Mandarin In Animation - A Retrospective

Part One - Part Two - Part Three - Part Four

In 2007 Marvel released The Invincible Iron Man, a direct-to-DVD animated movie which offered us another updated version of the story how Tony Stark became Iron Man (as an interesting side-note, his superhero name wasn't mentioned at all during the movie). The story begins with a Stark Enterprises project to raise an ancient temple and restore it - the temple supposedly belonged to the Mandarin, one of the most ruthless rulers China saw three thousand years ago. The excavation site is repeatedly attacked by a group of terrorists called the Jade Dragons who believe that if the temple would return, so would the Mandarin's spirit. During an attack Tony is badly injured and then brought back to the Dragons' base where he is kept hostage alongside Rhodey and Yinsen. Now needing a device to keep him alive, Tony learns the legend of the Mandarin from Yinsen who also gives him a map of the locations where the Mandarin's power bands are located, before being killed by the Jade Dragons' leader to force Tony into helping them find a way to bury the temple once again. While in captivity Tony starts getting closer to Li Mei the second in command of the terrorists group, and also manages to build himself an armored suit to make his escape. Strangely enough, the suit he builds here is the classic grey heavy armor he first wore in the comics, but once back to his company it is revealed he has already built a dozen or so modern-looking armors.

Meanwhile four elemental spirits appear in the ancient temple and set out to find and recover the power bands which would assure the Mandarin's return. Tony wearing some of his armors fights these elementals a couple of times (and each time gets beaten up pretty badly), until he is forced to wear his grey armor once again when defeating the final elemental and recovering all the bands. In a pretty surprising twist, Li Mei turns out to be the last descendant of the Mandarin and she is destined to be the vessel for his spirit to come back. It is revealed the fifth and final power band was the bracelet she wore all along, and now having the other four rings she can fulfill her destiny. I thought having only five rings instead of ten was a pretty unexpected, but nice change. While Li Mei is being taken over by the Mandarin's spirit, Tony has to fight the final guardian of the temple, a giant Chinese dragon, inspired by Fin Fang Foom from the comics. In fact, all the elemental warriors Tony had to fight in this movie were probably based on some of his classic foes, like Blizzard and Whirlwind. I thought re-designing these villains and giving them an ancient Chinese look was pretty awesome.

The build-up to the Mandarin's resurrection was pretty great, but once he does appear he doesn't really get to do too much and is rather easily defeated. Other than having a cool design (similar to the one from the 90s animated series, minus the green skin) and a good voice actor (Fred Tatasciore), there really isn't anything else to talk about regarding this version of the character. Once Tony manages to make Li Mei snap out of her trance, she removes her rings and bracelet resulting in the Mandarin's destruction. Overall, this movie was pretty great - it's not my favorite Marvel animated movie but it works well as an origin story for Iron Man and has a pretty exciting story. The only disappointing part is that the real Mandarin is barely in the movie.

Iron Man: Armored Adventures premiered in 2009, originally airing on Nicktoons. This show presented Tony Stark and most of his supporting cast, as well as some of his enemies as teenagers. The Mandarin (voiced by Vincent Tong) was the main villain throughout the show's run. Here he was a teenager about the same age as Tony, called Gene Khan (originally known as Temugin); he is the last descendant of the Khans and believes he is the only one worthy of wearing the Makluan rings. While his adopted father Zhang is introduced as the Mandarin in the beginning of the show, he is soon dethroned by Gene who takes on the title (and thanks to the cool-looking armor he was wearing, no one noticed the difference for quite some time). Mandarin is also the leader of the Tong Triad, a secret criminal empire which rivals Count Nefaria's Maggia - and often fights it as well. Over the course of the first season, Tony and Gene team-up and try gathering the five Makluan rings, though unaware of each others secret identities and reasons for desiring the rings.

The series premiere, the two-part episode titled "Iron Forged in Fire" introduces us to the main characters of the show, while also presenting some elements which will become more important throughout the show's run. The episode also offers us another updated origin for Iron Man: teenager Tony Stark built his first armor before he was injured - this time in the explosion of his company's plane, where he was aboard alongside his father Howard Stark, resulting in the former's damaged heart and the latter's disappearance. Before this incident Howard discovered an ancient Chinese item called a Makluan ring, which he planned on studying, believing the legendary magic powers it was rumored to have are only advanced technology. The ring ends up in Obadiah Stane's possession (since he is now the new acting CEO of Stark International, as Tony is too young to assume the post). The Mandarin is briefly shown towards the end of the first part, revealed to already have one of the rings and vowing to get the next one from Stane.

The second part introduces Gene Khan who argues with his step-father Zhang about which one of them is more worthy of wielding the power rings. Unfortunately we do not get to see how it exactly happens, but Gene does manage to imprison the former Mandarin and take his place as leader of the Tong, without anyone realizing it. As Mandarin, he teleports and takes Stane's ring and also briefly confronts Iron Man (believing he was hired by Stane to stop him from regaining his ring), before teleporting away. Tony now realizes he has a powerful enemy and that his father was right about the rings possessing energy that must be a form of technology.

