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The History Of The Mandarin's Rings Explained

The Mandarin may be viewed by many as Iron Man's greatest enemy, but now the arch-villain is appearing in "Shang-Chi: Legend Of The Ten Rings" as the title character's father. In the very first MCU movie, 2008's "Iron Man," a terrorist organization called the Ten Rings was hired to assassinate Tony Stark. Instead, they kidnapped him. When the "Mandarin" in "Iron Man 3" was revealed to be an actor working with Aldrich Killian (Guy Pearce), Marvel fans later found out that the real Mandarin was not amused. 

Of course, the most memorable Mandarin feature is that he wears ten rings (sometimes on his fingers, in the movie on his wrists), each with its own deadly, unique power. In the comics, the Mandarin's rings were revealed to come from an alien spaceship, turning a common thief into a criminal mastermind. 

Despite having nearly unlimited power, the Mandarin managed to find ways to lose against foes like Iron Man, the Hulk, the Avengers, and X-Men. It was eventually revealed that the rings themselves had a far greater influence on his mind and memories than he understood. The Mandarin also went through various bodies and incarnations along the way, until the rings were finally separated from him. But that only made them much more dangerous, as they sought out new and deadlier hosts. 

With "Shang-Chi" making his long-awaited movie debut, it's the perfect time to take a deep dive into not only the Mandarin, but also the distinct jewelry that adorns him. Here's a breakdown of the history of the rings, what each one can do, how their powers changed over the years, and their current fate. 

Journey to Earth

The rings of the Mandarin came to Earth from the planet Kakaranthara, also known as Maklu-4. The intelligent, reptilian natives of that planet were called Makluans, and they lived in a generally enlightened and peaceful society. However, in the Marvel universe, peaceful societies like this tend to generate bored, violent sociopaths looking for thrills. 

Indeed, the ship that held the ring-like cylinders was manned by a dozen of bloodthirsty Makluans who were spoiling for a fight. The rings carried in them the souls of ancient, long-dead warriors looking to be resurrected in a new form. Additionally, the rings had the capability of being upgraded to seek out new wielders and nudge the events of whatever world they were on to make them more suitable for their own needs. 

The Makluans crash-landed on Earth after hearing about its reputation as the go-to-place for violence, and this disrupted their plans. The crew, whose green, scaly skin and huge size made them resemble dragons then scattered, leaving only their crewmate Axonn-Karr on board and their navigator Fin Fang Foom asleep in a cave. That cave was in the Valley of Spirits, quickly gaining a reputation that would scare off locals for generations. 

Discovery by the Mandarin

It did not scare off all of the locals, however. Axonn-Karr claimed to have been killed by locals, but the Makluans made up all kinds of stories in trying to confuse the Mandarin. The man who would become the Mandarin was a son of a prostitute and grew up in an opium den. He lived a life of petty crime that got worse when the Communists came into power. He discovered the Valley of Spirits because he was on the run. 

The Mandarin himself changed the story. He initially claimed that Axonn-Karr died in his arms, but it was later revealed that he found him injured and decided to kill him with a sword. The Mandarin interfaced with a computer to learn more about Makluan technology and the rings. Slowly, he mastered each of them one-by-one, learning the deadly capabilities of each ring. When he put on all ten rings at once, it gave him an enormous amount of power but also secretly unlocked the intelligences lurking within each ring. Over a span of years, they bent the Mandarin to their will, forcing him to find a way to resurrect them. 

In the early years, the Mandarin conquered all the nearby villages and had a warlord named Wong Chu as one of his lieutenants. They had captured a scientist named Ho Yinsen and lured Tony Stark there in an effort to help him study and further master the rings

Changing powers

So what exactly do the rings do? The answer to that question has varied over the years. In his first few appearances, the Mandarin basically pulled a new power out of the air every few issues. After a while, some attempts were made to codify the rings and the fingers they were worn on. While the left hand's rings have remained consistent over time, there have been two rings on the right hand that have changed.

The biggest difference is that in an earlier attempt at listing the rings, the Poison Gas ring and the Sonic Blast ring were listed on the right hand. A later schematic had a Sonic Blast and an Impact Beam. This was a huge gaffe, because the Mandarin not only used poison gas as a regular weapon, he also had the power to solidify gas around a target. This ring was worn on the Mandarin's left index finger.

