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By Thomas Wheeler

One of the real surprises to come out of Hasbro's acquisition of the Marvel Comics toy license was the appearance of a series, perhaps a short-lived one of 9" cloth-costumed action figures of select Marvel super-heroes, marketed under the "Spider-Man Origins" banner. Not since the days of Toy Biz's Famous Covers have figures like these been seen in the stores.

Of course, it was also something of a no-brainer for Hasbro -- they'd also done their own 9" line at the time, decidesly more limited in number, based on the DC Comics heroes, which they had the license for in the late 1990's. For the Spider-Man Origins 9" line, they simply used the previous body molds, with new heads and costumes.

One of the entries in this new collection is "Iron Spider-Man." One thing to note right off is that this is not a figure that would've been possible to do in the Famous Covers line, unlike some of the others, for the simple reason that this Spider-Man version didn't exist then. He didn't last terribly long in the comic books, either, but he was fairly recent.

Spider-Man is, of course, Peter Parker, who was bitten by a radioactive spider, and gained a wide variety of spider-like powers, including super- strength, agility, the ability to climb sheer walls, and a certain "spider-sense" that alerted him to immediate danger. He created a costume for himself -- not this one -- and tried to cash in on his new-found powers. But a tragedy which was partially his fault and which resulted in the death of his beloved Uncle Ben transformed the youth into a super-hero, even if he's had no end of trouble getting any sort of respect over the years.

Recently, it looked as though his fortunes might change. He was invited to join the Avengers, and after resisting this idea for many years, he finally acceeded. He was given a residence in Stark Tower for himself, his wife Mary Jane, and Aunt May, and Tony Stark, Iron Man himself, hired Peter to be his assistant, seeing in Parker the potential for a protege.

But beyond that, Stark crafted an all-new costume for Spider-Man. Of course, given that Stark is Iron Man, that costume was going to be at least somewhat armored, and have a lot more going for it than just being made out of cloth.

The costume featured many gadgets, including three mechanical spider- arms that could be used to see around corners via cameras in the tips, and to manipulate objects indirectly. Stark described them as too fragile to use in combat, but Spider-Man used them in combat to smash the sensors in Titanium Man's helmet.

Other features included short-distance gliding capability, limited bulletproofing, built-in emergency radio scanner, audio/visual amplification, a cloaking device, filters to keep out airborne toxins, and a short-range GPS microwave communication system. It granted the ability to breathe underwater, and was able to "morph" into different shapes due to its "'smart' liquid metal" form, allowing it to sort of disappear when not needed, and look like other styles of costumes Spider-Man has worn over the years or turn into his street clothes. All these features were controlled by a computer system in the chest piece. The suit responded to mental control.

It seemed like Spider-Man's life was on a positive track for a change, but as the Civil War commenced, and escalated, Spidey found himself in increasing disagreement with Iron Man's objectives. He ultimately turned his back on Stark, and that's when things got really unpleasant.

Spider-Man discovered that Stark had put a number of secret devices in his new costume, not the least of which was a means of monitoring Parker's bio-functions, including his "spider-sense". This was almost a slip-up on Stark's part at one point, when he mentioned it to Spider-Man, and Spidey wondered to himself how Iron Man could know about it since he'd never openly talked about it. Eventually the armored costume was able to mimic Parker's own spider-sense, giving Spider-Man occasional "red herrings" via Stark's instructions.

The armor also had a secret override that can be activated by Iron Man in case of emergencies or if Spider-Man switched sides in the Civil War, which of course he did. However, unknown to Stark, Peter was already aware of the safety measure and had bypassed it with his own override. When Stark shut down the suit, Parker reactivated it, decked Iron Man, and escaped.

The "Iron Spider-Man" costume was received with a decidedly mixed reaction among the fan community. Some didn't like the red-and-yellow color scheme. The thinking behind this, within the comics, if not overtly stated, was Stark trying to exercise a certain amount of control over Parker. After all, Iron Man's armor is also red and yellow, and if it's good enough for Iron Man, it's good enough for Spider-Man. Other fans believed that it made Spidey too high-tech, perhaps even too powerful.

However short-lived and mixed-received the costume may have been, it was still regarded as an entirely legitimate version of Spider-Man, so of course it was going to get turned into action figures. Given how quickly they came out, Hasbro must have been getting these ready while they were still negotiating with Toy Biz and Marvel.

There was a very impressive 6" version of the Iron Spider-Man, all in plastic, of course, with a superb metallic sheen to the figure. And here is where we have the one slight problem to doing a cloth-costumed figure who's technically supposed to be wearing armor.

There is simply no effective way to do the kind of high-tech, seamless armor that armored characters in the comics universe wear as an action figure. Iron Man and Doctor Doom have constantly presented problems in this regard, and Iron Spider-Man is no different.

Solutions to the problem have been varied. Mego, in the 1970's, simply made Iron Man's uniform out of cloth, with distinctive plastic gloves and boots. Toy Biz made rubbery plastic arm and leg coverings for their Famous Covers' Doctor Doom. This honestly didn't work all that well. Somewhat more effective was their Iron Man, in which the red parts of the armor were metallic-painted plastic, and the yellow parts of the armor -- the limbs which needed to be poseable -- were fabric. But it has been a dilemma.

Hasbro, perhaps wisely, didn't even bother to try to work out some sort of compromise. They just made the costume out of cloth and left it at that. This was probably the smart decision to make.

The figure may not look as metallic as its shorter, all-plastic counterpart, but it's still a very impressive figure. 9" in height, there's something about the overall red image with the yellow eyes and the rather jagged spider design on the chest that makes this particular version of Spider-Man look a good bit more intimidating than the usual red-and-blue version. The costume is almost a variant on the infamous (and recently returned) black costume.

Of course, those three long mechanical arms coming out of the back throw in a little extra "fear factor". Interestingly, although these arms are articulated on the small 6" version of this figure, they're not on the 9", except for being able to rotate in their sockets. One gets the impression that this 9" line was intended more for collecting than for playing.

Getting this figure assembled at the factory probably wasn't all that easy. As they did with their 9" DC figures years ago, Hasbro has literally sewn these Spider-Man Origins figures into their costumes. There are no snaps or velcro or anything like that. But in the case of Iron Spider-Man, the additional attachment of the base for the mechanical arms OUTSIDE the costume can't have been all that easy.And I have to say that it was carried out very well.

The costume on the whole looks excellent. The plastic molded head, hands, and feet are a perfect color match for the red fabric, and color matching is not an easy process. The costume has the yellow cuffs around the wrists and boots, of course.

Articulation is superb. Iron Spider-Man moves at the head, arms, upper arm swivel, elbows, wrists, finger groups, mid-torso, waist, legs, knees, and ankles. Paintwork on the figure is limited to the yellow eyes on the head. I'm honestly not sure how they did the yellow spider insignia on the front and back of the costume, but it's to someone's credit that it lines up across the seams so well.

The Iron Spider-Man costume may have been short-lived, but it's hardly the first time Hasbro has ended up doing a version of a popular super- hero that barely managed to get its 15 minutes of fame. Back in the DC days, they did a 9" cloth-costumed figure of the blue "energy" version of Superman, a storyline that was supposed to introduce a new Superman for a new millennium, and lasted about as long into the new millennium as the Y2K scare.

And frankly, Iron Spider-Man is more impressive. Given the suit's destruction in the course of the Civil War, it wouldn't surprise me to see this particular version of Spider-Man become quite popular to collectors. But in any case, the 9" cloth-costumed Iron Spider-Man is a very impressive figure, and it certainly has my recommendation!