Iron Man: Armored Adventures ended its two-season run on Nicktoons this past July, but the animated series continues to reach audiences. It recently aired as part of The CW's Saturday morning "Vortexx" lineup, and it's being collected on DVD — the latest "Season 2, Vol. 3," was released earlier this month.
The series debuted in 2009, between the first two Iron Man live-action feature films. Unlike most Marvel animated series, it used CGI animation, and presented Tony Stark, James Rhodes and Pepper Potts as teenagers, while presenting plenty of familiar Marvel Universe heroes and villains along the way.
With the new disc now on sale — featuring "Heavy Mettle," "Mandarin’s Quest," "Hostile Takeover," "Extremis," "The X-Factor" and "Iron Man 2099;" episodes No. 39-44 of the show's 52-episode run — we spoke to series producer Megan Thomas Bradner and story editor Brandon Auman about the episodes listed above, and their experiences working on the show as a whole.Newsarama: Megan, Brandon, now that Iron Man: Armored Adventures has finished its run, how do you view the role the show played within the ranks of Marvel animated series? While it obviously featured familiar Marvel characters and concepts, by making Iron Man and his supporting cast teenagers, it significantly altered the depiction on a very famous character. How unique was that type of opportunity?
Megan Thomas Bradner: Although the first episode premiered in 2009, the show had a long gestational period, that pre-dated the development of the Iron Man theatrical film. It was an innovative way of trying to tackle a character who before then had not garnered the response or popularity of Spider-Man or the X-Men. I think there may have been some bristling amongst some of the life-long Iron Man fans who felt youthening Tony Stark was betraying the character or it wasn't "their" Tony. But the goal was to really preserve all the cool stuff about the character and appeal to a whole new generation of fans who'd never heard of Iron Man. And of course, because of the long development time required for CGI, this was all already well underway by the time the feature film version came out. So, it helps to place the show in context.
Personally, I think what Chris [Yost], Craig [Kyle], and Josh [Fine] were able to do in the first season, and Brandon and Method Animation were able to accomplish in the second season is really amazing.Brandon Auman: Well, in comics, reinventing a superhero isn't that radical of an idea, Marvel does it all the time — even with their major heroes. Just look at Hawkeye, or any of the Ultimates heroes, or even Iron Man himself in the 90's — all very different takes on familiar characters.
In animation, we tend to like fairly classic representations of our superheroes. Even I was a little skeptical about making Iron Man a teenager, but once I saw what Marvel wanted to do with Tony Stark, I was into it. It felt like an animated take on Ultimate Iron Man, which was pretty cool. The French designs felt very clean and appealing. I think it all added up to something totally unique, and very much of its time.
Nrama: How much freedom was granted by the core premise of the series? Which is to say, over the course of the series, what did you find that you could do with this version of Iron Man that wouldn't have been possible with a more classic take?
Bradner: We wanted to make Tony Stark and Iron Man accessible for kids who'd never heard of the character. Think of it the same way you might think of the Spider-Man and Ultimate Spider-Man comic books, same character — just younger and with a slightly different spin on his stories and villains. It's taking what worked and updating it for the modern era, and making judicious revisions when they're needed and sprinkling in some cool new stuff here and there. We still have the cool gadgets and awesome armor but we lost some (not all) of the boardroom battles. We figure for the most part we'd rather be animating cool armor battles than business intrigue.Auman: It's freeing to think of Tony as a young, less cynical, more optimistic inventor type. Basically an alternate reality Stark. Despite the aged-down Tony... we still wanted it to feel like the comics. The action, the storylines, were largely adapted from some of the classic Iron Man books, like "Extremis" and "Armor Wars."
Making it kid-relatable does have its challenges... you want to convey aspects of Tony's life, like the business side, losing his company, inventing new tech, etc. It can't be boring for a second... so you relate those themes to experiences in a kid's life: the betrayal of friends, stealing what you've created, feeling let down, anger, etc.
Nrama: On a similar note, how significant was the experience of working on Armored Adventures to both of your careers — and getting to explore the Marvel Universe from a different, very specific angle?
Bradner: I'd worked on CGI before, but not to the extent we did on IMAA. There are some amazing things you can do with CGI, I'm proud of how our show looks — you can see the jump in quality from season one to season two. But there are some limitations — you only have so many sets and props and characters built. We only had so many "extras" to fill out scenes and so forth, and it was super time intensive to ask them to have more than a certain amount of characters doing simultaneous movement sin the same scene, so juggling that and trying to still do the big-action-packed stories we wanted to do could be challenging at times.That said, our colleagues at Method Animation really stepped up their game at every turn to true and find a way to deliver on our crazy ambitions.
Auman: It was very significant to me, it was the first Marvel show I worked on. There have been several since; Avengers: Earth's Mightiest Heroes, Hulk and the Agents of S.M.A.S.H., Ultimate Spider-Man, and a few animated movies as well. So Iron Man: Armored Adventures will always hold a special place, absolutely. I love these characters. It was incredibly fun to play around in the IMAA sandbox.
Nrama: To get into some specific episodes that are on the Season 2, Volume 3 release, it includes the "Extremis" storyline, an adaptation of one of the most famous Iron Man stories from the past decade. What was exciting about bringing Extremis to Armored Adventures? And how much of a challenge was it to distill a fairly complex, multi-part story into the show's format?
Bradner: [The comic book story] "Extremis" was written by Warren Ellis known lover of future-tech — I mean of course he'd write a bad ass Iron Man story, right? And it's a story that's had resonance in subsequent writer's approach to the character and who he is today in the Marvel Universe. Plus, we really wanted to find a way to upgrade Iron Man without just tweaking the design of the suit. Not that we don't love an excuse to give him new armor, but we were really interested in upgrading Tony as well as Iron Man. Giving Tony the ability to control the armor (and to a limited extent computer systems) was important in "leveling him up."
