Confessions of a Spec Tater — Heavy Boots of Lead fill his Victims with Dread

Released earlier this month, the second DVD volume of Iron Man: Armored Adventures collects six episodes of the animated series staring Marvel Comics’ techno-hero and, as surprised as I am to say this, the show does not suck.

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I avoided watching the show when it first premiered last April. Not interested in what little of the animated style I saw in previews and a bit turned-off by the changes made to Tony Stark’s character, I just did not feel the need to watch these new animated adventures of Iron Man. Let today’s youth have Armored Adventures, I still had my memories of the ‘90s Iron Man cartoon.

Look at him rock that mullet!

Well, after sitting down this past week and watching the first twelve episodes of the new series, I have to say that the new show is a whole lot better then I thought it would be. It even has a catchier theme song then the cartoon from my youth.

But none are as cool as the original theme song:

Iron Man: Armored Adventures rode the momentum of the 2008 hit summer movie staring Robert Downey Jr. The producers of the animated series sought to take a super hero whose alter ego was a sometimes alcoholic, ultra rich playboy wounded in Vietnam and contemporize him — making him accessible to today’s youth.

To do so, they dragged Tony Stark, Iron Man’s alter ego, out from behind a martini glass and plopped him in a high school classroom, de-aging the character and making him an orphaned rich kid who fights crime with his highly advanced suit of armor.

This decision, while it may seem off-putting to comic book purists (it certainly did to me initially) actually works at taking a character that has been around for almost 50 years and making him fresh and interesting to a jaded television audience.

Taking a cue from Brian Michael Bendis’ run on the Ultimate Spider-Man comic book series, Iron Man: Armored Adventures spends just as much time with Tony Stark as a character as it does with any superheroic battles — doing so largely by building a strong supporting cast around the central character.

Stark’s high school friends include confidants James “Rhodey” Rhodes, a surrogate brother to Stark after the Rhodes family adopts Tony when his father is killed in a plane crash, and Pepper Potts, a feisty sidekick and potential love interest, to Tony. Together, the three work to investigate the mysteries surrounding the elder Stark’s death and put a stop the corrupt dealings of newly appointed Stark Industries CEO, Obadiah Stane. Also in the cast is Gene Khan, another rich kid attending Tony’s high school who moonlights as evil terrorist, the Mandarin.

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The voice cast behind the characters all do a fine job at bringing life to the show. I had absolutely no complaints about the characters’ voices — which is not something I can usually say when talking about children’s cartoons.

During the course of the six episodes that are collected in Iron Man: Armored Adventures, Vol. 2, Iron Man battles villains such as The Living Laser, The Controller, AIM, Madame Masque and Project Pegasus. The villains in the series have all been given a makeover — most of them presented with pretty badass design upgrades over their comic book counterparts.

Animated using computer generated effects, the show has a cel-shaded appearance that is similar to the popular video games style.

In fact, watching the show at times gives the impression of watching somebody else play a video game. While this can be jarring at times, the show’s animated style slowly grows on the viewer — and improves massively in quality as the series goes on. By the end of the twelfth episode, I have to admit that the show has a neat visual style that separates it from a lot of the other cartoons that currently dominate children’s programming.

The show’s real strength, though, is the writing. While the show’s hero may have been turned into a child, do not expect a cartoon that talks down to its audience. While it may not deal with heady material like alcoholism or a philandering playboy lifestyle, the show excels as embracing its high school setting — offering up plenty of teenager banter and locker room anxiety.

From grades to crushes, the show gives its central character plenty of room to breathe and interact when not punching bad guys.

That is not to say the show skimps on the action.

The show’s villains are given interesting back-stories and the show’s unique visual look offers plenty of fun fight scenes.

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While the show may be a lot better then it could have been, it’s not perfect either. The character of Pepper Potts can be a bit annoying it her overbearing eagerness. This, though, may actually explain my one bit of nitpicking fanboy concern with the way the show’s producers handled Tony Stark’s character.

While in the comics and in the movie, Stark is portrayed as a lothario — a funny books version of Warren Beatty — in the animated show (or at least the first 12 episodes) Tony wants almost nothing to do with girls. In fact, he seems to go out of his way to avoid the advances of his female friends.

Could the show’s producers, in addition to de-aging Tony, have also made him gay? Not that there’s anything wrong with that!

The DVD does not come with much of any special features except for a trio of commercials for Marvel Comics cartoons). Even worse, the second volume is not available on Blu-ray — not even exclusively sold at a particular store like Best Buy (who carried the first volume on Blu-Ray).

Despite my few qualms, the show is definitely worth a look from fans of the super hero, animation junkies or pre-teen boys high on a combination of Mountain Dew and breakfast cereal.

Robert Saucedo is almost always high on breakfast cereal. Visit him on the web at www.robsaucedo.com.

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