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Friday April 26, 2013

Comics: Mystic metal mayhem

Before watching Iron Man face his arch-enemy the Mandarin in Iron Man 3, go read some of their greatest-ever fights in the comics.

THE upcoming Iron Man 3 will be featuring Shellhead’s perennial arch-enemy, the Mandarin (played by Ben Kingsley, no less). I am glad that he is the lead villain in the movie because of his long, outstanding rivalry with Tony Stark – unlike the last movie’s villain, Whiplash.

While the movie will no doubt give us its own version of Mandarin’s origins and motivations (the character made his debut in 1964’s Tales of Suspense #50, created by Stan Lee, of course, and drawn by Don Heck), there is a reason why he is considered Iron Man’s greatest enemy. He wields 10 magical rings that give him various powers (ranging from ice and fire blasts to disintegration rays). The contrast between the Mandarin’s mystic powers and Iron Man’s technological ones make for some intriguing encounters.

The two adversaries have had a number of epic battles over the years, many of which ended with Iron Man just managing to score a narrow victory.

Without further ado, here are the 10 most memorable confrontations between Iron Man and the Mandarin, which should help justify his presence in Iron Man 3!

1) Tales Of Suspense #50
Writer: Stan Lee
Artist: Don Heck

The first confrontation between Iron Man and the Mandarin was more of an information-gathering exercise, as each combatant learned more about his opponent’s abilities. Following up on the Pentagon’s request, Iron Man travelled to the Mandarin’s castle in China and found out the hard way that his high-tech armour was no match for the villain’s mystical 10 rings! It took a stroke of luck to save Iron Man from his first comprehensive defeat, as our hero escaped with the aid of a pickup plane.

2) Tales Of Suspense #54-#55 (1964)
Writer: Stan Lee
Artist: Don Heck

It takes the Mandarin a mere four issues to avenge his earlier defeat, by sabotaging a stash of missiles that Tony Stark has sold to the US Government. In retaliation, Iron Man pays the Mandarin’s castle a second visit – only to find his armour’s limited power storage a big handicap against the Mandarin’s might. Once again, Iron Man’s quick thinking saves the day as he thwarts the Mandarin’s plans and recovers vital American arms.

3) Tales Of Suspense #61-#62
Writer: Stan Lee
Artist: Don Heck

After two narrow defeats, the Mandarin decides to hit Tony Stark where it hurts, using a satellite to unleash a deadly blast on Stark’s mansion. Believing that he has killed Stark, he awaits the retaliation of Stark’s “bodyguard”. Despite capturing Iron Man, the Mandarin decides to break out of the pre-requisite super-villain monologue, and reveals his origin for the first time. Unsurprisingly, this buys Iron Man valuable recovery time, and he even goes a step further by tricking the Chinese army into thinking that the Mandarin is actually a traitor. As in their past battles, Iron Man narrowly snatches the victory. However, what makes this story a milestone is the revelation that the Mandarin’s rings are of alien origin!

4) Iron Man (Vol 1) #100
Writer: Bill Mantlo
Artist: George Tuska

The most convincing Iron Man victory happens here, as Shellhead trounces the Mandarin on all fronts – from weaponry to martial arts – and even managing to deactivate his 10 rings, and reducing his castle to a pile of rubble!

5) Iron Man (Vol 1) #270-#275
Writer: John Byrne
Artist: Paul Ryan

The six-part Dragon Seed Saga had Iron Man and War Machine going up against not just the Mandarin but also Fin Fang Foom!

After the events in Armour Wars II, Tony was wheelchair-bound after contracting a virus that destroyed his nervous system. Desperately needing the help of Dr Su Yin, he strikes a deal with the Chinese Government. In exchange for the doctor’s help, he must first defeat the Mandarin!

With all these mega-factions in the same story, the battles in this storyline were truly cataclysmic, even with Tony controlling his armour virtually. However, the highlight was the revelation that the Mandarin’s rings were actually connected to Fin Fang Foom’s space dragon mythos. Ultimately, the ending managed to match the hype, with the Mandarin losing his hands and left comatose.

