Mandarin In Animation - A Retrospective

Part One - Part Two - Part Three - Part Four

The Avengers: Earth's Mightiest Heroes premiered in fall of 2010 on Disney XD. The first five episodes of the show were split into 20 micro-episodes which were released online prior to the shows' premiere on television. Unfortunately, Mandarin only had a short cameo in "Breakout, Part One" and never appears again during the course of the show. His design here is a little weird (although it might just be because of his orange prison uniform clashing with his greenish skin). He can be seen for a couple of seconds as one of the escaped prisoners from the Vault, and no voice actor was required. He had a much better design in the comic book series based on this show, where I believe he only appeared once as well but at least that time he fought some the Avengers.

We never had a real animated fight between Mandarin and the Avengers so far, but hopefully this will change soon.

The second season of Iron Man: Armored Adventures started airing in summer of 2011, also on Nicktoons Network. This second season takes place a couple of month after the events from "Tales of Suspense"; Tony has been on a journey through China looking for his dad, and is now one step closer to gaining control of Stark International, as he'll soon turn 18. As Iron Man, he also upgrades to the Mark-II Armor, and during the shows' run gains Extremis, the ability to fully interface with his armor. Some new characters are introduced (most notably Justin Hammer, also de-aged but slightly older than Tony at this point), other super heroes and super villains from the Marvel Universe guest-star in certain episodes (Hulk - although he debuted in the first season; Doctor Doom and Magneto), as well as lots of allusions and references to the other members of the Avengers and the Fantastic Four. Rhodey continues to aid Tony as War Machine, and Pepper gets her own suit of armor along the way, taking the super hero name Rescue. There's also a pretty cool version of the classic Armor Wars storyline from the comics adapted this season, in various episodes. Gene Khan doesn't appear as often as he did in the previous season, but he does play a large role towards the end of the show.

It turns out Gene didn't lie about not killing Tony's dad; he needs his help in locating and gaining the rest of the Makluan rings, and the first couple of episodes that continue his story-arc only feature them for a few scenes, locating the next rings - unfortunately we don't get to see their fights with the rings' guardians (continuing the tradition of having classic Iron Man foes as Makluan guardians started in the first season, this time we learn the Melter and the Sunturion have also been awarded this "honor"). It's an approach similar to the one used in the 90s Iron Man cartoon, where every second season episode ended with Mandarin regaining one of his lost rings.

In "Mandarin's Quest", Gene returns and asks Tony for help in obtaining the eighth ring. Tony obviously wold never willingly help Gene after all he's done, but the latter uses one of his rings' special powers (a hypnosis spell), which allows him to impose his will on Tony and tricks him into joining him on his quest. Tony was promised he would learn the truth about his father's disappearance if he aids Gene in this mission, confronting the Makluan guardian known as the Grim Reaper. The guardian slashes through both of them, sending them into a coma, where they are forced to face some of their most painful memories. As a result Tony finally sees what happened on the day his father disappeared, and now knows Gene was telling the truth that he's still alive. Gene on the other hand once again remembers his mother, and how Zhang came into their life and took on the role and title of Mandarin instead of him. Tony and Gene manage to snap out of their nightmares and briefly team-up to defeat the Grim Reaper. In the end, Mandarin claims the eighth ring.

"Doomsday" was an unique episode (and one of my favorites), as it featured another unlikely team-up between Iron Man and Mandarin, this time to stop Doctor Doom who has claimed the ninth Makluan ring for himself. The guardian for this ring was supposedly the Grey Gargoyle, but he was already destroyed at the beginning of the episode by Doom before Gene and Howard arrived in the temple. Gene manages to escape by teleporting away (but Howard remains captive), and comes to Tony for help before passing out from his injuries - Tony takes this opportunity to take his rings away. Meanwhile, Doom is using the rings' powers to open portals all over the world bringing creatures from other dimensions to our world. While War Machine and Pepper try to keep everyone safe in the city, Iron Man and Mandarin travel back to Latveria to defeat Doom. There Tony is finally reunited with his father (though not wanting to reveal his identity he only introduces himself as Iron Man), but their reunion is short lived as Doom captures them all and reveals his plan: to trade their three pure souls for the souls of his dead family - a deal he makes with a demon from another dimension called Yogthulu. Doom did not count on Mandarin's soul not being pure enough - something Yogthulu notices almost immediately, and will come into play in the next episodes - and after a brief fight, Doom ends up getting swallowed by the demon. Mandarin manages to get his rings back from Iron Man, as well as claim the ninth ring. But at the same time, Howard is now safe and reunited with Tony and they manage to close all the portals Doom opened, so it is a victory for both of them.

"The Dragonseed" is another solid episode which reveals more about the Makluan rings' origin, as well as setting things up for the grand finale. Gene only needs one more ring to access the Mandarin's true powers, which he claims he intends on using to bring order to the chaotic world. The final temple is located somewhere in China and its guardian is a Makluan - a giant alien lizard, who reveals how his race forged the ten rings from the heart of the first star, and their overlord used them to either conquer or destroy other worlds and planets. This Makluan guardian, stole the rings away from their ruler, and managed to escape (even though the overlord hunted him down for ages) - he eventually ended up on Earth, where he saw the humans' potential for greatness and bestowed the Dragonseed to the proud and noble Khan, believing he's wise and worthy enough to use the rings.

