It’s strange now to think there was a time when only people who were into comic book culture would have been aware of Iron Man. Thanks to the juggernaut of Marvel’s movie output it’s a pretty safe bet that everyone can tell you who Tony Stark is, but back in the mid-90s was the last time the character graced TV screens in animated form. Using the cheaper CGI method of animation, Iron Man as a series is back with Iron Man: Armoured Adventures.
This 2011 series hot on the tails of the recent movies (and now added to Netflix) follows a familiar gaggle of characters but dials down their ages to high school level, with Tony Stark and friends aged just 16. Following the disappearance of Howard Stark in a mysterious plane crash, Tony has his suspicions of Obadiah Stane – an ambitious and insidious board member who takes over control of Stark International until Tony turns 18. So uses his genius-level engineering to create the Iron Man armour and investigate the crash.
Really the set up of getting Tony into a place where he has the armour is done thankfully quickly: we don’t need a huge long origin story here. What Iron Man: Armoured Adventures brings to the table is a great opportunity to actually dig into the Iron Man story arc and villains beyond the surface level takes or conglomerated amalgamations of the live action movies.
For obvious reasons Marvel made the decision in Iron Man 3 not to portray baddie The Mandarin as the walking evil Chinese stereotype that he is in the source comics. But Armoured Adventures can spend its two seasons and 52 episodes properly getting into the detail. By also de-aging him to 16 years old and making Gene Khan (his alter ego) a friend of the good guy gang then there is plenty of impetus of dramatic betrayals and emotional weight later.
High School drama is definitely a big factor in many episodes. Papers and homework are a part of life for friends James ‘Rhodey’ Rhodes and Pepper Potts as well as Tony. Quite why the decision was made to made to turn the highly efficient and intelligent Pepper into a character that defaults rather too much to ‘ditzy klutz’ is anyone’s guess, but for the most part the Iron Man universe does well to get out of its global live action stakes by the animated series focusing on high school age problems at the same time as, say, The Living Laser causing havoc.
Many other stalwarts of the Iron Man universe get their moment in the limelight: Justin Hammer, Ghost, Whiplash, Crimson Dynamo, Technovore, Doctor Doom, as well as Hawkeye, Nick Fury, and Black Widow. Though both of the two seasons have an arc plot line tying them together, there is plenty of room to detour into other areas. As a whole the mixture is good and the series doesn’t get bogged down into its own mythos: with the possible exception of when interdimensional aliens start to make an appearance late in the game.
Modern technology may have allowed a rebooted Iron Man series onto the screen by way of CGI animation but yet again Flash animation is the go-to method. Flash has an ability to bring great action and colour to the screen but it is lacking in facial expressions when compared to good quality hand drawn techniques. Maybe I’m a grumpy aging person and no-one else cares, but when I see the faces squeezing into locked expressions it rankles. Thankfully the voice cast does a good job of breathing tons of personality into these characters to make up for such shortcomings.
If you like the Iron Man movies and want more bang for your buck then Iron Man: Armoured Adventures will be a good fit for you. Watching it alongside the 90s version shows that such source material has pulled itself out of the somewhat hokey Saturday morning kids cartoon world and given the whole thing a glossy sheen of vibrancy. Plus, you will be singing the theme music for WEEKS afterwards. Don’t say I didn’t warn you!
Words by Mike Record