With Marvel's The Avengers already in theaters,I'm going to take a look back at the members of the team featured in the film and their many appearances on TV through the years. Today we're looking at the biggest star of them all when it comes to the shared Marvel cinematic universe: Iron Man.
Tony Stark and his alter ego were introduced in Marvel Comics' Tales of Suspense back in 1963 and while he might not have always had the widespread recognition of Spider-Man or the Hulk, he still made plenty of television appearances through the years. And of course once Iron Man became a Mega-movie star and was quickly elevated to one of the world's most recognizable super heroes, the floodgates were open, and there are now two different animated series featuring the character airing simultaneously – at one point last year, there were four!
The Marvel Super Heroes
Iron Man was one of five Marvel characters who starred in segments of this series, along with Hulk, Captain America, Thor and Sub-Mariner.
You have to at least be amused by any incarnation of Iron Man whose theme song says, "Tony Stark makes you feel. He's a cool exec, with a heart of steel!" What exactly does Tony make us feel though? Only a few dozen ladies can say. This series is infamous for its incredibly crude animation, which simply took actual comic book frames and moved them, ever so slightly, adding in the occasional creepy moving lips.
That being said, as others have joked, it certainly doesn't get more faithful to the comics than this – stories are taken directly from Iron Man's Tales of Suspense days, complete with lots of goofy but fun Silver Age villains and melodrama. For those who grew up with this show in the '60s or caught it in syndication later, it's hard not to be nostalgic for this first-ever animated version of the Golden Avenger.
In a fun nod to the character's history, Jon Favreau included the Iron Man 1966 theme song multiple times in the first Iron Man movie – it's played by the band, as Tony is given an award at the start of the film (which he fails to accept, since he's gambling at the time) and it's also Tony's ring tone.
Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends
Amazing Friends was the first animated series to feature a large cross-section of characters from Marvel comics existing in the same universe, so it was only fitting that Shell-head make an appearance. There are brief glimpses of Iron Man on a couple of episodes, but it was on the episode "The Origin of the Spider-Friends" that the character would have a true guest star role. What's notable though is that he appears almost entirely as Tony Stark throughout the episode, never truly having a superhero team-up with the title characters. This very oddly voiced Stark is targeted by The Beetle, who wishes to use Stark's technology to increase his own battle suit. At one point in fact, the Beetle gives Stark one serious backhand slap.
Twice, the Spider-Friends save Stark, who ultimately rewards them in a big way – as it turns out, Stark is the one who supplies the gang with their "own crime computer and their hidden laboratory," explaining how three college students had been able to afford to have all those cool gizmos that popped up when they slid a trophy forward.
We actually do also see Iron Man briefly in this episode too, even if Spider-Man doesn't. As the Spider-Friends defend Stark International from the Beetle, Iceman wonders where Iron Man is – the action cuts to outer space, where Iron Man is seen destroying asteroids, as Stan Lee's narration explains he's "on a secret government mission."
Iron Man (1994)
The greatest thing to come from the first-ever completely Iron Man-centric TV series are the awesome opening credits to the second (and final) season. Those credits feature a shirtless, mullet-tastic Tony Stark using a large hammer to create his armor, while cheesy faux-metal plays, complete with a familiar refrain – "I am Iron Man!" It's both awful and wonderful all at once.
As for the show, it was unfortunately a mediocre affair (though the second season is better than the first), but it does remain notable for a couple of reasons – First was that the show had a large supporting cast of superheroes, mainly taken from the then-current Avengers spinoff comic book series, Force Works. As a result, the 1994 Iron Man series in some ways is the first ongoing look at an Avengers type team in animation, as the cast included War Machine, Hawkeye, the second Spider-Woman, Scarlet Witch and the easy to forget 90s character Century.