The Dragonseed altered his DNA, allowing him to access the powers of the ten rings, thus becoming the very first Mandarin. In his old age, the Khan grew tired of his children who would use the rings unwisely, so he hid nine of the rings all over the planet (as previously mentioned in the first season, although only five rings were believed to exist back then), while the tenth ring was returned to this Makluan warrior, who remained in a state of suspended animation until someone gathers all the other rings and discovers this temple. Gene, as a direct descendant of the Khan, is revealed to be part-alien, and the only one capable to use the rings. However, the Makluan guardian sees the darkness in Gene's soul and how much the power has corrupted him, and refuses to give him the final ring mentioning he is not worthy to wield the powers of the Mandarin. Knowing the rings are his by birthright, Gene fights and eventually kills the Makluan guardian and claims the final ring - as a result he has gained limitless power and apparently godhood.

The episode also reveals that Howard Stark has known Iron Man's real identity for a while now (realizing only his son would be able to build an armor like that), and appears pretty much out of nowhere to save the heroes from the all-powerful Mandarin with his newest invention - an energy field suppressor, designed to short-circuit the Makluan rings. Gene mentions that this weapon would have succeeded in bringing him down, if he used it before he got the tenth ring which made him unstoppable.He then demonstrates his power to reset reality itself, by disintegrating the weapon. He prepares to eliminate the others as well, but stops when Howard taunts him, telling him he's not a great hero or a destined king, just a power-hungry child. Planning on proving what Howard said was wrong, Gene then sets out on his mission to bring order to everything that exists, as he sees fit.

The series finale is another two-part episode titled "The Makluan Invasion", with each part having its own subtitle; this first part's subtitle is "Annihilate". The episode begins with the Mandarin broadcasting his intentions to the entire world (and I'll just go ahead and quote his entire speech, since it's pretty awesome):

"Citizens of the world, I am the mighty, the one, the true Mandarin. This momentous day I pledge to you I shall unite the entire world. I will bring about an end to all poverty, hunger and war, and create everlasting peace. And in return, humanity shall kneel down and accept me as the great Khan of the world. I am here to bring all of mankind into a bold and glorious new era. But let there be no doubt: any who dare challenge my rule will face my wrath!"

SHIELD confronts him, but Mandarin is too powerful for them and he easily sends the entire Helicarrier into the Negative Zone, with only Nick Fury and Black Widow managing to escape. Iron Man aided by war Machine and Rescue intervene, while Howard tries building another energy suppressor (like the prototype he used in the previous episode) to once again short-circuit the power rings. Everything changes though when a giant alien ship appears on the sky and hovers above New York City - judging by the energy readings and markings on the ship, Howard deduces it is Makluan. Once Gene gathered all ten rings and accessed their powers, they acted as a beacon apparently signaling their location to the Makluan overlord, who has come to regain his powers. Gene is teleported aboard the ship, while Iron Man and the others try to stop the invading aliens. Inside the ship, Gene comes face to face with the overlord, who strips him of his rings and reclaims them for himself. Since Gene is only half-Makluan, he apparently cannot control the full power of the rings - or at least, according to the overlord, who also accuses Gene of not being worthy enough to wield them in the first place knowing he always had help in completing the tests to obtain the power rings.

The Makluan overlord insists that his mission is to bring order to the Universe, same as what Gene desires, but the latter declares he is nothing like the alien: he is supposed to be Earth's savior. Desiring some more amusement, the overlord brings Iron Man and the others aboard the ship as well, and forces them to fight in an arena against his Makluan warriors. Gene is revealed to be a gold tiger with more than 12 years of wushu training - meaning he can handle himself in a fight even without his rings. Even though the fight scenes in the arena were pretty cool, the fact that the overlord was planning on destroying our planet regardless of the outcome was pretty obvious. Once the heroes win their gladiator tasks, they are sent back to the city (except for Gene who is kept aboard the ship for some reason).

In the second part (subtitled "Unite") Iron Man puts together a team of heroes to stop the Makluan invasion - other than the characters present in the first part of the story, they are also joined by Black Panther, Grey Hulk and Hawkeye. Meanwhile, Howard has finished building his weapon and uses Iron Man's space armor to attach it to a satellite to fire on the Makluan overlord. After defeating Ultimo once again (or perhaps a different Ultimo, since he had a different design), the heroes manage to infiltrate the alien ship and split into two groups to both defeat the overlord and destroy the vessel. Although he seemed menacing throughout these episodes, the overlord was defeated rather easily with a single hit from Howard's energy field suppressor. Seeing this opportunity, Gene takes back the rings and once again becomes Mandarin moments before the entire ship explodes thanks to the bombs Nick Fury and the others activated. Gene does use his powers to transport the others to safety before the explosion - all except for Iron Man, who is blown away and crashes through the ground miles below, but does survive. His real identity is also revealed to the world since his face plate fell off during the explosion, and he's now considered a hero. A very well deserved happy ending.

Mandarin is also revealed to be alive (he also brought the SHIELD Helicarrier back to our dimension), teleporting around the world mentioning that his mother was right: perhaps he was not meant to rule the world, but rather to protect it. Even though his sudden realization that he was meant to be a hero was kind of rushed I thought it was still executed well enough. I liked how Gene was presented during the course of the show - more misguided than truly evil. It sets him apart from other interpretations of Mandarin over the years (not that I minded the pure evil versions - I just thought Gene was more interesting). His story-arc spread throughout the majority of the series, and ending with his redemption was pretty awesome, and very entertaining.

And that should cover all of Mandarin's animated appearances up to this point. This thread will be updated as more cartoons feature him - and once Iron Man 3 premieres, I wouldn't be surprised if we'll see him at least once in the upcoming Avengers Assemble series.