Teenage armor: A review of the new Iron Man cartoon

"I couldn't stand boy companions. If the theory behind Robin the boy Wonder, Rory the Superboy, the Sandman's Sandy, the Shield's Rusty, the Human Torch's Toro, the Green Arrow's Speedy was to give young readers a character with whom to identifiy it failed dismally in my case. The super grownups were the ones I identified with. They were versions of me in the future. There was still time to prepare. But Robin the Boy Wonder was my own age. One need only look at him to see he could fight better, swing from a rope better, play ball better, eat better and live better ... He was obviously an "A" student, the center of every circle, the one picked for greatness in the crowd -- God how I hated him."

-- Jules Feiffer, The Great Comic Book Heroes

So what is it with Marvel these days taking all their core characters and turning them into sulky teen-agers? First there was Wolverine: Prodigal Son, the Marvel/Del Rey book which attempted to "mangify" the character by turning him into a generic angsty shonen hero -- thereby robbing everything that made him interesting to begin with -- and now there's Iron Man: Armored Adventurers, which imagines Tony Stark not as gadabout playboy but nerdy youth.

The show, which debuts tonight at 7 p.m. on the Nicktoons Network, takes everything I liked about the character -- filthy rich, likes booze a bit too much, porn mustache -- and chucks it straight out the window. Tony Stark is now a young high school-age lad who just happens to be so brilliant that he doesn't have to go to school. He just putters around a high-tech lab making futuristic red and gold armor for kicks, as well as Gundam-like machinery that is tototally to be used for peaceful purposes only, I swear. That's when he's not joshing about with his CEO Dad, whose no slouch in the brain department either.

And now you know why I put that quote at the top of this review.

Enter employee Obidiah Stane, who announces his villainy so loudly that he might as well be wearing a cape and top hat and be twirling a handlebar mustache, while having a large neon sign lit up over his head that says "I am evil."

Stane wants to Stark Industries to develop weapons for the government. Tony's dad says "No way man, I want to use that 500-ton, 100-foot tall robot that shoots lasers for archeology purposes only!" So Stane has his plane blown up.

Tony is the only survivor of the crash, but as a result has to have a thing implanted in his chest now to stay alive (one of the show's many faults is that it skimps on a lot of details, like how Tony's armor works or what exactly is keeping him alive. I guess the producers figured everyone already saw the movie and can put two and two together). He also has to attend public high school now -- horror of horrors -- with his best friend Rhodey and put up with the incredibly annoying Pepper Potts.

One of the things that amused me at this point was how the cartoon shows Tony acting like a braniac in all of his high school classes and outperforming his teachers, but no one once beats the crap out of him in the hallways for it. Hell, the jock guy even seems to act like a friend!

As with the Wolverine book, Armoured Adventures drains the unique aspects of the franchise until it becomes utterly generic. Stark is the bland hero, dedicated to avenging his father. Rhodey is the best friend and surrogate mom figure (he's always nagging). Pepper Potts is the snotty love interest while Stane and the Mandarin (oh yeah, he shows up too) are the obvious villains. There's not a single character here that doesn't seem capable of moving out of the etched-in-stone roles they've been assigned.

I'm not even sure why they felt the need to de-age the character in the first place. Wasn't there just a hit movie last year featuring the adult Iron Man that tons of kids went to see? Wouldn't the producers have felt more comfortable ripping off that instead of offering the umpteenth version of "Spider-Man But Not?"

Are there other problems? You betcha! For one thing it animation style is horrid, adopting an antiseptic, flat, computer rotoscoping effect that make the characters look horribly stiff and alien. The environments look like they came out of Doom Generator 101 and the city is remarkably devoid of people and objects. Imagine a day-glo version of your average PS2 video game cut scene and you're on the right track.

Will kids like it? I suppose so, in the sense that kids will like anything that's shiny and loud and will keep them from having to think about their homework or the fact that mommy's drinking again. But there's nothing really unique or special about Iron Man: Armored Adventures. It's a hopelessly dull affair that reeks of corporate cynicism and a desperation to please without the faintest idea of how to do so. As a kid, I know I would have easily preferred the older, alcoholic Stark to this annoying twerp any day.

Also, I really hated the theme song.

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