Needless to say (and somewhat unfortunately), this volume picks up where the last one left off, with teenage Tony Stark royally screwed, having proven himself to be overwhelmingly incompetent as a superhero throughout the six episodes collected in Season 2, Vol. 1. Therein, he had allowed the schematics for his Iron Man to be stolen out from under him and sold to both Justin Hammer and Obadiah Stane, who of course use the schematics here to build their own armors with which they seek to put an end to Iron Man. As if Iron Man and War Machine didn’t spend enough time in the season’s first six episodes getting trounced by anyone and everyone that came along, they now have to contend with enemies who actually have blueprints pointing to their weaknesses! So little has changed for Stark and his pals, Pepper and Rhodey. What has changed here is, in spite of Stark’s persistent incompetence, the quality of the writing in episodes 6-12 of Armored Adventures‘ second season is somehow heads-and-shoulders above that characterizing the previous six episodes.
The real strength of this volume comes from two key elements: 1) the final episode of the volume actually focuses on (believe it or not) the characters and their relationships to a large extent, and 2) numerous guest appearances from other Marvel characters. These six episodes feature appearances by Hawkeye, Black Widow (twice), and Doctor Doom, with Nick Fury and S.H.I.E.L.D making a return appearance. We also get to see Stane’s own Iron Monger armor, which I must admit is pretty damn impressive. And the take on the Hawkeye/Black Widow relationship here spices up the dynamic of the series considerably, even if Fury and his lackeys do little more than play into the already tired narrative threads surrounding Stark’s loss of the Iron Man armor schematics. The only complaint I have about the new guests featured in this volume is that the series’ rendition of Doctor Doom makes him look strangely nude, as he wears the standard green cloak and all else on him is metal.
The 3D cel-shaded animation remains as impressive as ever here, and the picture is presented with far less pixellation than the previous volume, which had been a major drawback to that particular release. What’s more, with this all-around increase in quality, I dare say I am actually warming up to the series now. And it’s about time! Special features here are limited to galleries of concept art for Justin Hammer’s Titanium Man armor and Doctor Doom. Notably, some of the concept pieces for Doom don’t make him look naked, so I’m not exactly sure how and why they settled on the version they did.