Iron Man (TV series)

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Iron Man is an animated television series based on Marvel Comics' superhero Iron Man. The series aired from 1994 to 1996 in syndication as part of The Marvel Action Hour, which packaged Iron Man with another animated series based on Marvel properties, the Fantastic Four, with one half-hour episode from each series airing back-to-back. The show was backed by a toy line that featured many armor variants.

This series of Iron Man was among the few television series to be rerecorded in THX. This may have been usual at the time for a motion picture, but it is rare for a television series. Off the heels of the release of the live-action Iron Man film in 2008, reruns began airing on the Jetix block on Toon Disney. It can now be seen on re-runs in the United States, on Disney XD.

Contents

Series overview

Although only lasting two seasons, Iron Man was the subject of a major overhaul between seasons when its production studio was changed. The result was a massively changed premise, tone, and general approach, which left the disparate seasons scarcely recognizable as being two halves of the same series.

First season

Iron Man's design on the first season of his 1990s animated series.
Iron Man's design on the first season of his 1990s animated series.


The first season of Iron Man featured little more than a Masters of the Universe-style battle of "good against evil", as billionaire industrialist Tony Stark battled the evil forces of the world-conquering Mandarin as the armored superhero, Iron Man. In his evil endeavors to steal Stark's technology and Iron Man's armor, the Mandarin led a group of villains consisting of Dreadknight, Blizzard, Blacklash, Grey Gargoyle, Hypnotia, Whirlwind, Living Laser, MODOK, Fin Fang Foom and Justin Hammer. To combat these villains, Iron Man had the help of his own team (based on Force Works, a then-current comic book team which has since faded into obscurity), including Century, War Machine, Scarlet Witch, Hawkeye and Spider Woman.

The season consisted mostly of single-episode open-and-shut-case adventures, with two two-part stories late towards the end. Unlike many other Marvel animated series, despite featuring over-the-top titles that paid homage to the early Stan Lee written Marvel comics of the 1960s (for example, "The Grim Reaper Wears a Teflon Coat", and "Rejoice, I am Ultimo, Thy Deliverer"), almost none of the episodes were adaptations of comic book stories, consisting instead of original stories penned by Ron Friedman, occasionally collaborated on by Stan Lee himself. The closest the season came to adapting a comic book tale was in the two-part "The Origin of Iron Man," which recounted a (modified and modernized) version of the character's comic book origin just before the season concluded.

This late-run recounting of the title character's origin is symptomatic of what is generally thought of as the season's greatest weakness - despite (or perhaps because of) having such a large cast of characters, very few of the show's heroes and villains were actually developed in any way, leaving viewers unaware of their personal stories and powers. The show is generally held to have been at its best when filling in these origin blanks (MODOK in "Enemy Without, Enemy Within," Iron Man and the Mandarin in their self-titled "The Origin of..." episodes), but these were rare occasions, with virtually every other plot simply consisting of the Mandarin attempting to steal Stark's newest invention and being bested, often through very strange and illogical means (with the nadir perhaps being Iron Man somehow using the energy of a small tape-player to restore his armor to full power in "Silence My Companion, Death My Destination", although other weaknesses included an episode where the Mandarin deduced Iron Man's true identity as Tony Stark by piecing together various elaborate piecs of evidence only to abandon his deduction when Stark and Iron Man appeared in the same place).

Animation for the first season was produced by the Rainbow Animation Group, but compared poorly to other Marvel shows such as Spider-Man and X-Men, coming off as outdated and very '80s-esque, featuring many visible errors at a time when such things were on a decrease in cartoons. One of the most distinctive pieces of animation in the season was an armor-donning stock footage sequence for Stark, which saw the hero transform his briefcase into his armor and suit up for action. The sequence was not without its own limitations - it depicted Stark standing in his lab, wearing a white jacket, but would be used regardless of where Stark was or what he was wearing in the episodes themselves, creating massive visual disconnects. Additionally, in all but one instance (in "The Origin of Iron Man"), the sequence featured some brief moments of primitive CGI, in which Stark levitated his helmet from the ground and donned it. The "dead air" the sequence created would often be somewhat forcibly filled by lines of dialog from off-screen characters, which were inserted later in production - actor Jim Cummings (MODOK) would frequently have to provide the voice of the off-screen War Machine during the sequences (whose regular actor James Avery was evidently not available for the pick-ups), but sounded nothing like the character.

Second season

The title design for Season 2.
The title design for Season 2.

In 1995, Marvel switched The Marvel Action Hour to a new animation studio (as previously mentioned, the animation in Season 1 was provided by the Rainbow Animation Group, while the animation in Season 2 was provided by Koko Enterprises), and with it came new writers (Ron Friedman was replaced by Tom Tataranowicz*Tom Tataranowicz Talks Iron Man* for Season 2) and new music for each sequence, coupled with a new direction for the series. The first season's subtle keyboard theme music for Iron Man (composed by progressive rock artist Keith Emerson) was replaced by an intense electric guitar theme featuring the repeated refrain of "I am Iron Man!", while showing Tony Stark beating red-hot iron plates into shape with a blacksmith's hammer (possibly to mimic the Black Sabbath song "Iron Man") *The greatest thing to come from the first-ever Iron Man-centric TV series is the incredibly awesome second (and final) season opening credits. Those credits feature a shirtless, mulleted Tony Stark using a large hammer to create his armor, while cheesy faux-metal plays, complete with a familiar refrain – "I am Iron Man!" – That's both awful and wonderful all at once.*. Tony Stark's longer hair style in the second season was based upon the artist Mark Bright's depiction of Stark from the late 1980s, which is where most of the episodes from Season 2 were based upon.

