Marvel movies and TV rewatch: Who asked for a teenage Iron Man?
This MCU-era cartoon makes the '90s version look like 'Breaking Bad' by comparison.
All Marvel fans know just how important Iron Man is in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and now that Tony Stark is gone as of Avengers: Endgame, we’ll have to see who’s going to fill his iron boots. In the meantime, if your Iron Man sentimentality is settling in, allow me to introduce you to a little show called Iron Man: Armored Adventures.
Armored Adventures came out in 2008, around the same time as the first Iron Man movie. And no, this isn’t the classic ‘90s Iron Man cartoon I watched as a kid. Although, looking back, the 90s Iron Man cartoon wasn’t always the greatest, though it improved significantly by Season 2 before being canceled. Season 2 also had a kickass intro song.
By comparison, Iron Man: Armored Adventures looked sleek and modern, and I thought it was worth a look in the name of Iron Man nostalgia. But what I didn’t realize until I started watching is that all the familiar faces from the Iron Man movies are teenagers.
It’s baffling. Why does Iron Man suddenly have to be a sixteen-year-old high school student? Did someone actually ask to see brilliant tech-genius Tony Stark go through puberty?
I watched the two-part pilot episode to help me gain an understanding of the premise. Tony’s a sixteen-year-old wunderkind who works for his father, Howard Stark, the current head of Stark Industries. It’s made clear that Tony doesn’t attend high school because he is obviously too advanced for a typical education. In the very first scene, Tony has already invented the Iron Man armor. Why? No reason. Just for fun. You know. Kid stuff.
While on a business trip with his father, Tony’s about to tell Howard about his latest creation when their private plane is attacked. Howard disappears and is presumed dead. Tony survives the crash, but when we cut to the next scene, he’s in bed wearing his infamous electromagnet in his chest because the plane crash damaged his heart. The rest of him seems fine, just his heart is a mess!
So, I guess we really are going through the whole Iron Man origin story here, but it’s not a terribly interesting origin. The creation of the Iron Man suit is what’s really interesting, but this show throws it at us in the first minute. After all, which story would you rather see? A brilliant businessman and scientist captured by terrorists who’s forced to build a powerful suit of armor to escape? Or a smug teenage whiz-kid who randomly builds a suit to impress Daddy?
With Howard Stark suddenly missing, young Tony is packed up to live with his best friend, James Rhodes. Tony is then forced to attend high school while the unsubtly evil Obadiah Stane takes over Stark Industries until Tony can turn eighteen.
Stane’s undisguised malevolence strongly suggests that there will no longer be a company for Tony to take over in two years.
Left without parents or a company, the sixteen-year-old Tony must use his new Iron Man suit to fight Stane’s corruption, find his father, and foil other villainous schemes, all while dealing with the pitfalls of high school and adolescence.
Except I don’t understand why Tony has to go to high school. The show makes it clear that he’s surpassed the high school curriculum. It just seems pointless to force him to go through it. I guess it’s a good thing Tony was able to save his Iron Man suit from Stane so he has something to do. Otherwise, I could picture Tony becoming his classmates’ Ritalin dealer just for laughs because he’d be so bored.
Also, in the comics (and in the MCU), Tony was considered such a prodigy that he was able to enter MIT at fifteen. Shouldn’t he at least be in college at this point?
Anyway, Tony goes to high school with his lifelong buddy Rhodey where they also meet Pepper Potts. Naturally, the three of them have to form a Harry Potter-like team where two of them will inevitably have romantic tension. I’ll give you a hint. It’s not between Tony and Rhodey. I know you’re disappointed.
And what can I say about Pepper? I have so many conflicting emotions about Pepper’s character.
Let me start with what I actually like about her. I like the fact that she’s portrayed as a computer genius and an expert hacker. It gives her an active crime-fighting role and allows her to make a tangible contribution to the team. This is a step-up from Gwyneth Paltrow’s portrayal (granted, it doesn’t take much to exceed a Paltrow performance).