This was later solved with a deft retcon or two. The Impact Beam ring now encompassed sonic attacks in addition to beams of pure force. The Poison Gas Ring was now the Matter-Rearranger, capable of turning the air into poison gas, solidifying the air around its targets, and even altering his appearance. The explanation for the different effects from that same ring was that it was able to change matter at an atomic level. This ring was worn on the Mandarin's left thumb.

The left hand's rings

On the right thumb, the Mandarin wore the White Light beam on his thumb. This gave him power over electromagnetic energy, and he used it to create blinding light, generate gravity fields, make illusions of himself, and use magnetism. This one ring gave him comparable power to three or four different supervillains, yet he mostly used it to just blind people. He would often use the gravity fields to paralyze opponents, which was a reflection of his tendency to use the rings more as blunt force objects than the precise tools they truly were. 

On his right index finger was one of his more straightforward rings: the Flame blast ring, making it the world's smallest flame thrower. Next to that ring, on his left middle finger, was the Lightning ring. This one was self-explanatory, but no less deadly. On his left ring finger was the Mento-Intensifier ring, also known as the Hypnosis ring. He could make people see hallucinations (as opposed to the holograms he created with another ring) and also control their minds. He often used it to simply mentally freeze his opponents, which was another go-to tactic. Used correctly, he could dominate dozens of people at once. 

Finally, he wore the Ice Blast ring on his left pinky. He usually used this ring to encase his foes in blocks of ice. He once tried to get Iron Man's armor so cold that it would crack

The right hand's other rings

The three old standbys on the right hand started with the Vortex beam on the middle finger. One of the more random powers of the ring, it allowed the Mandarin to whip up air like a tornado. He either used this to thrash his opponents, lift heavy objects, or fly through the air. 

On the ring finger was the Disintegration beam, which is exactly what it sounds like. This was the Mandarin's deadliest weapon and yet another one that worked on an atomic level. Generally speaking, when it was used in a story, Iron Man always just barely managed to get out of its way. This is the problem when you have an invincible super weapon; if it doesn't make you win all the time, you have to keep thinking of ways to make it less effective somehow. Arbitrarily installing a 20-minute recharge period was one way to do this. Having its owner be a megalomaniac who often eschewed using his all-powerful rings in favor of karate was another. 

Yes, the Mandarin chose to use karate against his armored opponent in their first encounter. Even better, a pre-calculator Iron Man used his armor's built-in slide rule to determine the best angle to deflect the blow, causing the Mandarin maximum pain. Whether or not Sir Isaac Newton meant for calculus to be used for these purposes, he'd probably be thrilled to see his work being used in such practical applications.

The pinky finger ring was Blacklight, which likely used Darkforce to envelop opponents in pure darkness.

As I lay dying

The Mandarin once made the mistake of trying to trick the Inhumans into obtaining an artifact for him that would give him greater power and control over his rings. He found that making Black Bolt mad was a bad idea, and the Inhumans' monarch not only gave the Mandarin a thorough thrashing, he stripped the Mandarin of his rings and hid them. 

The Mandarin went back to the Valley of the Spirits and once again got bailed out by Makluan technology, as he found a special headband attuned to the rings' energy. He found the rings and rebuilt his castle. The Unicorn, a former hireling of his, begged him for help, as he was dying. They decided to go kill Iron Man together, which did not go well for them. In fact, the Mandarin's high-tech headband somehow switched his consciousness with that of his ally

The Mandarin got his body back after pressing Sunfire into helping him, only to find that the Yellow Claw had commandeered his castle. Of course, the Claw had more robot doppelgangers than Doctor Doom, and he simply blew up the one fighting the Mandarin, dealing him a fatal blow. As he was dying, the Mandarin transferred his consciousness into the rings. 

Taking out the trash, the Claw's servant Loc Do found the rings and intended to master them. Instead, the Mandarin staged a hostile takeover of poor Loc Do's brain, driving his consciousness out and giving him a new, younger body.

Return of the dragons

Years later, the Mandarin discovered who the real owners of the rings were. It started when he realized that one of his rings had been stolen and replaced by a fake. Tracking the real one to a curio shop in San Francisco, he met a strange man named Chen Hsu. He gave the Mandarin his ring back, which promptly caused him to pass out due to pain

Hsu was the captain of the Makluan ship that crashed on Earth, and he revealed that most of the crew survived and took on human form. All but one, that is, who remained in the Valley of Spirits as its guardian. That would be the monster known as Fin Fang Foom, who dates back to Marvel's monster comic era and has been periodically reawakened over the years. 

