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By Thomas Wheeler

I'll readily admit that I don't read Marvel Comics all that much these days, for reasons that have nothing really to do with the Marvel Universe action figures. I especially didn't care for the "Dark Reign" storyline, which was taken up by the action figures somewhat, and my toy collecting attention went elsewhere. Nevertheless, some characters have turned up here and there in the line which have garnered my attention.

One of these is IRON MAN 2020 -- a name which admittedly sounded a lot more impressive when the character was first introduced in 1984 than it does today. One sort of has to assume that by now, we're dealing with an alternate reality in the Marvel Comics multiverse or some such to explain this character.

The back of the package outlining the character's profile reads as follows: Arno Stark isn't quite the hero his cousin Tony was, but he does his best - as long as the best is what pays. The world of 2020 is less about right and wrong, and more about the bottom line, which is why Iron Man always works for the highest bidder. Of course, he's also got to answer to his board, so he tries to keep his eye on the big picture. If a mission won't enhance Stark Industries' stock price, then he almost always regretfully declines.

What's scary is how much the real world has become like this fictional one, as long ago as it was delineated in the comics.

Now, the Marvel Universe figures were initially tied into reports by SHIELD, and later by Norman Osborn's HAMMER organization, in keeping with the "Dark Reign" events as they played out in the comics, with each figure coming with a little file envelope that contained biographical data and some sort of letter of explanation, with the current ones addressed to Norman Osborn. I rather wondered how the future Iron Man -- even if that future is a lot closer than it used to be -- would be explained. Well, let's just say that it involves the Infinity Gauntlet (which might explain the Thanos figure pictured on the back of the package as being part of this assortment) and some equipment from Reed Richards, and leave it at that.

Some online research has turned up additional background information on Iron Man 2020, whose appearances have admittedly been somewhat limited in Marvel Comics. I think it's proof of the popularity of the general character of Iron Man, and of Iron Man 2020 specifically, that a figure of this character has been turned out. Unlike, for example, the DC Universe Classics line, the Marvel Universe line hasn't been going into quite as many obscure corners of its comics universe for figure fodder. Iron Man 2020 may be the biggest stretch yet.

Iron Man 2020 is the counterpart of the super-hero Iron Man in the future year of 2020 somewhere in the Marvel Comics Multiverse. He first appeared in the second issue of the Machine Man limited series, in 1984, and was created by Tom DeFalco (certainly a well-respected name at Marvel!).

Arno Stark is the future first cousin once removed of the present day Iron Man, billionaire industrialist Tony Stark. His father is Stark's unscrupulous cousin, Morgan Stark (I thought I noticed a resemblance the first time I saw Arno unmasked - same receding hairline...) Arno inherited Stark Industries, and rather than use the armor for heroic deeds, prefers to act as a hired mercenary or commit acts of corporate espionage to cripple his competitors for his own industrialist gain.

In his first appearance, Iron Man 2020 was hired by Sunset Bain, a longtime rival of Tony Stark and now an elderly woman, to destroy the robotic hero Machine Man, who had been accidentally discovered and subsequently reactivated by the Midnight Wreckers, a group of rebellious youths who scavenged discarded technology. Despite ostensibly superior power, Iron Man was defeated by Machine Man. Well, what the heck, it was HIS mini-series...

The future Iron Man later traveled to the present day in order to obtain the retinal patterns of a young boy. In the year 2015, seemingly confusingly placing this appearance before his original showing, but it's possible that this was an alternate future Iron Man, or it's just as possible that Arno Stark was using the armor before the year 2020, the boy's adult self had set a bomb of Stark's own invention to kill Arno Stark's family (as well as anyone else in the city), and his retinal patterns were needed to defuse the bomb. Unfortunately, this terrorist was killed while trying to get away, so in a desperate gambit the experimental time machine (also of Stark's design) was employed, in order to obtain the retinal patterns of the terrorist from a younger age.

