Monday, May 28, 2007

Hands of the Mandarin Part 6 of 6 (Marvel comics)
Iron Man #312 When: January 1995
Why: Len Kaminski How: Tom Morgan

The story so far...
Iron Man and War Machine are forced to put their growing differences aside, and team together with the other members of Force Works to face The Mandarin at the very height of powers.

In possession of the mystic Heart of Darkness, The Mandarin has summoned elemental avatars to aid him in his war on technology. More powerful than ever, the Heart of Darkness allows him to create an anti-technology field of energy that is expanding ever more outward from his base in Hong Kong.

Also in possession of Century's mysterious Parallax weapon, the Mandarin sits poised to rule the globe in a time of fear and confusion. Only Iron Man and Force Works can put a stop to his terror, but can the tech hero withstand Mandarin's might? Or is this the end of the era of the invincible Iron Man?

Previous Form:
Iron Man (#4): Victories against Diablo, Hulk, Captain America, She-Hulk & Titanium Man.
The Mandarin: Has not yet been featured on the site.

Tale of the tape...
Strength: Iron Man 6 (Invincible)
Intelligence: Iron Man 5 (Professor)
Speed: Iron Man 3 (Athlete)
Stamina: Iron Man 6 (Generator)
Agility: Iron Man 2 (Average)
Fighting Ability: Iron Man 4 (Trained Fighter)
Energy Powers: Mandarin 6 (Mass Destruction)

In all the entries we've had over the year and a half of Infinite Wars, I think this might be the most one sided tape we've ever broken down. It's actually really quite surprising how statistically removed the two characters are, given than Mandarin fairly comfortably holds the title of arch-nemesis to Iron Man.

Unlike a lot of more classically archetypal arch-villains; Mandarin represents much less of a reflection to Iron Man, resonating more as the opposite end of the scale. Their dramatic tensions, which manifest themselves quite literally in some stories (such as this one), are the theories of the [super]-natural versus the technological.

The Mandarins power rings are alien in origin, but represent the more metaphysical and super natural version of any kind of alien technology. This is in stark [hah!] contrast to Iron Man's powers, which are entirely self-sufficient, terran in origin, and produced by the will of human engineering.

This dichotomy means the two are considerably more versatile in their fields than their other. Iron Man represents the superior physical adversary, while the Mandarin controls X-factors like the various energy constructs and phenomena produced by his rings, as well as the summoning of beasts and minions such as Fin Fang Foom [as seen in Iron Man #271].

The tape would have you believe this is all Iron Man, but the strength of Mandarin's entry on that final stat -- energy powers -- makes him more than a worthy adversary!

The Math: Iron Man (Super Class)
The Pick: Iron Man

What went down...
The Mandarin casts his horrible visage above the terrified citizens of Hong Kong, as Iron Man and the members of Force Works stand amidst the carnage and destruction of the city.

The gleeming red and yellow knight of technology leaves his teammates behind to take to the skies, swearing to defend the modern era against Mandarin's desires for an age of darkness. The Mandarin is unimpressed, declaring himself cast by destiny to destroy all Iron Man represents and stands for.

Iron Man offers up a taste of technology's powers, firing all guns blazing at the ghostly representation of his arch-nemesis. Mandarin scowls at Iron Man's feeble attempts, channeling his own energies through his apparition to send the golden avenger plummeting Earth-bound into the wreckage of Hong Kong.

Failing beneath the massive energies he wields, Mandarin becomes dazed, not yet the master of his godhood. He uses the last of his immediate power to use Century's Parallax staff to teleport himself to the safety of his castle lair, before collapsing from exhaustion.

Tony Stark reconvenes with his teammates to strategize. He eventually seeks out the aid of Su Yin, a scientist who very nearly had a hand in his death thanks to the invention of a techno-organic virus. The virus now makes the basis of the artificial nervous system that sustains his mobility, but Stark puts the scientists available to work to develop it as a potential weapon against the Mandarin.

Force Works do battle with the elemental Avatars, before Iron Man arrives in the streets to do the unthinkable -- he surrenders!

Before the US Agent's objections can give away the gambit, Iron Man pleads for the Mandarin to free his people in exchange for his peaceful surrender. Delighted by the submission, he gladly has his Avatars snatch his foe, and teleports them back to his castle.

