[Retrospective] Iron Man: The Animated Series(1994)

Back in the 90’s, Marvel had released several animated shows on the fox kids network. This series was especially unique because of the drastic change in tone and quality. This shift makes this show simultaneously one of the worst and best marvel animated shows ever made. I wanted to take a look at both seasons and discuss a niche marvel show which isn’t talked about as much as Spider-Man or X-Men.

Season 1 was created by Rainbow Animation Group, and it follows an extremely formulaic premise like 80’s cartoons like Masters Of The Universe. A group of heroes foil a group of villain’s elaborate plans, only for the villains to narrowly escape to scheme another day. This first season is nothing if not formulaic. The writers never attempt to change things up or try anything interesting. There’s no character arcs, or interesting writing at all, it’s all just bland characters figuring things out with science jargon.

Every character has one personality trait and nothing else, Iron Man is the leader, Rhodey is the best friend, Scarlet Witch has a crush on Tony, Hawkeye is a jerk, Spider-Woman is the love interest, and Century is the weird one. Most of the supporting cast feels so unneeded and are only there to help sell toys. The villains are also very cliche and bland, more so than the heroes cause they don’t really have any personality apart from this weird love triangle between Blacklash, Dreadknight and Hypnotia. There is weirdly a small amount of characterization for Modok of all people. His motivations are brought up and kind of understandable but they are never brought up ever again, and the presentation is underwhelming.

The animation is also some of the worst I have ever seen. This show uses a shameless amount of obvious stock footage. Every time Iron Man suits up it’s the same animation, his clothes or the background never change to fit the scene, apart from only one other instance where he’s disguised as a woman and even that isn’t changed too much. The direction of the fights is also extremely boring. There isn’t any finesse to the action, it’s the same fly and shoot every time, and it gets old fast. Also in almost every armor up scene, the animation just changed from 2D to 3D, for no reason. The animation team was that lazy.

Season 2 received a change in production teams from Rainbow Animation Group to Koko Enterprises. This change resulted in a second season that feels like a completely different show. There is such a massive shift in tone and quality, and it improves on the first season in every possible way.

The writing is so much better, the show really explores Tony’s arrogance and plays it up as a character flaw. His self centered nature causes him to break his friend’s trust in the first episode and they all just leave him. This was a smart decision to set up Tony’s flaws and trim the cast down to the bare essential characters. They do this with the villains too, scattering the Mandarin’s rings and pushing him to the back burner of the plot until the end. This allows the show to focus on other villains which is infinitely more intriguing. Rhodey gets a nice arc about being afraid of the War Machine armor too. His arc is personal and totally believable, It fleshes out his character really well. The season chooses to focus on Tony’s mistakes and faults, making for a compelling narrative.

The animation is so much better this time around(Apart from Tony’s weird mullet). It’s is so much more smooth and better directed. The action is fluid and engaging, there’s even some tense fight scenes. It’s obvious Koko put more effort into the animation than Rainbow did.

This show is a very interesting piece of marvel television history. I’ve never seen a show so completely and totally redeem itself from an almost irredeemable place. If you want to watch this show I’d say completely skip the first season and just watch the second one. You won’t miss anything and you’ll just get a really solid 13 episodes.