Iron Man: Armored Adventures Animated Series

Iron Man Goes Digital With Sci-Fi Novelist John Shirley

Tony Stark gets a dash of cyberpunk in this episode written by the screenwriter of 'The Crow'!

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By Chris Arrant

Since its launch in 2009, the animated series “Iron Man: Armored Adventures” has excelled in part because of its cutting edge 3D CGI style that matches the bleeding edge technology created by Tony Stark. But when the show’s creators dreamt up a face-off between Stark and a mind-controlling villain in a “Matrix”-like digital realm, they reached out for a unique vantage point to get it right: sci-fi novelist John Shirley. Shirley is best known as one of the forefathers of the cyberpunk movement, with critic Larry McCaffery calling him “a postmodern Edgar Allen Poe.” So long-time fan and “Iron Man: Armored Adventures” Story Editor Brandon Auman knew just who to contact when this special episode, titled “CONTROL-ALT-DELETE,” first developed.

Screenshot of Iron Man and the Controller from "Iron Man: Armored Adventures"

“This episode is best described as cyberpunk meets the super hero adventure story,” Shirley describes. “I was one of the original cyberpunk writers, along with Bruce Sterling and Rudy Rucker and Pat Cadigan and William Gibson, and Brandon Auman, who hired me, is a fan of that subgenre, and he wanted something along those lines.”

The key component of this episode, which airs Wednesday, March 28 at 8:30 p.m. ET on Nicktoons, is a virtual reality world, the type that Shirley and his cyberpunk contemporaries developed in their prose fiction back in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s.

“Virtual reality is found in a lot of cyberpunk science fiction; later it became a staple in shows like ‘Star Trek: The Next Generation,’ and we see it in the William Gibson science-fiction/cyberpunk classic ‘Neuromancer.’ ‘Iron Man: Armored Adventures’ Story Editor Brandon Auman had read my ‘A Song Called Youth’ trilogy of cyberpunk novels and he felt that feel for technology would be fun combined with Iron Man.”

Screenshot of the Controller from "Iron Man: Armored Adventures"

The man that pulls Tony Stark into this virtual reality world is longtime Iron Man adversary the Controller. After their previous match-up on the first season episode “Ready, A.I.M., Fire,” the Controller is ready to recoup his loss and he’s got a technological upgrade with which to do it.

“The Controller is a specialist in so-called ‘mind control;’ manipulation of other people’s minds to make them think what you want them to,” the sci-fi novelist explains. “When that happens in real life it’s mostly through propaganda, and certain talk-radio shows, but in the stories he uses all kinds of technology to get it done--using virtual reality to create another world to surround the ‘controlled’ would be effective mind control. If you control their apparent reality you control their mind. It might be the most effective and therefore the most dangerous mind control of all.”

Although the villain in this piece uses mind control to get others to follow his instructions, Shirley didn’t need any enticement to sign up to write this Marvel hero: He’s an admitted fan of comics, and grew up reading Marvel Comics as a child.

Screenshot of Iron Man and the Controller from "Iron Man: Armored Adventures"

“Partly it was wanting to do something with a Marvel character,” admits Shirley. “I’m a fan of the Iron Man movies and the recent ‘Captain America: The First Avenger’ movie and looking forward to ‘Marvel’s The Avengers.’ When I was a teen I always wanted to write a comic or write a script for a comic movie. I’d only done ‘Batman Beyond’ and a Batman prose novel before, so I leapt at the chance to do something for my favorite, Marvel.”

The other facet of this unique project for Shirley was the technological side of Tony Stark and Iron Man. For the same reason the staff of “Iron Man: Armored Adventures” reached out to him to write it, he was interested in writing himself.

“The other appeal to me was that Iron Man is a technological wonder. There are in fact real-life prototypes of military armored suits similar to Iron Man with H.U.D. displays and all that semi-cyborg sort of thing going on. They don’t fly, though. That cutting edge technology has always fascinated me.”

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