The Mandarin: Who is Iron Man’s Archenemy?

Fu Man-Who?

The Mandarin:I pity you, Iron Man! For though you do not even suspect my existence, you head the list of those The Mandarin has vowed to destroy! And The Mandarin never fails!

Tales of Suspense #50

An assassin sneaks through a castle. His village has been tormented by a tyrant’s army. He has spent months planning an infiltration to assassinate the tyrant. Narrowly dodging a guard patrol, he spies his target. The tyrant in his decadent, imperial robes pores over the maps detailing yet another diabolical scheme. The assassin offers a quick prayer before raising his gun and pulling the trigger.

The bullet passes through the target, who shimmers and disappears. It was an illusion. A dark cloud absorbs the room’s light. The assassin’s body convulses as something shocks it. The light returns as waves of cold freeze his body. The tyrant examines his new ice sculpture. A karate chop decapitates the assassin. His body falls and shatters into crimson chunks. The Mandarin returns to his planning. 

The Mandarin is one of Marvel’s more… problematic villains. He was created when Yellow Peril villains were common, but changing times have made his origins less than palatable. So who is he? How did he get his powers? Have later writers made him less of a stereotype? Let’s find out.

Khanquest: The Mandarin’s Backstory

The Mandarin:Others tremble before me, but you merely mock me! Others are paralyzed with fear in my presence, but you defy me! What manner of being are you?!

Tales of Suspense #54

The Mandarin debuted in Tales of Suspense #50 in 1964. He was created by Stan Lee and Don Heck. He was inspired by Fu Manchu.

Gene Khan is a descendant of Ghengis Khan and heir to one of the greatest fortunes in China. He spent his family’s wealth on science, warfare, and martial arts teachers. The Chinese government repossessed his ancestral home because he could no longer afford its taxes. The newly homeless Gene blamed civilization for his misfortune and swore to conquer the world.

Gene traveled to the Valley of Spirits, which the superstitious locals believed was haunted. He discovered a spaceship belonging to an alien dragon. Gene studied the advanced technology and claimed ten ring-shaped devices that gave him superpowers. He used the rings to conquer several villages and renamed himself The Mandarin.

The Mandarin began stealing planes and weapons from Stark Industries, earning Iron Man’s attention. Iron Man’s armor was able to overcome the alien technology, but The Mandarin always escaped the Armored Avenger. 

Extremis: The Mandarin’s History

The Mandarin:Yes. You possess the rare gene that ensures survival of the Extremis transformation. As for me… I will die with the others in the Great Culling. Unlike you, child, I will not live to see the fruits of my labor. It is a small price to pay.”

Invincible Iron Man #25

Iron Man wasn’t the only Avenger to tangle with The Mandarin. Writers tried to make The Mandarin more popular by having him fight The Hulk, The Fantastic Four, and The Avengers, to mixed success. They also swapped out his imperial robes and Fu Manchu mustache for a business suit and goatee to make him seen less stereotypical. The changes made The Mandarin look suspiciously similar to DC’s popular Batman villain: Ra’s al Ghul.

The Mandarin infiltrated the U.S. government to develop the Extremis Virus, a pathogen that would make the infected smarter, stronger, and nearly immortal. Unfortunately, it could also kill 97.5% of the human race, The Mandarin included. Iron Man stopped that plan and was exposed to a modified strain of the virus, causing him to gain superpowers.

The Mandarin was eventually murdered after a team-up with Iron Monger went wrong. The Ten Rings were revealed to contain part of his soul and found their way to new ring bearers. Wait… is The Mandarin actually Sauron from The Lord of the Rings? Regardless, the ring bearers all became new incarnations of The Mandarin, sometimes working together against Iron Man and sometimes trying to steal the other rings.

Legend of the Ten Rings: The Mandarin’s Powers and Personality

The Mandarin:Do I perceive the icy fingers of fear clutch your heart… just as the ice itself now tears at your armor?”

Tales of Suspense #86

The Mandarin is an expert scientist and a deadly martial artist. He has destroyed many of Iron Man’s armors by hitting weak spots and seams with his blows. The Mandarin is also a talented swordsman.

The Ten Rings are The Mandarin’s signature weapons. Each has its own unique name and power. The Zero Ring freezes objects to absolute zero, The Liar can mind control victims and create illusions, The Lightning Ring fires beams of electricity, The Incandescence Ring fires heat rays and can cause explosions, and The Daimonic controls gravity.

The Nightbringer creates clouds of “Dark Force” energy to absorb all light, The Spectral Ring fires a disintegrator ray, but needs twenty minutes to charge, The Spin Ring gives The Mandarin telekinesis, The Influence Ring manipulates magnetism and fires sonic attacks, and finally, The Remaker can manipulate atoms and warp reality in a very small area.

The Mandarin is a tyrant with a code of honor. If he gives his word, nothing will convince him to break it. He has even killed his own minions for acting dishonorably. The Mandarin projects an affable and polite personality to make himself seem like less of a monster.

The Actors Who Play The Mandarin

Henry Ramer – The Marvel Super Heroes
Ed Gilbert and Robert Ito – Iron Man: the Animated Series
Vincent Tong – Iron Man: Armored Adventures
Fred Tatascoire – The Invincible Iron Man
Tony Chiu-Wai Leung – Shang Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings

Didya Get All That?

A would-be conqueror who knows how to accessorize.

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