tore out Alfred’s soul and shoved it into a machine. He calls it J.A.R.V.I.S., and he uses it to help control the Iron Man armor as well as simply have a friend with whom to chat when lonely.
COMICS: Say, Batman. When I said, “Suck it” what I really meant was Iron Man basically ripped off Alfred from you in the form of Edwin Jarvis, a long-time Stark family butler who remains with the family and serves Tony loyally both after his parents die and after he becomes Iron Man. The personality of J.A.R.V.I.S. in the films is modeled after that of Edwin Jarvis in the comics, but the concept of there being a computer program with a disembodied voice interacting with Tony instead of a real person is a creation of the films.
But a good idea is a good idea. So, the comic books implemented the automated version of J.A.R.V.I.S. into Pepper Pott’s Rescue armor, which she can control via conversation with J.A.R.V.I.S. much in the same way Downey Jr. does in the films. The animated series The Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes also implemented the film version of JARVIS into its own version of Iron man.
6) In One Universe, Tony Totally Goes There With Black Widow
FILM: Iron Man 2 is about a 50/50 decent Iron Man sequel/lackluster S.H.I.E.L.D. prequel. The narrative momentum of the film routinely screeches to a halt whenever Natasha Romanoff (Scarlett Johansson) or Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) shows up, especially if in tandem. However, before the film reveals Romanoff’s true identity as Black Widow, an undercover S.H.I.E.L.D. agent who looks at a dominatrix and thinks, “Yes, that seems like an ideal costume for field duty,” she is presented as a romantic foil for Stark and Potts. You never get the sense that Stark is ever going to do anything with her, but you do get the sense that his flirting is annoying Pepper.
There is, of course, no real romantic tension between Romanoff and Stark (for her, it was just part of her cover identity), and the two barely even interact in The Avengers nor will she likely be hung up on him or anything in her next experience, which will be in the upcoming Captain America: The Winter Soldier.
COMICS: Marvel has a comic book series called Ultimate Marvel which is set outside the main continuity and inside an alternate universe where the writers are free to re-imagine existing characters. In this universe of the comics, Romanoff and Stark actually become engaged before she is revealed to be an evil secret agent attempting to seduce Stark to simply extort his vast fortune. To add insult to injury, after that nasty business is revealed and done away with a Stark-Romanoff sex tape pops up as a further humiliation to Stark. Considering the whole alternate universe aspect, this one is not really a discrepancy between film and comic book. However, it was just so crazy I had to include it.
So, there you go. Now, you have some answers if ever you are talking about any of the above and somebody asks, “Yeah, but is it like that in comics?” Please use the comments section below to leave any feedback.
At the time of this writing, Iron Man 3 has been out for one week now in the UK and comes out tomorrow in the U.S. Early word is that Ben Kingsley’s version of the villain The Mandarin differs in several significant ways from his comic book counterpart, [update] and the early world was right – the Mandarin is an unbelievably huge departure from his comic book counterpart, as is Dr. Aldrich Killian, Guy Pearce’s character. They made Killian into The Mandarin as a way of working around the fact that a comic book faithful depiction of The Mandarin would probably be crazy racist. In fact, Iron Man 3 loosely adapts the Iron Man comic book story arc “Extremis,” but in that arc, Killian commits suicide early on and is most definitely not The Mandarin. Furthermore, Maya Hansen (played in the film by Rebecca Hall) never repents for her actions and does not die, especially not in some last second change-of-heart attempt to stop Killian.
Source: The Marvel Encyclopedia: The Definitive Guide to the Characters of the Marvel Universe. Updated and Expanded. Ed. Alastair Dougall DK Publishing, 2009. Available for purchase on Amazon.com.
- Why Marvel Studios may be Underestimating the Appeal of Robert Downey Jr. (weminoredinfilm.com)
- Review: Iron Man 3 (thepopcornmuncher.wordpress.com)