7 Things You Need To Know About The Marvel Universe Before Seeing Iron Man 2

Back in 2008, before Tony Stark and the rest of the Iron Man team came into our lives, nobody knew if anyone would care about them. Unlike Spider-Man or the X-Men, shellhead was on the B-list of characters created by Stan Lee in the Marvel universe. Sure, there were comic fans out there who loved the character, but a huge chunk of the population had never even heard of him.

Now, much like Stark in his own world, Iron Man is a phenomenon, and the new sequel is already an overseas hit even before it opens stateside this Friday. But unlike the first film, which was just Tony Stark's story, Iron Man 2 has a bigger mission: start getting things ready for The Avengers. An incredible team-up of Iron Man, Thor, Captain America and hopefully The Hulk, The Avengers movie, scheduled for 2012, is unprecedented in the movie world, but once again must struggle to make sure anyone other than comic book fans know what the hell is going on. That's why you have people like me.

Iron Man 2 does commit itself to Marvel's Avenger plans with major subplots and character inclusions but some may find themselves confused by some of the lingo getting thrown around. So for those of you out there that have no idea what the Strategic Homeland Intervention, Enforcement and Logistics Division is or are completely befuddled by the film's Easter Egg after the credits, prepare for an education.

WARNING: This article mixes both information from the comic book world and the film world that may end up being changed as more movies come out. This article also contains extremely minor spoilers for Iron Man 2, but unless you're avoid avoiding information about the post-credits Easter Egg, you should be fine.


What Is It? An acronym for the clunkily-titled Strategic Homeland Intervention, Enforcement and Logistics Division, S.H.I.E.L.D. is like the C.I.A. if not only the agents, but the organization itself was kept a secret. Headquartered in the mobile Helicarrier, a city-sized base that floats in the sky, agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. deal with matters beyond most people's comprehension, from super powered individuals to extraterrestrials. Responsible for clean-up and debriefing after super powered “incidents” they have way more power in world affairs than you could possibly know, and are headed up by one of the most powerful officials in the world: Colonel Nick Fury.

How Does It Fit? Tony Stark is classified as one of those “super powered individuals,” so S.H.I.E.L.D has had its eye on Iron Man for longer than he probably knows. Hell, they probably knew every little thing about him the second the Mark I suit allowed him to escape his captors in Afghanistan. They are the organization in charge of watching our most gifted heroes and using them to put down the forces of evil.

Nick Fury

Who Is He? Played by Samuel L. Jackson, Colonel Nick Fury is the black duster-and eye-patch-wearing director of S.H.I.E.L.D. First joining up during World War II, when he led a team called The Howling Commandos, he quickly rose in the ranks, graduating to the C.I.A. before becoming the leader of the most secretive organization in the country. Now, you may notice that he looks pretty damn good for a man in his 70s/80s. For that he can thank Dr. Berthold Sternberg, whose Infinity Formula has kept the Fury young for decades.

How Does He Fit? Fans first met Fury in the Easter Egg after the credits of the first Iron Man, where he outright stated his mission: he is gathering the most powerful superheroes in the world to organize the Avenger Initiative. While he would later send Tony to get the Hulk (the events in The Incredible Hulk occur further down the timeline), Fury is always there, at the very least in spirit, to recruit his team. In Iron Man 2, Fury has taken it upon himself to evaluate Stark to see if he really is the man that S.H.I.E.L.D. wants for its elite team

The Avenger Initiative

What Is It? The Avenger Initiative is everything that the Marvel movie universe is building towards, each solo film providing a little more information before the omnibus project hits theaters in May 2012. Led and recruited by Nick Fury, the team works under S.H.I.E.L.D. and consists primarily of Iron Man, Thor, Captain America and The Hulk, though other super-powered characters, such as Hawkeye, Wasp, Ant-Man and the Scarlet Witch also play important roles (it is still unknown if they will be present in Joss Whedon's Avengers film). Financed by Stark and making its base at Stark Industry Headquarters, the team is assembled to take care of the worst-of-the-worst, situations that they can't handle as individual superhumans but together can do anything.

How Does It Fit? One of the biggest concerns of the initiative is personality, which is an important subplot in Iron Man 2 as Fury evaluates how fit Tony Stark is for service. Between Stark's ego, Bruce Banner's inability to control his Jeckyl-ish other half, Thor's struggle with understanding humanity and Captain America's presence in a world he doesn't really understand, the Avengers is not made up of characters that play well with others. When they are faced with an enemy that threatens the world, however, it is not lost on these heroes what they must do.

