Iron Man villains: Too dated for the movies?

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

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Comment by Figserello on May 10, 2010 at 1:36am
I dunno.

I don't see why the Manderin can't be re-tooled as a young, clever, technologically/mystically savvy Chinese guy. He doesn't have to be represented as a buck-toothed slant-eyed old fiend.

In many ways China is a very young country only now stepping up as a major player.

The Chinese are very proud of their history and why wouldn't an ambitious young man take the name of the power players of ancient China?

So long as you don't descend into racist archetypes, having the main villain be non-white, or non-American is a way to show that we are all equal. It's subtle, but look at Lex Luthor in the Diniverse Superman cartoons. He's definitely Afro-American, but its not a big deal, and that shows we've come quite a way.

The Mandarin was the villain in the (only?) Iron Man animated movie btw.

As for Iron-Man's soviet-era foes, well, the USSR has given way to what is essentially a gangster-state, that kills journalists when they get inconvenient, and who, to put it nicely "nationalise debt and privatise profit." (ie funnel the wealth of their countymen into their own pockets)

That's a great regime for Tony Stark, tarnished uber-capitalist Knight to stand up against.

The trick would be in having foes like this and not p*&^ing off a whole segment of the international market. I can see the Mandarin being done well though, as a sympathetic villain.

The reason we don't really have villains like this in the comics is that both Universes happen in a kind of limbo where its still 1965. Basing storylines on the world in 2010 would "shatter the illusion" or something.
Comment by Cavaliere (moderator emeritus) on May 10, 2010 at 3:02am
The Mandarin was even hinted at in the first film. Faran Tahir's character, Raza, was mentioned to belong to a Cult of the Ten Rings or something similar.

If anything, the Mandarin might be too powerful as a movie opponent. It seems that it's often luck combined with the Mandarin's ego that allows Stark to defeat him. I could easily see Mandarin and his forces as the "big bad" for the Avengers movie. And like Figs says, you don't have to have him be an offensive stereotype. He can be a Chinese nationalist without being a "mwa ha ha" mustache-twirling caricature.

You're sure right about the Iron Man 2 poster, Cap. The Black Widow's shoulder was not the first thing I looked at. Or the second. Or the third. I did finally see it, though.

So after two films we've had Iron Monger, Justin Hammer, War Machine, a Whiplash/Crimson Dynamo combo, and the U.S. government all as Iron Man's opponents. Who is left if we discount Mandarin, Titanium Man, and Crimson Dynamo? Honest to goodness, not much. There's the Melter, the Black Knight, Hawkeye, Living Laser...actually, I like that one. Living Laser is powerful enough to be a challenge but isn't yet another armored villain. That'd work for me.
Comment by Eric L. Sofer on May 10, 2010 at 7:28am
ITEM: Call me an old fogey... yeah, I know... but I MISS the Black Widow in the high neck outfit. First, why would she want to show off her magnificent... profile, and second, isn't that a little obtrusive for a secret agent, and third, tell me how that doesn't inhibit her hand to hand fighting. On the other hand, it IS a great distraction...

ITEM: Cap, I believe that the Widow actually designed her original black Diana Rigg outfit in her "reboot" in Spider-Man. I've not seen the movie yet; it could easily be changed in that. And truth to tell, I'm collecting almost no Marvel comics any more (that is to say, I'm not getting any Avengers or X-Men books - about 80% of their output, right? :( ) so I have no idea how they've whitewashed her origin.

ITEM: I must also agree that the Mandarin could be slightly reformatted and made viable in the current Iron Man movies. He was the manager of Stark Industries Hong Kong, but due to labor issues and political pressure, that company is closed down. The manager, enraged, goes driving madly off through the wilds, where his car jumps the road and crashes, throwing the manager into a cave. The manager, being a student of archaeology (established by, let's say, some antique pieces prominently displayed in his office) finds ten rings - and he recognizes them and the power they contain. Vowing vengeance on Tony Stark for shutting down his company (which, of course, Stark has nothing to do with... :D ), he becomes... the Mandarin.

