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By Thomas Wheeler

With the decided success of two excellent movies, there's been no shortage of action figures based on the Armored Avenger himself, IRON MAN, in the stores. Most of these, not surprisingly, have been assorted variants of Iron Man himself.

Of all of the prominent individual super-heroes out there -- Batman, Spider-Man, 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, I've always believed that the one best suited to get away with it is unquestionably Iron Man -- and that's because 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. Spider-Man can web swing across town in any age.

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? We're in 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 has bugged me just a little about the 4" Iron Man line has been 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. I mean, if Batman can wear a bright orange uniform...!

Then, I came across a figure that provided some variety. Dubbed MARK V STEALTH ARMOR IRON MAN, this figure features Iron Man, not in his usual red-and-gold, but rather, black-and-gold. Definitely very eye-catching. It certainly caught my eye, and I added him to my collection.

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

In the comics, Tony Stark, a billionaire playboy, industrialist and ingenious engineer, suffered a severe chest injury during a kidnapping in which his captors attempted to force him to build a weapon of mass destruction. He instead created a powered suit of armor to save his life and escape captivity. He later used 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 various armors over the years, helping him fight crime, usually of the super-villain variety.

To go into somewhat greater detail, Anthony Edward Stark was born on Long Island, the son of a wealthy industrialist and head of Stark Industries, Howard Stark, and Maria Stark. A boy genius, he entered MIT at the age of 15 to study electrical engineering and computer science. After his parents were accidentally killed in a car crash, he inherited 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.

Tony Stark, as played by Downey in the movies, was a far less serious character than the Tony Stark of the comic books, and in fact Nick Fury (played by Samuel L. Jackson in a number of Marvel movies leading into the Avengers film) considers Stark unsuitable for membership in his planned super-team, even though he certainly regards the Iron Man armor as useful.

So, how's the figure? Very cool, but I mentioned Downey's less serious portrayal of Stark in the movies for a reason. The Mark V armor on which this figure is based is very definitely derived specifically from the movies. And the back of the package for the Mark V Stealth Armor reads as follows: Not every suit of armor Tony Stark builds is for combat. He made this one just because it looks cool. He uses it for public appearances and charity events. Of course, just because it looks cool doesn't mean it lacks weapons. Bad guys expecting to catch Iron Man unprepared are in for a surprise.

Okay, really, I can't quite imagine the Tony Stark of the comic books building a specialized suit of armor more or less just for the fun of it. The Tony Stark of the movies? Yeah, I can see him doing something like that.

Now, stealth armor is nothing new to Iron Man -- or even Iron Man figures. Check my reviews right here on this Web Site and you'll probably find two or three other Iron Man stealth armors as it is. Just as of this writing, I'd recently come across a 6" scale Iron Man figure based on the Mark IV armor that was done in stealth style. I think Stark keeps building these stealth armors because the previous ones are so stealthy he keeps losing them in his armor garage or something...!

Why stealth? Talk to the Air Force. With all the fancy high-tech electronic detection equipment buzzing the world these days, finding ways to keep fighter craft reasonably undetectable is a major -- and frequently difficult -- objective. And if you think about it, Iron Man's armor essentially amounts to a one-man wearable tank or fighter jet.

The Iron Man V armor did actually appear in the second Iron Man movie. It was designed as a lighter-weight, portable armor that Stark could carry with him, thus serving as a cinematic nod to Stark's tendency in the comic to carry his armor around with him in a special briefcase.

The Mark V armor was highly segmented, with lots of ridged panels on the arms, legs, and torso, some almost looking like high-tech zippers, for lack of a better term. The armor was predominantly metallic red with significant amounts of silver trim on it. This also accomplished the goal of acknowledging the fact that in the comics, at least one of Stark's major armors that he wore for several years was not red and gold, but red and silver.

Now, I believe that the Iron Man movies have done an excellent job bringing Stark's armor to the real-life world without compromising the essentials. Of course, it helps that Tony Stark has designed so many armors over the years that as long as you're reasonably faithful to the basics, you really can't go too far wrong. It's not like Spider-Man, where you'd better get THE costume right. The Mark V armor was a little unconventional, and all of the ridged paneling was a bit of a stretch, but it wasn't that bad, and it certainly looked cool.

The Mark V Stealth Armor is also very cool, if a little more unconventional. Can I see an armor like this in the movies? Well, honestly, yes, I can. It's based directly on one of the movie designs, and if Stark were to decide to incorporate some stealth technology into it and give it a new paint job, there's no reason in the world why it couldn't work. To date, the movies haven't really gotten into "specialized" armors to the same degree that either the comic book or the action figure line(s) have, but it's certainly within the realm of plausibility as far as I'm concerned.