6) Iron Man (Vol 3) #8-#10
Writer: Kurt Busiek
Artist: Sean Chen

This post-Heroes Reborn revamp of the Iron Man universe also included a repackaging of the Mandarin. While past features stereotyped him as a B-grade Dr Doom, this three-part tale narrows that gap thanks to the introduction of his fortress in the sky, Dragon of Heaven.

Cranking up his dastardly level from “Mean” to “Mega Bad”, the Mandarin is plotting world domination once again, starting with Russia, on the way towards establishing a new world order.

Inevitably, Iron Man emerged triumphant (as usual), with the Avengers and Soviet Super Soldier’s support. This story left a sour taste in my mouth, with Mandarin’s acceptance of his defeat and going so far as to acknowledge Iron Man as a worthy foe.

7) Iron Man: Director Of S.H.I.E.L.D. #21-#29
Writer: Daniel and Charlie Knauf
Artist: Roberto De La Torre

Hand-less, stripped of his royal status, and stuck in prison under inhumane conditions, this is a completely new, humbled Mandarin that we see in two continuing story arcs, Haunted and Red Rain.

Without hands to wield his 10 rings, you would think he’d be powerless, right? Wrong – somehow, he manages to merge his 10 rings with his spine, and escapes from prison!

Once free, the Mandarin then assumes the guise of Tem Borjigin, a corporate figure, and leader of Prometheus. The focus then shifts to a more corporate arena, as the Mandarin utilises his newfound resources to convert the Extremis process into a virus.

As the director of SHIELD at the time, Tony Stark had the organisation’s resources at his disposal. However, the Mandarin exploits SHIELD’s loopholes, and even manages to compromise his Extremis abilities, forcing Stark to go back to basics by wearing an outdated Silver Centurion suit en route to a brutal showdown with the villain. The scene where Iron Man rips the rings from Mandarin’s spine still ranks high on our hero’s list of greatest coups de grâce!

8) Iron Man: Enter The Mandarin #1-#6
Writer: Joe Casey
Artist: Eric Canete

Although this is pretty much just a repackaging of their initial Tales Of Suspense encounters, Joe Casey does a great job in updating the plot, while injecting more depth into their half-century-old rivalry.

9) Invincible Iron Man (Vol 5) #516-#527
Writer: Matt Fraction
Artist: Salvador Larocca

No Iron Man creative team’s run would be complete without the Mandarin showing up at some point. Probably the best Iron Man creative team so far, Fraction and Larocca positioned the Mandarin as the ultimate bane in Tony’s life. Initial story arcs focused on the threats posed by representatives of the rival Stane and Hammer families, with the Mandarin eventually emerging as the nexus in channelling their combined hatred for Tony!

What we have in these dozen issues are two continuous story arcs (The Long Way Down and The Future), portraying Tony in a never-before-seen position – as the Mandarin’s lackey! Obviously, this was not a permanent role and it built up to the biggest Iron Man showdown to date, pitting Tony against the Mandarin and everyone else bearing him a grudge.

10) Invincible Iron Man Annual (2010) #1
Writer: Matt Fraction
Artist: Carmine Di Giandomenico

While not strictly an Iron Man-Mandarin showdown, Mandarin: The Story Of My Life is the most comprehensive take on the megalomaniac’s psyche and origins so far, offering a differing perspective of the villain.

To the Mandarin, history essentially means “his story”, and with the power at his disposal, he secures the services of an acclaimed movie director named Jun Lee to tell that story ... by holding the man’s wife hostage!

Similar to how Tony Stark outsmarted Wong Chu (Iron Man’s first-ever villain – Stark deceived him by pretending to make him a weapon when he was actually constructing his Iron Man suit), Jun pretends to do the Mandarin’s bidding while directing the biggest movie of his life (or what’s left of it).

As Jun delves further into the Mandarin’s origins, he struggles to reconcile truth and fiction, in light of the differing information provided by independent (but oppressed) parties.

Despite this being more of a struggle between Jun and the Mandarin, this story makes the list because it goes some way towards justifying why the Mandarin deserves the main villain role in Iron Man 3.

Review issues courtesy of Earth 638 (2nd Floor, Kelana Mall, Jalan SS6/12, Kelana Jaya, Petaling Jaya, Selangor, Tel: 03-7804 8380, e-mail: earth638@yahoo.com).

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