ITEM: Boy, would I have liked to have seen Hawkeye in Iron Man 2 or what??? They'll want to introduce him; he's too popular. I think they missed a bet on that one.

Comment by Commander Benson on May 10, 2010 at 11:50am
" Cap, I believe that the Widow actually designed her original black Diana Rigg outfit in her "reboot" in Spider-Man."

Right you are, Fogey, ol' pal. The Widow updated her image in "Beware . . . the Black Widow!", from Spider-Man # 86 (Jul., 1987). The latex body-suit was all her design.

It was one of the rare occasions when I actually preferred the updated version of a hero's costume.
Comment by ClarkKent_DC on May 10, 2010 at 12:13pm
I could never, ever, see the comics Whiplash as a credible threat to Iron Man, not even when he amped up his tools and became Blacklash. I always thought he was more Daredevil's speed. But against Iron Man and his high-tech super-suit? All Iron Man -- who can fly, don't forget -- had to do was go one inch beyond the range of those whips and take him out. But it seemed Iron Man (and the writers) always did forget that.

Regarding the Black Widow ... Fogey is right, it was John Romita who designed the all-black catsuit for her, and it debuted in Amazing Spider-Man #86, July 1970. But as for the movie poster, there was something on her shoulder? Really? I guess I'll have to go look at that picture again ...
Comment by Eric L. Sofer on May 10, 2010 at 12:42pm
RE: Whiplash.

Isn't this a common phrase we have now? "From orbit." :) :) :)

In this case, about thirty feet airborne should do it.

Comment by Dagwan on May 10, 2010 at 12:55pm
The Iron Man 2: Public Identity mini-series also mentions the Ten Rings organization. I was too busy enjoying the movie yesterday to keep an eye out for a specific mention of it there, but I suspect it is.

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Comment by Captain Comics on May 10, 2010 at 3:24pm
I think Hawkeye would have been a far better villain for Iron Man 2 -- introducing him as an eager but impressionable and directionaless young man who falls into bad company, leaving him on the mantle piece for Avengers 3 or 4. (And that would please Hollywood bean-counters, as his F/X are a lot cheaper than, say, Thor's.) Heck, you could have had him manipulated by the Widow for her S.H.I.E.L.D. purposes, mirroring the original story but dropping the Soviet angle (which they seem to be doing anyway.)

Whiplash? Who? And I'm with you, Eric, that he's no match for the Armored Avenger, and never has been. I thought he was a crummy villain when I was 10 years old, more than 40 years ago. One good repulsor shot should take him out, as you say, from 30 feet up. Or go higher, and drop a building on him. No match at all.
Comment by James Grant Goldin on May 10, 2010 at 6:46pm
Fools! What chance has that armored cretin against The Scarecrow and his Crows of Doom?? Let's not forget that in his first appearance, the Scarecrow was able to tie up Iron Man in a window curtain! Okay, not for long, but still...You get Johnny Depp as the Scarecrow, a couple of CGI crows and a real quality velvet window curtain, and it's movie magic.

Okay, what about Half-Face?
Comment by Philip Portelli on May 10, 2010 at 8:54pm
Mickey Rourke is never called Whiplash in the movie. In fact, with those whips crackling power, put him in red colored armor and he would be the Crimson Dynamo. Would it be easier to have the Mandarin if he was called the Ten-Ringed Man or Ring-gor Mortis or Ringo (Alien) Starr?? Better if he was Irani, not Chinese? Too much political correctionness can just as bad as political incorrectness!

The two problems that I had with Scarlett Johansson/the Black Widow is that she is a little young to play the worldly Widow(though she's never named that either in the film) and no woman would hire an assistant that looked like her, walking around in those tight dresses! Hardly blending in!!


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