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By Thomas Wheeler

I've always liked the character and concept of Iron Man. He is easily comic-dom's foremost armored super-hero, and honestly, the concept behind him could almost play out in the real world. A wealthy technologist with a high-tech suit of well-armed battle armor. It's honestly not that far-fetched.

In conjunction with the new Iron Man 2 sequel movie, Hasbro has released a plethora of Iron Man action figures. This is in distinct contrast to last time around, when the first movie was expected to only be a moderate hit, and as such, only a moderate amount of toys were initially produced, and the Iron Man display section in the average toy department appeared to consist mostly of display hooks and little else. As of the first week of March 2010, armored figures were turning up in great supply just about everywhere.

Most of these figures are Iron Man variants of one sort or another, but there are exceptions, and it's one of those exceptions that I wish to review here. The Iron Man 2 line is divided into three sections. There are the Movie Figures, which are various Iron Man figures derived from the character's movie likenesses. There is the Concept Series, which are speculative Iron Man designs for specialized armors that haven't necessarily appeared in either the comics or the movie, but which are nevertheless pretty impressive. And there is the Comic Series, which presents figures based on Iron Man's comic book adventures.

One of these is the CRIMSON DYNAMO. And there's a certain irony in him being one of the first figures to be released in the Iron Man 2 line. Back when the Soviet Union was still a very real threat in the real world, that carried over into Iron Man's adventures in the comic book. Iron Man had his share of armored foes. Two of these hailed from the Soviet Union. The Crimson Dynamo, and the Titanium Man.

So, where's the irony, toywise? In the last movie line, there was at one point a movie-styled Titanium Man figure. He didn't look all that much like the comic-based Titanium Man, although the design wasn't all that far removed from what one might suppose Titanium Man would've looked like had he actually been in the movie -- which he wasn't. However, the action figure line based on the first movie ended before a movie-style Crimson Dynamo could be added to the series.

Now we have a Crimson Dynamo figure in the Comic Series segment of the Iron Man 2 line, which if only because of its smaller size is not especially compatible with the first movie-based line. Might we get a comic-based Titanium Man figure at some point? I'd certainly like to think so.

In the meantime, we have the Crimson Dynamo. Telling his backstory, though, won't be easy. There have been a lot of different Crimson Dynamo armors over the years, and almost as many occupants of those armors. Arguably, this boils down to the fact that the Crimson Dynamo armor was regarded to be the property of the Soviet Union, and by extension one assumes some branch of its military. As such, they can put whomever they want to into the thing.

The various Crimson Dynamos have been powered armor-wearing Russian or Soviet agents who have clashed with the superhero Iron Man over years. The original Crimson Dynamo first appeared in Tales of Suspense #46.

The first Crimson Dynamo was also the creator of the armor: Professor Dr. Anton Vanko. A Soviet scientist of Armenian birth with a PhD, Vanko was the world's foremost expert on electricity. He built a suit that was wired up to perform electric miracles, making him a human dynamo. The Crimson Dynamo battle-suit allowed him to control electricity in all of its forms, allowing him to fire devastating bolts of electricity. It also allowed him to fly.

In their first encounter, the Crimson Dynamo battled Iron Man. After being tricked by Iron Man (who made him believe that his Soviet handlers were going to kill him though earlier Vanko's superior implied he was going to kill Vanko, anyway), Vanko defected to the U.S. and went to work for Tony Stark as one of his chief scientists. Soon the Soviets came to kill him for real. They sent their top agent, the Black Widow, and her one-time partner, Boris Turgenev, the latter of whom stole the armor and became the second Crimson Dynamo. Vanko died saving Iron Man by firing an unstable experimental laser light pistol at Boris, killing himself as well.

Alex Nevsky (also known as Alex Niven) was the third man to go by the Crimson Dynamo name. Introduced as the American Alex Niven, he was Cord Industries' hot new scientist, but he was scheming from the start, aiming to take down Tony Stark.

The protégé of Professor Anton Vanko, he admired and respected the brilliant scientist, who created the Crimson Dynamo battle-suit. After Vanko defected to the West, all who knew the traitorous genius were tainted under suspicion of disloyalty. Nevsky's promising career was ruined and he fled. In exile, Nevsky sought vengeance against the man who toppled his mentor: Iron Man. He also wanted to destroy Stark, because the capitalist had exploited Vanko.

As Alex Niven he would go to work for Cord Industries, using his brilliance to help the struggling company beat out Stark Industries in the marketplace. He would then go after Iron Man, besting him with a new and improved Crimson Dynamo armor. He also worked against Stark by romancing Janice Cord, with whom he later fell in love for real.

