Iron Man is one of the most popular superheroes in the world right now, thanks to the Marvel movies and Robert Downey Jr.'s incredible performances as Tony Stark. But there was a long time no one cared about Iron Man — including when he starred in his own cartoon in 1994. Which may explain why the show was so insanely bad that Worst Episode Ever might as well just start with the first, terrible episode.
The first thing you need to know about the 1994 Iron Man cartoon is that it was part of the Marvel Power Hour, which featured the possibly even worse Fantastic Four cartoon (which I’ll get to eventually). It was introduced by Stan Lee, who obviously hasn’t aged a day in the last 20 years, in his full-on shilliest shill mode.
The second thing you need to know about the 1994 Iron Man cartoon is how much the animators did not give a shit. About the property, about the audience, about the show, anything. The first clue that this cartoon was made by people who hated everything was the opening credits (shown above) which introduces the following characters in this order:
• Blacklash (actually Whiplash, with a new name and not a speck of black on him)
• Grey Gargoyle
• War Machine
Now, there is a single point where the words “Iron Man” fill the screen — the opening title — but it’s followed by a shot of the Mandarin (who, it should probably be pointed out, is a green elf with a Fu Manchu moustache in the cartoon. Hey, at least he’s not yellow). Do you know what this means? It means Iron Man is not introduced in the opening credits of his own cartoon. It explains who the Mandarin’s flunkies are (and somehow gives the Mandarin last billing amongst them), it says who War Machine is, but it never shows the words "Iron Man" accompanied by a picture of Iron Man. Look, I doubt kids were shockingly confused, but when Grey Gargoyle gets a credit, shouldn’t the goddamn hero?
And what about the other heroes? In the Iron Man cartoon, Iron Man has a posse consisting of Spider-Woman (the Julia Carpenter one, who has the hots for Tony), Hawkeye, Scarlet Witch (who looks nothing like the comics' Scarlet Witch, but appears for all intents and purposes to be a woman in a one-piece swimsuit) and Century. None of these characters (besides Century, who is terrible) deserve credits over goddamned “Hypnotia”? They’re the heroes!
The third thing you need to know about the Iron Man cartoon is that this first episode is titled “And the Sea shall Give Up Its Dead,” which means it’s not just bullshit, but pretentious bullshit.
The story, such that it is, begins when the crew of a Russian submarine discovers Hypnotia on board with a glowing cube that is not the Cosmic Cube. She hypnotizes the crew — which somehow turns them into withered brown corpses — mentions how iin one year from now the cube will turn them into zombies, shoots a hole in the side of the sub and swims away from a depth of several thousand feet.
Meanwhile, Tony is getting physical therapy in a pool for some completely unexplained reason (it’s the first episode, remember) as his therapist is holding him and making him kick like a four-year-old taking his first swimming lessons. I only mention this to point out this is our very first glimpse of our hero. Then Whirlwind and Dreadknight attack and steal a microchip that is hanging out on the top of a 3 ¾-inch floppy disk — as we all know microchips used to be positioned — while Tony does nothing.
The evil duo bring the microchip to Mandarin and MODOK — who, by the way, is another recurring villain who was deemed un-credit-worthy — and the Mandarin evilly announces the microchip will allow him to sync up with the device in the sub so that in exactly one year, he will be able to defeat Iron Man. Even Dreadknight is baffled why he's chosen a plan that takes an entire year to pull off over something a little quicker, but the Mandarin seems confident this year wait is necessary.
EXACTLY ONE YEAR LATER: Tony Stark and War Machine are still talking about Whirlwind and Dreadknight’s attack from a year ago when the U.S. Military calls to explain they’re going to retrieve the Russian sub, because apparently a ship passed over where the sub was and melted. Keep this in mind. Anyway, the Military asks Iron Man for help.
Meanwhile, Hypnotia and MODOK are listening in through some sort of techno-balloon, which I bring up solely because they are disguised, and when I say disguised, I mean MODOK IS IN A BABY STROLLER WEARING NO DISGUISE WHATSOEVER.
Apparently, Iron Man checking out the submarine will interfere with the Mandarin’s plan, so MODOK tells the Mandarin who sends his minions to stop him… after he throws Blizzard (another villain who is in all honesty completely unworthy of being mentioned in the opening credits) down a magically created bottomless hole for — and I swear this is true — for killing his begonias.
The Mandarin keeps begonias. Blizzard killed them when he used his freeze powers to cool off his drink. The Mandarin lets him plummet for s bit, then forgives him, perhaps because he realizes this is the stupidest fucking thing that has ever happened in a Marvel cartoon.
Iron Man suits up to check out the submarine, which means his “transformation sequence” is played, which will be used in every episode. There are a few notable bits:
• Iron Man ‘s armor is actually in a suitcase, like the Mark V from Iron Man 2.
• The suitcase is completely gray, as is the armor inside it.
• Yet when Tony puts it on, it’s suddenly red and yellow.
• And, for no reason whatsoever, it cuts to an amazingly horrible CG scene where the animators couldn’t even make their shitty model of Iron Man bend down, so his helmet flies up off the ground into his hands. You can see for yourself:
As Iron Man’s team watch him fly off to check out the submarine, Hawkeye switches the channel to the opening of the Hammer Tunnel, a Chunnel built by long-time Iron Man foe Justin Hammer to connect England and Belgium. Everyone yells at Hawkeye for changing the channel, who complains that he’d rather watch a ball game than see Iron Man investigate a submarine with some kind of mysterious ability to destroy all life on earth. BORING.
