Iron Man = Howard Hughes


Stan Lee often is described as a "comic book legend." The honorific is no exaggeration. Over a long career with Marvel Comics, Lee co-created Spider-Man, The Hulk, The Fantastic Four, The X-Men, Daredevil, Doctor Strange, Iron Man and many others. More recently, Lee has seen many of his famous superheroes turned into the subjects of blockbuster movies. The latest big-time franchise, "Iron Man," releases its second installment on Friday.

Naturally, there's a Las Vegas connection.

Lee's Iron Man character was inspired by Howard Hughes, the reclusive aviator, filmmaker and industrialist who late in his life moved to Las Vegas and played a huge role in transforming the casino business here.

The Iron Man comic, which debuted a few years before Hughes' Las Vegas adventures, is centered on weapons inventor Anthony Stark, who is described thus:

"Anthony Stark . . . rich, handsome, known as a glamorous playboy, constantly in the company of beautiful, adoring women. . . . Anthony Stark is both a sophisticate and a scientist! A millionaire bachelor, as much at home in the laboratory as in high society!"

The description is not a perfect match for Hughes but it's close. Hughes was a noted inventor, especially in the aviation field. And in his prime, he was a playboy who dated the most beautiful women in Hollywood.

Furthermore, Stark and Hughes both were super-patriots during the Cold War, helping the U.S. military defeat the "communist menace." One thing Hughes never thought of that was a famous Tony Stark invention: transistor-powered roller skates that "enable an entire infantry division to race down a highway at 60 miles an hour."

In the "Iron Man 2" movie, the Hughes-Stark connection is strengthened. Tony Stark has inherited his fortune, just as Hughes did, and Stark's father is named, naturally, Howard Stark. Also, Stark is called before a Senate committee, just as Hughes was in 1947 to answer questions about his flying boat, aka the Spruce Goose.

Meanwhile, there's another Las Vegas angle to the "Iron Man 2" release. Several days of festivities at the Brenden Theatres at the Palms will honor Stan Lee. The "Stan Lee Tribute Weekend" begins Thursday night when Lee makes an appearance at a launch party at the MOON nightclub. On Friday night, Lee will be honored with a "Brenden Celebrity Star" in the theater lobby. And Saturday evening there will be a red carpet event and dinner honoring Lee in the Palms Ballroom.