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Animated Series Region 1 DVD Release

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How Two Seasons of the Same Show Can So Different Is Mind Blowing

  • Oct 7, 2009

Sometimes I’m convinced that there will never be another period in superhero animation quite as exciting as the early 1990’s.  There were shows literally popping up on nearly every single network with each new season, some ranging from the immensely popular (Superman: The Animated Series for example) to the truly obscure (anyone remember Ultraforce?).  The shows were typically divided into two separate and distinct classes: The after school series and the Saturday morning series.

As logic would suggest, the after school shows were a bit darker, grittier and allowed to get away with much more (watch an episode of Batman: The Animated Series if you find yourself in doubt) while the Saturday morning set was generally brighter, milder, and a whole lot more campy.  Interestingly, this is where a majority of Marvel’s animated shows found themselves and many were represented: X-Men, Spiderman, Fantastic Four, Iron Man, and The Hulk to name a few.

I recall enjoying some of the earlier entries mentioned clearly but somehow managed to fall out of the whole scene by the time shows like Iron Man and The Incredible Hulk aired (I suspect it had something to do with jobs, girlfriends, sports cars, that kind of stuff). 

Anyway, you’ll likely understand my excitement when I discovered that a small firm called OS Films had secured the Region 1 DVD rights to bring a complete Iron Man box set out to the masses in 2008.  I ordered without hesitation in anticipation of catching up on what I missed out on all those years before- Hey, better late than never!

The set comes in at a total runtime of 547 minutes and contains all 26 episodes of the show across three discs.  The packaging (which is quite cool I should add) consists of a tri-fold cardboard/ clear plastic book that houses the three DVDs that, when put in their spindles properly spells out the word “Iron Man”.

The audio is presented in Dolby Digital 2.0 (stereo) and the only language option is English.  Extras are completely zilch but again, beggars can’t be choosers (or so I’m told).

Now onto the show itself:  In the history of animation I’m aware of only one other program that managed to pull off such a radical swing between the first and second season and live to tell about it.  That other show just so happens to be another Marvel property: Fantastic Four the 1994-95 series.  I was warned countless times about the unambiguous swing from awful to decent even before I began the series but it’s still difficult to accurately convey the train wreck that is the first season (episodes 1-13) of Iron Man without appearing overly merciless or on an agenda.

In effort to keep it simple, I’ll start at the beginning.  The first episode, And the Sea Shall Give Up Its Dead, somehow manages to combine all of the worst elements of Superfriends, Scooby-Doo, and He-Man then manages to integrate them into a muddled mess of plot points and poor acting.  It should be noted that Fresh Prince’s Uncle Phil (James Avery, none other than Shredder from competing show, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles) provides the vocals for James Rhodes/ War Machine in the early episodes then vanishes around the fifth episode never to be heard from again.

Honestly, if this first episode was in fact the pilot, it’s downright amazing that the show ever saw the light of day.  Fortunately things get a little better in the subsequent 12 episodes.  Rather than try to cram as many scattered subplots into the twenty-three minutes as humanly possible, writer Ron Friedman settled down into a rhythm that was much closer to what we could expect from some of the finer moments of shows like Superfriends or the 1980s incarnation of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.  The plots almost always revolved around the Mandarin and his band of lackeys hatching up some scheme of world domination and Iron Man (with what is called the Armory Team (more on that later)) stepping in at the zero hour to save the world.

There are some really convoluted attempts at back-story amidst these episodes (such as Iron Man and Mandarin’s origins) but even a fan of these characters will likely end up slightly more confused than enlightened (that’s experience talking right there).

I’m not sure what they were thinking when the decision was made to integrate stock footage into each episode for Stark’s transformation into Iron Man but the only mistake superseding that one was to approve the computer generated stock footage that they had to do it with!  Sure I realize CGI was absolutely cutting edge back in 1994 when the show was being produced but why nobody who watched the test footage stopped to say, “why does Iron Man’s armor go from red to pink in this sequence?” is beyond me.

Then there’s the Armory Team… Why this show wasn’t called Avengers Junior is really anybody’s guess.  Tony Stark is surrounded at all times by War Machine, Spider-Woman, Scarlet Witch, Hawkeye and Century.  On the other side of the coin our buddy Mandarin doesn’t make a move without the aid of Modock, Blizzard, Dread Knight, Hipnotia, Grey Gargoyle, Whirlwind, Blacklash and occasionally Living Laser and Stark-hating mogul Justin Hammer (each complete with single-brain cell intellect).

Just as things were starting to get better, the thirteenth and final episode of the first season (The Wedding of Iron Man) comes along and introduces a new low point to an already sinking series.  Namely when a Tony Stark, dressed in drag, dons the Iron Man armor to appear at his own wedding to Julia Carpenter to prove once and for all that the man walking down the isle simply cannot be the same dude in the armor (never mind just letting someone else wear a replica Iron Man armor to the wedding).  Rather, the show’s big ironic twist comes when the Tony Stark getting married reveals that he is in fact just an android by opening his tuxedo to reveal a chest full of computer components apparently salvaged from the early Apollo missions.  Cue up forced laughter of superhero team standing in a circle then fade to black.  I think perhaps now you may better understand the Superfriends comparisons.

Then suddenly, just when you realize there’s no way you’ll be getting a refund for the $25 you sunk on this box set, the second season begins and within the first fifteen seconds of the first episode (# 14, The Beast Within), all hope is restored.  The show’s not just good when compared to the first season; it’s just plain good period.  The artwork is better, the voice acting more consistent; the beginning theme music/ animation is superior, the pacing is much more organized and above all else the episode plots are spot-on.

