Monday, May 3, 2010

A Troublemaker's History of Iron Man

Iron Man, Iron Man

Does whatever an Iron can!

Since Iron Man 2 is coming out this week (I’m going to see it Thursday at midnight with a yet-to-be-determined group of fellow nerds up to and possibly including John the Wrestler, Meathead and Evil) I thought I should write at least one article about the titular character, although honestly; I just wanted to use the word “titular”. Thank you and good night.

Technically this is article number two since I’ve already written a review of some of the new toys, but that will go up Thursday if everything goes according to plan.

There is, however, one little problem with my proposed subject matter: I really didn’t give a shit about Iron Man until after the first movie.

Well, that’s not entirely true. I had read all the Ultimate stuff and liked Tony Stark from what I had seen there, but the bulk of my Marvel Comics reading has always been X-Men and Spider-Man. I’ve never been an Avengers guy at all. As a matter of fact, it’s almost been like the separation of Marvel and DC for me. On one side of Marvel you’ve got the heroic, popular superheroes and on the other you’ve got the outcast mutants (and Spidey for some reason). My favorites have always been the mutants. I just didn’t venture into the superhero side of things.

And now I have to write about Iron Man, who is definitely not a mutant. Here’s some stuff about ol’ Shell Head from my perspective... NEXT!

The Invincible Iron Man

My first real exposure to Iron Man came by way of repeats of this horrible cartoon; part of The Marvel Superheroes Show in 1966. I guess “horrible” is kind of a strong word considering the thing used actual art and stories from the comics at the time, but I don’t think you could pay a kid to sit through these today. While that theme song does totally rule, the cartoons are so bad they haven’t even been released on DVD. Think about that. SyFy Original Movies get released on DVD, but not these. I remember watching the Superheroes Show as reruns either super-early Sunday morning or super-late Saturday night, like maybe after Doctor Who and The Prisoner. They did not make me love Iron Man.

Secret Wars Era

I’ve never actually read Secret Wars in its entirety, but I had several of the issues of both series. I’m pretty sure Iron Man was in some of the ones I had. We all know the plotline of “Make ‘em fight to sell toys!”, but I couldn’t tell you anything specific other than Spider-Man getting the black costume and the fact that the Beyonder looks totally lame.

Secret Wars’ biggest impact on me came through the toys. I was already a huge Wolverine fan at the time, so I had to have that figure with the stupid snap-on claws. Naturally, I ended up with more than just Wolvie. My own personal Battleworld was eventually populated by the likes of Doctors Doom and Octopus, Captain America (did it drive anybody else nuts that Cap came with a shield but that it didn’t have the pattern on it?), Kang and ol’ Shell Head. Granted, that was Jim Rhodes instead of Tony Stark; but I didn’t know or care. I just though he looked goofy in his red and yellow costume with the pirate boots. 

Not at all like my hero Wolverine in his brown and yellow costume with the totally awesome and not at all stupid eye/ear swoop combo. In my Battleworld Iron Man got his ass kicked even more than Kang. This toy did not make me love Iron Man.

Iron Man” by Black Sabbath

My next significant exposure to Iron Man came by way of the Black Sabbath song, which really doesn’t have anything to do with Iron Man. I just assumed it did because Anthrax wrote all those songs about comic books and stuff. I figured comics and metal went hand in hand. Not knowing Iron Man’s backstory at the time, I thought it seemed plausible. Given the widespread approval of the song’s use in Favreau’s movie it seems I’m not the only one. That uppity toerag Brannagh had just better work “God of Thunder” into Thor or we’re going to have words. Sabbath’s song intrigued me and made me a fan of the band, but it did not make me love Iron Man.

Tetsuo: The Iron Man

This Japanese movie really has nothing at all to do with Iron Man or my feelings about the character. I just take every opportunity I can to point out how horrible and fucked-up it is and warn people not to ever, ever watch it. This movie made me physically ill and kept me from watching Asian films for years. It remains the most disturbing thing I have ever seen. Well, I’ve actually seen much worse at this point, but I was a whole lot greener back then. This sick movie definitely did not make me love Iron Man.

Iron Man (1994 cartoon)

The early 90’s were an amazing time to be a comic book fan. The X-Men and Spider-Man cartoons were great. Batman: The Animated Series is pretty much the best adaptation of the Dark Knight ever. The success of these properties led to just about everybody getting their own animated series at some point. Iron Man’s debuted in 1994, alongside a new Fantastic Four cartoon. As you can see from the opening titles above, it fucking sucked. I remember checking out the first few episodes and not liking either one. Wikipedia tells me they got better, but I didn’t stick around long enough to find out. The craptastic nature of the Iron Man cartoon did not, however, stop me from buying the toys. I was still in full-on comic toy collecting mode (Kenner’s Star Wars: Power of the Force line wouldn’t show up to lay claim to all my money for another year) and buying pretty much anything Toy Biz put out. The cartoon may have sucked donkey balls, but the toys were pretty great for their day. 

I’m not sure how many from the line I ended up with, but I bought Iron Man, War Machine and Mandarin out of the first assortment. Despite having awesome vac-metallized snap-on parts, these toys did not make me love Iron Man; but they were a start.

Marvel Legends

Action figures would play a part in my next Iron Man experience as well. In 2002, Toy Biz launched one of the most beloved and prolific comic book toy lines of all time – Marvel Legends. The first series of super-articulated figures consisted of Captain America, Hulk, Iron Man and the worst choice of character to round out an initial lineup ever – Toad. Proving that even my love of mutants has limits, I bought everybody except Toad. To this day he is one of the few mutants in the Marvel Legends line that I don’t own (Cable and Rogue are the others, not counting alternate costumes and the Age of Apocalypse crap – because I hated that storyline).

