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By Thomas Wheeler

In the wake of two successful movies, with the Avengers film on the horizon, there's been no shortage of action figures based on the Armored Avenger himself, IRON MAN, in the stores. While most of these figures have tended to be in the 4" range, there has been a larger group of 6" figures, known as the Legends Series, that has garnered my attention.

Of all of the prominent individual super-heroes out there -- Batman, Spider-Man, and more recently Captain America -- that have had action figure lines devoted to them that have come up with a fairly extensive number of versions based on the core character, the one best suited to get away with it is unquestionably Iron Man -- and that's because, within the pages of the comic book, Tony Stark really has come up with a wide variety of armored suits for himself over the years.

I've always suspected that Iron Man must be one of the tougher Marvel heroes to write for. He has to keep just ahead enough of modern technological advances to seem more advanced without seeming too implausible. Reed Richards can dream of faster-than-light travel and Negative Zones and stretch his way there all he likes. Captain America has been slinging his shield since World War II and he still is effective with it. Spider-Man can web swing across town in any age. As long as he's not yapping on his cell phone when he does it and swings right into the side of a building, there's no real problem.

But Iron Man? He's the technological hero. He has to seem at least moderately plausible. Anyone working on Iron Man's adventures who doesn't have a working knowledge of modern technology just isn't going to get it. Consider the fact that Iron Man's original armor, way back in the early 1960's, used transistors, and one of its most effective weapons was reverse magnetism. Today we'd think -- transistors? Really? Some might even think -- um, what's a transistor? This is the age of computer chips, microcircuitry, and hand-held devices that have computerized capabilities far beyond those of machines that used to occupy entire rooms -- and it wasn't THAT long ago.

So you can see what Tony Stark, and his writers, are up against, trying to keep Iron Man up to date -- and a little beyond. Specialized armors are certainly appropriate in this day and age, if nothing else.

One thing that bugged me just a little about the 4" Iron Man line was how so much of it presented Iron Man in the red-and-gold. Yes, those are his traditional colors, but he's been known to vary. And certainly other super-heroes have with regard to their action figure counterparts. If Batman can wear a bright orange uniform, then I think ol' Tin Britches can buy a few different colors of automotive paint and give himself a little variety.

The 6" line fared a bit better in this regard, and one particular Iron Man figure that caught my attention in the Legends Series was called "Stealth Strike Mark IV Iron Man". And so, I recently brought him into my collection.

I'm not really sure that I need to provide that much backstory for Iron Man, but for comparison sake, let's have a look at both the comics and movie backgrounds for Iron Man:

A billionaire playboy, industrialist and ingenious engineer, Tony Stark suffers a severe chest injury during a kidnapping in which his captors attempt to force him to build a weapon of mass destruction. He instead creates a powered suit of armor to save his life and escape captivity. He later uses the suit to protect the world as Iron Man. Through his multinational corporation Stark Industries, Tony has created many military weapons, some of which, along with other technological devices of his making, have been integrated into his suit, helping him fight crime.

In 1978, artist Bob Layton joined writer David Michelinie, with Iron Man #116. The two introduce several supporting characters including Stark's personal pilot and confidant James Rhodes, who would later become the superhero War Machine; Stark's bodyguard girlfriend Bethany Cabe; and rival industrialist Justin Hammer, who was revealed to be the employer of numerous high-tech armed enemies Iron Man fought over the years. The duo also introduced the concept of Stark's specialized armors while also acquiring a dangerous vendetta with Doctor Doom. The team was together through #154, with Michelinie writing a couple of additional issues without Layton. They returned for a second lengthy run from #215-250.

The son of a wealthy industrialist and head of Stark Industries, Howard Stark, and Maria Stark, Anthony Edward Stark is born on Long Island. A boy genius, he enters MIT at the age of 15 to study electrical engineering and computer science. After his parents are accidentally killed in a car crash, he inherits his father's company.

While observing the effects of his experimental technologies on the American war effort, Tony Stark is injured by a booby trap and captured by the enemy led by Wong-Chu, who then orders him to design weapons. However, Stark's injuries are dire and shrapnel is moving towards his heart. His fellow prisoner, Ho Yinsen, a Nobel Prize-winning physicist whose work Stark had greatly admired during college, constructs a magnetic chest plate to keep the shrapnel from reaching Stark's heart, keeping him alive. In secret, Stark and Yinsen use the workshop to design and construct a suit of powered armor, which Stark uses to escape. But during the escape attempt, Yinsen sacrifices his life to save Stark's by distracting the enemy as Stark recharges. Stark takes revenge on his kidnappers and heads back to rejoin the American forces, on his way meeting a wounded American Marine fighter pilot, James "Rhodey" Rhodes.

