May 14, 2013

Iron Man villain Mandarin outdated?

Avi over at FCMM points to an article which -- surprise! -- excoriates American "bigotry, nativism and xenophobia" for the creation of Iron Man arch-villain the Mandarin. Avi does what he does best -- dissecting the unspoken hypocrisy and one-sidedness of the article -- and I largely agree with him. He notes that, by far, the US is hardly alone when it comes to offensive and stereotypical portrayals of [foreign] characters. This isn't to excuse what has transpired before in this country; however, it needs to be noted that 1) The US has largely excised such characterizations from its entertainment outlets, and 2) Marvel was actually at the forefront of combating prejudice and bigotry in the comics field. Article author Andrew A. Smith fails to note the irony, too:

Speaking of Marvel, that publisher introduced the Yellow Claw in the 1950s, but also — perhaps indicating changing times — heroic Asian-American FBI agent Jimmy Woo. And Marvel gave us the Mandarin. A Chinese mastermind with long fingernails and longer mustache, he was just another Fu Manchu clone for years.

In the 1950s Marvel intro'd an Asian-American FBI agent ... yeah. Not only was that "indicating changing times" (not "perhaps"), it was actually very forward-thinking. And Marvel did a lot more in the following decade, too, in the realm of [racial/ethnic] inclusion.

Marvel has tried updating him (Mandarin) now and again to excise the racism element (and make him more relevant), but because that’s the character’s core, it never really works.

I beg to differ. Mandy has never been my favorite Iron Man baddie, but his constant "updates" through the years have certainly moved away -- excised -- the "racism element." That is, unless you believe (like Smith seems to do) that simply because he is Asian -- and a villain -- that that in itself is racist.

Smith wants Mandy "retired" as a villain, and on that I agree. But I think that's Marvel has pretty much done all it can with the guy.

I haven't yet seen Iron Man 3 (I know, can you believe it??), but from what I've read from hardcore IM fans, the Mandarin characterization is pretty pathetic.

RELATED: Some of the Mandarin's stand-out moments in Iron Man history:

In Mandy's first-ever appearance (Tales of Suspense #50), we see Stark -- in the heat of battle! -- calculate how to deflect one of Mandy's karate chops ... using his "built-in slide- rule calculator!" Also note the classic insult: "Who's laughing now, Sunny Jim?"

One thing I've always pondered: Why in the world is there a big "M" on Mandarin's chest? Ya'd think there'd be his name in Chinese characters, right?

Iron Man #100 was the climax of yet another IM-Mandy scuffle, and it's one of the better ones by far. Mandy's plot involved political subterfuge, nuclear weapons, the giant robot Ultimo, and an incredible all-out action 100th issue (with great art by the late George Tuska):

One of the sillier Mandarin moments came in the late #50s of IM's book when Mandy attempted to ... take over the union that organized Stark Industries' workers?? (His stage name was ... Gene Khan.) Not too big a goal for a wannabe world dictator, huh?

In John Byrne's "Dragon Seed" saga, the origin of Mandy (and Iron Man, to a degree) was retconned. It involved original IM bad-guy Wong Chu and the very Chinese myth about dragons:

In the [lame] 1994 Iron Man cartoon, apparently Marvel wanted to move way away from the Chinese origin, so they gave Mandy ... green skin:

Possibly even sillier than the #50s Gene Khan schtick was when Mandy assumed the role of some businessman and wanted to ... make a movie where he (as Mandarin) battled Iron Man. Cool new battle armor for the villain, but c'mahn:

Then there was the WAY overly drawn-out cross-over title tale where Mandy attempted to stop all of the world's technology (from functioning) and turn the planet into a battle of the feudal warlords. Could have been done in two issues but took a lot more than that to conclude. Lame Tom Morgan artwork doesn't help either:

Finally, one of the BEST Iron Man issues comes in the form of one #69 -- my first-ever comicbook and an incredible all-out slugfest between 'ol Shellhead and Mandy. Yes, Iron Man has his infamous nose in this issue, but penciller George Tuska is at his best here. George is always great when it comes to action sequences, and oh man does he not disappoint here! Take a gander at some the panels.

Posted by Hube at May 14, 2013 06:19 PM | TrackBack

Comments  (We reserve the right to edit and/or delete any comments. If your comment is blocked or won't post, e-mail us and we'll post it for you.)

"Sunny Jim." You don't see that kind of fun dialogue in comics anymore, that's for sure!

Posted by: Carl at May 14, 2013 11:35 PM

See my problem here is that you haven't seen the movie so all I can say is that I liked how they eventually handled the Mandarin in the movie, and it takes care of your whole retirement issue quite nicely.

Posted by: Steve Newton at May 15, 2013 11:25 AM