EPISODE REVIEW: Iron Man Armored Adventures: “Tales of Adventure, Parts 1 and 2” (Episodes 25 and 26)

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So here we are, after just about exactly a year, the first season of Iron Man: Armored Adventures comes to a close. There was some confusion as to exactly how long a season was, and whether or not we were actually well in to the second year of the show - cartoon seasons tend to run 13 episodes - but ultimately it turned out to be one long run of 26. Finally, here at the end of the line, they get it all right: everything works, the pacing is good, the storytelling works, the characters are developed, the direction is on-the-money, the visuals are suitably visual, the whole thing finally works.

Pity it’s all too little too late.

PLAY BY PLAY

One Thousand Years Ago, (Thanksgiving weekend, 1009 AD):

The original Mandarin visits Machu Picchu, presumably during the typically lame halftime show in the big annual Crusaders vs. Turks football game. (That was a terrible year, by the way, I had a hundred bucks on Saladin’s offensive line making the spread, and it was totally fumble, fumble, fumble. I was eating peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for a week afterwards to make up the money I lost on that bet, I can tell you!) He uses his Mandarin powers to magic another ring-temple into existence, then hides it behind a cliff. This is observed by several natives, one of whom carves the Mandarin’s face on the cliff.

Present Day:

Tony, Pepper, Rhodie, and Gene are at the library doing research. Gene feels it’s a waste of time, and the computers will figure out where the fifth ring is, so he leaves. Everyone else leaves too, excepting the bookish Rhodie. Gene goes home to find his stepfather is out of the klink, and waiting for him. He’d been freed by gangsters who’d figured out (based on Gene’s generally crappy running of the tong) that the *real* Mandarin was no longer in charge. Gene is quickly subdued.

Rhodie finds a picture of the carving of the Mandarin on the Peruvian cliff, and calls Tony about it. Almost simultaneously, the Mandarin - the real one, not Gene - shows up with lots of helicopters and lots of goons, and take Tony and Pepper hostage, then blows up the armory. Faced with no alternatives, Tony tells the Mandarin where the ring is.

Rhodie makes it home, but lies to his mom and tells her he’s working late at the library. He climbs down in to the shattered remains of the armory, at great personal risk, and tries to suit up, but everything’s busted and malfunctioning. Ultimately he takes the War Machine armor for himself, and uses it to carry the normal Iron Man armor. He has to blast his way out of the armory. Gene comes to, and Tony and Pepper make sure he’s ok, then appraise him of the situation. Gene lies and says he didn’t know his stepfather was the Mandarin. Tony and Pepper buy it. Rhodie attempts to fly to Peru, but it’ll take too long to get there, so he shuts off the safety systems on both suits, and attempts to go suborbital to get there in less than an hour. Unfortunately, of course, War Machine wasn’t designed for such low temperatures, and starts to have catastrophic malfunctions. It’s actually fairly pulse-pounding and makes for a good cliffhanger.

Part Two

Team Mandarin, with Team Stark in tow, makes it to Machu Picchu, and quickly discover and open the temple. The theme of this one is “Sacrifice.” Tony and Gene activate it because if they don’t, Mandarin’ll kill Pepper. Pepper, meanwhile, is actually being useful for once, spooking the gangsters by talk of demons and dragons and whatnot. It’s actually clever. When a dragon actually does come to life and runs amok, the gangsters mostly cut and run. Mandarin tries to stop pepper, but a door closes on his arm, and she’s able to get his glove off, with four rings on it. The Mandarin is effectively neutralized, so he and his forces decide to leave, and recover the rings after the children have been eaten. Rhodie shows up, and makes quick work of them, repeatedly dropping the no-longer-super-powered Mandarin from great heights until he tells Rhodie where the others are.

Pepper attempts to placate the dragon by feeding it the rings. This is every bit as bad a plan as it sounds, but just as they’re about to get eaten, Rhodie busts in and stuns the dragon, and gives Tony the spare armor. Gene now knows who Iron Man is, as well as War Machine. He’s plenty freaked out. A whole lot of fighting takes place, with them unable to subdue the supernatural monster, but ultimately, when it looks like the thing is gonna’ eat Pepper, Gene sacrifices himself, and the dragon goes immobile.

