The Mandarin


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From Tales of Suspense #50 © 1964 Marvel Comics. ART BY DON HECK.

The Mandarin

(pop culture)
In the year when the Beatles' Ringo Starr made fingerwear fashionable, the invincible Iron Man's enemy the Mandarin made them formidable. In Tales of Suspense #50 (1964), Iron Man jets to Red China at the behest of the Pentagon to investigate the ruthless “Oriental menace” before whom obedient servants bow and Communist generals grovel. Plowing through soldiers to enter a fortified castle, the Armored Avenger is smugly greeted by its vainglorious resident, the Mandarin, who paralyzes the high-tech hero with a ray fired from one of his ten rings, and nearly smashes him with a superhumanly strong, steel-splintering karate chop. His armor's energy severely depleted, Iron Man is only able to stall the warlord's attacks before retreating to resume their quarrel another day. The Mandarin is often regarded as one of the many “Yellow Peril” evildoers, but in his first story, writer Stan Lee and artist Don Heck made gestures to elevate him above Fu Manchu–clone status. While drawn by Heck with the goatee and clawlike fingernails so common among fictional Asian masterminds, the Mandarin wore a green jersey with a shocking-pink cowl, boots, and “M” insignia, clearly categorizing him as a costumed supervillain (on the contrary, the cover by Jack Kirby and George Roussos depicted a stately Mandarin in a jade vestment with purple flourishes; over the years the Mandarin's apparel regularly changed, with robes becoming his standard apparel). Red Chinese armies bent to his will, but the Mandarin, unlike many “Yellow Peril” foes, did not regard physical contact beneath him, crossing swords with Iron Man while boasting of his reputation as “the greatest karate master the world has ever known.” The Mandarin's ten rings, one worn on each finger, appeared ceremonial, yet each possessed a fantastical property: “ice blast,” “mentointensifier” (mind control), “electro blast,” “flame blast,” “white light” (a laser), “matter rearranger,” “impact beam,” “vortex beam” (wind control), “disintegration beam,” and “black light” (absence of light). His rings' superpowers were aggrandized by his scientific savvy: in some of his numerous battles with Iron Man, the Mandarin commanded the giant robot Ultimo, made “death beam” attacks from a satellite, and programmed nations' weapons to malfunction. Despite these embellishments, the Mandarin succumbed to “Yellow Peril” trappings. His second story, Tales of Suspense #62 (1965), revealed him to be a descendant of Genghis Khan; that tale also disclosed that the Mandarin discovered his rings in a crashed spaceship once guarded by an extraterrestrial dragon (the same race that spawned Fin Fang Foom). The Mandarin perished at the hands of another Asian villain, the Yellow Claw, in 1974, only to be revived three years later when his mind was transferred into a different body. The Mandarin's discord with Iron Man continued for decades in recurring battles until he died, presumably once and for all, at the close of the millennium. Destiny tapped the Mandarin's son Temugin, who debuted in Iron Man vol. 3 #53 (2002), when he received a box containing his father's rings—on the Mandarin's severed hands! Abandoned as an infant by the Mandarin and raised by monks, the princely Temugin continues the legacy of his warlord father, vowing to kill the Armored Avenger, whom he blames for the Mandarin's death. He once humbled Iron Man with his superhuman stamina and martialarts skills, without the use of the ten rings. Outside of comics, the Mandarin appeared on television in “Iron Man” episodes of the cartoon anthology The Marvel Super-Heroes (1966), and on the Iron Man TV series (1994–1996), from which a tie-in action figure was produced.
The Supervillain Book: The Evil Side of Comics and Hollywood © 2006 Visible Ink Press®. All rights reserved.
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