Marvel’s Kevin Feige and new-the-to-franchise director Shane Black are proud of Iron Man 3—and they should be, it broke the international box office debut take of The Avengers and is on track to make a billion dollars as it opens domestically today.

It’s not a spoiler to say that one of the big questions of Iron Man 3 is Tony Stark wondering if he still needs the suit—and if the suit needs him. Does that mean Robert Downey Jr. is no longer essential to the franchise? We ask Feige and Black about the future of Iron Man, if Marvel will stick with this darker tone for Guardians of the Galaxy, and if in the wake of Iron Man 3‘s blockbuster success, Black has any other ideas for the franchise. (His answer might surprise you—look out, J.J. Abrams.)

Here you are, Iron Man 3, and you take the franchise’s first director and immediately stick him in a coma—did Jon Favreau have a sense of humor about that?

Kevin Feige: Yeah! Jon has a sense of humor about everything. At least we didn’t run over him with a truck.

When did come up with adding in this thread about propaganda, both for good in the case of War Machine turning into Iron Patriot, and for bad in the Mandarin?

Kevin Feige: You know, we always ask, ‘What’s the movie about?’ It’s gotta be about something, because too many action movies, you watch them and there’s occasional thrills, but they’re not really about anything. In this one, the idea of perception, of creating realities for people—especially on the level of Killian’s (Guy Pearce) think tank—and the way the media perceives things, it was very interesting to us. It felt real, and it felt like we could take a slightly satiric turn with it. That’s kind of what I really wanted out of the movie: something that felt like it had bite, and made it be about something more than good guy, bad guy.

It’s also interesting that here, Tony Stark is questioning who he is without the suit. In a way, the film almost says that the suit doesn’t need him.

Kevin Feige: It’s almost like a parting of a relationship. He walks away from this thing which has literally walked beside him, which has kept tabs on his relationship almost like a jealous lover. By the end, he’s able to divorce himself from it, and give credit to what it’s allowed him to become.

Shane Black: And you’re perceptive in that. I think all the suits need him because he invented them all. He programmed them. The question is: does he need to be in them? Does he need to constantly be in the suit? And that question is sort of answered over the course of the movie, and it ultimately he does a lot of good in it. But it’s an interesting question for the future of the franchise.

Kevin Feige: Will he inhabit the suit again? I think so.

I could see some fans interpreting that as a threat to Robert Downey Jr., like you’re saying you don’t even need him.

Kevin Feige: No, no. If he had a horrible facial accident at the end of the movie and it ended with wraps around his head and someone saying, ‘Don’t take them off—we can’t see what you look like yet!’ That might have been a good threat. [Laughs]

Robert Downey Jr.’s contract aside, does Tony Stark have a role to play in the future of the Avengers franchise?

 Kevin Feige: Yes. One-hundred percent yes.

Tonally, this has some dark moments, as did Captain America and Thor. Is the tone of the Marvel universe going to shift into something lighter when you start making Guardians of the Galaxy?

Kevin Feige: It’s funny. A lot of the people think this is the funniest of the Iron Man movies—of the Marvel movies, some people have said. I love that the movie works on both of those levels. We’re not taking a darker turn on purpose, necessarily, in any of the upcoming movies. But some of the storylines require one to take something slightly more seriously. There are big stakes across the board in all of the upcoming Phase Two movies. Guardians has some very dark elements, and it also has some very broad elements. But there’s a raccoon and a tree as two of the main characters.

Looking ahead, will any other characters get their own film like Ant Man or Doctor Strange?

Kevin Feige: I think the answer to that is yes, but we’re not absolutely sure.

Shane Black: Is Doctor Strange really confirmed?

Kevin Feige: No, not necessarily. It’s something I talk about a lot because I want to do a Doctor Strange movie because it’s different than any other movie we’ve done. That’s what attracts me the most. But it’s all developing.

What’s next for Tony Stark?

 Kevin Feige: Avengers 2. Joss is working on the first draft right now.

Shane, do you have specific ideas for Iron Man 4, or even another Marvel character’s story?

Shane Black: No, I’m more interested in seeing Marvel movies. I’m not a huge comic book fan, but I’m a closet fan of certain Marvel heroes, two of those being Iron Man, and the other being Guardians of the Galaxy, which I’m looking forward to. I have a notion that there’s a Star Wars out there waiting to be made, and I’m not sure it’s the next Star Wars. I think it’s something else that will be fresh and original.

Iron Man 3 is directed by Shane Black based off of his and Drew Pearce’s screenplay, and stars Robert Downey Jr., Ben Kingsley, Don Cheadle, Gwyneth Paltrow, Guy Pearce, Stephanie Szostak, Jon Favreau, Rebecca Hall, William Sadler, James Badge Dale and the voice of Paul Bettany.

Iron Man 3 releases May 3, 2013, Thor: The Dark World on November 8, 2013, Captain America: The Winter Soldier on April 4, 2014, Guardians of the Galaxy on August 1, 2014The Avengers 2 on May 1, 2015, Ant-Man on November 6, 2015, and Doctor Strange sometime after that.