Howard a Rhodes scholar

Terrence Howard is set to join Robert Downey Jr. in “Iron Man.”

The Jon Favreau-directed film is the first to be coined through a financing arrangement that Marvel Studios formed with Merrill Lynch. Paramount Pictures releases the film May 2, 2008.

Howard will play Jim “Rhodey” Rhodes, the confidante of Iron Man’s alter ego, Tony Stark. Rhodes, a high ranking military officer and aviator, steers the team that develops the robotic suit that allows the sickly Stark to fly around and battle bad guys.

In the comic, Rhodes’ character gets his own armored suit and evolves into an occasionally antagonistic character called War Machine. That development seems likely to be saved for the sequel, though, as Iron Man will battle villain the Mandarin when shooting begins in February in L.A.

“The suit is purely an innovative creation, so this is Marvel meets Tom Clancy technology,” Marvel Studios production president Kevin Feige said. “Having the best actors for the key roles allows them to inhabit the hyperkinetic reality of this world.”

“Iron Man” is produced by Avi Arad and Feige, with Michael Helfant, Ari Arad, Favreau, Louis D’Esposito and Peter Billingsley exec producing.

Howard recently completed “The Brave One” and is shooting “Spring Break in Bosnia.” He’s poised to play country music icon Charley Pride in a biopic for Paramount.

Howard’s repped by WMA and managed by Shakim Compere and Victoria Frederick of Flavor Unit.

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