There was also an action figure series released in conjunction with the show, which also was the first time Iron Man alone had been used as branding for his own toy line. Both the animated series and toy line included some fun B-list villains from the comics, who got their first (and in most cases, only, to this date) exposure to a mainstream audience, including Blacklash, Blizzard, Grey Gargoyle, Dreadknight and M.O.D.O.K. The main villain was Iron Man's arch nemesis, The Mandarin, who played a direct role in Iron's Man origin here. Both the show and toy line had Tony donning one specialized suit of armor after another, some from the comics, and some invented for the series, such as the "samurai" armor. On the series, Tony's armor was kept in a large room that seemed to literally house hundreds of suits, making one wonder just how obsessed this animated Iron Man was with making these funky variations.
Voicing Iron Man was Robert Hays, the film actor probably best known for starring in Airplane! While the Iron Man series was over by February 1996, Hays would reprise the character twice later in the year, during a time when Marvel had many animated series on the air...
The Incredible Hulk / Spider-Man
The Robert Hays-voiced Iron Man guest starred on both the 1990s animated Hulk and Spider-Man series.
On The Incredible Hulk, Bruce Banner comes to Tony for help, but soon enough, Banner is big, green and smashing stuff, with S.H.I.E.L.D. in hot pursuit. Iron Man is joined here by War Machine, also continuing his earlier animated series persona. Perhaps the most amusing part of this episode is Rick Jones asking to see Tony Stark's bodyguard, "Iron Maiden." This episode also featured Tony donning a version of the Hulkbuster armor he'd previously worn on his own series.
With Spider-Man, the pattern established by Amazing Friends continued, with Iron Man making some earlier brief cameos, before Tony Stark had a notable guest role on the episode "Venom Returns." And as on Amazing Friends, a Stark invention is targeted by a super villain – Dormammu, who uses Baron Mordo, Venom and Carnage (in his first animated appearance) as his agents.
In part 1 of this two-parter War Machine shows up, only to be hurt badly by Carnage. But in the second episode -- appropriately called "Carnage" -- Iron Man himself, intent on avenging War Machine, enters the fray and teams with Spidey for what ultimately is a big free for all battle between the good guys and the bad guys... and a very confused Venom. At the end, realizing the danger his teleportation device has caused, Iron Man smashes the machine. When Spider-Man points out that it belonged to Tony Stark, Iron Man replies, "If Tony Stark has a problem, he can take it up with me!"
Iron Man also had a large supporting role in the "Secret Wars" storyline on Spider-Man, which featured several other Marvel heroes.
Spider-Man would be the last series to include the Robert Hays voiced incarnation of Iron Man introduced in the 1994 series. The character also was briefly seen on the 1990s Fantastic Four series, but it was just a brief visual cameo.
The Avengers: United They Stand
The end of the '90s saw the first official Avengers cartoon in the form of this less than stellar series, which rather incredulously had many of the characters wearing Power Ranger type outfits. Curiously, the three core Avengers from the comics, Captain America, Thor and Iron Man, were not a regular part of this series, presumably because their rights were tied up separately.
However, the three were glimpsed at the end of the opening credits, and Iron Man (like Captain America) did guest star on one episode of the series. He doesn't get to do all that much though, being rescued from the Stark space station and only really appearing in a few minutes of the episode.
There was at least one heroic moment for him, as (in a nod to the comics) he risks his own fragile heart to reroute power from his armor at a crucial moment. The one other notable aspect of this episode is that Iron Man is seen wearing a variation of his space armor from the comics for the entirety of his appearance.
Iron Man's last appearance before his first feature film would permanently up his popularity in a big way was in the now defunct Fantastic Four animated series that debuted around the same time as the FF's first movie. While the overall quality of this series wasn't very high, it should be said that they actually did pretty well by Iron Man.
The episode begins with a fairly cool sequence in which the Fantastic Four are attacked by Iron Man's original grey armor, followed by a number of other familiar armors from the comics, including War Machine, Hulkbuster, Stealth and Silver Centurion – we're not so sure what the all-white armor is (Snow Armor?) but the rest look pretty dang cool.
We eventually meet Tony Stark and ultimately Iron Man himself, who looks very close to the then-current Extremis armor from the comics, which is also the main inspiration for the movie armor. Stark is both heroic and arrogant, in a nice nod to his comics background, as it turns out Doctor Doom (wearing a rather goofy amalgam of his armor and Iron Man's) is behind the attack on the Fantastic Four.
