Some comics punch you in the gut. The Invincible Iron Man Annual #1 – Mandarin: The Story of My Life hit me in the stomach and slapped me across the face.
The story by Matt Fraction (writer) and Carmine Di Giandomenico (artist) tells a chilling tale. For me, it was my first encounter with the Mandarin. Besides thinking his name is horrible and being aware that he’s in the upcoming Iron Man 3 and that he has a bunch of powerful alien rings, I knew nothing. He was just another villain. Now I see that is serious frakking business.
It all begins when the Mandarin kidnaps an award winning director, Jun Shan, to tell the story of his life in a film. What better way to make the world understand you than to show them your beginnings? To ensure Shan agrees to work with him and tell the story correctly, the Mandarin also kidnaps his wife.
Okay, I can deal with that. It’s not cool but not out of the ordinary bad guy stuff. Then it progresses.
The Mandarin embellishes his personal history. He puts himself at places and times that don’t make any sense or directly contradict each other. And if Shan calls him out on the error? Forget about it. He also micromanages Shan to the point of ridiculous. He’s an overzealous producer – no one wants to work with him (I mean, they wouldn’t even if he weren’t evil).
To ensure Shan continues to cooperate, the villain makes Shan’s wife a puppet forced to do heavens knows what and threatens both their lives. He’s textbook nutty but coupled with a malicious streak that knows no bounds.
Everyone should be scared of him.
Like most antagonists, he only thinks of himself. He wants his legacy to be remembered favorably. He wants to look powerful, fierce, strong – he doesn’t want history to talk about the fragility of his mind. And since it seems like he gets what he wants, he doesn’t have any reason to believe people won’t do or think what he tells them to believe. After all when Shan makes and shows a truer story of the Mandarin’s life, he… well, he loses his temper.
After you know what the rings are capable of, you know that him getting angry is not a desirable outcome. He wields a ghastly amount of power. My newbie self very much appreciated that a panel was included to show off what each ring was capable of doing:
We get to know the powers, sure, but overall this story is about the character. It has to be tempting to insert cookie cutter villains into comics. Goodness knows, they exist across stories and publishers. What you can write and draw to make one really stand apart from the rest? How do you make someone more than just mean? This story shows you. You absolutely see the evil, but you see different facets of the Mandarin’s personality. He has grandiose plans, he’s delusional, he’s cunning yet at the same time too arrogant to think people would try to pull one over on him, he’s petty, ambitious, selfish, a perfectionist, and the list continues. I’ve learned enough to know the Mandarin is a force to be reckoned with; he’s one of the worst.
I can’t say I enjoyed this story, but I do respect it. It was hard to look at the images and read about how horrendous the Mandarin can be. His level of unbalanced reminds me of the Joker, as does his cruelty. That all said, it sucked me into the pages. Every panel contributed to the story. Every moment added depth and personality. Even though I wouldn’t read this comic again, just like The Killing Joke, it made an impression.