Thanks mostly to Robert Downey, Jr. and Jon Favreau, Iron Man has been elevated to top tier superhero status. And since this kind of unexpected success simply cries out for an animated TV show, sho 'nuff, we get one. Thing is, one pretty important change was implemented. And, so, if you can get past Tony Stark being reinterpreted as a teenager, then you may find this to be a dang watchable series - but that's a big if. IRON MAN: ARMORED ADVENTURES Vol. 1 collects the first six episodes of Season One, and my 3 star rating reflects the sheer suckability of the powers-that-be once again dishing out meager servings as opposed to releasing the entire season in one package. I'd say the show itself is worth a 4-star rating. But that's 'cause I pretty quickly got over Tony Stark's age reduction.
Maybe that's because I wasn't ever that big a fan of Tony Stark. Until Robert Downey, Jr. got his mitts on the character, I saw Stark as a smug, egotistical genius industrialist/superhero. In the comic books, I feel he got what he deserved in the aftermath of the Skrully Secret Invasion. Still, I can appreciate that what made Stark so interesting is what's been stripped away in this cartoon series. The adult Stark trotted out several weaknesses which humanized him to his readers. First, Iron Man's roots go back to a near-fatal injury. When Stark was kidnapped during an explosion in Stan Lee's original story, a shrapnel had penetrated his flesh, threatening to puncture his heart. A magnetic device was implanted in his chest to keep this shrapnel at bay, and this device became the first component in the Iron Man armor. Stan Lee gave us an irresistible dichotomy: on the outside, an invincible warrior encased in a hi-tech exoskeleton; except that this armor in fact housed a man with a severely weak heart. Young Tony Stark shares this same ailment (he has a heart implant that regularly requires charging), but, although it's come up in several situations, this vulnerability has yet to be truly explored and translated into a compelling story.
Gone also is Tony's mammoth guilt over being a weapons merchant. It's Stane who's weaponizing each of the Starks' inventions. And, with Tony being a teen and this being a kid's show, there's no chance the show will ever introduce Tony's other albatross, his crippling alcoholism. So what we're left with is this sixteen-year-old engineering prodigy who had designed his armor not out of sheer desperate necessity but because he was trying to outdo his inventor father. When his father dies, Tony decides to don the armor and fight crime, easy as pie. You can see how this origin doesn't resonate quite as deeply as Stan Lee's take. Young Tony Stark comes off as Peter Parker-lite (the SPECTACULAR SPIDER-MAN incarnation, that is). Which, okay, isn't a bad thing.
Also getting the teen treatment are Tony's friends Rhodey and energetic chatterbox Pepper Potts, as well as Happy Hogan, now rendered a dimwitted jock. Thankfully, Obadiah Stane remains a bald-domed adult, still very calculating and sinister. With the passing of his father, Tony inherits the family business and would like to get more involved in it, except that CEO Stane isn't about to let him get a whiff of running the vast Stark International empire. Enmity, established.
Gene Khan is introduced early on, and he's not exactly your typical teen. He manages to befriend Tony Stark. To backtrack a bit, Tony's dad had been obsessed with the fabled Chinese Makluan rings, which supposedly contain great mystical power. Gene Khan means to collect these rings and believes the diary of Tony's father to be a means to this goal. So, yeah, he buddies up to Tony. The pursuit of the Makluan rings becomes a running plot element in Season One.
Like Peter in SPECTACULAR SPIDER-MAN, Tony juggles high school and crimefighting, and we've seen all this before, including the bit about Tony's missing or cutting classes, or as Pepper remarks to Rhodey: "I know I just met Tony, but he's been in the bathroom... a really long time." There's an interesting twist, too, in that Tony before had only had private tutors, so public schooling is something that's very new and sometimes cryptic to him.
The big draw for me was in checking out the young shellhead going up against his hi-tech rogue's gallery. Iron Man's cast of bad guy heavy hitters pops up (Stane, Mandarin, Crimson Dynamo), and these cats have recurring roles. CGI-wise, IRON MAN: ARMORED ADVENTURES reminds me of past shows like MAX STEEL, Roughnecks - The Starship Troopers Chronicles - The Complete Campaigns, and MTV's Spider-Man The New Animated Series: Season One. It's cool animation, but there are a few times when the graphics go wonky, as if the onscreen product were actually some unfinished, preliminary-staged work. Sometimes, it feels like there's no depth or weight to what we're seeing. But the CGI shines whenever Iron Man is doing his thing, and the action is always explosive and kinetic. The designs on Iron Man and his supervillains really look great (Whiplash, Blizzard, the Crimson Dynamo, and my favorite looks: Killer Shrike and Unicorn). So, again, if you can get past Tony as a teen - and I remember that it didn't go over well years ago in the comic book, either - and if you can forgive the at times (but not too often) shady animation, then this may be your huckleberry. The storytelling is sharp. The dialogue is believable and will occasionally crack you up. There's good continuity to the thing, a feel that the overarching story is being advanced. Another cool thing is that, like WOLVERINE & THE X-MEN, there are 26 episodes in this Season One. So we have these to look forward to in upcoming episodes: Black Panther, Nick Fury & S.H.I.E.L.D., the Hulk, and one pretty intriguing development: Tony's friendship with Whitney Stane, the daughter of Obadiah Stane. And in Season One's final episode: War Machine. So cue Black Sabbath... Or not.
Here are the six episodes on this DVD (but I'm still personally holding out for the full season release):
- Episodes 1 & 2 - "Iron Forged in Fire, Parts 1 & 2" - The origin story which goes into the murder of Tony's father, Obadiah Stane's usurping of Stark International, and the genesis of Iron Man. Also, Tony meets Pepper Potts.
- Episode 3 - "Secrets and Lies" - When the Maggia abducts the step-son of a Chinese importer, Tony and Pepper also get taken.
- Episode 4 - "Cold War" - Iron Man partners up with Blizzard to take down common foe Obadiah Stane. But it doesn't take Tony too long to realize that Blizzard is seriously wackadoo.
- Episode 5 - "Whiplash" - Investigating the assault on her hospitalized FBI dad, Pepper bites off more than she can chew and runs into the deadly Whiplash.
- Episode 6 - "Iron Man Vs. the Crimson Dynamo" - Two years ago, the Russian cosmonaut codenamed the Crimson Dynamo was abandoned while out on a space mission. Today, he's back on Earth, and he's sort of miffed.
Predictably, the DVD Special Features ain't much: 4 Suit Profiles which break down the Iron Man armor's tech and weaponry; the music video of Rooney's IRON MAN: ARMORED ADVENTURES theme song; and trailers for IRON MAN: ARMORED ADVENTURES, WOLVERINE & THE X-MEN, the All-New SUPER HERO SQUAD SHOW music video, and the promo for an Iron Man online game on [...].