To revisit the 1990s Iron Man animated series -springing from the same bedrock as the fondly remembered and utterly dizzying X-Men cartoon – really makes you wonder how a movie got made, never mind how the character became so insanely popular that he could not only support three movies and head up a Joss Whedon-helmed blockbuster ensemble.
That this set collects the show’s second season, which ran from September 1995 to February 1996 on a variety of networks as part of the Marvel Action Hour, complete with introductions from the ubiquitous Stan Lee (who you now feel as thought you’ve spent more time with than your parents), proves the ‘Complete’ bit of the title incredibly misleading. These 13 episodes pick up where the previous series left off, adding to the sense that this has the most incomprehensibly unwieldy combination of a story elements and characters possible in its near feature-length run.
The first episode alone gives us no-nonsense buddy cop buddy War Machine (whose armour is blue and white due to the problems animating black without sucking the entire living room into the TV), a largely irrelevant Spider-Woman and Hawkeye, a infuriatingly enigmatic Nick Fury, and a bitchy AI called HOMER on Team Stark.
Opposing our hero is talkative dragon Fin Fang Foom and his three space dragon brothers (Yeah), sneering industrialist Justin Hammer (approximately 60% less annoying than Sam Rockwell in Iron Man 2), budget-Ming the Mandarin with his magic rings, scowling giant baby monster MODOK, and a team of faceless f-list ‘super’villains (Hypnotia, Blizzard etc) that you’ve never knowingly read a good story with, or in most cases, any story at all.
Seriously, even the scene-setting preamble has a wordcount that dwarfs the entire script of most of its rivals, and even the most seemingly self-contained episode require a wordy prologue to set up the geopolitical climate or whatever.
Though, for all the same reasons X-Men was a triumph and makes fanboys and girls pound their mighty fists together like coked-up sealions, so too is Season 2 of Iron Man – it has the same balance of ADHD-enabling explosions and big fights, horrible MTV hair metal guitar opening credits (still better than the crappy J-Pop song on the Japanese version), and fan-faithful adaptations of classic storylines.
The epic two-part ‘Armor Wars’ which brings in post-Cold War angst is particularly bold/demented with its Call Of Duty: Black Ops 2-grade tinfoil paranoia, as wonderfully idiosyncratic Soviet Iron Man-alike Crimson Dynamo (“Wake up and smell the Borscht, Dynamo!”) wants to launch a nuke at Moscow and blame the US, and bring back the glory days of mutually-assured destruction. Facing defeat, he detonates it on the spot instead, incinerating himself and causing untold thousands of slow radiation deaths.
Sleep tight, kids.
On a technical level – as opposed to a page-rustling, canon-policing level that’s the SciFiNow default setting – Season 2 was a better package in almost every respect. Moving from the Rainbow Animation Group (Captain Planet And The Planeteers), who animated the first season, to Koko Enterprises (Batman Beyond, Johnny Bravo), upped the ante in an obvious way. Gone were the endlessly recycled CG suiting-up sequences, and in came a hauntingly gothic opening sequence when Tony hammering an anvil and ghostly armour looming behind him while the guitars shrieked “I AM IRON MAN!”.
Considering it predates the era of real adult obsession with animation, when cartoons were basically there to shift action figures, there’s some heavy-duty geek-out voice acting. Guests including future Hellboy Ron Perlman (then best known for Beauty And The Beast and, er Police Academy: Mission To Moscow) as The Hulk, future Watchmen villain Moloch Matt Frewer (at the height of his post-Max Headroom powers) as The Leader, The Omen‘s luckless David Warner as Arthur Dearborn, and prolific genre workhorse W Morgan Shepard as Nick Fury’s sidekick Dum Dum Dugan.
Nostalgia can often be lump of leerdammer on the mousetrap – as it is with Defenders Of The Earth and indeed Iron Man’s own terrible first series – designed to lure you in that deflate your dreams when colder, harder adult eyes reveal your treasure childhood favourite to be cheap and nasty, toyetic nonsense, but for pure fandork fidelity, bafflingly overreaching ambition, and sheer balls-out bombast, Iron Man: The (in)Complete Animated Series is a validation of all that’s brilliantly, absurdly compelling about comics.