What Is That Thing on The Mandarin’s Neck?

On the right, a high-res still from yesterday’s “Iron Man 3” trailer; depicting what seems to be The Mandarin taking off his hood. Glimpsed for a split second is a tattoo on the back of his neck, the design of which appears to be Captain America’s shield with an “Anarchist A” replacing the star:

So what does it mean? It’s obviously there to be seen and get fans talking, and it seems unlikely that Marvel would let something that looks this much like a continuity-reference slip in by accident. So what’s going on here? I have some theories…

It’s almost-certainly symbolic of something. We now know that the world at large has always known about Captain America – at least, they know that a superhuman in a costume fought in WWII and re-appeared in 2012 – and we saw people getting shield tats at the end of “Avengers.” Swapping out the star for anything would mean the equivalent of doing the same to the American flag: Making a statement.

But what’s it doing on The Mandarin? Or what looks like The Mandarin? Three ideas, top of my head:

1.) That’s not The Mandarin. That’s someone else doing the impersonate-the-bad-guy thing, and the tattoo is a giveaway. So who is it? You can kind-of see what might be the rim of glasses, but otherwise who’s to say? Crazy-unlikely out-of-left-field guess: It’s The Winter Soldier, making an introductory cameo prior to “Captain America: The Winter Soldier.” Also fun possibilities: Ant-Man, Bruce Banner or the ACTUAL Captain America.

2.) The Mandarin is an Anarchist, and this is his symbol. The terrorists in “Iron Man” called their group “The Ten Rings,” a Mandarin reference, and the trailer includes a shot of The Mandarin wearing the actual Ten Rings just like in the comics – so it can be assumed he was pulling their strings. What we don’t know, yet, is if he’s still exclusively running Brand-X Al-Qaeda’s or if he’s branched out into manipulating other “movements” to his owns ends. Fronting an American Anarchist group would be a topical twist, though also uncomfortably close to Bane’s gambit in “Dark Knight Rises.”

3.) The Mandarin is a Super Soldier. In “classic” Marvel lore, a whole slew of good guys and bad guys got their abilities from unsuccessful attempts to replicate the experiment that created Captain America. In the Marvel Movieverse, that’s part of the backstory of both The Hulk and The Abomination. Why make this leap for The Mandarin? Well…

Firstly, I’m expecting he won’t have his “I found alien technology” origin here. Be interesting if he did (there’s certainly a shitload of it all over the place after the finale of “Avengers”) but since “Avengers” made it clear that Thor’s arrival on Earth was modern Earth’s “first contact” I doubt thats how it’s going to work here. So he’s probably going to need a new backstory, right? Well, think about his “place” in the Marvel movies:

People forget this because the surprise-ending drowned out everything else, but before “Iron Man” opened the “big deal” was that it was going to be THE post-9/11 superhero movie – the trailers were all selling “Tony Stark blasts the FUCK out of The Terrorists” as the main thrust of the narrative. Well, if the Ten Rings are Al-Qaeda, that’d make The Mandarin Osama bin Laden. Remember bin Laden’s origin story? He was recruited/trained by U.S. agencies to work agains the Soviets in Afghanistan, then went rogue.

Well, what if they keep that paralell going and THAT’S his “thing” here? An Asian/Mid-East attempt at making a Super Soldier (“tagged” with this tattoo for designation) who turned on his masters? It’d certainly give him an excuse to bust out some extra-human abilities to make him a threat to the guy essentially wearing a tank, and it would tie back in with this specific franchise’s “unintended consequences of weapon-making” theme.

19 thoughts on “What Is That Thing on The Mandarin’s Neck?

  1. Gordy says:

    Cool theories, Bob, but I'll go with the “Tony Stark in disguise” one for now. The angle of that 'A' makes it look like the one from the 'Avengers' logo and Stark seems like the sort of chap who'd get some Avenger ink. The inclusion of Cap's shield in the design says to me: “hey, I resolved my differences with this guy that my dad was friends with.”


