If ever there was a series I planned to go into with anticipated disappointment, it would be Iron Man: Armored Adventures. After all, the idea of taking a mature, long-standing comic franchise and retooling it so that the hero(s) and villains are in high school rarely stands the test of time. On the other hand, Marvel’s animated history with the Iron Man franchise has been less than stellar. The 1990s animated series (which finally earned a licensed DVD release by the way) was certainly a mixed bag and the Marvel Lion’s Gate (MLG) animated feature Invincible Iron Man was quite abysmal.
Then I learned that the guys responsible for this one were actually many of the same individuals who had succeeded in “younging up” Xavier’s mutants in X-Men: Evolution and more recently, did the pretty solid Wolverine and the X-Men series. I rolled the dice and ordered the first two releases of the show on DVD (which totaled the first 13 episodes of Season 1).
When his industrialist father Howard Stark disappears in a plane crash after refusing to weaponize the Earth Mover at Obadiah Stane's behest, 16-year-old genius Tony develops the high-tech suit of armor we all know and love.
The series follows the adventures of teenage child prodigy Tony Stark and his alter ego Iron Man. As Iron Man, he uses his technological inventions to stop villains at all hours of the day/ night, even it makes it extremely difficult to attend classes and keep up his grades. His friends, James "Rhodey" Rhodes and Patricia “Pepper” Potts know of his secret life and help him (either directly or by covering for him) on his perilous adventures.
Driving the show is the suspicion that Stane had been involved in his father's death, Tony divides what free time he has conducting an investigation of his own while battling such staple villains as Mandarin, Mr. Fix, Whiplash, A.I.M., Madame Masque, Living Laser, the Maggia, Firebrand, Controller, Crimson Dynamo, Blizzard, Killer Shrike, Unicorn, M.O.D.O.K. and the like.
As is the trend these days, the piece is 3D cell-shaded CGI entirely, with a distinctive look that, contrary to the cover art of the DVDs, is actually quite moody and muted, almost washed out, in its presentation. Considering that Marvel’s animated works are often overly bright and kid-friendly by nature, Iron Man: Armored Adventure’s grittier pallet is certainly a welcome change and goes a long way in counteracting the upbeat high-school angle introduced here.
Pacing is pretty spot on, with episodes that each act as stand-alone affairs with just enough of a serial element in the background to establish a nice ongoing arc. Dynamically, the formula proves quite similar to past shows Batman Beyond, Static Shock, and perhaps most closely, the aforementioned X-Men: Evolution. Whether you find yourself for or against the concept of taking an established comic property and scaling it to work in the high school setting, at least go in knowing that the production team behind Animated Adventures seems to have mastered the art (and actually tuned the material quite flawlessly in the process).
It should be noted that there are a few staples to the mythos only touched upon here (and in some cases omitted altogether). Among these is the relationship between Tony’s artificial heart and the suit of armor. Also traditionally, Tony's parents were accidentally killed in a car crash, whereas in this series, Tony's father, Howard Stark, disappears in the first episode in a plane crash suggesting Howard's death. Tony also injures his heart in this crash, as opposed to being injured by an explosion in war. Tony invents the Iron Man armor at home. In previous incarnations, Tony invented a beta version of the suit to escape after being captured due to the trap explosion leaving him defenseless. All minor changes to be sure.
Which brings up a slight complaint about the domestic DVD releases thus far. Early adopters were forced to buy two individual releases episodes 1-6 then 7-13. Now the entire 26-episode release of the first season has arrived leaving those of us who purchased the first two releases little choice but to buy all 26 just to have access to the final 13. But in all, a minor compliant- Had it been confirmed that this, the 26-spiode box set would be coming I certainly would have held off for it and if you are someone who has been on the fence about getting involved in the show, this is the best way to do so!
The second season is still airing at the time of this review’s writing and here’s hoping Vivendi Entertainment sees fit to release a complete 26-episode second season after its broadcast run as well.
These days the news is that Marvel Anime: Iron Man will be the next big thing to hit the USA (coming later this year). As everyone seems to be preparing for that show’s arrival, there’s a good chance Iron Man: Armored Adventures will get lost to the proverbial shuffle: A shame considering to date it is perhaps the most impressive animated incarnation of ol “shell head”.
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