The new storylines spanned multiple episodes and were no longer "open and shut" cases. They formed a linking narrative, featuring themes of duplicity, consequence, and phobias. Also, the stories were no longer centered on the Mandarin, whose rings had been scattered and whose power had been depleted. While the Mandarin did appear in these episodes, his appearances were reduced to cameos in the cliffhangers at the end of the story, as he tried to retrieve each ring.

Iron Man's second season design.
Iron Man's second season design.

Another change was that Force Works was mostly written out of the series, parting ways with Stark after he deceives them in order to work in secret against the Mandarin when Fin Fang Foom and his fellow dragons were plotting to eliminate Earth. This split would be revisited with Stark's ensuing conflicts with Hawkeye over the course of several episodes. Also, War Machine develops a phobia of being trapped inside his armor (also based on a then-current comic storyline), but this is resolved before the final episode.

In the finale, the Mandarin, having regained all of his rings, unleashes a mist using the heart of darkness to render everything technological useless. Iron Man reunites with Force Works in order to stop him. The Mandarin unmasks Iron Man before their final showdown ends in his death. After disappointing Nielsen ratings, the series was cancelled.

In comparison with the comics

As described above, the first season of the series bases very few of its stories on the comic books, aside from its retelling of Iron Man's origin. In modernizing the character's origin story, Tony Stark is not injured in a Vietnamese war zone, but in an act of industrial sabotage plotted by Justin Hammer and the Mandarin. Wounded not by a chunk of shrapnel near his heart, but by slivers near his spine, Stark and Ho Yinsen (whose first name is changed to Wellington) were held captive by the Mandarin, rather than Wong Chu. The Mandarin himself was subject to heavy modification, altered by his rings to a much greater extent than in the comics. He gained green skin (a fate which befell other Asian villains in animation around the time, such as Doctor No in James Bond Junior and Ming the Merciless in Defenders of the Earth) and an enhanced musculature, but the show did retain the connection between his origin and Fin Fang Foom. Aside from these origin stories, the only episode to draw on a comic book in any way was "Rejoice! I Am Ultimo, Thy Deliverer," which featured the Mandarin's robotic servant Ultimo from the 1960s, but featured his appearance and alien-born origin from the 1990s.

The Mandarin's minions (with the exception of the original character, Hypnotia) were all solo operators in the comics, most significantly arms-dealing business man Justin Hammer, who was a criminal mastermind in his own right, rather than a villain who would serve another. Force Works, on the other hand, were lifted straight from the comics, but their actual civilian roles were never defined in the cartoon, save for Spider-Woman, who was recast as the vice president of research and development for Stark Enterprises. Notably, the cartoon's Scarlet Witch owes next to nothing to the comic book character: here, she is a mystical, tarot-reading spiritualist identified in the closing credits as "Wanda Frank" (an alias by her in the comics, in which her real name is "Wanda Maximoff"), who speaks with a thick Eastern-European (or according to the closed captioning, German) accent and refers to other characters as "pumpkin" and "cupcake". Her power is identified as a "hex sense," but what the means is never explained, and seems to allow her to do anything, from shape-changing to matter manipulation. In a sub-plot crafted solely for the cartoon, Spider-Woman and the Scarlet Witch vie for the affections of Iron Man.

The second season performed a complete turnaround, and began regularly adapting major Iron Man comic book stories including "Dragon Seed" (as "The Beast Within"), "Armor Wars" and "The Hands of the Mandarin" and introducing more characters derived from the comic books, including HOMER, Firebrand, Sunturion and more.

Stark's armor on the show was the Mark XI "Modular Armor", which was the suit he was wearing in the comics at the time. The first season modified his helmet design to add a traditional mouth slit, but the second season restored the "mouthless" comic book design.



Cast

Characters in Iron Man (1994 TV series)

Recurring cast

Guest cast

DVD release

On October 8, 2007, both seasons were released together in a Region 2 three-disc set from Maximum Entertainment in 2007, back when Disney had the rights to the Marvel shows and before they brought the rights back, all before the 2009 take over of Marvel by Disney. The 3 disk set had no features and just included all 26 episodes. Now Clear Vision in the UK has released their own set exclusive to their website which contains all 26 episodes over 4 disks, or in a six disk box set entitled 'Iron Man: The Ultimate Collection', which also includes the 60's Iron Man series. It was released on April 19th, 2010. Buena Vista Home Entertainment released the entire series on Region 4 DVD - which spans 3 separate volumes - on March 30th, 2010 and will release the series on Region 1 DVD on May 4 to coincide with Iron Man 2, which opens in theaters May 7.


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