Vanko was born in the Soviet Union and grew up to be a brilliant scientist. In 1946, he found employment in Stark Industries, working alongside Howard. When news broke out that one of Howard's inventions have been weaponized, Vanko aided Stark and Agent Peggy Carter, eventually learning that an ally of Johann Fennhoff named Leet Brannis (a former Soviet veteran) is responsible for the event.
Following Fennhoff's arrest, Vanko moved to the U.S. in 1963, where he continued working with Howard over the new Arc Reactor technology. However, they both had a disagreement: Howard wanted to use the technology for good while Vanko wanted to use it for profit. This led to Vanko betraying Howard by selling military secrets behind his back. When Howard found out, he arranged Vanko to be deported back to the Soviet Union, where Vanko spends the majority of his years in disgrace while having a son named Ivan.
As an elderly Vanko started to die slowly, he watched an event on TV as Tony Stark (who is Howard's son) is having a hearing with the U.S. government. Claiming that it should be Ivan who should be adored by the media and living a luxurious lifestyle, the dying Vanko tells his last words to Ivan to use the Whiplash armor in getting his revenge on the Stark family, an act that Ivan obliged to until his death.
The character is based off of two Marvel villains who were named Anton Vanko, Crimson Dynamo and Whiplash.