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The Untold Truth Of The Mandarin

The Mandarin is one of Iron Man's oldest villains, first appearing in "Tales of Suspense" #50, and in many ways is his arch-enemy. Like many '60s villains, however, problematic aspects of the character and his origin have frequently either seen him shelved or go through dramatic retcons. In the most basic terms, however, his story is a compelling one. A formidable fighter and scientific mind, he found an alien craft and ten mysterious rings and became their master. His dream was to conquer the world as he imagined his possible ancestor, Genghis Khan, did.

Whether it was reinventing him as a servant of the rings, a ruthless capitalist, or as a fervent hater of technology, the character's template remained the same: a brilliant, power-hungry fighter with the most formidable personal array of weaponry in the world. The other defining factor was his simultaneous hatred and respect for Tony Stark as the only foe truly worthy of his time. It's no surprise that he was teased in the first "Iron Man" film — and that the fake-out in the third "Iron Man" movie left people wanting more.

The Mandarin's real first appearance, however, will be in "Shang-Chi: Legend of the Ten Rings." Played by Tony Leung, he is the same ruthless mastermind as always, only his son is the heroic Shang-Chi. Let's take a look at the Mandarin's many personas over the years in the comics and onscreen.

The trouble with the Mandarin

More than any other Marvel character, Iron Man's villains were products of the Cold War. He was constantly going up against communists from either fictional countries or straight from the Soviet Union. The Black Widow, the Crimson Dynamo, and the Titanium Man all fit into this category. Iron Man's origin pitted him against an evil warlord in Vietnam — as a result, those characters had to be reworked to stay relevant.

The Mandarin was part of a different but more problematic tradition: the "yellow peril" villain. Villainous Anti-Asian stereotypes went all the way back to Sax Rohmer's sinister Dr. Fu Manchu, the character the Mandarin is replacing in "Shang Chi." The Mandarin was not a communist or part of the Chinese government; instead, he was a warlord who considered himself to be a descendant of Genghis Khan. The character slowly started to evolve beyond using martial arts and stereotypical depictions even as he fought another troublesome character in the Yellow Claw

Between 1977 and 1989, the Mandarin all but disappeared from Marvel, making a cameo and appearing in a single storyline in "Iron Man." Iron Man was no longer fighting ideological or political villains; instead, he was going up against the United States government and shady corporations. Reimagining the Mandarin as a businessman and later a conquering terrorist with delusions of grandeur made the character relevant and interesting again, turning him from a stereotype into a legitimate but flawed genius — and still a match for Tony Stark. 

Lord of the rings

What makes the Mandarin interesting?. His rings! No matter how many changes he's gone through, the Silver Age feel of his rings has remained exactly the same. It's easy to lose track of all their powers, however, so let's start with the basics: ice blast, flame blast, and electrical beam. Those are classic supervillain weapons, each one powerful enough for an entire character's gimmick.

Next are the impact beam, white light, and black light. The impact beam can even the score against powerhouse opponents. The white light ring goes up and down the spectrum; the Mandarin mostly uses it to blind opponents or shoot lasers at them. The black light ring creates solid darkness, not unlike the Darkforce many characters tap into. 

The really powerful rings are the delightfully-named Mento-Intensifier beam, the disintegration beam, the matter-rearranger beam, and the vortex beam. The Mento-Intensifier ring allows the Mandarin to control the minds of others. The disintegration beam is exactly what it sounds like, and the world is lucky that it takes a while to recharge. The matter-rearranger can speed up or slow down molecules, including his own, so as to create what looks like super-speed. It quietly replaced what had been a sonic blast. Finally, the vortex beam can either be used as a weapon to batter opponents with wind or to lift up the Mandarin so he can fly. How does this guy ever lose? Probably because it's hard to use all of them at once.

Creating Iron Man

A foundational change in the Mandarin's origin took place in "Iron Man" #268, which finds Tony Stark and the Mandarin recalling their roots. The classic Iron Man origin involved weapons-maker Tony Stark going to Vietnam and getting kidnapped by a warlord named Wong Chu. Only the intervention of the brilliant captive Dr. Hu Yinsen saved the injured Stark, as they developed new technology to help keep shrapnel from his heart. Yinsen sacrificed himself to save Stark, who wore the first Iron Man armor and defeated Wong Chu. 

None of Stark's origin changed in this issue. However, it also revealed a Mandarin who was just starting to understand the power of the ten rings. Wong Chu was one of his servants, and he abused him as badly as Wong Chu bullied his own underlings. He had Yinsen captured in order to have him study the rings and help him master them and was planning to have Stark help him. One of Wong Chu's servants overheard Yinsen and Stark talk about escaping by activating their "friend," which led Wong Chu to think that Iron Man and Tony Stark were two different people. Wong Chu escaped Iron Man, only to find an unforgiving Mandarin, who killed him. Oddly, the Mandarin was mesmerized by Iron Man slowly leaving the jungle and chose not to strike him down, even though he could have easily killed him. Tony Stark and Iron Man were his destiny.

