Mike Davies rides the ferrous wheel with Iron Man director Jon Favreau.
Eight years ago, interviewing Jon Favreau for Love & Sex, the New York born French-Italian actor-director admitted he was a major Marvel comic books fan.
This was around the time that. in the hands of proven storytellers rather than big bang hacks, superhero movies were just kick-starting their renaissance after the Batman & Robin debacle of 1997.
Bryan Singer's first X-Men movie had already appeared and Sam Raimi's Spider-Man was in production. Favreau was full of enthusiasm and declared he'd love to appear in one. Given the choice, the character he'd most like to play would, he confessed, be Iron Man.
One of the first wave of Marvel's flawed superheroes, the character first appeared in 1963, created by the pioneering team of Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, Don Heck and Larry Lieber.
Partly inspired by the personality of Howard Hughes, Tony Stark was a playboy industrialist and weapons manufacturer who became Iron Man when, wounded and captured in Vietnam, he devised a metal suit that would both prevent shrapnel entering his heart and enable him to fight his enemies.
The only one of the original Marvel creations to have become a superhero under his own auspices rather than through mutant genes or biological accident, Iron Man - or perhaps Tony Stark - received more fan mail from female readers than any of the other characters.
In the light of all this, being somewhat on the generously proportioned side, Favreau was under no illusions that this was a role he was born to play.
However, someone up there must have been listening in because today, while he may not have become the big screen Iron Man (that honour inspirationally goes to Robert Downey Jr) he has done the next best thing and directed the movie adaptation.
You might assume that, having proven he could handle special effects after directing kids' fantasy adventure Zathura, that was what landed him the job.
Not so, rather it was his previous directorial outing Elf, a Christmas comedy starring Will Ferrell as a guy who thinks he's one of Santa's helpers.
"It was viewed as a good movie, it cost very little to make and it made a tremendous amount of money, that opens a lot of doors in Hollywood," says the 42-year-old Swingers star candidly.
"That's what gets you on lists. I was on the director's list. I already knew (producer and former Marvel CEO) Avi Arad from playing Foggy Nelson in Daredevil, so when Marvel formed their own studio I got a call to go and see them."
They told him they were intending to self-finance a slate of films featuring their comic book characters, and that Iron Man would be the first.
"Being a comic book fan I obviously knew about him," continues Favreau. "But although he's the biggest character in the original pantheon of the Marvel universe who has never had a movie made about him, most non-comic book readers had never heard of him. I knew that would be an interesting challenge. And while I'm not a big fan of CGI, I knew they'd worked hard on making hard surfaces and metal shading look very convincing, more so than working with organic figures. I felt it could be a unique opportunity."
Of course, given that Iron Man wasn't well known outside comic book circles, this meant making a film that would both satisfy the hard-core genre fans but also serve to introduce the character to the world at large.
"When we were developing the script and coming up with ideas for the structure of the story, there was a natural tendency to want to get the character right into action with the suit and to fight," Favreau admits.
"But when you're creating the origin story of a superhero, you have certain critical responsibilities, one of which is showing how the hero came to be. This can be a burden, but it also gives a filmmaker the opportunity to allow the audience to become the hero alongside the main character.
"For me, the more engaged you are in the story, the more interested you will eventually be in those set pieces. We had to fulfil certain dynamic obligations to make the film marketable, the explosions had to be great and we had to have enough great action, but otherwise Marvel gave us the permission to make the movie as complex as we wanted. So we made sure to spend time with Tony Stark as he's discovering the technology, refining the suit and learning how to use it."
It also meant updating Iron Man's origin to be in tune with new technology and contemporary political, social and economic landscapes.
"What Stan Lee wrote as science-fiction back in the 1960s is currently modern science," he explains.
"We have become so advanced in our tech-nology that things you can buy in a drugstore now would have been the subject matter for a sci-fi film back in the days when Iron Man first entered the Marvel universe.
"The character of Tony Stark was a larger-than-life character with a confiicted nature who finds his true purpose when he becomes Iron Man. We wanted to keep the basic origin story structure, but tweak it so that it reflected the present day."
In this version, rather than Vietnam being the setting for Stark's moral awakening it is Afghanistan, with all the political resonance that entails of America arming those who are now its enemies.
"Comic books have always been a reflection of a collective subconscious," Favreau offers. "I grew up during the Cold War and characters would crop up like Crimson Dynamo representing the Soviet union or Captain America would be fighting villains from Red China. It was always removed by one generation so it never felt you were having your nose rubbed in the problems of the day but it still allowed you to express a collective anxiety. And the superhero was there to offer simple solutions to complex problems."
And, in a political landscape of increasing uncertainty, perhaps that's what the zeitgeist once again demands.
"It's no coincidence that, since 9/11, people have gravitated to these simple good vs evil superhero stories," agrees Favreau. For me they're trying to capture the anxieties we feel as Americans. The fantasy of the guy who can take out the bad guys and solve all our problems is part of the escapism that people are looking for."