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By Thomas Wheeler

I've always liked Iron Man. I may have some problems with the direction Marvel Comics has taken with its characters in the pages of the comic books in recent years, Iron Man included, but I've always liked the character and the concept.

There was something about a billionaire industrialist with a specialty in advanced technology and weapons creating a high-powered, technologically advanced, and well-armed armored battle-suit for himself, regardless of the reasons he had to do so in the first place, that just about made sense. If it was something that could've been done in the real world, it probably would've been.

Certainly the character proved his popularity a couple of years ago with a major motion picture that was initially expected to perform -- well, adequately -- and turned into one of that summer's major blockbusters. As one would expect, there was an action figure line at the time. However, given the movie's unexpected popularity, trying to find any Iron Man figures from the original film for a while there -- you'd've had better luck breaking into Tony Stark's mansion and stealing his actual armor.

Hasbro is clearly not taking any chances with Iron Man 2. There's a massive toy line out there, that is divided into three major categories. There's the Movie Series, which features various Iron Man and War Machine armors derived directly from the movie. These are all nicely done. Then there's the Concept Series, which showcases experimental armors that likely haven't appeared in either the comic book or the movie, but could plausibly fit into either one. I personally recommend the Deep Dive Armor Iron Man if you're looking for something a little different and extremely impressive in its own right.

Finally, there's the Comic Series. This showcases armored characters derived directly from the comic books, including, of course, Iron Man, as well as War Machine and others. So far the line has also featured the Crimson Dynamo, also highly recommended by yours truly, and I'm sort of hoping for Titanium Man.

From this line, I recently obtained the Comic Series IRON MAN figure. Before I get into the review of this figure as well as my reasons for purchasing him above, or at least ahead, of any of the other couple of dozen Iron Man variations presently available, let's have a little background into the comics origin of Iron Man. Many of you reading this may well have seen the first movie, and it treated the character with -- well, more respect than some movies which have as their basis a concept established in another medium -- but I believe it is still worth looking into some of the comics-based background of the Armored Avenger.

Iron Man is a fictional character, a superhero that appears in comic books published by Marvel Comics. The character first appeared in Tales of Suspense #39 (March 1963), and was created by writer-editor Stan Lee, scripter Larry Lieber, and artists Don Heck and Jack Kirby.

Born Anthony Edward "Tony" Stark, he is an industrialist playboy and genius engineer who suffers a severe heart injury during a kidnapping in which his captors attempt to force him to build a massively destructive weapon. He instead creates a powered suit of armor to save his life and escape captivity. He later decides to use the suit to protect the world as Iron Man. Through his multinational corporation, Stark Industries, Tony created military weapons and his own metal suit is laden with technological devices that enable him to fight crime.

In the original origin story, 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, who then orders him to design weapons for them. However, Stark's injuries are dire and shrapnel in his chest threatens to pierce 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 Anthony uses to escape. But during the escape attempt, Yinsen sacrifices his life to save Tony's by distracting the enemy. Stark takes revenge on his kidnappers and heads back to rejoin the American forces, on his way meeting a wounded American Marine Corps helicopter pilot, James "Rhodey" Rhodes.

Back home, Stark discovers the shrapnel 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. The cover for Iron Man is that he is Stark's bodyguard and corporate mascot. To that end, Iron Man fights threats to his company, such as Communist opponents Black Widow, the Crimson Dynamo and the Titanium Man, as well as independent villains like the Mandarin. No one suspects Stark of being Iron Man as he cultivates an image as a rich playboy and industrialist.

Eventually, Stark's heart condition is cured with an artificial heart transplant, but he decides to continue being Iron Man. 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.

Given the time period in which the origin story took place, Stark's original incident took place in Southeast Asia, arguably Vietnam. The movie, understandably, updated this to more modern enemy locales. I'm honestly not certain if the comic book has ever addressed the matter. The online research I came across did not specify.

As to his powers and abilities, Tony Stark is not himself superhuman. Stark is an inventive genius whose expertise in the fields of mathematics, physics, chemistry, computers, and engineering rival that of Reed Richards, Hank Pym, Victor Von Doom, and Bruce Banner. He is regarded as one of the most intelligent scientists in the Marvel Universe. He graduated with advanced degrees in physics and engineering at the age of 21 from Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and further developed his knowledge ranging from artificial intelligence to quantum mechanics as time progressed.

Furthermore, this extends to his ingenuity in dealing with difficult situations such as difficult foes and deathtraps where he is capable of using his available tools like his suit in unorthodox and effective ways. He is also well-respected in the business world, able to command people's attentions when he speaks on economic matters by virtue of the fact that he is savvy enough to have, over the years, built up several multi-million dollar companies from virtually nothing. He is known for the loyalty he commands from and returns to those who work for him, as well as his business ethics.

Iron Man possesses powered armor that gives him superhuman strength and durability, flight, and an array of weapons. The weapons systems of the suit have changed over the years, but Iron Man's standard offensive weapons have always been the repulsor rays that are fired from the palms of his gauntlets. Other weapons built into various incarnations of the armor include: the uni-beam projector in its chest; pulse bolts; an electromagnetic pulse generator; and a defensive energy shield that can be extended up to 360 degrees. Other capabilities include: generating ultra-freon; creating and manipulating magnetic fields; emitting sonic blasts; and projecting 3-dimensional holograms.

