Let’s talk about a syndicated programing block called the Marvel Action Hour, later referred to as the Marvel Action Universe. The series featured two different cartoons Iron Man and Fantastic Four.
Iron Man, along with several comic-based shows and movies was the show that really got me into comic books, in fact most of my information on comic book characters came from the cartoons and my uncles.
Something I forgot to bring up yesterday in the X-Men review was the quality of it’s animation. Now X-Men’s animation was very passable (for its time), but with Iron Man it’s animation was good enough for the 80’s at least for season 1, season 2 had much improved animation for the 90’s (more on this later and in Fantastic Four).
So, the show follows Iron Man (obviously), know publically to the world as Tony Stark, a genius, billionaire, philanthropist (for obvious reasons, the playboy aspect was removed). Trying to run his company Stark Industries (or enterprises, they alternate sometimes), and protecting the world from the Mandarin, and his legion of followers consisting of MODOK, Blacklash, Dreadknight, Hypnotia, Whirlwind, and Blizzard. Stark also has his own team of heroes: Force Works, War Machine, Spider-Woman (the Julia Carpenter version), Hawkeye, Scarlet Witch and, Sentry (who may or may not have been made specifically for the series).
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 (like, “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 an altered version of the character’s comic book origin.
In season 1 only a handful of its stories are based 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. Yinsen works with Arnold Brock before Arnold becomes the Mandarin. The Mandarin later captures Wellington Yinsen uses him to help Tony Stark build an invincible armor for his minions. When Tony Stark becomes Iron Man for the first time, he manages to escape, but Yinsen is killed by the Mandarin. There was also a small sub-plot in the first season revolves around Mandarin secretly spying on Force Works, we learn more about it in the clip show/season finale “The Wedding of Iron Man” when Stark realizes they have been spied on by reviewing events from previous episodes (and explaining how Mandarin’s forces always knew where they would be), realising that Mandarin has acquired enough information to potentially deduce the true identity of Iron Man. The entire episode’s plot is dedicated to resolving the problem, culminating in Iron Man and his team setting up an elaborate deception where Mandarin sees Iron Man and Tony Stark in the same place with the intention being to convince him that the two men are not the same person, complete with android doppleganger. And that was season 1, story wise it was okay (sometimes), animation wise it was godawful.
Now, season 2 however was a whole other story. After season 1, both shows in The Marvel Action Hour now, called the Marvel Action Universe was retooled with help from new animation companies for each respective show, along with new writers, memorable episode titles, and an awesome new theme song (specifically for Iron Man).
Unlike last season episodes 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.
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 with the Mandarin when Fin Fang Foom and his fellow dragons were plotting to eliminate Earth. When Stark’s counter plan against Justin Hammer, which includes faking his death without the knowledge of his teammates, leads to a disbanding of Force Works, Julia Carpenter and James Rhodes are the only ones who continue to work with Stark. 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. While Rhodes was active as War Machine in Season 1, he remained out of armor for the majority of Season 2 due to reliving a tragic drowning experience while being trapped underwater in the War Machine armor in the Season 2 episode “Fire And Rain”. Rhodes eventually overcomes his fear and dons the War Machine armor once again in the episode “Distant Boundaries”. There was also an a team-up episode called “Hulk Buster”, which serves as a back-door pilot for The Incredible Hulk Cartoon, I’m gonna get more into crossovers and back-door pilots when we get to Spider-Man.
The series culminated in a four-part arc, Empowered was a clip show involving MODOK finding the eighth ring, Hulk Buster where The leader finds the remaining two rings, prior to the finale, the Mandarin claims his eighth ring from MODOK the at the end of Hulk Buster he find the last two rings. Finally in the Hands of 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. More specifically, Iron Man manages to reflect the power of Mandarin’s rings, destroying them, and ultimately leaving the Mandarin with amnesia and helpless before a band of desert bandits who likely killed him, or at least cut off his hand/fingers for the rings. After Mandarin was killed, MODOK and the rest of Mandarin’s henchmen were sent to jail.
Sadly, the series was canceled due to low ratings despite the change in animation. Overall, Iron Man had sort of a mixed reception when it first came out, and still does to this day (at least for the first season). But it’s still a good show highly recommend it (the second season at least). Next week we’ll look at the second half of the Marvel Action Hour/Universe: The Fantastic Four.
Rank: 3 out of 5