Marvel Animation/Method Animation (May 22, 2009 – August 7, 2009), Vivendi Entertainment (January 5, 2010), single disc, 138 mins plus supplements, 1.33:1 original aspect ratio, Dolby Digital 5.1, Not Rated, Retail: $16.99
Iron Man: Armored Adventures takes the well-known story of Marvel superhero Iron Man reinvented as a prodigious high school student.
The Sweatbox Review:
After the success of the 2008 film, it was only a matter of time before Iron Man was turned into a full-fledged animated action series. After all, nearly all popular superhero films are accompanied by an animated version for television. This happened when the original X-Men film came out and again after the success of Spider-Man (although both of those had successful animated series prior to the release of their respective films). Actually, we can even go back to the original Batman film that came out shortly before Batman: The Animated Series became a hit. Films provide a superhero franchise with increased notoriety and popularity for its characters. The public clamors for more stories, but it takes a few years to get a sequel up and running. Setting a popular character in high school is also not something new, and had been done previously with X-Men: Evolution (which was a natural transition since there is a school in the actual story). In Iron Man: Armored Adventures, we get to see more stories featuring Tony Stark, his friends, and his amazing Iron Man suit.
Iron Man: Armored Adventures reinvents the classic Iron Man storyline by placing it in a modern day New York City setting. Tony Stark, Pepper Potts, and Jim Rhodes are all recast as high school students. In their spare time, they help Tony with his adventures as he fights crime in the city with his powerful Iron Man suit. Of course, the young Tony also faces drama since the disappearance of his father after a mysterious plane crash. His father’s company Stark Industries, is still controlled by Obadiah Stane who wants to take over the company from Tony before he turns 18. Tony also spends his time saving the world from villains such as Whiplash, A.I.M., Madame Masque, and The Mandarin, some of them also recast as teenagers themselves. Most of the first season of the show follows Tony and his friends as they search for the mysterious Five Makluan Rings which are somehow connected to the disappearance of his father. It also follows him as he is introduced to his archenemies and foes.
There are six episodes included in this second volume from the first season of the show.
Meltdown (May 22, 2009) – In this episode, Tony must juggle drama class at high school and the villain the Living Laser. Living Laser steals one of Stark’s inventions that turns him into energy and uses it to rob banks. It is then up to Iron Man to prevent further destruction as the Living Laser begins turning into pure energy and going insane. At the same time, Tony must juggle this life with his schoolwork (in this case drama class) as he learns he must do well in school or else he loses his future stake in Stark Industries. Part of the fun of this episode is seeing Tony try reenact scenes from Hamlet, which actually follows a similar storyline as Iron Man (young man returns home after his father is murdered by his uncle). Overall, it is a fun episode, particularly with the clever Hamlet references scattered throughout the story.
Field Trip (May 29, 2009) – After learning that some of his father’s inventions had been stolen from a secret vault at Stark Industries, Tony decides to sneak back into the building to investigate as Iron Man. Unfortunately, his suit fails him just as he is discovered and he has to leave it in the vault while he attempts to escape from the high-security building. After being discovered, Tony is forbidden from ever setting foot in the building by Obadiah Stane. Since they must retrieve the suit from the vault, Tony, Pepper, and Rhodey master a plan for a school field trip to Stark Industries, but it is up to Pepper and Rhodey to save the day since Tony is quickly escorted out of the building. This is a suspenseful and comedic episode since the teenagers have to find innovative ways to get around the security in the Stark building. The episode is also notable for introducing Obadiah’s daughter, Whitney Stane.
Ancient History 101 (June 5, 2009) – Returning to the Makluan Rings storyline, Tony, Pepper, Rhodey, and their classmate Gene Khan (secretly The Mandarin) search through ancient ruins to discover the secret behind the rings’ power. Inside, they discover ancient inscriptions describing a test that determines the worthiness of the next ring bearer. Gene, believing that this is the ultimate test before he acquires the full powers of The Mandarin, takes it upon himself to perform the test, but it ultimately comes down to Pepper and Tony to solve a riddle that leads them to the next ring. What’s cool about this episode is the whole Indiana Jones aspect of exploring ancient ruins and solving riddles. It sets up the next few episodes nicely as the team continues to search for more of the Makluan Rings.
Ready, A.I.M., Fire (July 24, 2009) – In this episode, the kids are back in school participating in their school’s science fair. At the fair, Tony is approached by the Controller (still in his human form), who his working for A.I.M. (Advanced Idea Mechanics – a secret terrorist group) who then recruits Tony to work for the company by perfecting a device that allows humans to control machines with their mind. Tony, back in his lab, figures out a way to get the machine to work and tries it out on his friends who are then inadvertently controlled by the Controller. Of course, it is then up to Iron Man to save the day, but he does so with some help from Whitney who has finally joined him at the school. Overall, this is a good episode, but my unfamiliarity regarding A.I.M. and the Controller made it less interesting that with other episodes.