It turns out that while X-Men the Animated Series was done by Saban and Spider-Man by Marvel Film Animation, the first season of Iron Man was done by a company called Rainbow Animation Group, a firm oft criticized for having been stuck in early 1980’s in terms of animation style and production quality.

Season 2 went with a new firm (Koko Enterprises) and kicked Ron Friedman to the curb in favor of Tom Tataranowicz.  Better still, rather than create new “kid friendly” material for the animated format, the second season witnessed a return to some of the classic comic-story threads that made Iron Man such a promising property throughout the years.

The Mandarin remains one of the focal points but this time the show wastes little time in having a deal gone bad between he and a (much more intimidating) Fin Fang Foom results in his power rings being scattered throughout the globe.  Not only does this move level the playing field, it creates an excellent ongoing thread element where the viewer is given a glimpse into the trials and tribulations of a powerless Mandarin in the final few moments of each episode.

Additionally the team element comes to an end only rather than just cheapen out and scratch the remaining heroes, the second season writes in a pretty believable reason for the “Armory Team” to become disgruntled under Stark’s leadership which results in their walking.  Jim Rhodes and Julia Carpenter (War Machine & Spider-Woman respectively) opt to stick it out with Tony.

Another point of improvement worth noting is the inclusion of depth brought to the characters in the second season.  The cardboard-cutout, one-dimensional (and I’m rounding up there) characters of the first season evolve into individuals with realistic motivations, ambitions, and fears (like Jim Rhodes developing a phobia of being trapped inside his War Machine armor which just so happens to have been based on a then-current comic storyline).

In conclusion the fact that season 1 pales in comparison (and that’s putting it very lightly) to season 2 is not nearly as remarkable as the fact that happened twice, in as many years, to the same people!

I’ve found that the best way to view this collection is to consider it a purchase of the stellar second season with the complete first season included as a bonus feature.

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October 08, 2009
I heard that Disney, now that they own Marvel, may be releasing some of these classic animated titles in their entirety on DVD. As for more obscure animated shows... does anyone remember "WildCats", "Skeleton Warriors", or "The Green Dragon"?
October 08, 2009
Hey Count: Believe it or not I have Wild C.A.T.S! I remember when FUNimation released the entire series on DVD, I was so in line for that one (even if it was much more grandiose in memory). I don't remember The Green Dragon but Skeleton Warriors I recall. A shame that one never got an official release (neither did Pirates of Dark Water or Galtar and the Golden Lance).
October 08, 2009
"The Pirates of Dark Water"?! Damn, I'd almost forgtten about that one. I loved that show, although it only lasted about half a season or something. Talk about classic animation. Wow, I can't believe you brought that up. You rock, man!
October 08, 2009
Thanks Count- We're going to have to catch up some time. I live life for this stuff so sharing the wealth with others is but a minor symptom of my condition. Take care.
October 11, 2009
anyone remember THUNDERCATS, THUNDARR The Barbarian and THE CENTURIONS? the last two were inspired by Jack Kirby..
October 13, 2009
Oh yeah. I had a whole collection of "Thundercats" action figures and a "Centurions" lunchbox. "Thundarr" sounds familiar, but I don't remember anything about it.
October 13, 2009
Yeah I had Thundercats toys too, had to- you weren't cool in my 4th grade class until you brought the Thundercats action figures to school (what with their glowing eyes and sword-swinging action and all). Thundarr was like He-Man but a few years earlier. He was the blond barbarian type with a female companion named Princess Ariel and a Chewbacca wannabe called Ookla the Mok. Good stuff.
October 13, 2009
They've gotta start putting more of these shows on DVD. Did you ever get into "James Bond, Jr."? So silly, but a lot of fun.
October 08, 2009
Oh, check out the armors in wikipedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Iron_Man%27s_armor Real interesting...I hope the Sentient armor makes it to the movies!
October 08, 2009
Ridiculously interesting, thanks for the link. I knew IM had several armor choices, but didn't realize there were THAT many. And I have a hard time deciding between the 5 shirts I own! Here's a little more specifically on the Sentient Armor: http://marvel.wikia.com/wiki/Iron_Man_(Sentient_Armor)
October 08, 2009
You may have to copy & paste that as the last part isn't highlighting but is part of the link.
October 08, 2009
I kinda remember this series..the armory team is a homage to "West Coast Avengers" and/or "Force Works" comic books. I have very mixed feelings about this series and as I can remember I only saw several episodes of season one and skipped on season 2. It was real fun and a little cheesy in a good way. It is a good remembrance for the "Modular Iron Man" armor since it got its first TV series. Nice work as always, JRider...now where is that other review? LOL!
October 08, 2009
Woop, I kid you not, I am logging off within the next ten minutes to devote the remainder of my night to Public Enemies. I ordered the 2-disc set so I plan on digging right on through the bonus material as well to integrate into my writeup. Bear with me just a tad bit longer... And thanks for the kind words. I had you and Trashie in mind when I penned this one up all the way.
October 08, 2009
Can hardly wait! You're Lunch's resident DCU expert and you have to do a review of that one.
About the reviewer

Ranked #6
Jason Rider (AKA OneNeo on Amazon.com) is the author of the successful children's fantasy novel series The Uncommon Adventures of Tucker O'Doyle from Bellissima Publishing.      … more
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