While in the past Arno was attacked by one of Tony Stark's enemies, The Blizzard. Who mistook Arno's armor for Tony's. Having no time to spare, Arno killed the Blizzard with a blast from his repulsors. Iron man was successful in obtaining the retinal scans, but was delayed in battle by Spider-Man, who only witnessed an unconscious and battered young boy being presumably kidnapped by a villain.

Despite Iron Man's greater strength and armor, Spider-Man's fury and determination gave him the upper hand, and the retinal scan device was destroyed in the process. Stark's timing mechanism malfunctioned and returned him to the future where he learned that the bomb's timing mechanism was also faulty; he found only a radioactive wasteland where his family, factory, and city had been.

In a later appearance, Iron Man 2020 fought the time-traveling cyborg Death's Head.

Iron Man 2020 also had his own one-shot, published in June 1994. How its events might be reconciled with those of his time trip are anybody's guess, but given that the Iron Man who returned to a radioactive wasteland was from 2015, I think one has to assume he was from some other alternate universe. The Marvel Multiverse is full of them. Don't believe me -- go look up some back issues of Exiles, one of Marvel's cooler titles during its run.

In this one-shot, in which Iron Man faces off against an industrial rival who seeks to use him to destroy all of his competitors at once, sacrificing his own daughter in the process. At the end of the story, Arno Stark and the girl, Melodi, get together, suggesting an evolution towards a more heroic role for Arno. Meanwhile, the background character of "Howard", an adviser to Arno, is revealed, albeit only to the reader, to be an aged Tony Stark himself, who intends to guide his nephew on a more heroic path.

A couple of appearances that may or may not be of alternate Arnos include an appearance in the Paradise X mini-series, where Iron Man appears alongside numerous Marvel heroes from different timelines, such as Deathlok, Spider-Girl, and Wolverine from the "Days of future Past" story. Similarly, a version of Iron Man 2020 appeared as one of the multidimensional "potential" Avengers in the Avengers Forever mini-series. Some version of Arno Stark was seen imprisoned by the Time Variance Authority in an issue of She-Hulk, in one of the time cells, holding facilities for the "most dangerous time-travel offenders."

In 2023, in a story which may be presumed to be an extension of the one-shot, Arno Stark makes helicarrier technology available for public use, to start with in the form of a helicruiser called the "Spirit of Free Enterprise". At the same time, he has supplied SHIELD with a far more advanced replacement called the Hypercarrier. However, his launching of the airborne cruise ship has raised the ire of the aged sky pirate, Commodore Q. Arno has married Melodi at this point, and "Howard" remains his retainer.

It's also worth noting that an entirely different individual, yet another descendant of Stark, co-opted the Arno Stark armor decades later in a time travel story in which Iron Man and Doctor Doom traveled to the late 21st century. Tony Stark faced this descendant of his in the 2020 armor, while Doom faced off against a future version of himself.

As to the armor design, given the fact that Iron Man 2020 was first introduced in 1984, we have the odd dichotomy that his appearance actually looks somewhat more "classic" than does that of the present-day Iron Man. One sort of wonders if "Howard" made sure that his future relative didn't get his hands on anything too advanced until he felt he was ready for it. The armor is similar in appearance to Iron Man's most iconic armor of the 1980's, these days regarded as the "Model 5", with certain modifications that make the armor look a little meaner than Tony Stark might be inclined to wear, which I will discuss along with the figure.

Beam weapons are fitted into the gauntlets of the suit, as well as the chest beam and shoulder epaulets. The user no longer requires a cybernetic link in the helmet to control the armor; the helmet can be hidden via cloaking technology. Iron Man 2020's systems are geared more towards combat and less towards the super-heroics of the original Iron Man. For example, Iron Man 2020's repulsors -- as well as an arsenal of other weapons -- always fire at maximum power for the most lethal effects.

Perhaps the most curious aspect of the armor is that it contains the 1970's-era Iron Man rollerskates, built into the boots of the armor, except they've been updated to a rollerblade design. That's what happens when you develop a character in the 1980's that's supposed to be from the future and you put something a little too trendy into it.

