How the Animated ‘Iron Man’ Series Introduced A New Generation to Tony Stark
Witness the very first, low key Avengers cartoon masquerading as an Iron Man solo series!
During the ‘90s Marvel animation renaissance, the same one that gave us shows about Spider-Man, X-Men, and even Silver Surfer, one series presented an entire world of heroes to viewers: Iron Man.
Part of the Marvel Action Hour — a block of cartoons that also featured Fantastic Four, as well as introductions by Stan Lee himself — Iron Man focused on old Shell Head's ongoing Super Hero exploits. The first season featured Mandarin as the main villain along with his right-hand man M.O.D.O.K., business associate Justin Hammer, and a band of rogues including Whirlwind, Dreadknight, Blacklash, Blizzard, Grey Gargoyle, Whiplash and Hypnotia (an original creation for the show).
As you start to dig into the titles now available on Disney+, here’s why you should add Iron Man to your watchlist!
This not only acted as a low key adaptation of the FORCE WORKS series that launched in 1994, but also gave a whole generation of kids their first exposure to a group of characters, many of whom would go on to become big-screen icons.
Between the pair of heavy metal heroes, the hotheaded marksman, the mutant hex wielder, the magical space warrior and a psi-webspinner, this group held their own against some pretty deadly foes!
In the very first episode, “And The Sea Shall Give Up It's Dead,” Iron Man and his crew worked together to stop, first an army of radioactive zombies and then the Titanium Man! The second episode found them saving the captured Iron Man from Ultimo, then under Mandarin's control.
Over the course of the season, the heroes all worked together to thwart Mandarin's schemes, which included the theft of any number of Stark's machines including his Hall of Armor!
When not fighting villains, Rhodey acted as Stark Enterprise's Senior Vice President while Carpenter served as the Vice President of Research and Development. Wanda, Barton and Century mainly served as Tony's team and sounding boards when dealing with threats.
In the eighth episode of Season One, “The Defection of Hawkeye,” when both the good guys and the bad guys thought Hawkeye might be derelict in his duties, Rhodes mentioned bringing Barton into the fold. Later, we learned that he was late to a mission because he takes care of his grandpa.
The Big Shift
The second season of Iron Man featured a huge creative shift that altered everything from the majority of the voice cast and the opening credits, to the overall art style and the types of stories told.
In the season opener “The Beast Within,” Tony begins pushing everyone away, even his longtime friend Rhodey, when threatened with paralysis. Still, Rhodey and Carpenter kept an eye on Stark — but the latter took it particularly hard when Tony faked his and Iron Man's deaths without telling him or the rest of the squad.
Still thinking Iron Man is dead, the heroes work together to capture Justin Hammer and most of Mandarin's minions before taking off to confront the big bad himself. After the Armored Avenger reveals himself and stops the Mandarin's scheme, the team dissolves, with Carpenter becoming the Chief Operating Officer of Stark Industries.
During the “Fire and Rain” episode, Rhodey begins developing a kind of armor-related claustrophobia after nearly drowning in his own suit. He managed to fight off that fear and saved both Iron Man and the villain Firebrand from drowning. However, after the mission, Rhodes told Stark he'd only be supporting him on the ground, not in the suit anymore. He still got in on the action both on his own and while flying combat vehicles, and later returned to regular War Machine duties.
Clint still felt animosity towards Stark, though. He returned to collect his things in “Iron Man, On The Inside,” but wound up fighting alongside his old boss to stop a rampaging Ultimo, and this left Barton severely injured. To save his friend, Iron Man shrank down and fixed his spine from the inside. Hawkeye got better just in time to help Carpenter stop Ultimo and then track down down The Hacker, who had been controlling the robot. With that, they briefly buried the hatchet.
During that two-parter episode, Stark felt guilty about his tech being used for evil. Carpenter took this especially hard as she and Tony's romantic relationship had been developing. When Iron Man went to take out the Mandroids, he found himself up against Hawkeye but quickly disabled his friend. He did the same to War Machine when he tried stopping Stark's crusade.
With the two-part “Hands of the Mandarin” series finale, the title villain made enough trouble to necessitate a Force Works reunion! This all played into Mandarin's plan to feed the super-powered individuals to the Heart of Darkness. Mandarin eventually captured everyone but Rhodes, who freed his friends even without his armor. Ultimately, our heroes worked together to stop the villain's plot and save the world.
The Avengers Connection
As previously mentioned, the Iron Man series coincided with a comic called FORCE WORKS, written by Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning with art by Tom Tenney, Jim Calafiore, Jim Cheung and others. The series begins when Iron Man decides to take a more proactive approach to the super team idea. To do so, he brings together Spider-Woman, Scarlet Witch, U.S. Agent, and Wonder Man, though he was soon out of the picture and replaced by Century, who had been created for the series.
However, FORCE WORKS in and of itself acted as a follow-up to another series, AVENGERS WEST COAST. Kicked off with a 1984 four-issue limited series called WEST COAST AVENGERS, AVENGERS WEST COAST followed a California based faction of the Earth's Mightiest Heroes. The team began to unravel when Mockingbird died, but it all came to an end with #102 when the powers that be shut down the team, which then only consisted of Spider-Woman, Scarlet Witch, U.S. Agent, and War Machine.
Iron Man surprised everyone by not only showing up, but then by voting to end the other team. By that time, War Machine had already flown off, but Scarlet Witch, Iron Man, U.S. Agent, and Spider-Woman then quit the Avengers altogether! Outside Avengers HQ, Iron Man invited the others to meet him in a few days, leading directly into FORCE WORKS.
To see all this and more, give the entire series a watch on Disney+!
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