Iron Man 2 who's who: Separating Whiplash from Black Widow

When launching the first Iron Man movie, Marvel Studios instantly took stark in Robert Downey, Jr by signing the actor for multiple films, and Gwyneth Paltrow peppered up the screen as his assistant and love interest. Moviegoers saw what comic fans had seen for years: quality characters, intriguing storylines and great stems. (There, Gwyneth. I said it. Now remove me from Goop’s mailing list.) Iron Man ended up making $585 million at the box office.

Iron Man 2 will continue the work of its predecessor, adapting some of comicdom’s most beloved characters. Here's a little primer:

BLACK WIDOW: Natasha Romanoff has been soldier, spy and seductress since ‘64, and thanks to Scarlett Johannson, she's never looked better. With gadgets and gizmos a'plenty, the character currently stars in her own comic series and has been a pivotal member of The Avengers for years. And with an Avengers film in the works, I'd say the role's the best thing to happen to ScarJo since bleach.

WHIPLASH: The character is a combination of comic characters Blacklash and the Crymson Dynamo: tech-savvy, armor-wielding supervillains with no hairbrushes or soft spots for Robert Downey's dimples. Mickey Rourke may be playing himself. (He kind of scares me.)

WAR MACHINE: Poor Terrence Howard. He may have originated the role of James Rhodes, Tony Stark's longtime best friend, in the first Iron Man, but it's Don Cheadle who'll take flight as Iron Man's best friend War Machine. Rhodes stepped into the role of an Iron Man replacement in the comic, but the character eventually took flight on his own: even as an Avenger. (Way to go, Cheadle.) Think of him as Iron Man — with bigger guns.

NICK FURY: Nick Fury appeared briefly after Iron Man's credits, muttered "Avenger" and sent fanboys straight to their girlfriends (or message boards) with glee. Comics Fury, however, is a cigar-chomping, non-aging, whiter-than-white World War II hero. But it don’t matter if you’re black or white: as leader of Marvel's peace-keeping organization S.H.I.E.L.D., it's the role Samuel L. Jackson was born to play. Or at least the tough guy he's played before, Marvel-style.

BRIEFCASE: Early in the comics, Tony Stark carried a briefcase containing the Iron Man armor. (You know, for accessibility. It was the '60s.) In a nod to the classic stories, Stark's briefcase becomes his armor. And that's just cool.

And with the Captain America and Thor movies in production, cameos are as likely as Tony Stark appearing in 2008’s Incredible Hulk (which is to say, a done deal).

I’ll see you on the message boards.