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Featured TV on DVD Review: Iron Man: The Complete Series

May 13th, 2010

Iron Man: The Complete Series - Buy from Amazon

Iron Man, a.k.a., Marvel Iron Man: The Complete Animated Television Series, ran from 1994 to 1996 as half of the The Marvel Action Hour. (The second half was Fantastic Four.) The show aired around the same time as X-Men, which at the time was considered one of the best Marvel cartoons of all time, perhaps even one of the best comic book cartoons of all time. So how does this show compare?

Iron Man is a show of good vs. evil, with Iron Man and the Force Works on the side of good and Mandarin and his minions on the side of evil. Iron Man is Tony Stark's alter-ego, Tony Stark being a rich industrialist and super-genius inventor, while Iron Man is the suit of armor he invented first to keep him alive and then to battle the forces of evil. Force Works is the super hero team he leads that includes War Machine, a more heavily armored version of Iron Man that is piloted by James Rhodes; Hawkeye, a crack shot with a special bow and an arsenal full of custom arrows; Wanda Maximoff, a.k.a., the Scarlet Witch; Spider-Woman, a government created super soldier; and Century, an alien gestalt entity created from the 100 fittest members of his race. Mandarin is a martial arts master and intellectual genius, at least in the comics, who augments his natural abilities through a set of ten magical rings. His allies himself with Justin Hammer, an industrialist and competitor to Tony Stark. Mandarin's second in command is MODOK, which is short for Mental Organism Designed Only for Killing, but he looks more like Krang from Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles than a killing machine. His other minions are Dreadknight, who rides a robot horse and wears a suit of armor; Blizzard, who can control cold; Hypnotia, who can hypnotize people; Whirlwind, who can spin to create whirlwinds; Living Laser, who can create laser blasts... wow, the bad guys have no imagination.

I am a huge fan of Mystery Science Theater 3000 and one of the terms I borrow from them is the "Robot Roll Call" moments in bad TV shows. These are scenes that exist solely to clumsily introduce characters. We have one of these about seven minutes into the opening episode, which ends with Mandarin punishing one of the just introduced villains for... and I promise I am not kidding here... killing his begonias. It was at this point that I paused the show and did some quick research. It was a mediocre show up to this point; however, when I heard that line, I thought maybe it was a parody.

Nope. It's just really bad.

The typical episode has Mandarin coming up with a stupid plan, Iron Man trying to stop him alone, Iron Man failing, Force Works riding in to rescue him, then a revitalized Iron Man stopping Mandarin. Rise and repeat. The stories are simple and repetitive, and animation is cheap and also repetitive. There is no character development, the voice-work in deficient, while the dialogue is even worse. To be fair, the show does get better as the first season goes on. For instance, the MODOK origin story isn't bad, even if the character design itself is laughable. (Certain things you can accept in comics that would look ridiculous in almost any other medium.)

By the time the second season was put into production, Marvel figured out they needed massive changes to save the show. Fortunately, they were willing to admit there were problems and a new animation studio took over the show, resulting in higher quality animation. Much of the supporting cast was cut out, which left more time for character development. Stories were also significantly improved with many being directly adapted from comic book runs (Armor Wars being a key example). Had the show started out this strong, it could have had a good run. However, I assume many people who tuned into the pilot turned it off partway through and never looked back. By the time the show started getting good, it was too late and the ratings were such that it just didn't make sense to keep it on the air.

Call it wasted potential.

There are no extras on the three-disc set, but there are subtitles, proper chapter placements, and play-all buttons.

The Verdict

Iron Man starts out about as bad as you can get. The show is about 15 years old, but the animation quality makes it look about twice as old, while the writing isn't any better. It is significantly better during the second season, but since there are no extras on The Complete Series and only about half the episodes are worth watching, its value is limited to just a rental for most in its target demographic.

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