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.
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 the upcoming "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.
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 Manhattan Project and 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.
Obadiah Stane first appeared in Iron Man #163 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.
Combat pilot James Rhodes 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 substituted as Iron Man following Tony's relapse.
"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.
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. This isn't Favreau's first foray into the Marvel Universe. He previously played Foggy Nelson in "Daredevil" opposite Ben Affleck.
Before Favreau came on board, Nick Cassavetes was attached to direct.
Edit: Thanks to Eddie Feng for pointing out that Jon Favreau had a small role as an employee of Wayne Enterprises in "Batman Forever." Thus, Favreau is the only guy to work for both Batman and Iron Man.
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.
Edwin Jarvis was the butler for Howard & Maria Stark. He continued in that capacity for the Avengers when Tony converted his Manhattan mansion into the team's headquarters. 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." The digital JARVIS is voiced by Paul Bettany, who took the role as a favor to Jon Favreau, his co-star for the rom-com "Wimbledon." 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." She 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."
Virginia "Pepper" Potts was originally Tony Stark's secretary and first appeared in Tales of Suspense #45, 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 become a superhero under the alias of Rescue. Rachel McAdams was on the casting wishlist for the part, but turned it down. She went on to co-star with Robert Downey Jr. in "Sherlock Holmes."
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 Howard Stark showed off in "Captain America: The First Avenger."
Originally named Ho Yinsen, he 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. To go with the updated origin, Yinsen is Middle Eastern rather than Vietnamese. In both movie and comic book versions, Yinsen sacrificed his life to buy Tony Stark time for his suit to power up.
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. This cell's leader, Raza, wears a similar ring denoting his membership in the group.
He lives! He walks! He conquers! The boxy, silver armor is a very accurate adaptation of Iron Man's original suit as seen on the cover of Tales of Suspense #39.
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 new "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 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.
The billboard ad 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.
"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 frightened the people he tried to save.
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 of two famous Stephen King characters.
The red and gold design has become THE definitive look for Iron Man. The armor has gone through a ton of changes, but it's almost always been colored in red and yellow or gold. Another famous Stan, the late-Stan Winston (who has done FX for "Terminator," "Predator," and "Aliens"), was responsible for constructing the actual armored suits.
The callsigns of the pilots Iron Man engages are "Whiplash 1" and "Whiplash 2" after the future villain of "Iron Man 2."
Captain America's iconic shield makes its first appearance behind Tony Stark, albeit in an incomplete form.
"Well, I'm sorry. I'm not Tony Stark." The apologetic engineer is played by Peter Billingsley, one of the film's executive producers. He has worked with Jon Favreau on films like "Made," "Zathura," and "Couples Retreat." Despite his career as a writer, producer, and director, Billingsley will forever be remembered as Ralphie in "A Christmas Story." In the credits, his character is named William Riva after the film's production designer J. Michael Riva.
“Next time, baby.” Rhodey eventually dons his own suit of armor as War Machine, built from the Mark II armor. Unfortunately for Terrence Howard, there was no next time for him as the role was given to Don Cheadle for "Iron Man 2."
The building in the background belongs to the Roxxon Corporation, an oil and energy conglomerate known for employing superpowered beings as enforcers. They represent everything Tony stands against in terms of greed and corporate irresponsibility.
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.
This is our first look at the SHIELD logo. The end credits sequence also features schematics for the War Machine armor and the logo of the Ten Rings.
If you had the patience to sit through the credits, you were treated to this tag scene in which Nick Fury pitches the Avenger Initiative to Tony Stark. The dialogue was written by Brian Michael Bendis, who has written for The Avengers and Ultimate Spider-Man.
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.
Marvel Studios Annotations: "The Incredible Hulk"
Marvel Studios Annotations: "Iron Man 2"
Marvel Studios Annotations: "Thor"
Marvel Studios Annotations: "Captain America: The First Avenger"
Marvel Studios Annotations: "The Avengers"