Iron Man In Animation - A Retrospective

Part One - Part Two - Part Three - Part Four - Part Five - Part Six

It’s no small secret that the show improved in season two. I usually expect either a dip or increase in quality whenever a new season starts, but Iron Man is the extremist case I’ve ever seen. It turned a nearly un-watchable show into one of the very finest cartoons I’ve ever seen. The show was completely and utterly turned on its head. The characters were redesigned, the majority of the voices were recast and the show was given a bold new direction and the character defined. It actually managed to make something of the almost worthless season one and made a truly fascinating main character.

The opening episode of the season, The Beast Within, bridges the two seasons and provides one of the show’s very best episodes. Tired of the sly attacks on him on his company, Iron Man goes on a mad rampage to attack Justin Hammer and is severely injured after a missile damages his chest plate, impacting his already weak central nervous system. The suit now acts as a pacemaker for Tony Stark, much like it does in the comics (not this silly paralysis problems they never bothered to explain in season one.) Beginning to crash under the pressure of the constant attempts on his life plus the troubles Iron Man is bringing him, Tony fakes his own death to get away from it all. And thus the beast within rears it’s ugly head – rather than go to his friends for help he decides to go it alone. No longer the leader of this decades version of the Superfriends, Iron Man is now a lone wolf who rarely considers the feelings or the opinions of others. In a mere episode, they turned a flat central character into one of the very best leads I’ve ever seen in a cartoon.

The episode also begins what would become a staple in the seasons – now separated from his rings and presumed dead, The Mandarin is shown to be alive but without his 10 rings which granted him his powers. Each episode would feature an epilogue of Mandarin travelling the globe to reclaim his former power and vow revenge on an ignorant Iron Man, who presumed that his arch villain was killed in the explosion.

Forceworks relocates after this episode, overthrowing Tony as their leader. Rhodey and Julia stick around. It’s revealed that Tony and Julia were to be married before Tony left her at the alter, which is odd, considering they were sort of married in the last season finale, only Julia was perfectly aware she was marrying a robot. Obviously, Tony’s character had become more depressed and bitter during the break between the seasons – it’s been speculated that he could’ve had a bout with alcohol during the seasons but it was never mentioned or even hinted it, but it does make sense when you think about it.

The next few episodes deal with Tony working on his lonesome now that War Machine was abandoned his armour after nearly drowning in his armour and Tony dealing with his own problems of loneliness and his refusal to let anyone get close to him. Not only was he wearing armour to protect his body, but also his heart. The writers really made you feel like he was trapped inside this armour but couldn’t overcome his own problems to seek help to the point where everyone began turning away from him. There’s only so much you can explain in a retrospective, but I found it fascinating watching Tony grow each week throughout the season. Iron Man may not have a rouges gallery as good as Spider-Man, Batman or even Superman but the main character was just as interesting, if not more interesting than the aforementioned trio.

One of the highlights of Iron Man’s characterisation was that he genuinely believed he was doing the best for both himself and his friends when really he wasn’t doing much to help either of them. You could tell he felt betrayed when Forceworks relocated, branding them as deserters. This was especially apparent in Iron Man On The Inside, which featured the return of Hawkeye, chief of the deserters. You can see he’s positively livid when Hawkeye turns up at Stark Enterprises again to collect his stuff but, true to form, blames himself when Hawkeye is injured in a fight with Ultimo. The show’s best line came in this episode too. “Ultimo, I thought I already beat this son of a b—!”

Upon shrinking down and saving Hawkeye’s life by going inside him (he shrunk to attach something to his spine, get that image out of your head, now!) he does try and bury the hatchet but Hawkeye’s still holding a grudge. I think they stopped hating each other here, but still regarded each other as a pain in the ass. After a really strong opening half to the season, I was surprised to see how much better it would eventually become.