After he donned the Crimson Dynamo armor in public, his old Soviet masters sent the Titanium Man to kill him. When the Titanium Man killed Janice, Niven blamed Iron Man for the tragedy and swore to avenge her. Nevsky later made an unsuccessful attempt to kill Iron Man. Fleeing the battle, Nevsky disappeared soon thereafter. He was assassinated by the KGB, who confiscated his armor for their own purposes.

Yuri Petrovich, the fourth Crimson Dynamo, was the son of the Black Widow's partner Ivan Petrovich. When Western agents failed to convince Ivan to defect to the West, they assassinated Yuri's mother; in the chaos that followed, Ivan and Yuri each believed the other dead. Yuri was brought to the West, where Soviet agents, posing as Westerners, indoctrinated him to hate the West. When the Black Widow and Ivan defected to the United States, Yuri was "rescued" by the Soviets, returned to Russia, and trained as a KGB assassin. He was given the Crimson Dynamo armor and sent to kill the Widow and Ivan. Yuri and his allies (his girlfriend Darkstar, the Griffin, Rampage, and the original Titanium Man) fought the Widow and her teammates, the Champions. When Yuri learned of the true nature of his "Western" captors, he went berserk. Darkstar teamed with the Champions in order to subdue Yuri, and after he and his other allies were defeated, he was returned to Russia, convicted by the Soviet government, and exiled to a Siberian labor camp.

I'm going to stop there, even though the online research I did turned up a total of roughly fourteen Crimson Dynamos, because based on the illustrations provided, the Crimson Dynamo figure most closely resembles the armor used by Petrovich.

The Crimson Dynamo wears an armored battle-suit that serves as an exoskeleton, providing the wearer with superhuman strength and durability. The suit's outer layer was composed of a carborundum matrix alloy, and is equipped with hand-blasters that can fire high-frequency electrical bolts, small missiles contained in the back shoulder area of the battle-suit, computers and radio transmitter and receiver, boot jets that allow flight. Subsequent versions of the battle-suit have featured upgrades of various kinds, by the Gremlin and other Russian scientists.

Interestingly, the text on the back of the package card mentions Anton Vanko as being the Crimson Dynamo, even though the art I encountered for his version of the Dynamo presented an armored suit that looked like a bigger clunker than the thing that Tony Stark first developed while in captivity.

Perhaps as a bit of a jab against the Soviet Union, their armored suits -- either the Crimson Dynamo or the Titanium Man, have never looked as sleek or high-tech as Iron Man's. However, what they may lack here and there in elegance and fancy powers, they generally make up for with brute force.

So, how's the figure? Extremely, and I mean extremely, impressive. Given the look of some of the armors both before and after this particular one, I think Hasbro chose the right Crimson Dynamo. He's sophisticated without being weird (and believe me, some of the designs I saw were pretty weird). He doesn't look quite as high-tech as Iron Man, but he's clearly not especially lacking, and he doesn't look at all goofy (there were a couple of designs that pushed the envelope in that area, too). This Crimson Dynamo is clearly a legitimate threat to Iron Man, and a powerful armored warrior in his own right.

He certainly lives up to his name -- CRIMSON Dynamo. The armor is a metallic crimson from head to toe. I'll admit, one of the things that has attracted me to this Iron Man 2 line to some degree is that I'm a sucker for a well done metallic finish. Crimson Dynamo certainly has this.

One concern I had was something that happened far too much with the last Iron Man movie-based line. There was something about the paint used on a number of the figures, especially the deep red of Iron Man, that was required to give the figures a nice glossy, metallic finish, that it ended up sticking some of the articulation points.

I figured if anyone was a prime candidate for a repeat of that rather unfortunate business, it was Crimson Dynamo. He's essentially the same dark red as the movie incarnation of Iron Man, possibly a little darker.

Well, somewhere between the first and second movies, it looks as though Hasbro has worked out their paint problems, because none of Crimson Dynamo's articulation points are stuck at all. If anything, a few of them are a little too loose. Sort of makes me wonder if the figure was designed for an extra-thick coat of paint that later turned out to not be necessary.

It's nothing too serious. He's a bit of a bobblehead. And the legs are a little loose, but I tend to think that this may be reflective of a somewhat unusual leg design which I'll discuss shortly.

However, the figure looks great. One might think that a figure that is basically one color might tend to look a little dull or drab, but he doesn't. There's more than enough detail in the armor to compensate for the single color.

Similar, to an extent, to many portrayals of Iron Man himself, the Crimson Dynamo has large armored "cuffs", for lack of a better term, around his shoulders, and as the main parts of his gauntlets and boots. Unlike Iron Man's, however, these are distinctly bulkier, especially the shoulders, and they are very heavily ridged. The sculpting detail on the figure with regard to these features is remarkable. Intricate and precise, it is exceptionally well done.

