by Ben Moore)
Though the release of Shane Black’s Iron Man 3 is still a ways off, both the theatrical trailer and Super Bowl trailer have stirred up an incredible amount of anticipation, conversation, and plot speculation. Maybe that’s because, on top of being part of one of the most popular superhero film franchises ever, the third Iron Man film is the first superhero movie of 2013, ahead of Man of Steel, The Wolverine, and Thor 2.
Of course, with cinematic superhero speculation comes the obligatory question: Which comic books, if any, were used as source material or inspiration for the film’s story? Again, it’s difficult to absolutely ascertain such things with several months to go before Iron Man 3 hits theaters, but there's enough striking imagery in the footage we've seen to have some semblance of an idea.
As such, we’ve constructed a list of comic book stories you should probably read to be prepared for the release of Iron Man 3. Keep in mind, you might be entering SPOILER territory if you’re the type of person who likes to watch his/her films without any prior knowledge of the story.
Extremis (Iron Man Vol. 4, #1-6)
We’ve known for some time that 'Extremis' would be the source material for Iron Man 3, at least in part. For those not familiar, 'Extremis' was an Iron Man comic book arc from 2006 written by the great Warren Ellis (Transmetropolitan, Nextwave).
In the story, Tony is introduced to a military nanotechnology serum by its co-inventor, an old flame named Maya Hansen. The serum, dubbed "Extremis" (created as a replacement for the lost super soldier serum that turned Steve Rogers into Captain America), has the ability to remake the carrier with increased health and physical/mental abilities. One such carrier - Mallen, whose exposure to the serum has given him super strength, speed, stamina, and durability, as well as fire breath and sharp claws that discharged electricity – is on the loose, seeking revenge against the government for the deaths of his parents.
Tony goes toe-to-toe with Mallen and gets his ass handed to him (mortally), leaving him with little choice but to subject himself to the Extremis serum, which saves his life. The effects of the serum are different for Tony than they were for Mallen. They essentially make Iron Man more of a "superhero" than just a regular Joe in a suit of armor. Now there’s an "internal control sheath" underneath his skin that emerges around his body upon mental command, atop which his Iron Man armor can self-assemble. The sheath also grants Stark the ability to lo-jack into (and communicate with) his armor, phone, computers, global satellites, and so forth - sort of like a superhero R2-D2. Furthermore, Tony Stark now has a healing factor even more advanced than Wolverine’s.
With these new powers, Iron Man locates Mallen and, ultimately, is forced to kill him. In the end it’s revealed that – shock of all shocks! - Maya orchestrated Mallen’s exposure to Extremis because she needed a human test subject, and she’s promptly taken into custody for her crimes.
Some are under the impression that Extremis allows Tony to transform into Iron Man whenever he wants, sans suitcase armor, which isn’t strictly true. Initially, Extremis just stored some of the armor – the aforementioned control sheath – inside his body. It wasn’t until the upgrade to the Bleeding Edge armor that Tony could transform into Iron Man on a whim without lugging his suit around.
So what does 'Extremis' have to do with 'Iron Man 3'?
In the Iron Man 3 theatrical trailer, we can plainly see Extremis in action when Tony’s Iron Man glove self-attaches to his hand. We also know that Aldrich Killian (played by Guy Pearce) and Maya Hansen (played by Rebecca Hall), the co-inventers of the serum, will play key roles in Iron Man 3. As for precisely how much Warren Ellis’ run will influence the film – well, only time will tell.
Haunted (Iron Man Vol. 5, #21-28)
Haunted' takes place after Civil War, in the days when Tony Stark was the Director of S.H.I.E.L.D.
With his life in a bit of a downward spiral as a result of all those moral lines he crossed instating the Superhuman Registration Act – which eventually led to the "death" (but not really) of his friend, Captain America – Iron Man is confronted with a new threat: Maya Hansen, thought to be dead, is under the employ of his old arch-nemesis, the Mandarin, to create an airborne version of Extremis.
Of course, Maya believes she’s working for the good of the world. In reality, the Mandarin is using her for his own nefarious plans.
Though Extremis isn’t actually a virus, it’s sometimes referred to as such because it sort of “infects” the user and only (approximately) 3% of the population can survive exposure to it. Unbeknownst to Maya, Mandarin is not only aware of the low survival rate, he’s also actively counting on it in his plans to kill 97% of the planet. (In all fairness, he actually does believe worldwide exposure will be for the betterment of humanity, as the few survivors will be disease free from here on out.)
After being forced to wear psionic resonance dampeners retrofitted to curb his Extremis powers – due to overexposure to Extremis, naturally - Tony resorts to donning his classic Silver Centurion armor to fight the Mandarin. The resulting battle is drawn-out and difficult for both parties, but in the end, Iron Man rips Mandarin’s magic rings right out of his spine and beats him senseless.
Alas, the Extremis virus has already been launched via missile into the atmosphere! What ever shall Iron Man do? In order to stop the virus from being released, which would be very bad news indeed for that 97% of the planet, Tony burns the psionic resonance dampener off his ankle (removing part of his heel in the process) to access his Extremis powers. Then he "telepathically" takes control of the missiles and sends them into the upper atmosphere, where the Extremis virus freezes and is rendered useless. All's well that ends well, et cetera.
So what does this story have to do with 'Iron Man 3'?
It’s not entirely clear at this point that it does, other than the fact that both stories involve Iron Man, Mandarin, Extremis, and Maya Hansen. There’s been no indication that Mandarin (Ben Kingsley) – or the other two villains, Aldrich Killian (Guy Pearce) and Eric Savin/Coldblood (James Badge Dale) – are planning to unleash Extremis onto the world. Then again, for all we know, that could be the big finale.
