With the May 7 U.S. debut of “Iron Man 2” just a few short days away, CBR is taking a close look at the translation of characters long time comic readers know from comics to screen. The first installment of THE IRON MANUAL looks at the whip-wielding villain Whiplash, his origins and history and how Mickey Rourke’s character differs from the original character.
The brain-child of writer Stan Lee and artist Gene Colan, Whiplash made his first appearance in January 1968. The first appearance of the villain is interesting as it began in “Tales of Suspense” #97 and was continued in a rare (in those days) one-shot titled “Iron Man and Sub-Mariner” #1 before reaching it’s conclusion in “Iron Man” #1. Thus, if for no other reason, Whiplash is memorable for being the villain that bridged the transition from “Tales of Suspense” (where Iron Man first appeared) to the hero’s own title. “Iron Man” #1 was also unusual because at that time it was common for a title’s name to change, but for the numbering to continue (as happened with “The Incredible Hulk,” “Captain America” and “The Mighty Thor”).
The origin of Whiplash made generous use of many of the tropes that were common for villains of the time. Mark Scarlotti was an electrical engineer working for Stark Industries and, like many villains from the period, Scarlotti didn’t see the wealth and prestige he felt he should have from his job. As you have already guessed, Scarlotti turned to a life of crime. The twist in Scarlotti’s disgruntled-scientist origin was that he was directly employed by the hero that he’d eventually target. Tying villains and their origins directly to the heroic protagonist was a then-new variation on the superhero formula that became an integral part of the Iron Man mythos that remains in place to this day. This can even be seen in current Iron Man writer Matt Fraction’s run with the character.
Whiplash used his expertise at weapon design (Stark Industries was a weapons manufacturer at the time) and developed a set of high-tech bullwhips that were designed to cut through any substance he encountered – including the impregnable armor of Iron Man. Donning a costume and taking on the codename Whiplash, Mark joined the Maggia (Marvel Comics’ answer to the Mafia) as an assassin and weapons designer. His first target was Iron Man, his former employer’s bodyguard and, unbeknownst to the public at the time, Tony Stark’s secret identity. Despite his impressive weaponry and skills, Whiplash met defeat at the hands of Iron Man in their first encounter, but he would return to bedevil the armored Avenger numerous times.
Whiplash fell into the pattern of being a flunky instead of a headliner. Scarlotti would make a career of working for a variety of villainous organizations, from the Maggia, to AIM, to Justin Hammer – who is also being reimagined for the big screen in “Iron Man 2.” Most often Whiplash (later called Blacklash for a time) would battle Iron Man, though he did tangle with Spider-Man as well, going as far as to join the Sinister Syndicate, a group of villains dedicated to destroying Spider-Man.
Somewhere along the line, Whiplash remembered that he was a genius in his own right and the costumed super-villain tried to retire from a life of crime, even going so far as to get married and have a child. But money woes eventually drove him back to the life of a super-powered criminal. This was his final and fatal mistake. In an encounter with Iron Man (who was wearing a new, artificially intelligent suit of armor), Scarlotti lost his life when the sentient Iron Man armor crushed his windpipe, against Tony Stark’s wishes. Though a new Whiplash and a new Blacklash have appeared, it seems that Mark Scarlotti’s life has come to a rather definitive end.
The Whiplash of “Iron Man 2” is a bit of a different animal, being a composite mix of Whiplash and Iron Man’s soviet counterpart, the Crimson Dynamo. In the movie, Mickey Rourke plays Ivan Vanko, the son of Anton Vanko (who was the Crimson Dynamo in the comics). Ivan, jealous of Stark’s success, works with Tony Stark’s rival industrialist, Justin Hammer, to take down the titular hero. Vanko constructs his own micro reactor — based on Stark’s arc reactor — and a pair of charged electric whips and tracks down Iron Man. The remaining details and how it all turns out are for the film to tell, but this version of the classic villain shows that once again the Iron Man franchise has a firm grasp on how to bring the proven Iron Man formula to the big screen.