Iron Man has been around since 1963, but he didn’t have an ounce of cultural vibrancy until he burst onto movie screens in 2008.
Now of course he’s a big deal. Tony Stark, the quip-y billionaire with a mecha suit of high-tech ammunition, was arguably the most popular superhero in the world.
But after 53 years of comic book adventures, Iron Man still didn’t have one memorable archenemy. Madame Masque? Whiplash? The Grey Gargoyle? Who were these meatballs? Unlike Batman or Spider-Man or the X-Men, his rogues’ gallery was conspicuously deficient.
The Mandarin was probably Iron Man’s most famous adversary. But that’s not saying much. If you didn’t know, the criminal mastermind was a direct descendant of Genghis Khan, and he unabashedly called himself “the greatest agent of chaos the world has ever seen.”
He’s mostly known as the guy who wore ten rings bursting with superpowered alien technology. One ring, for instance, unleashed an ice blast. Another ring was a mento-intensifier (look it up). Other rings could manipulate electromagnetic energy, project concussive shocks, and rearrange molecular matter. Truly, he was the Lord of the Rings.
In this adventure, the Mandarin travels to Ireland to disrupt an international eco summit. His mad plan was to control the fate of the world’s environment and use Iron Man as a stooge. In other words: “World domination through sewage.”
That’s not how things turn out of course. The Mandarin’s terrorist plot was easily undone. He may be a student of Sun Tzu and the descendant of Great Khan of the Mongol Empire, but he’s easily defeated by Tony Stark, a teenage girl, and a small group of Irish police officers. He had rings on his fingers and bells on his toes, but he was still a C-list supervillain with zero charisma.
Stark, on the other hand, had a war chest filled with charisma. As a teenager, his father thought he was “irrepressibly cocky.” And over the years he gained a well-deserved reputation for being smart, pompous, arrogant, sarcastic, and stubborn.
But he was also witty, charming, and funny. And these qualities help author Eoin Colfer produce a novel filled with non-stop jokey banter, crazy shenanigans, and irreverent non-sequiturs. Stan Lee would undoubtedly call Iron Man: The Gauntlet a Merry Marvel Masterpiece. Emphasis on the word “merry.”
Colfer, best known for his Artemis Fowl series, even has fun with an old goat like the Mandarin. For example, in the morning while doing his daily tai chi exercises, the Chinese terrorist freely adds a little disco hustle to his routine. And when he has Stark on the ropes, he indulges in a maniacal and self-conscious laugh. “Ha-ha-haaaa!” he cries, shaking his fist for good measure. He even has the wherewithal to spout capsule reviews on all sorts of pop culture ephemeral. He doesn’t care for the The Hunger Games books for instance.
Never mind that the world’s “most infamous terrorist” is reading YA novels and listening to old Bee Gee’s music. It’s not worth thinking about too much. The whole thing is daffy business. But how can you not enjoy a book where Iron Man is outfoxed by a teenager from the Saltee Islands and Team Mandarin is defeated by a hurley stick and sliotar? In the end, Tony Stark and his archnemesis never had a chance. Nobody messes with the Irish.
[Iron Man: The Gauntlet / By Eoin Colfer / First Printing: October 2016 / ISBN: 9781484741603]