Black Widow

Who Is She? If there is going to be anything in Iron Man 2 that upsets the comic book purists, it's going to be Natasha Romanoff, played by Scarlett Johansson. In the comics the character is a Soviet spy who defects to the United States and freelances as an agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. when needed, eventually becoming a member of the Avengers. It may change in the third film, but this isn't what we see in Iron Man 2, where she is instead a full-time agent of S.H.I.E.L.D., likely American-born, and is sent in to spy on Tony Stark.

How Does She Fit? As a member of S.H.I.E.L.D. and potentially a future Avenger, she will likely get more attention in the Avengers film, where they will hopefully bring the character back to her roots. Natasha, who isn't nicknamed The Black Widow for nothing, may very well end up being as duplicitous as she is in the comics, but it is more than likely that director Jon Favreau was concerned about juggling too many villains Spider-Man 3-style. It's still fairly hard to get a read on her, but she is a spy, after all.

Agent Coulson

Who Is He? Unlike most of the characters in the two Iron Man films, Agent Coulson, played by Clark Gregg, is not a character who originated in the comics. He is a high ranking member of S.H.I.E.L.D. who we first meet after Tony calls his first press conference in the 2008 film and is constantly trying to get an opportunity to debrief Stark and Pepper Potts about exactly what happened in Afghanistan.

How Does He Fit? His character comes across as just another cog in the S.H.I.E.L.D. wheel in the first film, but he does become more important in the sequel. He is very much tied into Fury's plans to build the Avengers and has, thus far, had connections to three of the heroes, more than anyone else. Expect to see more of him as this film series develops.

Captain America's Shield

What is it? In order to understand the shield, you also have to know about Captain America. First injected with the Super Solider Serum back during World War II, Cap was first deployed in the fight against the Nazis. While the serum gave him abilities like increased endurance, strength and speed, he was also given a shield made of a material called vibranium that can absorb any amount of kinetic energy and, when thrown, can maintain speed even after collision.

How Does It Fit? Eagle-eyed fans are already well-aware that Stark is in possession of Captain America's shield (see it here on the far left) and it appears once again in Iron Man 2, only this time it's not so hidden. Handed to Tony by Agent Coulson and used in a “book under the piano leg” manner, many will wonder why Tony has this bit of superhero legend just sitting half-completed in his workshop.

After an incident that left him frozen and in suspended animation, Captain America is revived in our time. S.H.I.E.L.D being well-aware of who he is, he is immediately enlisted for the Avengers initiative. In the comics, Stark is given the task of upgrading the shield with modern technologies, but, considering that he has yet to join The Avengers and Captain America has yet to be revived, it is curious that he already has the shield in his possession. This is certainly still one of the mysteries of the series, and likely won't be resolved until Joe Johnston's The First Avenger: Captain America premieres next summer.


What is it? Unless you know your Norse mythology or are familiar with the Marvel character Thor, that word up there is complete nonsense. Much like Cap's shield, it helps to know the character to understand the weapon, which provides the Thunder God with his greatest abilities, including flight, weather manipulation and transportation between realms.

The character's origin begins when Thor's father, Odin (Anthony Hopkins), feels that his son needs to learn humility and is put in the body of a disabled medical student named Donald Blake. In the comics, Blake discovers Mjolnir while vacationing in Norway, but the hammer showing up in New Mexico and being covered up by S.H.I.E.L.D. suggests that this will not be the case and that Kenneth Branagh's Thor will take a different path.

How Does It Fit? Mjöllnir appears in the after-the-credits Easter Egg, when Agent Coulson arrives in New Mexico. After getting out of his car, he sees a giant crater in the middle of the desert, at the center of which is the legendary hammer. The question remains how Thor will be reunited with Mjöllnir. It's speculation, but perhaps Blake's lab, which could very well be located in New Mexico (they have been shooting there for quite some time now), is given a government contract to analyze the otherworldly object. Blake would then come in contact with the hammer and suddenly find himself transported to Asgard, where he learns the truth about who he is. With the first photo of Thor having been released already and Comic Con coming in July, it shouldn't be much longer until the mystery starts revealing itself.

Eric Eisenberg
Assistant Managing Editor

Eric Eisenberg is the Assistant Managing Editor at CinemaBlend. After graduating Boston University and earning a bachelor’s degree in journalism, he took a part-time job as a staff writer for CinemaBlend, and after six months was offered the opportunity to move to Los Angeles and take on a newly created West Coast Editor position. Over a decade later, he's continuing to advance his interests and expertise. In addition to conducting filmmaker interviews and contributing to the news and feature content of the site, Eric also oversees the Movie Reviews section, writes the the weekend box office report (published Sundays), and is the site's resident Stephen King expert. He has two King-related columns.