Assuming he’s dead, Pepper, Tony, and Rhodie are pretty distraught, but Gene’s actually in the surprisingly spacious belly of the beast, where he finds the rings Pepper fed the thing, as well as the fifth one. He climbs out the monster’s gullet. Everyone is happy to see him, and call him by name.

“Not Gene,” he says, “The Mandarin,” and proceeds to zap everyone. In a well-edited series of flashbacks, fighting, and exposition, we find out that Gene was the one who blew up Howard Stark’s jet, thereby crippling Tony. We also find out that Howard Stark isn’t dead - the Mandarin kidnapped him from the plane using his teleportation powers just moments before it blew! He trades this info to Tony in exchange for safe passage after they’ve fought each other to a near-death standstill.

Back at Rhodie’s house, Tony wakes up. He’s been asleep for 14 hours. They all feel like fools, realizing that Gene’s been playing them all along. Even still, Howard Stark is still alive, and Tony’s determined to find him.

Back in Machu Picchu, Gene materializes, very upset over having gained the whole world yet lost his soul, so to speak. We see some real regret in him for screwing over his friends. We also discover that it was his mother who put him up to this whole mad scheme when he was a little kid, which is more than a bit surprising. Gene bemoans his fate, saying that having five rings hasn’t made him all-powerful, and he indignantly throws all the rings. They hover, form a ball, and a holographic earth appears, showing ten points clearly.

“There were ten rings?” Gene asks no one in particular, thus setting up next season…

The End

OBSERVATIONS

Wow. This was actually a pretty fine season finale all the way through, and easily the strongest stuff they’ve put forward in the entire series, thus far. Like I said in the intro, nearly every aspect of it was solidly done, and there’s really very little I can say about it that’s negative. I do feel the second half wasn’t as tight as the first, and that the dragon fight went on a bit long, but that’s just a quibble, really. Pacing-wise, the second half wasn’t cutting back and forth between different locations nearly as much as the first half did, so obviously it’s going to feel a bit slower and smaller by comparison. In general, the episode was very strong from start to finish. There’s even a nice, subtle variation on the theme that shows up at one point.

But really what makes this episode is that it *finally* brings something to the party that it’s been promising all along, but never really bothered with: a degree of kickass. Yeah, there’s been lots of fighting in the show thus far, but it’s all WWF smack down crap, orchestrated to the Nth degree, with no real cleverness nor passion to it. The fights here, the heroes struggling under real adversity, the half-dozen game changers that get dropped in this episode, and the fact that - for once - they’re not holding back was really, really cool. Seeing Rhodie finally spring in to action, and take out the Mandarin so deftly and quickly was really cool. Seeing Pepper freak out the goons was very clever. Seeing the camaraderie between Tony and Gene when they set out with gallows humor to solve the puzzle - it. Kicked. Ass.

No other way to say it.

Even the cliffhanger ending/setups for next season didn’t bother me because clearly the root premise of next year will be different than this one, with two parallel arcs - Howard, and Rings 6-10. There’s potential for good stuff in there. The revelation that Gene has been playing them - playing everyone, really - since he was a little kid was genuinely startling, and I didn’t see it coming. I mean, yeah, I knew he was playing Tony, but I didn’t realize he’d tried to kill Tony, nor kidnapped his dad. That’s some seriously cold stuff. Gene is not to be messed with, even if he is slightly sympathetic at times, and has some genuine feelings for Pepper (much to his own confusion).

Trying to do a TV show based on a comic book character is difficult. On the one hand, there’s the risk of staying too true to the source material, and wasting the advantages TV or movies can bring to the subject. On the other hand, if you stray too far from the source material, you alienate fans. This show, in aging down all the principles, automatically alienated a lot of people, but at the same time they’ve treated it since day one as a different continuity, and as such they have more latitude to play with. They can do things that the comics or the movies couldn’t do, like bring back Tony’s dad. It’s sort of cool to see them explore that. It adds a level of unpredictability to the show that’s mostly missing in most superhero vehicles.

So what happened to the Mandarin - Gene’s stepfather - after he told Rhodie what he wanted to know?

So what exactly was Gene’s mom’s plan? Get the rings, grab power, swell. But to what end? He doesn’t seem like a power-for-power’s-sake kind of guy, there has to be a larger reason here. What is it? Does he want to be a god? Does he want to resurrect his mama? What?

