Before he became the number-one movie superhero, Iron Man had pretty limited exposure outside of comics. The “cool exec with a heart of steel,” Iron Man was part of the 1967 MARVEL SUPER-HEROES animation package from Grantray-Lawrence, which featured barely animated cartoons taken straight from the original art of the comics themselves.
These are good for some yuks, and the stories are certainly faithful retellings, but they barely qualify as animation.
Iron Man did get his own action figure in Mego’s 1970s “World’s Greatest Super-Heroes” line.
A little-known fact: the figure was originally designed as a Doctor Doom figure, but to save money on the figure (the Doom would have cost more due to the “metallic” cloth used to simulate armor and the additional cloth for a cloak and hood) it was converted to an Iron Man, which is why the Mego Iron Man sports the George Tuska-style nose on the faceplate that appeared so briefly in the comics. It’s a pretty sweet figure, one of the high points of Mego’s line.
Iron Man returned to television in 1994 as part of the syndicated MARVEL ACTION HOUR. Just like its sister series THE FANTASTIC FOUR, the first season of the MARVEL ACTION HOUR IRON MAN series was truly horrendous. Iron Man is saddled with a second-rate Avengers-knockoff superhero team, featuring War Machine, Spider-Woman, Hawkeye, Scarlet Witch and Century.
The Mandarin schemes up Cobra Commander-like plans nearly every episode, and uses the same goon henchmen week after agonizing week. The scripts were juvenile and unfunny, and the voice acting, with the notable exception of Robert Hays as Tony Stark/Iron Man, was well below par.
Just like FANTASTIC FOUR, however, in a rare move for television, producers noticed and took action, replacing the entire creative team, and recasting the whole show with the exception of Hays. The second season was much, much better, with smarter, less formulaic scripts, better animation and much improved acting, thanks to the talents of folks like Efrem Zimbalist, Jr., David Warner, Lisa Zane, Ron Perlman and Matt Frewer. The stories have a much more serious tone, such as a well-done adaptation of the “Armor Wars” storyline from the comics.
Most important, the Mandarin (who for some reason is colored a lovely shade of green in the series) doesn’t appear in every stinking episode. The best thing to come out of the IRON MAN animated series, however, was a fantastic series of action figures from Toy Biz. Not only was nearly every type of armor design created as an action figure (everything from stealth to outer-space to undersea to my personal favorite — “Hulkbuster armor”), but the toy line lasted long enough to offer both supporting characters like War Machine, Hawkeye and Spider-Woman, as well as a whole mess of classic Iron Man villains, including the Mandarin, the Crimson Dynamo, Titanium Man, Blizzard, Blacklash and my personal favorite, MODOK (That stands for Mobile Organism Designed Only for Killing, by the way…)
The only flaw in the series was that they never made a figure of the classic Steve Ditko armor, the one most used in the comics.
Toy Biz finally rectified this error in their “Marvel Legends” action-figure series, with this stunning Iron Man action figure, available with and without the original Ditko-style faceplate. It’s pretty much the best Iron Man figure ever made. Pick one up if you’re so inclined.
As it turns out, Iron Man is a pretty consistent seller for the company, as over the next three years, Toy Biz released a whole passel of Iron Man figures, as seen here:
Since then, of course, Iron Man has been merchandised to near Mickey Mouse levels, but back in the day, this was pretty impressive…