The armor is almost entirely black. This is unusual even for an Iron Man stealth armor, which, at least in toy incarnations, have tended to be portrayed as very dark metallic blue, not black. It's not a metallic black, but "metallic black" can be a difficult color to achieve anyway. And really, the non-metallic look of the armor makes it look that much more stealthy, so it's effective from that standpoint.

The trim color is gold, but the placement of the trim is significantly different than that of the standard Mark V. The standard Mark V has a lot more silver on it, than the Stealth Mark V has gold.

If one looks at the standard Mark V Iron Man, one notices that while the main color is metallic red, silver is extremely prominent. The faceplate of the helmet is silver, portions of the shoulders are silver, and major areas on the torso, upper legs, and arms are silver, as are the hands. There's not as much silver on the back of the figure, although a large central area on the back is silver.

Compare that with the gold trim on the Stealth Mark V. The only real common point is the faceplate. Beyond that, there are narrow lines down the neck, leading to the arc reactor on the chest, which is outlined in gold. Narrow gold lines, essentially framing the ridged segments, expand outwards from the arc reactor, tapering across and down the arms, and to the waist, where there's a few larger gold panels, but then the lines continue down the legs, ending at the knees. The wrists are gold, but the hands are black, and there's a bit of gold trim around the boots and on the back of the armor, that were not silver on the original version.

I can't calculate a precise percentage, but the black-to-gold ratio on the Mark V Stealth Armor is far greater than the red-to-silver ratio on the standard Mark V Armor.

From a toy perspective, this also means that an entirely new set of paint stencils had to be created for this figure. That's not an inexpensive process, and certainly as such I commend Hasbro for being willing to do so in order to create this interesting new figure. I also commend them on the fact that they DID do so, rather than try to take the always unwelcome method of hand-painting the details on this figure. Admittedly, some of the detail is so fine, I don't think it would've been possible to do it like that.

The only other painted details on the figure are the arc reactor, which is painted white, and the eyeslits, which are white with fine black outlines. These are not so much painted on as imprinted, much like emblems and similar details are on other action figure lines. And may I suggest to Hasbro that they start improving their aim on these? I've encountered several recent Iron Man figures where the eyeslits were horribly skewed. With Iron Man appearing in the upcoming (as of this writing) Avengers movie, and then having a third movie of his own, the time to rectify this problem is now.

Fortunately, this particular Iron Man figure has decently placed eyeslits. No complaints here.

Of course, articulation is excellent. The Mark V Stealth Iron Man is fully poseable at the head, arms, elbows (with a swivel), wrists, mid-torso, legs, upper leg swivel, knees, and ankles. My only criticism here is that the leg assembly is a little overworked. It's an odd combination of a ball and socket with a back and forth movement, followed by the upper leg swivel. I've seen it before, plenty of times, on other Iron Man and Marvel product, and as I've said before, I just don't think it works all that well. Something more akin to a G.I. Joe figure, maybe with a distinct upper leg swivel, would be more appropriate.

Iron Man's left hand is clenched as a fist, while his right hand is open, with very impressive individual fingers, and it shows his repulsor blaster in the palm of his glove.

The painted detailing is neatly done, and I have to commend the designers and painters for managing to get such narrow lines and specific details so well aligned on a very detailed sculpt.

Iron Man comes with a number of accessories. He comes with a display base, and a set of three cards that provide a sort of simulated three-dimensional breakdown of his armor. These make an interesting backdrop on his display base. He also comes with a spare left hand, that can be switched out fairly readily.

The purpose of this second left hand is to allow him to take hold of his large, high-tech suitcase, which technically represents the case in which Stark stores the Mark V armor, but which in this case serves as a spring-loaded missile launcher. Two missiles are also included. The suitcase, like the armor, is black and gold, while the missiles are gold colored.

Good thing Stark's rich enough to have his own airplanes. He'd never get this thing through airport security...

So, what's my final word? I'm impressed. I really believe that this Stealth incarnation is an improvement over the original color scheme of the Mark V armor, and certainly, it breaks up the far too frequent red-and-gold pattern. And for all of that, it also manages to be something entirely plausible looking, that could certainly appear in a future Iron Man movie if one so desired. It probably won't, but it could. And -- it's different. The color pattern gives it a distinctiveness that the Iron Man line certainly could use, and which I believe will be welcomed by any Iron Man collector.

The IRON MAN MARK V STEALTH ARMOR definitely has my most enthusiastic recommendation!