The Mask in the Iron Man (Iron Man Vol. 3, #26-30)
'The Mask in the Iron Man' is, put simply, a story about how Iron Man’s new armor gains sentience after Iron Man gets struck by lightning. (Comic book science fact #1: Lightning magically gives life to both inanimate objects and corpses.) And while you’d think it would be awesome for your favorite suit of armor to come to life – think of the things you could do together! – it turns out to be pretty awful, especially once the suit falls in love with Tony Stark’s girlfriend, Rumiko Fujikawa.
Tony dons a different suit of armor – the Modular Armor - to fight off his evil, sentient armor, but the living suit proves to be too powerful and rips the Modular Armor apart. To punish Tony for his betrayal, the suit strands him on a deserted island for days on end so he can think about what he's done.
When it returns, it finds that Tony has constructed a number of Macgyver-esque traps (or should I say Predator-esque traps?) for the suit to even the odds. And though the traps do, to a degree, even the odds, the sentient suit of armor eventually gets the better of Tony, which leads to Tony suffering a massive heart attack. Seeing its creator in searing pain and on the verge of death, the sentient armor has a change of heart, rips out its own cyborg heart, and shoves it into Tony’s chest, saving his life. (Comic book science fact #2: Cyborg-heart surgery is surprisingly easy.) Naturally, the evil, sentient suit dies, and for some reason, Tony is really heartbroken about it. Go figure.
So what does this story have to do with 'Iron Man 3'?
There’s only one moment in the theatrical trailer that recalls 'The Mask in the Iron Man,' as far as we can tell. Tony (Robert Downey Jr.) and Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow) are in bed, sleeping next to one another. Tony seems to be in the throws of a nightmare, so Pepper leans over to see if he’s all right. But suddenly, a hand is on her shoulder, spinning her around to reveal that Iron Man’s suit of armor is standing over her!
Now, there are a few explanations for what could be going on here:
1) Maybe it’s just someone else in the Iron Man armor! After all, we’ve seen characters don Iron Man-esque armor already - including old man Obadiah Stone (in the Iron Monger armor) and Jim Rhodes (in the War Machine armor).
2) Might Tony’s subconscious mind – as a result of Extremis – be taking control of his armor? Again, Tony seems to be having a nightmare during the scene in the trailer; he even says at one point: “I can’t sleep. And when I do, I have nightmares.” Perhaps his unconscious mind is just concerned for Pepper’s safety, and thus the suit of armor is checking up on her or something.
3) Tony’s armor has taken on a life of its own, as in 'The Mask in the Iron Man.' If we’re lucky, we’ll get to see the suit take a trip down to its favorite shawarma restaurant in the obligatory post-credits sequence.
If I had to guess, I’d say it's probably number two.
World's Most Wanted (Invincible Iron Man Vol. 1, #8-19)
Matt Fraction's 'World's Most Wanted' sees some major changes for Tony Stark/Iron Man, not the least of which is that he shaves his mustache off.
H.A.M.M.E.R. – a government organization led by Iron Patriot (A.K.A. Norman Osborn A.K.A. the former Green Goblin) in the wake of Secret Invasion – is supplanting S.H.I.E.L.D. and forcing many a S.H.I.E.L.D. officer to leave service (including Tony and Maria Hill).
Tony realizes that Norman’s goal here is to get his hands on the Superhuman Registration database containing all the secret identities of his fellow heroes, so he uploads a virus that removes all names from the database save one: Tony Stark. The only remaining record of said secret identities is inside Tony’s head. And since Osborn will stop at nothing to retrieve that record, Tony decides to start the process of deleting his own brain – even if that means permanent brain damage.
Osborn, of course, labels Tony a fugitive from justice, forcing him to go on the lam so the deletion process has time to take effect.
Meanwhile, Pepper Potts has been named the head of Stark Industries in Tony’s absence. While working to shut down the company – per Tony’s instructions - she accidentally stumbles upon a secret room that contains a suit of armor (dubbed the “Rescue armor”) designed specifically for her.
On top of everything else, Tony’s Extremis powers are pretty much useless now, so he has to resort to wearing his classic red and gold armor as he tries to evade H.A.M.M.E.R. and other adversaries (Namor, for example) all over the world – from snowy Russia to Dubai.
Eventually, Norman Osborn (as Iron Patriot) catches up to Tony (in his original gray armor, with very little brain power left as a result of the deletion process) and practically beats Tony to death. This backfires tremendously when reporters in the area capture the fight on video and broadcast it to the world, forcing Osborn to stay his hand and allow Tony to live.
In the end, Tony Stark is pretty much brain-dead, which would be terrible news for anyone who wasn’t Tony Stark. See, unbeknownst to Osborn, Tony made a back-up copy of his brain in the event that he’d have to delete everything inside it. (Always thinking ahead, that Tony Stark.) Thor/Donald Blake, Captain America/Bucky Barnes, Pepper Potts/Rescue, Black Widow/Natasha Romanoff, and Maria Hill are left with the job of restoring his brain – which they do. The end.
So what does this story have to do with 'Iron Man 3'?
Well, there’s an Iron Patriot. That's one way. There’s also the fact that Tony’s Extremis powers have failed him – which they seem to be doing in the theatrical trailer and recently released poster. Then, of course, there’s the stuff with Tony in snowy Russia hanging out with Pepper Potts (in her Rescue armor). The snow scenes from the trailer definitely bring to mind the snow scenes from 'Most Wanted,' but it’s hard to say how similar they are without seeing more footage. And lastly, there's the Rescue armor itself - rumor has it that Pepper could be suiting up at some point in Iron Man 3.