I also think it’s very interesting that the show has made absolutely no bones about the fact that Gene is a terrible leader who’s brought the Tong to the edge of ruin. Power does not equal competence, in his case.

The Mandarin - Gene’s stepfather - initially claimed that the rings were simply a badge of rank, but in this one he claimed that he’s long known their powers. How much else does he know? For instance, does he know of his ex-wife (Gene’s mom’s) scheming? Does he know what the scheme was? He seems to have been surprised when Gene usurped him, but there’s a hint that he’s been using Gene to get access to the rings all along.

A quibble: the suit computer speaks of “Escape Velocity” when Rhodie goes in to space. If you’re going suborbital, you do *NOT* want to get up to Escape Velocity. That’s strictly for interplanetary voyages.

So: Good episode all around.

And yet…

And yet…well, this is where I check out, I think.

I’ve been reviewing this show for a year now, and frankly I’m done with it. I’d intended to stop after episode 13, when I thought the first season was done. We held a vote, and several of our readers said they wanted me to keep on keeping on with the show, so I agreed. I said I’d stay on until the end of the season or production cycle or whatever the heck, and we’ve reached that milestone as of tonight. I’m done, I’m out.

I can’t really explain why I feel this way. If you read my reviews, at least a third of them are surprisingly (to me) positive. The show is not nearly bad enough to make me dread it as much as I do, and yet I do. Even tonight’s two-parter - which was borderline brilliant in its first half - just wearies me. It’s too little, too late. I don’t like to schlog through twelve hours of crap to get to one hour of good. If I did, I might have liked the recent reboot of the prisoner more than I did ( http://republibot.com/category/tags/-prisoner-remake ), but I don’t. I can’t even really nail down what it is about the show that makes it so onerous for me to watch it, but it’s real: it grates at me. I don’t like watching it, the reviews feel like work - and most of the reviews I do here on the site are fun, by the way - but these feel like work, added to which I’m generally entirely too busy on Friday nights with reviews anyway. Having to do Iron Man on top of Dollhouse, Ben 10, SGU, and whatever else is cool that’s on - having another log I’ve got to throw on the fire every week, so to speak - well, it’s getting me down. It’s wearing me out. I’ve only got so much life in the carpal tunnel-riddled fingers, and I’m sick and tired of squandering it on this show, when I could be discussing more important subjects like the movies of Bert I. Gordon, or Dennis Hopper’s unfortunate forays into SF, or how damn hot Yvonne Craig was. I’m just tired, and I’m just done, and having fulfilled my promise - at some discomfiture to myself - I’m out.

That said, I know these reviews are pretty popular. We get lots and lots of reads on ‘em, and we have since the beginning, presumably since I’m the only person reviewing the show and taking it seriously. (I take everything I review seriously, it’s an OCD thing) I respect that a lot of you really like the show, and I thank you for visiting our site so regularly over the last year. I most emphatically do not want to leave you folks in the lurch, I don’t want to repay your patronage with inattentiveness.

So here’s what we can do: If any of *YOU* the readers want to review this show for Republibot, you’re welcome to do so. We’re a fairly high-traffic site, well regarded and relatively high-profile. If you’re looking to make a name for yourself though guest bloggery, there’s worse places you could go, and if you’re just looking to try your hand at this whole online reviewer gig, well, again, this is a fine neighborhood to start out in. If *YOU* like the show, and if you’ve got any modicum of talent, then I’m perfectly willing to turn the reviews of Iron Man: Armored Adventures over to you.

In order to step up, all you’ve got to do is email me at three@republibot.com and we’ll discuss terms and you can show me examples of your writing and whatnot. PLEASE NOTE: do *NOT* write any reviews prior to contacting me, ok? I don’t want anyone to waste a lot of time writing stuff that we can’t or won’t use for whatever reason, so if you’re interested, please, please, please contact me first so we can explain how we go about things.

And that’s the end. For me. It’s not for the show. And it might not be for you.

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UPDATE 6/3/11
The series is allegedly coming back for its second season sometime this year. It was supposed to have premiered in March, but got indefinitely postponed for some reason. If you'd like to review the show when it returns, the offer above is still open. Just email me at three@republibot.com and we'll discuss terms.

Thanks for reading!

Sincerely,
r3

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