Iron Man: The Complete Animated Series

Iron Man - The Animated SeriesWith the the impending release of the Iron Man 2 live-action movie on May 7th, I started to wax nostalgic about the whole reason I became fond of the character to begin with. Like many of Marvel’s cartoons of the early-to-mid nineties, the Iron Man animated series was my introduction to the character. For my generation, the Iron Man portrayed in those episodes, clad in his modular armor configuration (whose status as the iconic Iron Man attire would be reinforced with its appearance in the Marvel vs. Capcom series of games) and bearing a smart-ass, bear-of-all-of-the-responsibility-himself demeanor, was the definitive Iron Man. It’s likely that even Robert Downey Jr. took a few cues from the series’ portrayal of Tony Stark, with similar comedic timing and wit (though the man is certainly clever on his own).

I decided to pick up the complete series from Amazon, which lasted only 26 episodes and 2 seasons. This particular region 1 set must be quite obscure, despite being compiled in 2008, as it does not seem to be readily available through online retailers as of the time of this writing (though it has been confirmed that Buena Vista will be re-releasing them to coincide with the launch of the second movie). I can see why, as the production value of the three-DVD set  by the unknown OS Films feels only slightly above that of a bootleg. The packaging is nice enough, with a design and artwork consistent with the Iron Man flavor. However, the DVDs  themselves are bare bones, with no special features, no chapters within episodes, and menus that look like they could have been created in Windows Moviemaker. Furthermore, though the picture quality is adequate,  it appears that the frames of animation have been padded with a black border around them in order to fill up the screen more, which puzzles me as standard broadcast television has a 4:3 aspect ratio to begin with…

In any case, it is the show that matters most, though it is certainly a double-edged sword. Because Iron Man was a member of the Avengers for team projects, and had few allies aside from War Machine as a solo character, a group of less-popular characters had to be gathered for the purposes of the show. His team, Force Works, was comprised of former members of the Avengers and West Coast Avengers, consisting of Hawkeye, Spider Woman, Scarlet Witch, and Century. Similarly, Iron Man’s arch nemesis, the Mandarin, needed a supporting cast of characters to carry out his machinations, and received an evil cadre of MODOK, Blacklash, Blizzard, Whirlwind, Grey Gargoyle, Hypnotia, and Dreadknight. The first season’s thirteen episodes were difficult to slog through, with poor animation and even poorer plots typical of the previous decade’s cartoons, most of which consisted of a new super weapon or plan to destroy Stark Enterprises by the Mandarin.

The second season fared quite a bit better. The animation studio was switched from the Rainbow Animation Group to Koko Enterprises and a new writer was brought in, bringing the direction and quality of the show more in line with that of other Marvel mainstays, Spider-Man and the X-Men. The second season also featured the awesome, guitar-rock intro of a shirtless Tony Stark unnecessarily beating metal plates of armor into place to the refrain of  “I… am… I-ron-Man!” The art direction is also slightly different, as well, with the characters being drawn with less angular, more exaggerated proportions, more vibrant colors (War Machine is blue and cobalt rather than hues of gray), and Tony Stark now sporting a mullet.  Overall, the stories are more intriguing, dealing with Iron Man’s issues of burden of responsibility and inter-personal relationships, James Rhodes’ fear of failing as War Machine, and Mandarin searching the world for his scattered rings. Force Works, except Julia Carpenter (Spider-Woman), are disbanded (with the occasional cameo by Hawkeye), and the rogues gallery of cronies in Mandarin’s employ are all but gone. Overall, season 2 makes the right choice by focusing on a small group of characters and exploring what makes them tick.

The show would spawn some of the coolest armor designs used by Iron Man, some of which were canon, and some that weren’t, many being represented in the accompanying action figure line by ToyBiz.  The idea of figures with chromed (vacuum-metalized), modular armor parts was awesome, and was, I suspect, a large part of the appeal of Iron Man for me as a child (I distinctly remember having the copper and yellow drilling armor).  Seeing all of the armor variants during the opening sequence was always a point of excitement and speculation amongst the circles of second-graders at recess. 🙂

It’s always interesting to go back to a show from your early childhood. I remembered Iron Man through rose-colored glasses and came back to find that perhaps it had not stood the test of time as well as I had hoped. None the less, Iron Man the animated series is a fun romp through the Marvel universe whose first season should be viewed merely as bonus material to its second season’s more solid direction.

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~ by Dux on February 7, 2010.

 
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