The internet is abuzz with the news that Mickey Rourke and Sam Rockwell are in talks to play villains in Iron Man 2. But who the fuck are they going to be? There are a lot of conflicting reports, and some that are confusing, so let’s try to figure this out.

Both Variety and The Hollywood Reporter say that Rockwell is in talks to be a baddie. THR says the baddy is Justin Hammer, an evil industrialist and arms dealer. Hammer is well known for supplying bad guys in the Marvel Universe with super suits; look behind dipshits like Leap-Frog, The Beetle, El Toro Negro, Porcupine, Blizzard, Spymaster and even good old Spider-Man villain The Scorpion and you’ll find Hammer Industries tech.

That makes sense. This is where it gets confusing. Variety says that Rourke is playing “a villain described as Tony Stark’s Russian alter ego, a heavily tattooed bruiser who is in the arms trade and battles Iron Man in his own nuclear-powered armored suit.” That would be, without a doubt, the Crimson Dynamo, of whom there have been twelve variations over the decades, making him a pretty good character to start fresh with. Knowing that Hammer is involved in arms dealing also makes this description seem reasonable – all the pieces fit together.

The pieces fit together even more when you realize that in the seminal Iron Man storyline Armor Wars Justin Hammer stole pieces of Stark tech and sold them to villains, who were creating their own supersuits. How does a heavily tattooed Russian thug get a suit of nuclear powered armor? Well, buying the plans and/or parts from Justin Hammer makes sense. On top of that, if you watch the special features for Iron Man you’ll
see people referring to the Ironmonger armor as Crimson Dynamo (thanks
to Mac McLean for that heads up), so the character is on the
filmmaker’s minds.

But then the Hollywood Reporter comes from out of nowhere claiming that Rourke is actually playing Whiplash, a villain “with deadly, technologically enhanced coils”. Thanks to George from LatinoReview for pointing out that the current Marvel Universe Whiplash is actually Mark Scarlotti, a one-time Maggia thug (that’s Marvel’s Mafia) who wore a ridiculous swashbuckler suit, had whips attached to his gloves and called himself Backlash. He did lots of work for Justin Hammer. In his very first appearance, Backlash was called Whiplash, and that’s the name that he’s once again using these days. But Scarlotti is no Russian, and his story – he began his career in Stark Industries but fell to the Dark Side of Hammer Industries – doesn’t work for a Mickey Rourke character.

Of course it’s possible that Justin Theroux and John Favreau have simply decided to take the character and concept and run with it in a new direction, possibly merging Whiplash and the Dynamo. Or maybe they’re wrong about Rockwell as Hammer – he’s way too young, for one thing – and he’s actually Whiplash. That almost makes more sense when you look at Whiplash’s history as Stark engineer gone bad.

Then there’s one last bit of info that the Hollywood Reporter uses to confuse us – they say that casting is still ongoing for Natasha, Stark’s assistant. The Black Widow, whose real name is Natasha Romanov, has been confirmed as a major character in the movie, and as it makes no sense to have two Natashas, we must assume this character is The Black Widow. As far as I know, Gwyneth Paltrow is returning for the film, so this leaves some options:

* They’re wrong about Natasha’s role.

* Pepper Potts has a new job in Stark Industries and Natasha fills her old position. She happens to be The Black Widow – either planted by Rourke’s Russian character or Justin Hammer to betray Stark (she started life in the comics as a villain) or already secretly the heroic Black Widow, getting close to Stark for her own purposes

* Natasha is actually assigned to Stark by SHIELD. In the Ultimates, Marvel’s reboot of The Avengers, The Black Widow is a SHIELD agent. She’s not his ‘assistant’ per se, but she’s detailed to work with the industrialist/super hero.

Whatever her role is, it seems inevitable that there will be a love triangle between Stark, Pepper and Natasha.

We also know that Hawkeye will be a major player in the film. Like The Black Widow he began his career as a villain and was, in various incarnations a SHIELD agent, so who knows how he fits in). And then there’s the strong possibility that War Machine – Rhodey in a suit of armor – makes his first appearance in this film. Those are a lot of pieces to have in play, including a behind the scenes Mandarin, who will likely begin to step out of the shadows in this movie.

Here’s hoping this gets clearer in the days ahead.