Despite his articulation not working all that well in some spots (many of the first releases from Toy Biz had similar issues), I really dug that first series Iron Man. The paint looked good, he could pose pretty much any way you wanted and his removeable faceplate actually stayed in place.

Later on Toy Biz released a version of Tony Stark in his very first suit of armor. That one really got me. The big, clunky steel suit appealed to me in a way the yellow and red number never had. Aside from the fact that the removeable faceplate on this one never stays in place, this is one of my favorite figures of the whole Marvel Legends line.
I had a War Machine as well, but somebody must have swiped it at some point, which I am only right now realizing. Shit.

More Marvel Legends Iron Men would follow, but that leads into the next topic. Oh, and Marvel Legends did not make me love Iron Man, but they set me up for his next move.

Ultimate Iron Man

I wasn’t reading comics when Ultimate Spider-Man launched in 2000. I had sold my collection to pay for car repairs a couple of years before (the only things I kept were the complete run of Preacher and all of the Batman: Knightfall stuff, and I lost those in the flood) and just sort of abandoned it. More money for toys, right? It wasn’t until the tail end of 2002 after I had finally rid myself of a nasty habit with pink hair and a big mouth that I got lured back into comics by the magic of a crowd-pleasing Batman arc called Hush. Perhaps you’ve heard of it?

So anyway, upon having this whole Ultimate Spider-Man thing explained to me I immediately disregarded it. I was shocked it had already lasted two years. There was no way it was going to go much longer. Right.

I was managing a GameStop at the time, so I was in constant contact with the nerd community. Not only did I keep hearing how great this Ultimate Spider-Man was, one of the regulars was keeping me filled in on another Ultimate title – Ultimate X-Men. I caved and picked up the current arc. It ended up being pretty great (although that would eventually change) and hooked me enough that I hunted down all the collections up to that point. Once this new iteration of my favorite mutants had me softened up, I was a ripe victim for a twenty-five dollar hardcover reprinting the first fifty issues of Ultimate Spider-Man. Barnes & Noble had them for Christmas and I just couldn’t pass it up. I read that thing in a matter of days. I was totally sold on this whole Ultimate thing. I didn’t just go adding every Ultimate title to my pull all willy-nilly, but I definitely had a different opinion of the concept.

So after a couple of years of keeping up with the Ultimate titles (and the Ultimates) Marvel announced an Ultimate Iron Man mini-series. I liked the character enough in Millar and Hitch’s series, but the real draw for me was the fact that it was being written by a science fiction novelist, one of no small acclaim. Granted, I wasn’t familiar with Orson Scott Card’s work, but I knew the name and was intrigued by the concept of a hardcore sci-fi author doing Iron Man.

That initial series and its follow-up are what made me a fan of Tony Stark and his alter-ego (and his ego), but these comics did not make me love Iron Man.

Iron Man Animation – 2007-now

There have been a few animated productions that feature Iron Man since the uneven 1994 cartoon.

Ultimate Avengers came out on DVD in early 2006 and blew my mind. It was a reasonably faithful adaptation of the first story arc of The Ultimates. When I say I loved it, you must keep two things in mind – 1) I had not yet seen the full run of the Justice League cartoon, and 2) DC had not yet started producing their own amazing (and now fucking discontinued) animated home releases. I still really like this one, though. And it is definitely a strong showing from Mr. Stark. As opposed to…

Ultimate Avengers 2 - which disappointed the hell out of me and should have been called The Adventures of Black Panther and Captain America and A Couple Of Other Avengers For Maybe A Minute or Two –was released later in 2006 and barely deserves a mention. It isn’t necessarily bad, Marvel should have just released it as a Black Panther feature. Thor and Hulk aren’t even in it. I mean, come on.

In 2007 Marvel released The Invincible Iron Man on DVD. I was positive it had come out after the live action movie until I actually looked it up. In classic adaptation style, the narrative links Iron Man’s origin to the featured nemesis – the Mandarin. I really enjoyed this one, but it’s honestly kind of wacky. Also, it isn’t entirely clear if this is supposed to tie in with the Ultimate releases; though the same actor voices Tony Stark in each feature.

And finally, we have Iron Man: Armored Adventures. I find the animation for this show absolutely fucking repellent. Okay, maybe that’s too strong. That stupid French Fantastic Four was much worse, but this thing looks like an updated Dire Straits video. I get the idea, but I hated it when they did it with Spidey on MTV and I still hate it now. The worst part is that it really is a well-done cartoon. I know the stories are strong and have continuity because lord knows, I’ve tried to watch it. I want to like it! I just can’t get past the look.
So I’ve experienced differing degrees of satisfaction with these releases, but none of them made me love Iron Man.

Iron Man

It should be obvious at this point that Jon Favreau and Robert Downey, Jr.’s adaptation are what made me love Iron Man. Yeah, I know there were a ton of other people involved – not the least of which are the five credited writers – but Favreau and Downey are the two who made it magic. This is basically the perfect movie. There is not a single thing I would change about it and I feel that’s saying a lot.

We’ve all seen the movie by now, so I’m not going to do a review or anything, but Iron Man is one of the rare movies that everybody loves. The nerds are happy, the stiffs are happy; everybody wins. Come Friday, we’ll find out if they can do it again.

Press a shirt, anytime
Shiny pants on his behind
Watch out!
Here comes the Iron Man…