By expanding the Marvel cinematic universe and introducing additional characters from Marvel Comics into the films, the studio is not only increasing the scope of their franchise, but the expectations that come with it. Now that Iron Man, Hulk, Captain America and Thor have crossed paths and fought alongside one another for a common goal, telling their own stories following such an event becomes slightly more challenging.

If Tony Stark needs help battling a global threat down the line for instance, why wouldn’t Captain America and S.H.I.E.L.D. help out? Even before that, when aliens invaded New York in The Avengers, where was James “Rhodey” Rhodes and his heavily armed War Machine suit introduced in Iron Man 2?

At least one of these questions will be explained in detail before “Phase Two” of the Marvel film franchise kicks off next summer with Iron Man 3. Listed in Marvel Comics’ January 2013 solicitations was part 1 (of 2) of Marvel’s Iron Man 3 Prelude. From the brief description we know that it’ll take place partly during the events of The Avengers and after, in between it and the story of Iron Man 3. Most importantly, it’ll explain what mission Rhodey was conducting during the invasion of New York.

Chris Gage (Writer), Steve Kurth (Author)

  • The perfect prelude to the upcoming highly-anticipated Marvel Studios film, Iron Man 3
  • As Tony Stark prepares for his next venture, he tasks War Machine with a mission of his own.
  • War Machine faces his biggest test as a hero, while Iron Man takes on the Battle of New York!

The Barnes & Noble description of the trade paperback (which also includes the comic version of Iron Man 2) adds a few more details, including a hint of Stark developing the Extremis technology that’ll redefine the character, his armor and his ability to interface with technology.

The Marvel Cinematic Universe returns! First, it’s the comics adaptation of the blockbuster film Iron Man 2! Why is the U.S. government going after Iron Man? Plus, a mysterious figure from Tony’s past returns – and he’s got a vendetta. Featuring the first appearance and origin of War Machine! Then, it’s an all-new story set between the events of Marvel’s the Avengers and the upcoming Iron Man 3! What mysterious project has Tony Stark been developing since his alliance with SHIELD and his joining Earth’s Mightiest Heroes? And how will it change the way he lives … forever?

New promo art featuring War Machine’s old and new armor designs also made its way online this week. Note the new shoulder cannon replacing the minigun from Iron Man 2:

By the end of Iron Man 3, Tony Stark will have altered his body, fought at least a few major battles, and War Machine will have new Iron Patriot-themed duds. Unless War Machine is tasked with another mission from Tony Stark, there will be an expectation that he’ll show up in The Avengers 2. During Comic-Con this summer – where Iron Man 3 was a major focus of the event – Don Cheadle hinted that he could show up in The Avengers sequel, and depending on his role in IM3 (and his relationship with Stark and the S.H.I.E.L.D. organization) it makes sense that he would.

Of course, Iron Man 3 is just one of four confirmed films preceding The Avengers 2 and they are all introducing new characters that could similarly earn a roster spot for the next big team-up: Falcon, Winter Soldier and any member of Guardians of the Galaxy just to name a few. There’s also of course, rumors of other unannounced appearances, including Dr. Strange.

How big will Joss Whedon go with The Avengers 2 and will it be a platform to bring in all of the heroes from the Marvel cinematic universe? Coulson lives!

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, 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 and Ant-Man on November 6, 2015.

Follow Rob on Twitter @rob_keyes.

Source: CBR, CBM