In fairness, I've always been of the opinion that Iron Man must be one of the toughest characters to write and -- more to the point -- design for, in any comics universe. Iron Man is a purely technological hero, and must always stay a few theoretical steps ahead of the current edge of real-world technology in order to remain cool and true to his character. Given how that edge of technology just keeps getting pushed practically every time I see a new TV commercial for something or other, that can't be easy. Keep in mind that when Iron Man first appeared, his powers featured electro-magnetism and the armor was "transistor-powered".

Now, imagine trying to maintain the edge for a character that's supposed to be a futuristic, and presumably more advanced version, of Iron Man, and who doesn't even turn up all that often. You can see the problem. One sort of suspects that at some point it was just decided to leave well enough alone with the look of the character and figure that any enhancements were in the internal workings or whatever.

So, how's the figure? Extremely cool. I'll admit that Iron Man is one of my favorite Marvel Comics characters. For one thing, he doesn't really have a counterpart in Marvel's Distinguished Competition. Sure, there's Steel, but let's face it, DC's main billionaire playboy industrialist wears a bat suit, not a suit of high-tech armor. There are other characters with traits that could arguably be traded off between the two universes, but Iron Man is pretty unique in his abilities and his prominence.

And certainly, the Iron Man character has risen in prominence in recent years thanks to the decided success of a couple of superb live-action movies. He has his own action figure line, as well as maintaining a good presence in the all-encompassing Marvel Universe line, where Iron Man 2020 comes from.

And at the very least, all of these armored figures that Hasbro has turned out have taught them very well how to do small-scale action figures -- the Marvel Universe line is 4" scale -- with excellent metallic finishes.

Iron Man 2020 has a predominantly metallic red body, with gold faceplate, arms, legs, and additional hardware attached to the armor. It's a slightly darker gold than is traditionally used on comic-based Iron Man figures, almost the same color of gold used on movie-based Iron Man figures. However, I don't think that the intent here was to make Iron Man 2020 look "movie-ready" or anything like that. Rather, I think the intent was to make Iron Man 2020 look a little "darker" than his more heroic predecessor. And in this regard, it works superbly well.

Iron Man 2020 looks enough like his ancestor in most respects, that I am quite certain that Hasbro simply used an earlier Iron Man body for the figure, adding the specific additional parts where appropriate. If nothing else, the 2009 copyright date on the inside of one leg probably confirms this. This isn't a complaint. I appreciate a certain amount of consistency when and where appropriate, and in this case, it works.

Iron Man 2020, like his predecessor's most iconic armor, has ridged red gloves, lower torso, and boots, with flared tops at the gloves and boots. The right hand is clenched in a fist, but the left hand is open, very impressively with individual fingers, and remarkable detail right down to the little ridges. The repulsor blaster is evident on the palm of this hand.

Likewise, the bottoms of the boots show indications of the boot jets. I don't really see anything indicative of the roller blades, unless that slit near the front of the boot is where they emerge from and somehow adhere to the base of the foot.

Several things set Iron Man 2020 apart from his predecessor. The first is the faceplate, so at the very least, Iron Man 2020 has a distinctive head. The eyeslits are a little more angled into an "angry" sort of look, and the mouth is not an even slit, but rather has a sort of mechanical "fanged" look to it, for lack of a better term. It definitely makes this Iron Man look distinctly more hostile than the original. It's not at all a friendly or especially heroic visage.

Then there's the belt. Rather than the traditional red belt that merges well with the armor, and has those little circular plates to the side, Iron Man 2020 has a wider, more detailed gold belt, with a large and complex "buckle", and rather than the circular plates, one side attachment looks like a small buzzsaw, while the other looks like a large, three-pointed throwing star. It's things like this that really do set the character apart, both in appearance and demeanor. This belt was separately made and does not appear removable. It was attached to the figure during factory assembly.