Auman: It was definitely challenging to adapt such a layered story. I'm still not sure how Marvel even let us get away with it, we slipped through the back door somehow on that one. [Laughs.] We knew it couldn't be as dark as the original story... it's such an adult book. But we figured we could possibly distill the essence of it. The themes are still there, and the basic storyline: A man with deep personal problems turning into a monster via Extremis... Tony getting hurt and taking the same dangerous formula to upgrade himself and face the monster... the basics are still there.The biggest change was making Mallen a former agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. I wanted his end-goal to be an actual person who wronged him, so we made Mallen's ultimate enemy Nick Fury. We changed him to an unstable S.H.I.E.L.D. agent who crosses the line into murderous freak once he takes the Extremis formula, it just helped tighten the sprawling story. So we did make some changes that helped from a character standpoint... but we really did try and honor the comic as best we could... for kids. I just can't believe they let us adapt one of my favorite Iron Man stories of the past ten years or so...
Nrama: "The X-Factor" introduced Magneto, Jean Grey and more X-universe elements to the series. What went into constructing that episode — and deciding what parts of the vast X-world that you would feature?
Bradner: Well, I am a notorious Jean Grey fan, but I have to admit Brandon already had this in the works before he knew that. Jean is one of the Original X-Men, and her power set is an interesting one to have our team of heroes react to because it's not anything they can "see" really and she can "pass" as human but it's really isolating. It was just interesting to see how Tony reacted to that, to powers that didn't come from any gadget or tech. How did that fit into his world-view? You can see in the episode that Pepper and Rhodey come at it from different angles.
And then there's Magneto. Who doesn't want to see the Master of Magnetism versus Iron Man? We totally beat AVX: VS #1 to the punch when it came to hosting that battle.
Auman: Well, we decided early on that Magneto would be a great Iron Man villain. They seem like perfect adversaries, but rarely seemed to face off in the comics. We didn't want Iron Man to invent a plastic suit to take on Magneto either... that defeats the purpose of being an Iron Man!And of course, we didn't want all mutants to seem evil. We figured bringing Jean Grey in would be a cool way of humanizing the mutants. The core of the X-Men is the nature of humanity, racism, loneliness... we tried to tap into these themes as best we could. On a lighter note, I thought it was cool that we got a little Professor X in there as well... I think early on we wanted Cyclops to be with him, but it didn't happen.
Nrama: As the title suggests, "Iron Man 2099" brought a take on Marvel 2099 to Armored Adventures. What inspired that inclusion? Also, how important was it to bring Hawkeye and Black Widow back as heroes, after showing their criminal background earlier in the series?
Bradner: A dash of nostalgia for the Iron Man 2020 stories and a pinch of nostalgia for the 2099 line (Doom 2099 foreverrrrr) And we both love time travel stories.
We loved Black Widow and Hawkeye and if we had more time (more episodes) we would have definitely tried to use them more. We just had such a rich canvas of characters and so many other stories we wanted to tell that we had to be really judicious in who appeared where. We'd already seen Widow turn towards the light (well as much as she ever does), but it was nice to give Hawkeye his hero's moment this episode.
Auman: "Iron Man 2099" was a back-up episode I wasn't planning on writing, until Megan was like, "You have to do the Iron Man 2099 ep!" It was in the show bible, but we were going to do a Raiders episode instead. But Megan thought a 2099 episode would be more interesting, and she was right.I love time travel/time crossing stories, where characters from the past or future end up in the present. So I pitched a story about Tony's grandson, the future Iron Man, Andros Stark. I really like that Andros wasn't a bad guy per se, but from his future time stream, he saw Tony as the villain. I think those types of stories — done well — are cool and rare. Everyone wants a clear-cut bad guy with evil motivations... but I think "villains" with good motivations are more interesting. It's all about POV, there is no real good or evil. On Hawkeye and Black Widow returning... well, we always saw those characters returning as heroes, and this episode gave us the opportunity. It's rad seeing the evolution of superheroes...
Nrama: To whatever extent you're able to talk about it, were there many plans being discussed had the show got a third season? Any stories you were looking to explore, or new characters or concepts to introduce?
Bradner: At the current moment there are no plans, but you never know. I'm really proud of Rescue showing up at the end of the season and I wish we'd had a chance to tell more stories with her.
Auman: It would have been great, but I never seriously entertained the idea that we were getting a third season. But by some strange miracle if it would have, happened, I had plenty of ideas fleshed out that I would've liked to explore. Like Tony, Rhodey and Pepper attempting to be superheroes with the entire world knowing their identities. It would have been cool to see them in college, attempting to live normal lives. I would have loved to bring in Wolverine, Captain America and Thor... maybe even the Fantastic Four.
On the villain side, I probably would have introduced The Raiders, The Mauler, and a few other classic Iron Man supervillains. And maybe some heavy hitting Marvel villains like the Skrulls and Galactus!
Nrama: To wrap up: What are both of you currently working on that fans should know about?
Auman: I have an animated Marvel movie that I wrote… Iron Man: Rise of Technovore, an anime movie produced by Megan for Marvel and animated by Sony/Madhouse. Also, I worked on the new Hulk and the Agents of S.M.A.S.H. series which will debut inside the Marvel Universe block on Disney XD. In the meanwhile, I'm story editing the new Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles series for Nickelodeon... phew!
Bradner: Iron Man: Rise of Technovore, and working on some other stuff that is still seeeeecret.More from Newsarama:
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