Sunday, September 11, 2011

Iron Man: Armored Adventures Season One Review



As adaptations go, cartoons that are based on popular superhero comic books are in a class of their own. Unlike superhero movies that are limited to approximately two hours per film, superhero cartoons consist of multiple episodes and can thus better emulate the serialized storytelling style found in comic books. On the other hand, both superhero cartoons and films follow the same narrative strategy of retelling the origin of the superhero in question and the origins of the most popular super villains in his rogues gallery, largely for the sake of new fans. Some retellings are mostly faithful to its source material, while other retellings take many creative liberties. Leaning towards the side of "many creative liberties" is the Iron Man: Armored Adventures series, which is will soon be airing its second season on Nicktoons.

When Armored Adventures first appeared in 2009, I didn't give it much thought because it took many of the characters and plot points from the Iron Man comics and gave it a Buffy the Vampire Slayer-like makeover (much like how the live-action Smallville TV series did the same for the Superman comics). In Armored Adventures, key Iron Man characters--Tony Stark, James Rhodes, and Patricia "Pepper" Pots--have been recast as teenagers who use Stark's technological genius to battle a menagerie of super villains from episode to episode. I couldn't bring myself to watch this reimagining of a popular Marvel superhero, especially when I've got the live action Iron Man movies and the animated Avengers series to satisfy my Marvel cravings. Yet Armored Adventures was successful enough to merit a second season, so I decided to give it a shot to see how good it is.

In a nutshell, while Armored Adventures will never be remembered as the definitive animated version of Iron Man, it's much better than I expected it to be, as well as a great introduction to Iron Man for those who know little or nothing about this intriguing Marvel character. Read on for my complete review.

Iron Man never had a good track record in the area of TV animation. His first cartoon appearance was part of a lineup that also included Captain America, Hulk, Thor, and the Submariner in the syndicated The Marvel Super Heroes series in 1966. While this series lifted stories directly from the comics, the animation quality was extremely limited (even by the standards of that decade). Iron Man got his first solo series in 1994, but it suffered from poor writing and sloppy, inconsistent animation. There was also a straight-to-DVD animated movie in 2007 entitled The Invincible Iron Man, but its story was largely forgettable and was later overshadowed by the superior live-action Iron Man film in 2008.

One of Marvel's smartest decisions in its production of Armored Adventures was to animate it in 3D CGI. Marvel previously experimented with 3D CGI in 2003 with Spider-Man: The New Animated Series, but that only lasted for 13 episodes. Given the mechanical nature of Iron Man himself, he was Marvel's logical choice for their next 3D CGI series and the end results speak for themselves. While the computer animation isn't nearly as detailed as it is in Star Wars: The Clone Wars, it is utilized well enough to provide a superhero series that's sharp, colorful and smooth in its movement. The 3D CGI also enhances the series' narrative opportunities by allowing for a wider range of locations and more elaborate fight sequences.


Complementing Armored Adventures' impressive visual style is its writing, which is what really keeps this Buffy-tization of Iron Man into becoming a cheap gimmick. Because this Tony Stark is a teenager, he neither a compulsive womanizer nor a recovering alcoholic; nevertheless, he's as brilliant and headstrong as the adult Tony Stark we all know and love. Throwing Rhodes and Pepper into the story as Stark's high school classmates seems contrived in concept, but it works just the same. Perhaps the best part about setting this story in Stark's early years, both as a person and as Iron Man, is that it is easier for newcomers to get a introductory perspective to Stark's allies and enemies and how they connect to each other in this particular corner of the Marvel universe.

I recommend Iron Man: Armored Adventures to both Marvel fans and anyone who enjoys a well-written and well-animated superhero story. Hopefully, the second season will maintain the level of quality that was established in the first.



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