Iron Man on leave til Avengers

Iron Man 2 went a long way to setting up The Avengers - heading to screens in 2012 - but Tony Stark won't be returning in Marvel's next two tentpoles to help promote the team up further.

In Iron Man , Sam Jackson popped up briefly as Nick Fury after the end credits to discuss the Avenger Initiative. Likewise, in The Incredible Hulk Robert Downy Jr. memorably cameo’d as Tony Stark post-credits, while a cut scene featured an incredibly-obscure shot of Captain America.

So, with news that Downey Jr visited the Thor set earlier this year (not to mention all the Iron Man 2 nods), surely we’d be set for another brief character appearance?

Well, according to the man who directed both Iron-flicks and will exec-produce The Avengers , Jon Favreau, apparently not.

“He’s not in Thor, he’s not in Cap” clarified the jovial helmer on a recent radio interview with LA’s Kevin and Bean.

“I’m not sure where The Avengers goes” he continued. “It's gonna be a big undertaking for Marvel to actually incorporate what happened in Iron Man , Iron Man 2 , Thor , Captain America , The Hulk . And certainly, Tony Stark is not going to be involved in any of the movies until that one."

What we do though is that Joss Whedon ( Firefly , Buffy ) is writing and possibly directing.

RDJ, Chris Hemsworth, Chris Evans and Sam Jackson will reprise their roles as Iron Man, Thor, Cap and Nicky Fury respectively.

And, more importantly, Scarlett Johansson will be back as the Black Widow. You know, scantily-clad.

The Avengers should hit cinemas on July 22nd 2011.