  2. Tiburcio says:

    I choose the option 3, we know that marvel movies steals ideas from all the marvel comics soo this could happend if you remember one of the red skulls is a bastard son of Captain America soo this could be a later creation of a super soldier that went rogue!!!

    Sorry for my bad english!!!


  3. Anonymous says:

    Bob, you forgot it could as well be Crossbones, an old Captain America villain, one that particularly hates him, and a villain that is getting casted currently into the new Cap movie.


  4. Anonymous says:

    Also, another thought. I forget the guys name, but perhaps Mandarin is taking over the Russian guy who essentially kept the Winter Soldier program going.

    Maybe Mandarin will have ties to Caps movie in a bigger way than we know.


  5. Allan says:

    Like I said, Bob, I like you and your theroies here are a big reason why. Personally, I like the last option most of all and your theory about this tying into Captain America 2 makes me all giddy in anticipation to see exactly what they have cookied up.


  6. Brendan says:

    I have an alternative theory: The Mandarin is a human supremacist. That is, he believes unfailingly in humanity's quest to reach peak potential. As a boy, he looked up to Captain America as an example of what humanity should achieve. Yet, in the modern day, that boyhood idealism has been clouded.

    The Mandarin watched the coverage of the Chitauri invasion of New York and was terrified. Humanity could have been wiped out by aliens, and the only thing keeping us alive was a small band of superhuman beings who deigned to protect us. So The Mandarin decided the playing field needed to be leveled. Humanity couldn't trust “heroes” to protect us forever. So he started researching ways to scientifically enhance humanity.

    Enter the Extremis virus. Borrowing a page from the old “Iron Man: Director of SHIELD” story arc, the Mandarin plans to unleash the Extremis virus on the world population. Granted, many people won't survive the infection, but those that do will become a new superpowered humanity, who can decide their own future.

    Tony Stark just happens to get in the way of this goal.


  7. Joe says:

    I'm discounting theory #2 right away. Why would a guy calling himself The Mandarin (AKA high-ranking bureaucrat or courtier) be an Anarchist, except out of the most egregious example of idiotic hipster-irony? Also, like Gordy I'm not certain that's an anarchist “A”. It's really hard to tell with this image. But as a concession, I definitely could see driving America to a state of anarchy as the Mandarin's agenda, so maybe that's the statement.

    Theory #1 is pretty probable.

    Theory #3 I like. It is an awesome premise with a lot of cool possibilities. They could even tie Mandarin back to the Ironmonger or Hammer that way.

    (I should note, though, that there's no evidence of a direct relationship between bin Laden and US agencies in 1980s Afghanistan. It's more like the Afghani mujahideen threw a “Kick out the Soviets” party and both the CIA and bin Laden showed up with gifts, but they didn't talk to each other and the CIA didn't even know Osama was there until afterwards.)

    However, I'm not as dismissive of the comic book origin:

    Firstly, I'm expecting he won't have his “I found alien technology” origin here…”Avengers” made it clear that Thor's arrival on Earth was modern Earth's “first contact” I doubt thats how it's going to work here.

    Eh, it's not like Marvel hasn't retconned the hell out of established continuity for five decades or so. If the Movieverse is willing to embrace the amount of comic-book weirdness we've seen already, I don't think a minor backstory retcon that far more serious works have gotten away with is that much of a stretch.


  8. Anonymous says:

    The key word in option 3 was “modern” but could it be that the alien technology and the ship that spawned it had crashed in ancient times and the Mandarin happened to have found it?

    As for the tattoo, the theory that Brendan gives would work.


  9. Fang says:

    The reason that The Mandarin has the Capt. America tattoo is that… The Mandarin could be the brother of “Bucky” Barnes who Capt. America let get killed on the train in the first movie. He got the tattoo when he was younger to support his brother and Capt. but when he got the news that his brother had died under Capt. America's watch he flipped out, somehow found the rings, and got the Capt. America tattoo changed to have the Anarchy symbol in it.

    [/Really random theory but eh, it is the internet]


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