The torso of the armor is somewhat more angular in design than Iron Man's has generally been, and looks bulkier. One gets the impression that the Soviet Union had to find some pretty good-sized soldiers to fit into this thing. As far as that goes, the figure stands a full 4-1/2" in height. That's pretty good-sized for this line. There are indentations on either side of the chest, purpose unknown. Perhaps some sort of ventilation? In any case, it's a nice bit of detail. There are ridges around the area of the lower torso, and circular bands at various points around the arms and legs which have been painted a slightly darker color than the rest of the figure, so the Crimson Dynamo really isn't entirely one lone color.

Sculpted detail really is amazing. Both the armor detail and the musculature has been handled very well. The hands are nicely done, one in a closed fist, the other somewhat open. Small bands around the fingers have been carefully sculpted. The underside of the feet show evidence of boot jets.

The helmet is interesting. Most Iron Man variants give some indication of a face. Not so the Crimson Dynamo. Much of the helmet looks like a cross between a dome and a bucket. There are small ridges over the top. The faceplate presents a single orange slit across where the eyes would be, and no apparent sign of a nose or mouth, except for three vertical holes at the approximate mouth region.

Articulation of the Crimson Dynamo is excellent, if a little too loose in a few areas. The figure is poseable at the head, arms, elbows (including a swivel), wrists, mid-torso, leg, upper leg swivel, double-jointed knees, and ankles. The mid-torso articulation is actually somewhat more versatile than on some other figures that have this feature, and it looks good (which is also more than can be said than a lot of figures), since it's incorporated into the armor design.

Then there's the legs. They're a little -- weird. Rather than a straight ball-and-socket design, Hasbro has designed this sort of ball-and-socket design with an extra movement in the "ball" section, and an upper leg rotation directly beneath. For whatever reason,the leg articulation in this particular area is somewhat loose, and whether it's a mild glitch of the assembly of this particular figure, or is common to all of them, I'm really not sure. I'm going to be a bit more blunt than usual here and say that honestly, it doesn't work very well. It's very difficult to get Crimson Dynamo into a fairly straightforward stance, or assume a reasonable action position. Even the prototype of the toy pictured on the back of the package card has a rather odd stance, with his feet pointed outwards.

I don't like to complain, really, especially not about a figure that is otherwise problem free (except for a rather loose head) and looks as cool as the Crimson Dynamo does -- which he most emphatically does -- but I can't entirely ignore what I think is a somewhat problematic articulation design, and it's one that I know is not unique to this figure.

Crimson Dynamo comes with a rather peculiar accessory. Granted, it's hard to accessorize these armored guys. Technically speaking, their armored suits are fully armed battle suits, so any "weapons" they might have are likely already incorporated into the armor. This works well in the comic books. It leaves the toys a little lacking in the eyes of some. In Crimson Dynamo's case, he comes with an "energy blast" that snaps over his head to look like it's coming out of his eyes. A cool enough play feature, but honestly? I've never felt that trying to sculpt energy-based effects in plastic works that well. It sort of looks like Crimson Dynamo was in the receiving end of a thrown strawberry milkshake, assuming they have such things in the Soviet Union.

The figure also comes with a display stand, a fairly high-tech-looking section of floor, as much as anything, that also includes a clip for the "Armor Cards" that come with the figure. This is an interesting promotional item. From within the package, it looks like a single card displaying a drawing of the armor in question. Open the envelope, though, and it's really three cards -- a solid white one and two transparent ones, each with different sections of the armor on it, which when brought together form an image of the complete suit. Interesting, from an artistic standpoint.

The assembled cards also present a nine-digit code, which I assume does something on the "IronmanCard" Web Site. The code for the Crimson Dynamo figure is M7X P2E DJ9. And I'm sure I'm not giving away any Stark Industries secrets with that, since the assembled cards are very apparent in the package.

The cards don't really provide any practical information about the armor per se, but they look cool and have interesting graphics on them. Looking ahead movie-wise a bit, there is a logo on them which is the SHIELD emblem encircled with the words "Avengers Assemble", even though the Crimson Dynamo was never a member of that organization. The cardholder part of the display base actually has three distinct slots in it. They're not set that far apart, and they don't really distort the complete image, or make it look "3D" or anything, but it does create a slight sort of shaded "depth of field" effect in the right light.

So what's my final word here? Okay, this figure has a few structural problems as far as the legs are concerned. Setting that aside however, and being hopeful that it isn't something that plagues all of them, I have to say that this is an extremely cool Crimson Dynamo action figure. From the online research I did, I sincerely believe that Hasbro selected the most impressive of the Crimson Dynamos to render into plastic, they did a truly amazing job with it, and the end result is an abundantly cool action figure.

The IRON MAN 2 COMIC SERIES figure of the CRIMSON DYNAMO definitely has my extremely enthusiastic recommendation!