Back home, Stark discovers that the shrapnel fragment lodged in his chest cannot be removed without killing him, and he is forced to wear the armor's chestplate beneath his clothes to act as a regulator for his heart. He must also recharge the chestplate every day or else risk the shrapnel killing him. Eventually, Stark's heart condition is treated with an artificial heart transplant. Later on, Stark expands on his armor designs and begins to build his arsenal of specialized armors for particular situations such as for stealth and space travel. The cover for Iron Man is that he is Stark's bodyguard and corporate mascot.

The movies have stayed generally faithful to this, while needing to update some aspects, of course. Tony Stark, played by Robert Downey, Jr. is the head of Stark Industries, a major military contracting company he inherited from his father. One day, while his father's old partner, Obadiah Stane, takes care of day-to-day operations, Stark flies to war-torn Afghanistan with his friend and military liaison, Lieutenant Colonel James Rhodes, for a demonstration of Stark Industries' new weapon, the "Jericho" missile. However, Stark is critically wounded in an assault and finds himself the prisoner of an Afghan terrorist group known as the Ten Rings. Shrapnel in his chest is kept from entering his heart and killing him by an electromagnet built by fellow captive Dr. Yinsen. The Ten Rings leader, Raza, offers Stark his freedom in exchange for building a Jericho missile for the group, but Tony and Yinsen agree Raza will not keep his word.

During his three months of captivity, Stark and Yinsen secretly build a powerful electric generator called an arc reactor, which will power Stark's electromagnet, and then begin to build a suit of armor to escape. The Ten Rings attack the workshop when they discover what Stark is doing, and Yinsen fights back to buy Stark time as the suit powers up. The armored Stark battles his way out of the caves and finds the dying Yinsen, who tells him not to waste his life. Stark burns the terrorists' munitions and flies away to crash in the desert, destroying the suit.

After being rescued by Rhodes, Stark returns home and announces that his company will no longer manufacture weapons. Stane advises Stark that this may ruin Stark Industries and his father's legacy. In his home workshop, Stark builds an improved version of his suit as well as a more powerful arc reactor for his chest.

When Stark makes his first public appearance after his return, a reporter informs him that Stark Industries' weapons, including the Jericho, were recently delivered to the Ten Rings and are being used to attack Yinsen's home village. He also learns that Stane is trying to succeed him as head of the company. Enraged, Stark dons his new armor and flies to Afghanistan where he saves Yinsen's village and turns Raza over to the villagers.

Stane's scientists cannot duplicate Stark's arc reactor, so Stane ambushes Stark in his home, using a sonic device to paralyze him and take his arc reactor. S.H.I.E.L.D. agents attempt to arrest Stane, but are attacked by him in his own armor. Stark races to the rescue and eventually defeats Stane.

The next day, the press has dubbed Stark in his armor as "Iron Man". Stark starts to tell the cover story given to him by S.H.I.E.L.D., that Iron Man is his bodyguard, but then announces that he is Iron Man.

So, how's the figure? Extremely cool. The 4" line of Iron Man figures has tended to be divided into three distinct concepts: Movie Series -- armors based on those seen in the movie; Comic Series, with armors based on those more akin to Iron Man's comic appearances, and Concept Series -- which as much as anything splits the difference and is sometimes a good excuse for the reuse of molds.

Something called "Stealth Strike Mark IV Armor" pretty much fits into the Concept Series, even though the 6" Legends Series does not use these distinctions.

Technically, the figure is based on the Mark IV Iron Man armor, which Stark is using at the start of the second Iron Man movie. He eventually upgrades to the Mark VI by the end of the film. However, at no point in either movie has Stark used a specific stealth armor, so here we have a bit of a sidestep into the comics world, in which Tony Stark has most definitely used stealth armor on several occasions.

The back of the package for the figure reads, "The Iron Man Stealth Strike Mark IV is the perfect combination of stealth and firepower. Designed with active camouflage that lets it blend into almost any background, and empowered with the latest in Stark heavy weapons technology, it is the perfect armor suit for striking from the shadows and then disappearing before the enemy can respond."

