Originally Posted by MichaelChen
Except Stark has huge goals, so his enemy is naturally someone who has huge goals as well. The Mandarin is the smartest, most skilled, most ferocious, richest, most influential, and most powerful villain Stark faces on a routine basis when not in a team-setting. He has murdered a couple of Stark father-figures, tortured Rhodey, kidnapped Stark's friends, and done some personal things, but generally he's the big summer blockbuster action villain. When he shows up, it's to cause World War III, or purge 97% of the world's population in the name of social darwinism, or caste spell to turn the world into a jungle. He doesn't attack Stark personally much because Stark is technically beneath him.
Which father figures has Mandarin killed though? It doesn't seem like anyone that important, it doesn't seem like Mandarin killed someone as close to Iron Man as say Gwen Stacy was to Spidey, Iron Man is in his 30s or 40s at this point, killing a father figure doesn't mean as much at this point, especially when its not a character that seems as iconic as say Gwen Stacy. You can make an argument that Justin Hammer or Obadiah Stane or Zeke Stane managed to inflict more personal damage on Tony then Mandarin has.
Most arch nemesis have a personal connection to the hero, that's what makes them a nemesis, its supposed to different from a villain wanting to take over the world and the hero wanting to stop him, but that seems to be the extent of Tony's and Mandarin's rivalry and its just not as other major heroes and their arch enemies, in both DC and Marvel.
I have heard Mandarin be compared to Grodd (though Grodd gets more consistent characterization), but Grodd is not Flash's arch nemesis, Reverse Flash is, Grodd is more like this fun side villain who gives Flash a different type of enemy to fight and an excuse to go different locations. That's what Mandarin is, an excuse for Tony to go different locations and fight a different type of villain. If Mandarin is so above Tony stark and doesn't really care about him, why is Tony his arch nemesis in the first place? Again it seems like Mandarin is just this kinda fun side villain who lets Tony go on different types of adventures, rather than a true nemesis.
Look at Iron Man's really iconic stories: Demon in a Bottle, Extremist, Doomsquest, Armor Wars, the Iron Man vs. Obadiah Stane story, none of those stories involve the Mandarin. The writers often sideline Mandarin for long stretches of time. Mandarin has a few good stories and a lot of mediocre ones and most of the really great Iron Man stories don't even involve him. I mean what is better something like Armor Wars or Extremist or Demon in a bottle or that kind of generic super villain plot where Mandarin tried to use a giant robot dragon to conquer Russia? Besides that story written Knauf, how many truly great Mandarin stories have there been?
And really Mandarin is not very consistently written, one day is extremely anti technology and the next day that is just forgotten. The problem is Mandarin is more like an archetype then an actual character and its hard to make someone who is just an archetype an arch nemesis.