Meet The Mandarin

Image for Meet The Mandarin

With the release of the first Iron Man 3 trailer, you might be wondering just who this Mandarin chap is. In the film, he's played by Sir Ben Kingsley, Oscar winner and serious actor, so you'd be right to guess that there's some serious weight to this particular villain. So as we all digest the trailer and get excited about the film, here’s a handy guide to the Mandarin's comic book history. Of course, as with other Marvel universe movies, elements will undoubtedly be changed for the film, but read on to see if there are any clues to Tony Stark's future hidden in the Mandarin's past...

    The Mandarin first cropped up in Marvel’s Tales Of Suspense #50, published in 1964. As written by Stan Lee and illustrated by Don Heck, his real name has never been revealed - but we do know that he was raised by his aunt after his incredibly wealthy parents died. Every penny of the family fortune was spent training ol' Mandarin in science and combat - which came in handy when he went broke and was evicted from his ancestral pile. Cue a seething drive for revenge!

    In the comics, at least, The Mandarin took some inspiration from one of his ancestors, Genghis Khan, and began exploring ways to make himself powerful. He exploited the remains of a dragon from Maklu IV and studied that planet’s science to fuel his dominance over local villagers. He eventually became so dangerous that the Chinese army couldn’t touch him.

With his technological obsession, the Mandarin naturally had run-ins with our hero, especially when he started trying to turn Stark-built weapons against the countries using them. This meant that he ultimately popped up on Iron Man’s radar and Tony began to investigate the new threat. The Mandarin became Stark’s archenemy as Iron Man tried to thwart his big plans for world domination.

    In the comics, the Mandarin is a well-trained athlete and master martial artist. But his main weapon is one forged from Makluan science: ten rings on his fingers. They endow him with various handy powers, including flame blast, mind control, ice blast, cloaking black light, matter rearranger and levitating vortex beam. One of them is made of sweet, sweet milk chocolate (OK, so we're lying there).
    In the Ultimate Marvel Universe, the Mandarin remains something of a mystery, shown kidnapping James Rhodes and being thwarted by Tony Stark and the Iron Man armour. But he’s also been shown more recently as working with Sin-Cong revolutionary Wong Chu, who abducts Chinese genius Ho Yinsen and Tony Stark. Yinsen sacrifices his life to help Tony escape using the first Iron Man armour. Sound familiar?

    While the Mandarin does not appear directly in the first cinematic Iron Man outing, his influence is felt. Stark is kidnapped by a terrorist group called the Ten Rings, and helped to escape by Yinsen (played by Shaun Toub and Afghani rather than Chinese here). The group is known to be working with The Mandarin. The villainous head honcho was set to feature directly in an older version of the film, developed in 2004 by New Line, with writers including Alfred Gough and Miles Millar making him an Indonesian terrorist.

    Like those earlier drafts, Jon Favreau’s take on Iron Man for Marvel Studios had originally tried to incorporate the Mandarin. But Favreau felt the character was too fantastical for his more down-to-earth take. "I looked at the Mandarin more like how in Star Wars you had the Emperor, but Darth Vader is the guy you want to see fight. Then you work your way to the time when lightning bolts are shooting out of the fingers and all that stuff could happen. But you can’t have all that in Star Wars to start with.” Post-Avengers and in a world where Thor exists, the Mandarin must now seem like less of a stretch.

    After waiting in the shadows for so long, Iron Man 3 promises to put Mr Mandarin front and centre. Ben Kingsley is giving him a stately appearance, crossed with a little Genghis Khan for good measure. He’s even got the ten rings of power on his hand, which makes us wonder whether we’ll see him use them. After Thor’s introduction into the Marvel cinematic universe, it’s possible, though Marvel Studios boss Kevin Feige told Entertainment Weekly that, “Tony is earthbound and facing earthbound villains. You will not find magic power rings firing ice and flame beams.” Spoilsport! But he does hint that they have some use…

    In keeping with his origins, a big part of the Mandarin’s mandate seems to be screwing things up royally for Robert Downey Jr’s Tony Stark. Among his dastardly deeds? Destroying Stark’s swanky oceanfront Malibu pad – with our hero and Gwyneth Paltrow’s Pepper Potts inside. From the looks of the choppers, he’s also found a way to raise an army beyond his terrorist organisations.

    Some may be concerned that Kinglsey isn’t ethnic Chinese, and is playing a man who has always been identified as such. Feige says that the filmmakers were going for a tone rather than a direct translation of the character. “It’s less about his specific ethnicity than the symbolism of various cultures and iconography that he perverts for his own end. It is Tony who, for various reasons, finds himself receding into the darkness. I don’t mean emotional darkness, I mean literally ducking out of the spotlight. And we���ll see other characters stepping up who have pulled strings from the background, starting to show their hand.” Welcome, Mr M. Can we call you Mandy? We’ve been expecting you…