Villains for hire

Let it never be said that the Mandarin hasn't tried to do his bit for unemployment, because there isn't a single master criminal in the Marvel Universe who hasn't hired a wide of variety of flunkies to do his bidding. While his rings make him one of the most powerful people on the planet, he still prefers to outsource the more tedious aspects of his plans. 

However, he's often given his hirelings upgrades, like when he added a variety of death rays to the Swordsman's blade, in exchange for him planting bombs in the Avengers mansion. This happened after one of his most frequent tricks: finding and teleporting people across the world to his lair. He used that trick for a big scheme as he gathered the Living Laser, the Swordsman, Power Man, the Executioner, the Enchantress, and the giant robot Ultimo to commit all sorts of crimes before the Avengers confronted him in his satellite. He hired the Sandman to take out the Hulk. He hired the Unicorn to attack Iron Man, but fell prey to an ill-timed body swap with the ailing Unicorn. He bullied the Radioactive Man into working for him, but was later betrayed by him after constant mistreatment.

In later years, the Mandarin went home-grown with his employees, creating the Avatars to battle Iron Man, War Machine, and Force Works. This group of weird villains included folks like Foundry, Lich, Turmoil, Old Woman, and Ancestor. Not surprisingly, this was their last appearance, too.

Messing up Psylocke

When Betsy Braddock, a.k.a. Psylocke of the X-Men, passed through the mystical portal the Siege Perilous, she reappeared somewhere in Asia with no memories. She was captured by the sinister ninja clan the Hand, who immediately went to work on trying to control her. They sent an emissary named Matuso Tsurayaba to the Mandarin, who promptly killed the personal guards the Mandarin referred to as his Hands, offering him the services of the true Hand. Psylocke was put through a surreal brainwashing regimen that bound her to the Mandarin, modifying her body so she turned from Caucasian to Asian.

Dubbed Lady Mandarin, she used her formidable psychic powers and borrowed rings from her master to intimidate Hong Kong's crime lords into obeying him. She captured Wolverine and Jubilee and came close to brainwashing Logan into becoming an assassin for the Mandarin. Wolverine's own messed-up mind (which gave him hallucinations of Carol Danvers and Nick Fury) short-circuited Psylocke's own conditioning. The trio teamed up against the Mandarin and Logan got the drop on him, negotiating an escape deal with the villain with a sense of honor.

The Mandaringtail

Meanwhile, over on Earth-8311, Peter Porker, the Spectacular Spider-Ham was doing his thing in the universe where all of the Marvel characters are anthropomorphic animals. Out to get some take-out in his civilian identity, he was taken hostage by the super-villain Paste Pot Peep, who was delivering a deadly isotope to a villain known as the Master Planner. (And no, it wasn't this one.) 

Peep avoided Nick Furry and his agents of SHEEP and hooked up with an increasingly large number of villains, which included Baron Zebro, the Mad Stinker, the fearsome Hamdroid, and Magsquito the Magnetic Mosquito. They fended off challenges from Captain Americat, Iron Mouse, and Doc Clamson. Finally, they arrived at the Chinese headquarters of the Master Planner to confront the fiendish lemur, the Mandaringtail! Even in this universe, the Mandarin preferred to hire other villains to do his dirty work. 

The Mandaringtail was especially ruthless, disposing of his hirelings to his dungeon after he received his prized isotope. Peter Porker changed into his Spider-Ham outfit and started walloping his enemy, who first unleashed the dragon Doo Wop Doo and then encased Porker in cement when he stopped the dragon's fiery breath with some antacid. It was thanks to the Mandaringtail's malfunctioning boxing-glove ring that Spider-Ham was able to get away. 

Fin Fang Foom

In the "Dragon Seed" saga, the Mandarin tracked a mysterious ancient wizard named Chen Hsu to Chinatown in San Francisco. He had stolen one of the Mandarin's rings and replaced it with a duplicate. Upon being confronted, Chen Hsu simply gave it back — but putting it on caused the Mandarin great pain. Chen Hsu then took the Mandarin on a journey back to the Valley of Sleeping Dragons and introduced him to the monstrous dragon Fin Fang Foom as his new ally. 

That monster dates back to Marvel's pre-superhero days, when they mostly published creature features. He debuted in "Strange Tales" #89 in 1961, a month before "Fantastic Four" #1 was published. That first appearance told of Fin Fang Foom, the sleeping dragon, awakened by a Chinese youth in order to destroy his Communist masters, and he was put back to sleep after he was done. He appeared just once more over the next 30 years, fighting heroic stone hero It, the Living Colossus

The Mandarin eventually learned that most of the crew that piloted the ship that had his rings was still alive, disguised in human form. Chen Hsu was their captain, and he had manipulated the Mandarin into bringing the rings to them. They planned to conquer the Earth, but the Mandarin teamed with his arch-enemy and Iron Man used the energy in the rings to atomize the dragons. It was a bitter defeat, as the Mandarin thought he was going to conquer China. 

