Presented in its entirety, across four discs, we have Season 1 and 2 of the 1994/5 animated series of Iron Man.
Bizarrely, Season 1 looks like it was made in the 80s, with added CGI that wouldn’t have looked out of place in a 90s console game as Stark transforms into Iron Man (only to go back to traditional animation) and storylines that spend as much time delivering exposition as they do story.
Each story features Iron Man going up against The Mandarin, who seems to be channelling Doctor Claw from Inspector Gadget. Mandarin is intent on defeating Iron Man and is assisted by MODOK and a clan of evil folk that wouldn’t look out of place in He-Man.
We’ve got Hypnotia, Blacklash, Dreadknight and Blizzard, all ready to deploy their powers and be beaten at the last minute. Occasionally, we’ll be joined by Fin Fang Foom, Grey Gargoyle and Living Laser, amongst others. Often, Mandarin will voice his concerns about a plan but will go stumbling in anyway, being defeated over the space of twenty minutes.
Whilst Mandarin seems to have a bunch of inept supervillains to assist him, Iron Man has help from Hawkeye, War Machine, Spiderwoman, Scarlet Witch and Sentry. There’s no suggestion as to why they’re working with Iron Man. In fact, when you look at the first series, there’s no explanation as to why anyone is doing anything!
There’s a whole episode dedicated to “The Defection of Hawkeye” in which the whole team are reliant on the presence of Hawkeye to stop the Mandarin. Literally every other sentence is about how important Hawkeye is, how they couldn’t function without him and how the Mandarin sees him as the most integral part of Iron Man’s team, despite being a bit player in most stories.
When he’s not fighting the forces of evil, he’s got to contend with his business rival, Mr Justin Hammer, who is also in league with Mandarin. Hammer is a rival business man who, it transpires, won contracts from Stark Industries and, with the help of the Mandarin, was responsible for the accidents that lost Stark Industries their contracts and, finally, the explosion that embedded slivers into Stark’s spine.
Okay, okay, clearly these characters belong to the Iron Man franchise and are established characters in the wider Marvel Universe. They’re also probably quite fearsome if you’re a fan of the comics… Fing Fang Foom, really?! However, they’re portrayal in this series is bordering on comical and, dare I say, two-dimensional.
It doesn’t help that each of the episodes has been written in such an old-fashioned way. Good versus evil is clearly drawn out for us all, the stories move from one plot point to the next with coincidence as the linking factor, and the bad guys are dispensed with in cavalier fashion, just in time for the end credits to roll.
It has none of the (relative) darkness of Batman: The Animated Series, a programme that broadcast at a similar time (92 – 95.)
Iron Man‘s production team initially chose the 80s approach to storytelling with insubstantial, self contained stories instead of creating interesting stories with developing characters and a feeling of respect for the source material. Iron Man hails from a time when people thought cartoons were just for children and, as such, disposable and unimportant.
By the time series two comes along, animation is much improved and we’re treated to stories adapted from comic books’ storylines (including Armor Wars), with plot points that arc over episodes and much more satisfying scripting.
There’s a greater sense of threat in the second series, characters develop and the humour is less pantomime. Without the threat of Mandarin, who is searching the planet for his rings, the stories no longer rely on the cookie cutter predictability of the first series and new characters are brought in to challenge Iron Man, who now has to function with a much reduced team and more technology.
Series 2 has a Tony Stark that is more antagonistic and less moralistic, working with Nick Fury and the Agents of SHIELD. Tony Stark is a darker character now, hiding secrets from his team-mates and losing friends as he goes along. He’s more of a playboy (maybe not in activity, as it’s still a children’s show, but in language) and a lot more gung ho.
With each episode there’s more of a sense of adventure, with the whole world (and outer space) being used with some creativity to tell stories, instead of just being interchangeable backdrops of no consequence.
With the improved animation, we lose the shoddy CGI sequence and get a much improved transformation sequence (no longer in the form of stock footage.) Whilst the animation may have improved, the voice acting is just as variable as it was in the first season.
Each episode is presented in full frame, with stereo sound. The sound is reproduced very well, being loud and clear, especially in the second series. There were occasions in the first, particularly during the transformation, where it’s difficult to hear what is being said. The picture quality varies from episode to episode, but remains watchable and is generally better in the second series, probably due to higher production values.
Is it worth your time, though? With the first series, you can pretty much watch any episode and pass twenty minutes without having to really pay attention to what is happening (as it doesn’t make sense if you do!)
For comic book fans and anyone who likes 90s children’s animation, it passes time, is lightweight and inoffensive, with a second series that is far more interesting and creative.
Iron Man Animated is out now and available from the Den Of Geek Store.