By Andrew A. Smith
Scripps Howard News Service
So you’ve seen the trailers for Iron Man 2
and you’re wondering if this Whiplash guy is a major villain in the comics. The simple answer is "no."
The original Whiplash, Mark Scarlotti, first appeared in 1968, working for Marvel’s version of the Mafia, the Maggia. Iron Man whupped him, and continued to do so every time they met. Later Scarlotti upped his game and his whips, calling himself Blacklash, but Iron Man whupped him anyway.
And the Golden Avenger did so a few more times until a runaway suit of armor killed Scarlotti stone dead in 2000. I think he was back to being called Whiplash by then, but he remains just as dead.
A few other characters assumed the name Whiplash briefly, and there was at least one in leather-fetish gear (presumably to look more menacing). But none of that stuck. Now, with Iron Man 2
on the way, Marvel has introduced a new Whiplash – Anton Vanko, just like in the movie. (Comics trivia: The original Iron Man foe Crimson Dynamo was also named Anton Vanko, and it’s implied that Whiplash is his son.)
If you’ll recall, the first Iron Man movie featured a villain who is also B-list or below: Iron Monger, a one-shot villain who committed suicide in 1985. So where are Iron Man’s biggest foes? I’m afraid the answer is that they’re too dated.
Without a doubt, the Armored Avenger’s longest-running and most serious threat – his Joker, if you will – is The Mandarin. This cunning and super-powered Asian warlord probably made a lot of sense when he was created in the early 1960s, when Red China was considered an enemy, and memories of Fu Manchu were still fresh. But while the “yellow menace” has a long history in comics, the movies are a different and more politically correct medium – so it’s uncertain we’ll ever see a cinematic Mandarin.
Other major Iron Man villains also have ties to the Cold War, like Crimson Dynamo and Titanium Man. They were both Soviet agents, wearing Commie versions of Iron Man armor, looking to score propaganda points by defeating our hero. The original occupants of those armors are now dead, and newer versions serve with the Russian version of the Avengers, called Winter Guard.
Another former Commie is the Black Widow, who debuted as a Soviet agent in 1964, but later defected to the Western intelligence/black ops agency S.H.I.E.L.D. Which is how she’ll be depicted in ‘Iron Man 2’ – note her shoulder patch on the posters. I know, I know – who’s looking at Scarlett Johansson’s shoulder? Just humor me.
The Widow originally was just a '50s-style femme fatale, complete with veil, beauty mark and elbow-length white gloves, who tried to seduce Tony Stark. (Not really a trick, when you think about it.) But after her defection she got a super-upgrade from S.H.I.E.L.D. to the skin-tight black suit you’ll see in the movies, with wrist gadgets that act sort of like Batman’s utility belt – they have gas bombs, a swinging line, “Widow’s bite” darts and so forth. And she wears suction cups, so she can act like a road-show Spider-Man on occasion.
Early on the Widow (originally Natasha Romanov, but now the more etymologically accurate Natalia Romanova) had a history stretching back to World War II. That made sense in the ‘60s, when that war was only 20 years old. But now she’d be in her 80s, so a decade or so ago Marvel introduced the idea that she has had her lifespan lengthened by a Soviet version of the super-soldier serum that created Captain America.
And in that long life, she has not only hooked up with Tony Stark and Wolverine on occasion, but she’s been a long-running love interest for several heroes: Hawkeye, Daredevil and now Bucky Barnes, the new Captain America. She gets around – but what else would you expect of a professional seductress?
Marvel has also introduced the idea that Black Widow is a title, and not a name, so there are other Black Widows out there still loyal to Mother Russia. One, Yelena Belova, has become something of an arch-nemesis for our Arachnid Avenger.
And now – thanks to ScarJo, I’d expect – Natalia has finally received her own ongoing title. After decades of guest spots, one-shots and miniseries, the Black Widow has finally become A-list. Good for her – and for us, who get to see more of her!
Contact Andrew A. Smith of the Memphis Commercial Appeal at