Iron Man: Armored Adventures
With the Iron Man movie making the character a household name for the first time, it was inevitable that a new animated series would follow. The one we got however was not exactly what many comic book fans had in mind, as Iron Man: Armored Adventures first and foremost stands out by making Tony Stark into a teenager.
Also with a awesome theme song...
Unlike characters like Peter Parker and Clark Kent, whose comic book histories lend themselves to stories from their youth, Tony has rarely been depicted as becoming any sort of superhero until well into his adulthood, which has made this a less than popular series with purists.
Armored Adventures re-imagines Tony and all of his friends and allies (including Pepper Potts, James Rhodes and Happy Hogan) as high school classmates, and even turns The Mandarin into another student -- pretending to be their friend, while up to no good. The computer animated series definitely doesn't skimp when it comes to villains from the comic books, already delivering more familiar faces (including the likes of Madame Masque, Living Laser and Ghost) than ever before seen in animation, along with a healthy dose of Obadiah Stane, in the wake of his role as the central villain in the first film.
While popular with kids, and sometimes containing some cool action moments, Armored Adventures can be trying for adult Iron Man fans. The teenage Tony seems nothing like the character we know from the comics, sharing none of his interesting backstory or motivations, while the sometimes simplistic facial animation makes the characters seem rather emotionless.
The Super Hero Squad Show
Never before has Iron Man, or indeed all of the Marvel heroes been so darn… cute! Yes, The Super Hero Squad Show -- which debuted awhile ago and ended some time later..well.. ago -- is aimed at very young viewers (think of it as a Marvel's quick hit ) and re-imagines them as decidedly goofy characters.
In the wake of the films, Iron Man is given a central, leadership role here, and -- in the midst of characters that include a "dude"-speaking Silver Surfer and an especially exaggerated "simple" version of the Hulk -- is actually something of the straight man – albeit a straight man who at one point got transformed into a literal iron in the midst of a Doctor Strange / Dormammu mishap.
Rhodey has also appeared on the show in his own suit of armor – but amusingly, they made sure to not call him War Machine, in the context of this pre-school aimed series.
The Avengers: Earth's Mightiest Heroes
No surprise, given the much bigger popularity of Iron Man by now, but the character is a major part of the current Avengers animated series.
Like many other parts of the series, this version of Tony Stark is mainly inspired by the comic books, with some healthy nods to the film series as well. Rhodey and Pepper are his close allies, while the computer version of JARVIS introduced in the Iron Man film is part of the story, as is the idea of an Arc Reactor – and there are clear nods to Robert Downey Jr.'s portrayal of Tony in the films. And as in the comics (and previous animated versions), we've seen Tony use many different variations of his armor through the series.
Marvel Anime: Iron Man
Marvel's recent teaming with Madhouse to create several anime series was not very well received. However, among the projects, Iron Man was arguably one of the stronger ones.
The American version of the anime had Adrian Pasdar (Heroes) voicing Tony Stark, in a twelve-part story that had Tony traveling to Japan to showcase new prototype armor. A big twist in the story – and a change from previous Iron Man incarnations -- revealed that Yinsen, the man who helped Tony build the first Iron Man suit, was alive and working against him.
Ultimate Spider-Man / Hulk and the Agents of S.M.A.S.H.
Marvel have begun producing their own animated series for the first time, and Adrian Pasdar has been asked to reprise his role in them as Tony Stark – though obviously there is no continuity between these series and the anime version. Pasdar has a recurring role on the new Ultimate Spider-Man series, as we find a teenage Peter Parker idolizing Tony Stark, who gave him an "Iron Spider" suit (as in the comics) in his first appearance.
Pasdar has revealed he has recorded a guest appearance as Iron Man for another upcoming Marvel animated series, Hulk and the Agents of S.M.A.S.H. – Presumably Hulk will be in continuity with Ultimate Spider-Man, as Marvel works on establishing a new, connected animated universe.