When they switch the channel back, Iron Man is at the sub and is being attacked by the Mandarin’s goons; War Machine and the rest decide they better help him out. Luckily, even though they’re somewhere in America and the sub is in the British Channel, Century has stupid powerful powers, and just teleports everybody there at once, although why he didn’t do that for Iron Man instead of forcing him to fly there is unknown. When the Mandarin sees Iron Man’s pals there to help, he does the only thing he can — summon the pants-wearing dragon Fin Fang Foom and then make a halo appear over his head for no fucking reason.
Now, what happens next is amazing dumb, even by the standards of the show. Let me break it down:
• Fin Fang Foom arrives and breathes fire on Iron Man, even though he’s underwater.
• The fire acts as a bludgeoning force, which knocks Iron Man into a gorge that didn’t exist more than a second ago.
• War Machine says Tony has been hit by a laser and “the cyber feedback reached his brain” even though what actually happened is A DRAGON BREATHED FIRE ON HIM WHILE HE WAS UNDERWATER.
• War Machine also says if they don’t find him fast, Iron Man’s “mind will incinerate!” which… you know, I just give up.
Of course, War Machine finds Iron Man in about three seconds and takes him back to the armory to rest, apparently leaving everyone else hanging out on the ocean floor. War Machine notes it’s weird that at first the Mandarin seemed to want to keep Iron Man from the sub, but later he didn’t care. The words “first” and “later” strike a chord in Tony’s brain — he literally says “First… and later... define time! Something had to be happening aboard the [submarine]!” With this brilliant revelation, Iron Man and War Machine head back to the sub.
Mandarin finally hits the button to detonate the box Hypnotia put on the submarine, which releases the goo even as MODOK explains how it took a year to turn the sub’s crew into mindless radioactive zombies, despite the clear proof that the chemical has literally just been opened a second ago (also, how a closed container of zombie goo made that ship that passed over the sub melt a few days ago is beyond all possible explanation).
These radioactive zombies walk from the submarine to a conveniently placed door on Justin Hammer’s Faux Chunnel, and arrive at the tunnel entrance just as Iron Man and the other heroes arrive. Iron Man realizes if these radioactive zombies — who are all still wearing their little sailor hats — get loose, millions will die from the radioactivity and give the Mandarin “a vast army of the undead!” so, of course, Hawkeye and Century immediately start punching them. Scarlet Witch, on the other hand, uses her powers to disguise herself as a sexy radioactive sailor zombie, which gets her close enough (to the radioactive goddamned zombie) that she can grab its club (what the fuck is happening?) and smack it.
Some zombies get punched, some get shot with lasers, and eventually Iron Man removes a piece of Justin Hammer’s Chunnel and the zombies in it have to swim away, which somehow signifies a victory. As the Mandarin glowers over the failure of this one-full-year-in-the-making plan, MODOK sends down Titanium Man from a satellite, because… I don’t even know.
When flying directly at Titanium Man and getting punched doesn’t work, here’s the scheme that Tony comes up with: 1) Iron Man and War Machine each grab one of Titanium Man’s legs and trip him; 2) Iron Man rolls him up in the ground like it’s a fucking carpet, which, of course, traps him completely; 3), then, last but not least, Iron Man and War Machine throw Titanium Man into outer fucking space because THE ANIMATORS DID NOT GIVE A SHIT.
So the day is saved! And then Century uses his magic ax or whatever to turn the radioactive zombies back into living Russian sailors, because they were innocent victims and NO ONE ASKS HIM WHY HE DIDN’T DO THIS AT THE VERY FUCKING BEGINNING. THE END. THE IRON MAN CARTOON HATES YOU. THAT IS ALL.
What did we learn?
• If your plan requires you to plant a bioweapon in a Russian submarine, sink that submarine, wait for Justin Hammer to build a Chunnel, have that Chunnel open exactly one year after the sub sank, and yet the end result is no more than a couple dozen goopy zombies in silly hats, maybe your plan is just a touch overcomplicated.
• Seriously, why was the year necessary? Why did the show writers even mention this? What narrative purpose did it possibly serve other than making things dumber and more confusing?
• Hypnotia wears the exact same socks as used in the “Slutty Rainbow Brite” Halloween costume.
• War Machine puts on his outfit gloves first, which seems like it would make putting on the rest of his armor more difficult.
• The bumper for the show — the little screen they put just before and after commercial breaks — has the Iron Man logo shooting out of one of Iron Man’s eye holes, and it’s really quite creepy.
• No matter what Tony is wearing in a scene, his clothes will inexplicably change to a suit for the transformation into Iron Man sequence, because the animators did. Not. Care.
• And just in case you needed a bit more proof, here's a scene where the animators couldn't be bothered to remember Hawkeye's costume wasn't beige.
• Even though radioactive zombies can kill you through radiation poisoning, this is somehow negated if you punch them.
• While the cartoon didn’t show anyone inside the armor, there’s never been a Titanium Man who wasn’t piloted by a human, so it’s more than likely Iron Man and War Machine killed a dude by throwing him into space. Just FYI.
• There’s an episode of this cartoon where it’s revealed that MODOK is married to a supermodel, and this episode is still dumber. I thought you’d want to know.