The greatest, and perhaps for Iron Man 2020, the most iconic difference, are the shoulders. Tony Stark's armor in this era was highlighted by two smooth red ridges that rose up to divide the red chestplate from the gold arms of the armor. By distinct contrast, Iron Man 2020 has these huge gold shoulder ridges with a great many sharp points on them, making it look very much like he is wearing a pair of buzzsaws around his arms. If he wanted to go for a "mean" look, this certainly helped achieve that.

In addition, the circular area of the chestplate is larger, and is linked to the two smaller circles that are near the collarbone. This is a modification of Tony Stark's design at the time, made to look more extensive and powerful. These are rendered in gold, as well. From a toy standpoint, the shoulder "buzzsaws" and the chest alteration have been molded as a single piece, and attached to the figure during assembly, by fitting them around the arms, and attaching them to the "original" Iron Man circle on the original chestplate. You can sort of see the smaller circles of the original armor underneath this piece. Like the belt, it is not intended to be removable.

Paintwork for the most part is excellent. I remember when the line of figures based on the first Iron Man movie came out, and a number of the figures were so slathered with paint to try to give them a metallic finish that their parts were frequently stuck and the figures actually felt tacky to the touch. Fortunately, painting procedures have improved since then. To achieve a cool metallic look, the figures are painted in silver, and then given a second coating of gloss transparent paint in the desired color -- in this case red.

How do I know this? Well, while the paint work on Iron Man 2020 is generally excellent, there's a little chip of red missing from the back of one of his ear-pieces, and I can see the silver. Easily fixable, but it shows how they get their colored metallic finishes. I'm assuming that the gold is a straight gold.

Articulation of the figure is excellent. Iron Man 2020 is fully poseable at the head, arms, upper arm swivel, elbows, wrists, mid-torso, waist, legs, double-jointed knees, and ankles. Now, I could probably do without the double-jointed knees, as I don't think that's necessary, or that it looks that good. It just cuts into the design too much, on any action figure. Same with elbows when those are done like this.

I will say that I'm very impressed with the upper leg assembly. Rather than using the rather odd and often hard to work "ball-and-socket" design that is common to the Iron Man 2 line based on the movie (admittedly extending well beyond that), this Iron Man 2020 figure has an assembly that is more akin to a G.I. Joe figure, with a "ball" on an extended socket that is part of the hip joint. This allows for an excellent range of motion for the legs without overworking it and making it more complicated than it needs to be, and honestly, less workable.

Among his accessories, Iron Man 2020 comes with a display base with his name on it, and a representation of his energy blast, molded in yellow plastic. Honestly, I've never thought that it was all that possible to duplicate energy-based powers in plastic, but there's so many super-heroes from more than one company that have this ability to one degree or another that I guess something has to be done.

The little packet envelope that comes with Iron man 2020 includes a trading card with his picture on the front, and assorted biographical and technical information on the back. It lists his weapons capabilities as "myriad force fields, repulsors, uni-beam, shuriken blade, flechette-like daggers launched from gauntlet, and high powered mini-rifle hidden in gauntlet. You know, just in case the repulsors aren't enough!

There's also a card with a code on it which can be used at FuryFiles.Com, where you can "Initiate Your Agent Status, Enter Your Secret Code, and Unlock the Marvel Universe." The code for Iron Man (at least the one I got, anyway, I have no idea if they're consistent from figure to figure) is "4R8-N8WL-98F".

So what's my final word here? I'm impressed with this figure on several fronts. I'm impressed that Hasbro is willing to extend the Marvel Universe line of action figures into some slightly more obscure corners than those just being represented by current storylines. I've generally found the Iron Man 2020 character to be interesting, even if time is catching up to his name, and real world technology has certainly done so, and even though his appearances have been generally few and far between.

I'm glad to have a figure of him, and I do believe that Hasbro did an excellent job with him. If you're a fan of Iron Man, and have a recollection of his character, and for that matter would like to encourage Hasbro to bring out figures of even more lesser-knowns, then certainly, Iron Man 2020 should be part of your Marvel Universe collection.

The MARVEL UNIVERSE figure of IRON MAN 2020 definitely has my most enthusiastic recommendation!