Inside the castle, Tony Stark finds himself the victim of the Mandarin's anti-technology field that renders his suit little more than a glorified tin costume.

The Mandarin illustrates some connection with his reality, exercising caution in accepting Iron Man's surrender. Iron Man plays the understanding foe, agreeing he too would procede with suspicion, knowing fullwell of his own deception.

Iron Man claims that when he was blasted from the sky by the Mandarin's god-like power, he reached an epiphany. He claims he was humbled, and faced the realization that he had dedicated his life to technology under the illusion of being it's master, all the while truly being little more than a slave.

Despite the glimmer of truth in his words, Anthony Stark is unable to convince the Mandarin with mere words. Iron Man compells him to lift the unlocked visor on his helmet, and allow him to see the truth that lies within his eyes.
"Yes. I shall. As I said before, I would see your face -- when you DIE!"

With Tony Stark's face revealed to him, the Mandarin slaps it with the backhand of his green fist. Convinced of a great ruse, the Mandarin prepares to do away with his enemy once and for all, but without warning, he chokes on his words.

As Mandarin begins to feel the effects of the ruse, Iron Man reveals the techno-organic virus infecting and aging him laced the faceplate he so eagerly opened.

Desperate, the Mandarin reaches out to his Avatar, Deluge, but the agent of the Heart of Darkness burns at his tainted touch, crumbling to ash and a smouldering mask. Withering and aging, the evil sorceror crawls toward the Heart of Darkness, making one last plea for salvation for his servitude.

The Mandarin's techno-infected hand meets with the mystic object, resulting in a reaction of epic proportions. Science and sorcery collide, hurling the great energies of the Heart of Darkness out of the castle, and into the night sky. It leaves Iron Man, alone with the Parallax staff, and a world of technology.

The hammer...
Originally I expected to skip over much of the middle bits, but since it all fell into place, I'm going to give this one to Iron Man and the assist to Force Works. Victorious over Mandarin and his Avatar henchman.

You'll notice, if you've been following Marvel Ultimate Alliance Mondays, that there's a substantial number of villains I've skipped over, by now. For the most part that's because I either don't have any of their battles in my feeble collection, or at the very least, nothing of significance. Which strikes me as somehow odd as I reflect on my lifelong investment in the medium, and more importantly, the characters.

The same could be said of The Mandarin, who, despite being among the most enduring villains in the Marvel universe, makes maybe three appearances in the entirety of my collection. Which just seems pathetic! Still, I suppose it's avoided serious storage issues through my youth...

Big things lie on the horizon for The Mandarin!
Aside from appearing in Ultimate Alliance, the character has just featured in the DTV animated Iron Man movie, and is also fixing to fullfil the same role in the live-action vehicle of the same name! If casting is anyone other than Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa, that will be an impressive feat for a character that seems so unlikely to make it to the screen in the tech-heavy world of the Iron Man universe. Granted, filmmaker Jon Favreau has been quite forthcoming about the corporate take on the character, familiar to readers from the early nineties.

Looking closer to the material in this particular issue, you can see highlighted a Tony Stark who has not only been fighting an on-going rivalry with his former friend, James Rhodes (aka War Machine), but is also abrasive and dismissive of his teammates during battle. Which is the kind of characterization that has garnered Civil War a great deal of criticism.

I suppose that remains one of the more interesting facets of the Iron Man character. Tony Stark, to varying degrees, has always represented something less than mainstream in the hero department. Stan Lee cites the character as an initial effort to make a character who was inherently unlikeable - likeable.
In that respect he and brother Larry succeeded undoubtedly, working with the unpopular topics of establishment supporting weapons manufacturers.

The superficial qualities of the weapons-making industrialist playboy have continued to be a conceit of the character, but it's fair to say lying under the radar has remained the edge of a character designed to rub people up the wrong way. Perhaps the great irony of it all is that in the case of Civil War, Tony Stark was arguably the man who was in the right!

With a movie on the horizon it will be very interesting to see if the character can redeem himself as he did during and after this particular issue, and patch the wounds caused by his betrayal. Unless of course, that original edge of antagonism is what will set Iron Man apart from the other heroes present in the box office...

The Fight: 3 The Issue: 4

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