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Iron Man

Entry updated 10 November 2023. Tagged: Film, TV.

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1. Animated tv series (1994-1996; vt The Marvel Action Hour: Iron Man). Genesis Entertainment / Marvel Enterprises / Marvel Productions. Created by Stan Lee and Larry Leiber. Directors include Bob Arkwright and Dan Thompson. Writers include Doug Booth, Ron Friedman, Greg Johnson, Francis Moss, and Tom Tararanowicz. Cast includes James Avery, Casey DeFranco, Ed Gilbert, Dorien Harewood, Robert Hays, Robert Ito, George Johnson (narrator), Katherine Moffat, John Reilly, Tony Steedman. 26 25-minute episodes. Colour.

In this version of the history of Tony Stark/Iron Man (Hays), Stark is wounded not as usual in Vietnam but in an industrial accident arranged by his old arch-enemy The Mandarin (Gilbert, then Ito) and Justin Hammer/Firebrand (Steedman), leaving Stark with slivers of metal embedded near his spine (rather than his heart as in most versions of the origin story). Stark builds a crude version of his Powered Armour suit and successfully escapes, continuing to run Stark Industries with great commercial success. In the first season Stark assembles the Force Works Superhero team he had similarly recruited in the contemporary Comic – Force Works being the result of complicated rewriting of storylines by Marvel Comics, which necessitated the disbanding (or rebanding, or para-proto-rebooting) of the original Avengers sidekicks; whatever they are now called, throughout the first season they battle various plots launched by The Mandarin. The team consists of Hawkeye/Clint Barton (Reilly), The Scarlet Witch (Darling in first season, Hale in second), the Julia Carpenter version of Spider-Woman (Hale), and James Rhodes/War Machine (Harewood), another armour-wearing hero. These were self-contained stories.

In the revamped second season, Force Works largely dissolves after learning Stark has deceived them about several matters (again, Marvel internal dyspepsias are probably responsible), although Stark's friend James Rhodes stays on. Stark's armour is now much more powerful than in previous versions of the character, able to adjust itself to operate in the ocean or even outer space. Major story-arcs of the second season involve the "Armour Wars" adapted from a story-line in the comic of the period, in which Stark deals with a number of Villains using Powered Armour technology stolen from Stark Industries. These include the Beetle, the Crimson Dynamo, Stilt-Man and the Titanium Man.

The series improved in its second season, despite less sophisticated animation, and dealt with more mature themes, including Stark's past romantic relationships. Nevertheless ratings declined steadily, and likewise for the companion series, The Fantastic Four (1994-1996); the two were shown as separate instalments of the same programme. Both were cancelled at season's end, with Iron Man generally considered the weaker of the two. [GSt/JC]

2. Film (2008). Paramount Pictures and Marvel Entertainment present a Marvel Studios production in association with Fairview Entertainment. Directed by Jon Favreau. Written by Mark Fergus & Hawk Ostby and Art Markum & Matt Holloway, based on the Marvel Comic by Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, Larry Lieber, and Don Heck. Cast includes Jeff Bridges, Robert Downey Jr and Gwyneth Paltrow. 126 minutes. Colour.

This update of the Lee/Kirby/Heck origin story transplants the setting from Vietnam to Afghanistan, where playboy armsmaker Tony Stark (Downey) is wounded by insurgents and escapes their captivity by secretly building the technology sustaining his damaged heart into a Weaponized exosuit. The latter part of the film, after a variety of more Oedipal scenarios in earlier stages of development at other studios, pits him against his late father's double-dealing partner Obadiah Stane (Bridges) in a rival suit; after his victory with the help of devoted PA Pepper Potts (Paltrow), he announces his identity to the world. The novelization is Iron Man (2008) by Peter David.

Following Merrill Lynch's 2004 half-billion investment in Marvel Studios, the company embarked on a strategy of bringing available properties back in-house, though Sony continued to sit tight on Spider-Man (2002) and sequels, and Fox on Fantastic Four (2005), Daredevil, and the expansive X-Men universe (see X-Men Films). All the same, Marvel were able to buy Iron Man back from New Line and the Hulk from Universal, and swiftly launched their own versions of both (see The Incredible Hulk) as part of "Phase One" of the ambitious Marvel Cinematic Universe slate of intertwined releases converging on the team vehicle The Avengers (2012), each closing with a post-credits crossover scene. Film versions of the character had been in development for many years at a series of studios, only to stumble repeatedly over the issue of the character's low recognition and second-tier status. Though Marvel were able to bring in a brains trust of key staff writers to consult on the script, it was still a risky project, particularly with director and lead taking an improvisatory approach to character and dialogue. But the performances clicked (both Downey and Paltrow are extremely engaging), and even the second half's more formular storyline explores the geopolitical implications of privately owned Superhero technology with a degree of sophistication and nuance; the film's commercial success gave Marvel a homegrown franchise, which was further developed in two solo sequels – Iron Man 2 (2010) and Iron Man 3 (2013) – integrated into the Cinematic Universe. [NL]


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