In addition to the general-purpose model he wears, Stark has developed several specialized suits for space travel, deep-sea diving, stealth, and other special purposes. My personal favorite was the giant suit of armor he came up with for the Avengers/Transformers crossover a few years ago.

Many of these specialized armors came to the fore during one of the most popular eras of the comic book, generally referred to as the Micheline/Layton era. In the late 1970's, the title was regarded as a relatively minor one when writer David Micheline came on the scene. His understanding of technology and development of characters, including new supporting characters, combined with the exceptionally clean artistic lines of Bob Layton, transformed the title into a best-seller. The two collaborated on two lengthy runs of Iron Man, from issues 116-154, and again from #215-250 in the late 1980's.

I've always felt Iron Man, as a title and character, works best when in the hands of someone who respects technology. One writer mentioned that he has a distinct distrust of advanced technology, and it showed in his stories, much to the character's detriment, in my opinion.

More than any other super-hero I can think of offhand, Iron Man has had to keep pace -- and just a bit ahead -- of real-world technology. Iron Man's original armor used transistors. You could probably find people working in computer repair shops today who don't even know what a transistor is. To that end, especially as fast as technology seems to advance today, Iron Man has had to update his armor a lot more often than, say, Spider-Man needs to upgrade his web shooters.

However, there was one suit of armor, that Iron Man had used for many years, which went into the Micheline-Layton era even, that is probably Iron Man's best-known armor, even today. And it is this armor design that I chose from among the action figures.

Why this one? In part because it is so well-known, at least by longtime comics fans. I'm not saying there aren't other cool designs out there. In both the comics and the movies, there certainly are, and quite a few of them have also made it into the action figure realm over the years. But I do tend to think that when one mentions the name "Iron Man" to the average longtime comics fan, this is what he thinks of. Stark had this armor for so long that it was actually the basis for the Mego "World's Greatest Super-Heroes" Iron Man figure in the early 1970's!

There was a corollary to why I wanted this Iron Man, as well. No offense whatsoever to any of the movie designs, but their color schemes are a little dark. Now, I understand that a movie can do things a comic book can't, and at the same time, a live-action movie has to look a bit more plausible than a comic book. Although Iron Man is often referred to as the "Golden Avenger", his armor, especially in light of the printing capabilities of the time, was most often colored red and -- yellow. The style of the art gave it a metallic sort of detail look to it, but it was still red and yellow. Still looks that way sometimes, depending on the artist and colorist. Metallic gold just isn't that easy to do on the printed page.

It certainly can be done in the movies, and was, and the toys, understandably, reflected this. But honestly, I wanted an Iron Man that looked a little more like his comics counterpart, at least for the first Iron Man figure from the current line that I brought in, that actually has a traditional Iron Man color scheme. I'm not saying there won't be others, but that sort of ruled out the dark red and metallic gold movie-style figures, at least for starters.

So, how's the figure? Really very nicely done. Let me say one thing as a small advisory here. There is a nearly identical Iron Man figure available in the Marvel Universe line, among the "Secret Wars" comic-based two packs. I checked, and they are definitely NOT the same figure. The one from the Iron Man 2 line is slightly taller, a little bigger in physical build, and a little better detailed from the looks of things. Not to put down the other one. Within the Marvel Universe line, he's a fine figure.

Iron Man stands about 4-1/4" in height. His armor is a fairly bright and very metallic red, with a faceplate, arms, and legs that are molded in a very decently metallic yellow. The armor is form fitting for the most part. The torso is red, with the so-called "uni-beam projector" on his chest, the large circular object, painted in a sort of graded blue to white, and two smaller circles above this and to either side. The purpose of these has been a little vague over the years, but I seem to recall one storyline where he used them as recharge ports for his armor.

The red torso has heightened ridges at the shoulders. While sometimes thought of decorative, Stark has been known to keep assorted miniaturized gadgetry in them. He also has a belt with two circular pods to the side. The trunks of the armor are red and have a ridged pattern in them. I will leave it to speculation as to what purpose that might serve.

The arms and legs of the armor are metallic yellow and smooth. There are large cuffs at the tops of the boots and gloves, which are metallic red, and ridged like the trunks. Iron Man's repulsor beam shooters are clearly visible on the palms of the gloves, and have light blue centers. Similarly, his boot jets are clearly marked on the bottoms of his feet, and these also have light blue centers in them.

Iron Man's helmet is mostly red, with a yellow faceplate. There are two narrow eyeslits, blue with a black overline, and a black slit for the mouth. I have to say this, more an observation than a complaint, but the trickiest part of finding a really good Iron Man figure -- and I'll readily admit I'm very picky -- was finding one with a good paint job on the helmet. Some of them were a little off on the red, others were rather off on the eyeslits.

The overall sculpting of the figure is excellent. The musculature and the detail are superb, and the hands are especially impressive, as each finger is separate from the other, and even incorporates the little metal ridges. Paint work is generally very neat. