Iron Man: Armored Adventures – Review by Jerry Whitworth
This week, the final episode of Iron Man: Armored Adventures aired bringing to a close two seasons that largely began and ended with the Mandarin’s journey to claim the ten Makluan rings and conquer Earth. The show started with quite a bit of controversy as fans of the Iron Man comic were disheartened to learn it would feature the adventures of a teenage Tony Stark (matched with a likewise teenage cast) whose father goes missing as Obadiah Stane turns the company into a high-tech arms manufacturer (drawing allusions to the film franchise). This change of course reminded fans of the poorly received adventures of “Teen Tony” introduced in Avengers: Timeslide that ended with Heroes Reborn. The bad reputation of the program was also not helped in that Marvel Animation chose to return to employing computer-generated animation again after their failed Spider-Man: The New Animated Series with MTV. In this light, the series was generally doomed from the start. When you also consider that, X-Men: Evolution aside, a Marvel animated series hasn’t surpassed two seasons since 1990′s Spider-Man series and many probably even questioned why to even bother with this new Iron Man show. Despite all this, even if you made the leap and watched the show, the final nail in the coffin may have been Disney’s recent acquisition of Marvel leading to many of their animated series being canceled if they aired on other networks, such as Iron Man on Nickelodeon, or were produced with other companies (leading to the death of the popular series Spectacular Spider-Man). Though, it certainly doesn’t help Head of Marvel Entertainment’s Television division Jeph Loeb bears a stance animated series shouldn’t have ongoing narratives (which lead to the demise of Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes). Iron Man: Armored Adventures, in other words, was made to fail in this environment.
For me, Iron Man’s in my top five Marvel heroes (alongside Spider-Man, Hulk, Captain America, and Rom), so I knew I would watch it. I can say after two seasons, the animation never grew on me. All the way up to the end, I’ve hated it. This show isn’t alone, CG series like Green Lantern: The Animated Series and Kung Fu Panda: Legends of Awesomeness look awful to me (Pixar, a handful of DreamWorks films, and various video game series seem to be the only companies to make it work). Honestly, even in films, I generally prefer puppetry, make-up, costumes, and special effects to CG. And yet, despite this, I watched. And it was good. It’s obvious the writers are fans of the comics. Showrunner Christopher Yost had previously worked in the same role on Wolverine and the X-Men and went to do so again in Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes and he brought all of his knowledge and skill to all of these projects (though fans generally seem unaware of his Iron Man involvement, likely for the reasons I described, and have praised his work on the two other aforementioned projects). I think they hit every major supporting and villainous character from the franchise (with the caveat many villains were re-imagined as temple guardians): Howard Stark, Jim Rhodes/War Machine, Pepper Potts/Rescue, Happy Hogan, Obadiah Stane/Iron Monger, Nick Fury (based on his film version), Justin Hammer (re-imagined as Titanium Man), Whitney Frost/Madame Masque (re-imagined as Stane’s daughter), Crimson Dynamo, Whiplash, Blizzard, Fin Fang Foom, M.O.D.O.K., A.I.M., Controller, Grey Gargoyle, Living Laser, Ghost, Dreadknight, Unicorn, Ultimo, Mallen, Grim Reaper, Count Nefaria, Firebrand, Killer Shrike, Sunturion, and Force (and even villains I’ve never heard of like Shockwave, Firepower, and Technovore). There were also guest-appearances from Dr. Doom, Hulk (both the Savage Hulk and Mr. Fix-It), Magneto, Black Panther, Jean Grey, Black Knight, Mad Thinker, Awesome Android, Mr. Fix, Senator Robert Kelly, and Moses Magnum. The popular Armor Wars and Extremis storylines were even adapted for the show (the latter of which is being adapted for film in Iron Man 3). The Iron Man 2020 concept was loosely adapted combining the Marvel 2099 concept for an episode of the series, as well.
Beyond doing such a remarkable job adapting the comic to television, there was also the quality of the story by itself. The struggle of juggling school, friendship, and being a hero were all played up in the show (not to mention Iron Man’s ongoing struggle to reclaim his father’s company). You also had a love triangle brew as feelings between Tony Stark and Whitney Stane developed while Pepper Potts pined for the protagonist (at one point becoming a square when Potts and Happy Hogan began a relationship that made Stark question his feelings for his friend, there were even indications Gene Khan pined for Pepper). The main cast were also provided unique identities, with Whitney as a no-nonsense martial artist (reminiscent of Daredevil’s Elektra), Pepper as a wanna-be S.H.I.E.L.D. agent (her father an F.B.I. agent), Rhodey as Tony’s best friend who desperately wanted to find a way to be more supportive to Tony than a voice on the other end of a comm-link (resulting in becoming War Machine), Happy as a dim-witted jock who’s a huge fan of Iron Man (partly reminiscent of Spider-Man’s Flash Thompson), and Gene Khan as a young man filled with rage but who made friends for the first time in his life with Pepper and the others (reminiscent of Smallville‘s Lex Luthor). While I wouldn’t count Iron Man: Armored Adventures among such excellent comic book cartoons like the DC Animated Universe (Batman: The Animated Series through Justice League Unlimited), Spectacular Spider-Man, or Young Justice, it was a high-quality series that was snuffed out before its time, like Wolverine and the X-Men, Batman: The Brave and the Bold, and, likely, the Super Hero Squad Show.
To learn more about the present state of Marvel Animation: http://comicartcommunity.com/2012/06/marvel-animation/