Excuse me -- "Active camo?" Somebody playing Halo just before writing this? Still, if anybody could come up with that, it'd be Stark

The figure is identical in basic configuration to that of the Mark IV armor as it was used in the movie, and I am assuming that it is based on the same series of molds. The 6" line of Iron Man 2 movie figures was much more limited, since for the second movie, Hasbro wanted to focus on the 4" line, which has become a standard for most of their Marvel-based action figures, including movie tie-ins. However, there was a limited 6" line. The figure has a 2010 copyright date on it.

However, as it is stealth armor, it categorically does not have the traditional red-and-gold color scheme, which is one of the reasons it appealed to me. Rather, the color scheme is a very dark metallic blue, and an even slightly darker metallic purple-black.

The faceplate of the helmet is blue, while the rest of the helmet is the purple black. Much of the upper torso and the shoulder pads are also this darker color, while the sides of the torso are blue, as are the arms, at least until the gloves take over, which are the darker purple-black colors. The abdomen is also this color, as are the trunks. The legs are mostly purple black, although there is some metallic blue on the upper legs, and closer down towards the ankles.

The only other color on the figure is red, which can be seen in the eyes, encircling the arc reactor on the chestplate, and in some of the ridged detailing on the sides, abdomen, and arms and legs. It makes this Iron Man figure look a little more menacing then most, while adding an almost "Tron" like look to it.

There's a very light airbrushing of red around the arc reactor circle in a recessed area on the chestplate, making it look as though the arc reactor is glowing and the armor is reflecting the might. It's a nice effect, really.

The figure is very well articulation. Stealth Strike Iron Man is fully poseable at the head, arms, upper arm swivel, elbows, wrists, mid-torso, legs, upper leg swivel, knees, and ankles. One of the cool things about doing action figures of armored characters is that the articulation can generally be incorporated into the design of the figure, and as such look a little more subtle than most. Clone Troopers, Halo Spartans -- and certainly Iron Man figures qualify in this respect.

The shoulder armor also has an articulation point that allows it to move out of the way a bit so Iron Man can move his arms. Here I heartily approve, as some of the figures from the first Iron Man movie had "snap on" shoulder armor, that didn't snap on very well and was too easily lost.

About the only negative aspect to the articulation are the leg joints, which are this odd sort of combination of back and forth movement on a ball-and-socket design. I've encountered it before, on smaller Iron Man figures as well, and elsewhere in the Marvel line-up, although it seems to be something that they're moving away from a bit, and I'm glad, because to be a bit blunt, it's an over-engineered design that just doesn't work all that well. It's not impossible to get some decent leg movement out of this Iron Man figure, but it takes a lot more than it should.

The paint work is excellent. The entire figure has a truly superb metallic finish, and the red details are all neatly painted and precisely placed. I'm very impressed with this.

Stealth Strike Iron Man comes with a number of accessories. He has four spare hands in various positions -- two left and two right -- that can be easily exchanged for various specialized purposes. He also has a "launching repulsor blast" cannon that attaches to his arm, and fires a translucent red missile, representing his repulsor blast.

The cannon isn't exactly canon (I've always wanted to say that), since customarily Iron Man has his repulsors built into his armor, and fires them through the palms of his hands, and they are in evidence on this figure, but -- it's a spring-loaded gadget for the kids.

So, what's my final word? This is a very cool and interesting figure. It's also not that easy to track down. Unfortunately, the post-Iron Man 2 line, known as "Iron Man: The Armored Avenger", hasn't fared terribly well, since many stores had a surplus of movie product -- most of it red-and-gold. I tend to think that if there had been a greater color variety of armor available, things might have been different. But that's easy to say in hindsight, and for someone not directly involved.

Whatever the case, this figure is available, and is certainly worth it. It's an excellent 6" figure of Iron Man, well-made, well-detailed, certainly well-articulated, and representing a motif -- stealth armor -- that has certainly been seen in the comic books on multiple occasions, and although it is itself derived from one of the movie armors, it's not much of a stretch to imagine that if Stark were to build a stealth armor in the movie universe, it would look very much like this.

The STEALTH STRIKE MARK IV IRON MAN from the IRON MAN ARMORED AVENGER LEGENDS SERIES definitely has my most enthusiastic recommendation!