In "Secrets and Lies", Tony contacts Gene for information on the Makluan rings since his family runs a shop importing Chinese antiquities, and Zhang's name appeared in his father's diary while studying the rings. Gene enrolls in the Tomorrow Academy, Tony's school just so he can keep track of his research and get closer to finding the next rings. Since as the Mandarin Gene had recently started attacking the Maggia directly, they retaliate by sending two of their agents, Killer Shrike and Unicorn to kidnap Gene - but also take Tony and Pepper. They manage to escape once Rhodey pilots the Iron Man armor by remote control to save them. In the end Gene accepts to help Tony in his quest to find and learn more about the rings, while as the Mandarin he captures their two kidnappers and prepares to "interrogate" them.

The episode "Ancient History 101" reveals a lot about the Mandarin and his rings. As Tony and Gene, followed by Rhodey and Pepper travel to investigate the ancient temple where Howard discovered the Makluan ring, they come across a carving describing the history of the Makluan rings and their master, the very first Mandarin. It mentions how a man called Khan found the rings of power and became the Mandarin, conquering everything he saw with his might. He wanted an heir, who would receive his rings after his death. But his many children weren't worthy of them - so he scattered the rings across the earth and designed tests to measure the worthiness and virtue of those who seek them. The temple they are in now, contained the Test of Wisdom and activating it brought to life stone statues of the Dreadknights. Tony manages to pass the test (much to Gene's surprise) and once the test ended, the sword they found in the temple revealed a map to the next Makluan temple.

In "Hide and Seek" Tony and Gene travel to the next temple trying to recover the third Makluan ring. There they learn this temple hosted the Test of Courage, and its guardian was an ancient robot called Ultimo. Tony manages to take the ring without activating the test, remembering what they went through the last time. Realizing the ring would not be active until the test is passed, Gene becomes the Mandarin and awakens the guardian who ignores him and leaves to recover the ring. Tony as Iron Man fights the giant robot throughout most of the episode (each attack actually made Ultimo grow even bigger), until he realizes that to pass the Test of Courage the right approach would be to not attack, and shut down his armor - which ultimately works. But as soon as Ultimo is stopped, Mandarin appears and claims the third ring for himself.

Mandarin meets with Count Nefaria to negotiate a peace treaty between the Tong and the Maggia in the episode "Pepper, Interrupted". Pepper (who tried following Gene around) ended up captured by the Maggia - now Gene has to keep her safe while also keeping his own secret. Iron Man appears to be the only person who can help him with all these problems, including Nefaria's Black Knight. The ending shows the members of the Tong Triad wondering why the Mandarin abandoned them during the meeting, only for their superior to realize that the man they have been following the last few months is not the true Mandarin. I liked the way Gene was presented in this episode - his main goal is finding the rings of power and ruling over everything, but he still somewhat cares for his friends, as seen here.

In "World on Fire", we learn more about Gene, as he reminisces about his mother, who told him about his destiny to have the Makluan Rings. He was taught that when he will have all of them, he will have the power to do anything he desires. Soon she married Zhang who promised would help the boy on his journey to become the ever powerful Mandarin. Once she was gone Zhang claimed Gene's ring for himself, and started his quest for the other four. In present day, Tony, Rhodey and Pepper travel to the fourth Makluan temple, located at the base of a semi-active volcano where they have to pass the Test of Temperance, and defeat the guardian Firebrand, an entity which possesses both Rhodey and Pepper. With help from Gene via mobile phone Rhodey manages to complete the test - this was the first test Gene personally figured out. In the end Tony keeps the fourth ring.

The season one finale is the two-part episode titled "Tales of Suspense" (cleverly named after the comic book Iron Man debuted in, 50 years ago). Zhang has been found and released by members of the Tong, and after confronting Gene, he reclaims the title of Mandarin and the three rings his step-son gathered at this point. His next stop is the finding Tony to take the fourth ring - as well as take him and Pepper hostages, and blow up the abandoned facility they were using as their headquarters. They are prisoners aboard Zhang's helicopter, alongside Gene who lies that he didn't know about his step-father being the Mandarin. They land at Machu Picchu where the fifth and apparently final Makluan temple was located, containing the Test of Sacrifice and the giant dragon guardian Fin Fang Foom, who awakens once the test is activated. Meanwhile Rhodey arrives at the now destroyed armory and finds the War Machine armor which he wears and takes the mark-1 Iron Man armor with him for Tony.

In the second part, Pepper manages to remove Zhang's gauntlet with the four Makluan rings and tries to throw it to Gene but the dragon swallows it, but continues his attacks. Rhodey as War Machine crashes through the temple and gives Tony his armor, revealing to Gene the fact he's been Iron Man since the beginning. Realizing the purpose of the test was to sacrifice yourself to save someone, Gene allows the dragon to swallow him; inside the belly of the beast he discovers Zhang's gauntlet with the four rings, as well as the fifth Makluan ring, encased in ice. He takes them, and Fin Fang Foom freezes allowing Gene an opportunity to escape. Once outside, he reveals to the others he is the one true Mandarin. A fight follows, ending with Tony and Gene caught in a stalemate. Gene manages to escape after he mentions that Tony's father is not dead - he claims he was the one responsible for the explosion of the Stark jet in the first episode, and that he has kept Howard Stark imprisoned all this time thinking he will need his help in learning about the rings. Not knowing what to believe Tony releases Gene, who then disappears. Back in his headquarters, Gene realizes that the first Mandarin actually had ten rings, not five as he originally thought. He vows he will find them all and claim their powers.

Judging just by this first season, Mandarin was pretty awesome. His design looks cool and his story-arc was pretty interesting, and it's not over yet. I thought this was a perfect way to end the season - Gene is only half-way through his quest to become the one true Mandarin.