The Makluans used the Mandarin as their pawn until they were ready to reclaim the rings. Chen Hsu's promises of helping the Mandarin obtain greater power were all lies. Chen Hsu called all of the Makluans back and tried to forcibly remove the rings, but the Mandarin was now far more attuned to them and fought back. He also got an unexpected assist from his greatest enemy, Iron Man, who could clearly see the Makluans were a serious threat. Iron Man channeled all of his power through the rings and disintegrated the Makluans. This rendered the Mandarin comatose, and also obliterated his hands. 


The Mandarin got smarter and meaner, taking over Tony Stark's brain and making him his servant. This is when he informed Stark that the rings were partially sentient and needed new hosts, and it was the Mandarin's destiny to make this happen. Stark's former rival Ezekiel Stane was also a slave of the Mandarin, although in brain-damaged form. Stane had been working on a series of giant killer robots called Titanomechs, each of which would house the consciousness of one of the rings: "Vessels for souls." Originally Stark's design, the knock-offs failed, so the Mandarin forced Stark to his Mandarin City compound to work on them. 

Some of the rings got new names. The Matter-Rearranger became "Remaker." Impact became "Influence." Vortex became "Spin." Disintegration became "Spectral." Black Light became "Nightbringer" and White Light became "Daimonic." Flame became "Incandescence." The Electro-Blast simply became "Lightning," the Ice blast "Zero" and best of all, the Mento-Intensifier Ring somehow got an even more awesome name: "The Liar."

Tony built three of the Titanomechs for the Mandarin and Spin, Remaker, and Lightning got new hosts. Stark took advantage of a weakened Mandarin to fight back. He recruited the Mandarin's super-villain hirelings and built himself a new suit. While Tony and his allies battled the activated Titanomechs, a deranged Mandarin threatened to crack the planet in half so he and the rings could go to space. Tony responded by commanding his nanobot Swarm to annihilate the Titanomechs, and Stane killed the Mandarin against Stark's wishes. 

New hosts

Tony Stark defeated the menace of the alien Recorder 451 but decided to bring its robotic body back to Earth for study. Unbeknownst to him, the tech was so far advanced that it activated and upgraded the sentience driving each of the Mandarin's rings. They had been kept in a S.H.I.E.L.D. vault for safe-keeping but quickly escaped, each of them looking for a new host. Only The Liar remained behind, casting an illusion that all of the rings were still there. 

The rings looked for hosts compatible with their powers, but they were also driven to get revenge on Tony Stark after being connected to the Mandarin for so long, conflating their revenge with saving the world. Incandescence sought out a firebrand political reporter named Abigail Burns. Remaker and Spin attached themselves to terrorists, Zero to an obscure cold-based villain called the Endotherm, Lightning to a music conductor, and Influence an A.I.M. clone. The Mole Man wound up with the bright-light Daimonic, bringing light to his underground kingdom. Nightbringer went to an Inhuman. However, Spectral, the Disintegration ring, went to the powerful villain Malekith the Accursed, the king of the Dark Elves.  

This was bad news for everyone. While the average human could more-or-less handle one ring, Malekith quickly realized how much more powerful he could become if he sought out the rest of the rings, much to Spectral's dismay. While he hadn't fought Iron Man directly, asking an elf if he hated iron was a no-brainer.

The master ring

The rings met in a cyberspace area called the Ring of Rings, alarmed that Spectral's poor choice led to four of the "fingers" being severed, thanks to Malekith capturing three more of them. They voted to inform their hosts of the danger to them, against The Liar's wishes. His subterfuge had been discovered and he escaped lock-up as well, taking Marc Kumar as its host. This was Pepper Potts' fiance, and he held a grudge against Stark for what had been done to his future wife. 

Iron Man tracked Malekith to Svartleheim, bringing out a special iron-plated suit that burned the skin of any elf he came into contact with. He recovered three of the rings and learned the other ring-bearers had also tracked down Malekith. Stark saved Malekith's life in exchange for his ring. This allowed the rings to return to the Ring of Rings, where The Liar taunted them about their mistakes. 

Tony and his brother Arno reverse-engineered the rings to create a new Master Ring, and used it to track down the others who held the rings. Abigail Burns turned against the other ring-bearers, understanding their threat. Stark's team crashed the would-be Mandarins' lair and after Kumar seemingly threatened Pepper's life, Iron Man realized she was an illusion and took him down. The rings were put back into storage. However, Arno let Burns keep Incandescence. 

The Mandarin later reappeared with the rings and was killed by the Punisher