Masquerade (July 31, 2009) – In this episode, someone is impersonating both Obadiah and Iron Man causing all sorts of trouble for our hero. When Tony discovers that the perpetrator is a woman wearing a mask that can make her look like anybody else, he dubs her Madame Masque. Determined to put a stop to it, Tony stalks Madame Masque until a final showdown leads them to confront each other in a rail yard. However, beneath the mask lies something that even Tony did not see coming and it is a cool, if somewhat expected, twist. Of course, fans of the comic books already know the secret of Madame Masque. She is something of a Catwoman to Iron Man. Overall, the episode drags a bit in parts, the twist is predictable, but still enjoyable.
Seeing Red (August 7, 2009) – The final episode on the disc deals with the return of a popular villain, the Crimson Dynamo. In this episode, Obadiah resurrects Project Pegasus in return for the armor worn by the Crimson Dynamo, so far the closest way anyone has gotten to capturing Iron Man. When the plan works and Iron Man is captured by Project Pegasus, Tony must rely on Pepper and Rhodey to escape and return twice as strong to confront the Crimson Dynamo. This episode is very important in terms of the evolution of Tony’s character. Tony starts to believe that greater and stronger technology is the key to destroying his enemies while Rhodey keeps reminding him that there is a line between good and evil and that Tony must always beware of not crossing it. Overall, it’s an interesting episode which makes me excited about future adventures.
Is This Thing Loaded?
The three special features included on this disc are actually more promos for different Marvel Animation shows. However, the one that isn’t really a trailer is a clip from The Super Hero Squad Show called “A Day in the Life” (1:39). In this short clip, Iron Man talks about a day in the life of a super hero including the mundane things and the saving the world stuff. The other two trailers included in this set are for Iron Man Armored Adventures and Wolverine and the X-Men.
The disc comes in a standard black DVD keepcase with Iron Man flying towards the cover. On the back, we see some scenes from different episodes. The whole case is also fitted with a cardboard slipcase with the same graphics. The DVD art has the same image as the cover, although slightly tilted and with a blue background instead of a yellow one.
Ink And Paint:
Iron Man: Armored Adventures is being released with a standard 1.33:1 aspect ratio. The box explains that this is the aspect ratio of the original television broadcast. However, when the show came out on Blu-Ray last year (volume one), it was released with a 1.66:1 aspect ratio. I am inclined to believe that perhaps the show is originally animated in a 1.66:1 ratio, but that it is broadcast in the standard 1.33:1. I will leave that for viewers who have compared both versions to let me know. The alternative is that they cropped the widescreen Blu-Ray version (which would have been a mistake).
As far as the animation for the show, it is basic CGI, similar to the style used in MTV’s Spider-Man: The New Animated Series and other basic television fare. By that I mean that there is only a basic amount of detail on people’s faces, clothes, backgrounds, and movements. At first, I was a bit taken back, having been spoiled with more recent animated films and shows, but I have to say after about 5 minutes, I did not even notice it anymore. I would have loved to see this movie in Blu-Ray as I felt the quality of the video was only so-so. The resolution just is not quite up to par for this release, but the jury is out on what it looks like on Blu-Ray since Volume two has still not been released in the format. Volume One was released last year initially only at Best Buy, so my guess is that there is no confidence by Vivendi that the show will do well on Blu-Ray.
The show is being released in the US with a standard Dolby Digital 5.1 track. The track is only available in English. Overall, the quality of the track is very good with the title song of the show being a standout. The rock music really jolts one awake. This is a show with plenty of audio effects of explosions, rockets, and metallic sounds so it only makes sense that the audio has to be good. My only guess is that some fans will be upset by the lack of secondary languages on the track and the lack of subtitles.
Iron Man Armored Adventures has got a lot of potential. The stories themselves are interesting and the characters are engaging. I am still curious about the average age for the target audience, but I think kids of all ages would be able to enjoy this show. In this first half of the season, there are some good themes and plots that I hope will continue to be explored in future episodes and seasons. I particularly enjoyed the Mandarin subplot. It was only natural to have one of the main Iron Man villains also be in the same high school. I hope they continue exploring that storyline as the show continues to develop. There are also some other great relationships left to be explored, between Tony and his friends and new villains. The only thing that bothered me about the show is that while it tries to maintain a semi-serialized structure, some episode endings are begging for a second part (Ancient History 101, for example). Are we to believe that after finding a clue to the next ring that the kids would just pack up and go home to go on another adventure? It’s a bit strange, but I understand that it gets resolved in a future episode. It just does not always play as well continuously on DVD.
Animated Classic or Back To The Drawing Board?