Bothering other heroes

Although the Mandarin has always been obsessed with Iron Man, he's fought plenty of other heroes along the way. Apart from taking on the Avengers, he fought Captain America when Cap tried to rescue a doctor who helped both sides during the Vietnam War. This was not one of the Mandarin's better outings, as Cap simply deflected blast after blast and used their reflections to cause fires and explosions.

The Mandarin captured the Hulk in a bid to make him yet another one of his servants, putting him through a series of tests. The Hulk was not amused by this and attacked him, but the Mandarin knocked him out with gas and almost made him his slave until Nick Fury interfered. A highly peeved Hulk brought down the Mandarin's entire castle. 

Black Panther teamed up with Iron Man when the Panther's arch-foe Killmonger sprung back to life in a bid to turn Wakanda's vibranium supply into anti-metal vibranium. The heroes just barely won — but didn't notice a ring on Killmonger's finger that animated his corpse. 

The Mandarin teamed up with Baron Zemo and became a member of the super-villain nation Bagalia. Addressing the United Nations, the Punisher decided to bother him with a special gun that pierced his shields, apparently killing him. Frank Castle doesn't mess around.

The story of my life

In the many retellings of the Mandarin's origins, a common sub-theme has been his boastfulness. In "Invincible Iron Man Annual" #1, that boastfulness was revealed to be a web of shifting lies that exposed the Mandarin's loose grip on reality. Whether it was the influence of the ten rings or his own personal need to puff up his ego, the artifice of the Mandarin's life was revealed thanks to forcing a director named Jun Shan to helm an epic biopic.

The Mandarin used Jun Shan's wife as leverage. He was the world's most intrusive producer, constantly adding notes and interrupting the action on the set. Jun Shan eventually learned that the Mandarin's story of a birth to a Chinese man and English noblewoman was an utter fabrication. The reality is that the Mandarin was born to a drug-addicted sex worker murdered by her pimp, who may or may not have been his father. 

The Mandarin lied about finding the rings, working with Chairman Mao, and his various encounters with Tony Stark. When he demanded that his movie end with Stark's death, Jun Shan was at his wit's end, especially when the Mandarin insisted on replacing the actor who portrayed him in order to kill the fake Iron Man on camera. Jun Chan secretly made his own film exposing the Mandarin and tried to escape with his wife, but she had been brainwashed by the Mandarin and killed him. That's show biz!


Temugin, the Mandarin's son, was raised in a monastery apart from his father. A man with a strong code of honor, he still felt the duty to avenge his father's death and kill Iron Man. He beat Iron Man to within an inch of his life in their first encounter, only sparing Stark's life when Tony revealed that there was corruption in his monastery. Temugin then tried to honor his father by spreading his ashes using the Makluan spaceship the Mandarin originally found the rings in, only to be opposed by the Living Laser and others. Temugin later joined the Atlas Foundation as Jimmy Woo's second in command, in an effort to toughen him up. 

In the "Iron Man: Armored Adventures" animated series, Temugin "Gene" Khan was a young man who learned that his destiny was to receive all ten Makluan rings. His mother gave him one, but his stepfather took it and used it to become the Mandarin, the head of the crime organization the Tong. Gene took it back and became the Mandarin, even fighting Iron Man. He later became friends with young Tony Stark, Pepper Potts, and James Rhodes, and they went in search of the rings. When Gene finally got all of them, he went power-mad but also accidentally summoned a Makluan invasion fleet, whose overlord took the rings from him. Teaming up with Tony and friends, they beat the Makluans and Gene got the rings back, this time to use them for justice. 

Previously in the MCU

The Mandarin and his terrorist organization, the Ten Rings, were at the heart of Iron Man's origin in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Tony Stark's mentor at Stark Industries, Obadiah Stane, hired a cell of the Ten Rings to kill Tony's convoy on his visit to Afghanistan. When the cell's leader Raza realized that Stark was in the convoy, he had his men kidnap him instead of kill him. He demanded more money from Stane while putting Stark to work.

Of course, Tony and Dr. Yinsen created the Arc Reactor and his first Iron Man armor. Yinsen sacrificed himself to buy Tony time to escape. Raza found the remnants of that first suit of armor in the desert and tried to sell it to Stane, but he was double-crossed. The Ten Rings popped up again in the special Marvel Digital Comics Unlimited one-shots "Iron Man 2: Nick Fury: Director of SHIELD" and "Iron Man 2: Black Widow: Agent of SHIELD." Those heroes helped break up various Ten Rings operations, even as it was revealed that they helped Ivan Vanko get to Monaco in order to attack Tony Stark in "Iron Man 2." 

Aldrich Killian used what he had heard about the Ten Rings and their legendary leader, the Mandarin, to mask his own operations regarding the Extremis formula in "Iron Man 3," hiring an actor named Trevor Slattery to portray the leader in their propaganda videos. After the events of the film, one of the real Mandarin's operatives kidnapped him from prison so he could be properly punished.