The other part that I liked about Pepper in this series is that she eventually gets much more time in her own armored suit as the hero, Rescue. Again, this is way better than the roughly five minutes Paltrow spent in an iron suit at the end of Avengers: Endgame before disappearing from the MCU forever.
Now for the bad stuff. Pepper can be so goddamn annoying. The cartoon depicts her as a zany, hyperactive, speed-talking kook. Pepper is not stupid by any means, but my god does her high-pitched voice grate on the nerves. She’s the type of person who you just want to shove into a padded room for a few hours. Not because you think she’s going to harm someone, but because you feel pretty confident someone is very likely to murder her. Apparently, there is some unnamed law that there always has to be an honorary comic-relief character on a team, and Armored Adventures awarded that role to Pepper.
Pepper also mentions that her father is in the FBI and she too has aspirations of joining the Bureau one day. However, her dad seems to have a habit of relaying confidential details to his daughter who has no problem blathering classified intel to Tony and Rhodey right after she meets them for the very first time.
Pepper’s character here is a pretty sharp deviation from her more modern portrayals where she’s a sensible and level-headed presence in contrast to Tony. She’s more of a foil to Tony who historically has a tendency to be reckless and overexcitable.
Oh yeah, and did I mention that Happy Hogan does indeed make an appearance? He’s in high school, too, and he’s basically a big, dumb jock.
And the Mandarin! We can’t forget about Iron Man’s famous arch enemy. Yes, the Mandarin is here and he gets to be a teenager, too!
The Mandarin (aka, Gene Khan) infiltrates Tony’s high school in order to befriend Tony and manipulate him into helping him find magic power rings (the Makluan rings) that will let Gene rule the world — and also allow him to work out his daddy issues with his warlord stepfather.
I mainly focused on the first few episodes of the series, but I checked out a few others. Nick Fury of S.H.I.E.L.D. even makes an appearance on the show. Jesus, Fury had enough trouble with the adult Tony, I can only imagine his delight in being forced to deal with a punk-ass teen Tony.
I know this show was supposed to be reasonably popular, but I had a hard time getting into it. A teenage Tony Stark just seems wholly unnecessary. For a superhero like Spider-Man, it makes sense to have a show where he’s in high school because he’s a teenager when he gets his powers. Also, it just looks like some of these more recent superhero cartoon creators think that appealing to a teenage viewer demographic means that all of their characters have to be teenagers, too. As if that’s the only way teens are going to watch and relate to a character.
Look at the 90s X-Men the Animated Series. That is a classic superhero series that kids of all ages loved. And almost all of the X-Men were adults and perfectly relatable and interesting characters.
The only teen character was Jubilee who was thrown in to represent the 90s youth culture. So guess who was the most universally despised character on the show?
I don’t think that Iron Man: Armored Adventures is a straight-up bad show. The animation is pretty good, and it actually seems to have some decent storylines. The show features most of Iron Man’s classic villains, including The Mandarin, Madame Masque, Justin Hammer, and the Ghost.
So, why not age everyone up back to adults? The premise could be similar to Armored Adventures: Tony and his father Howard could be partners in the company (in spite of how well Tony and his father got along in canon). They could both be attacked and separated from each other, Tony could invent the Iron Man suit while in captivity, free himself, and return home to find that Stane has taken over the family business. So, Tony has to wrest back control of his company (because everyone is going to insist he’s physically and mentally unstable) while trying to find out what happened to his father, and battle bad guys with tech-genius Pepper and his liaison/best buddy Rhodey who’s in the Marine Corps.
This concept just sounds more interesting and compelling than the tired “Let’s make everyone into teenagers and watch them fight crime and deal with their hormones!” premise we got. After all, there’s no shortage of teen-centered programming, and if you really want to watch hormonal teenagers fight evil, Riverdale seems to have that area pretty well covered.
Rewind is an Inverse series that remembers the forgotten heroes we love.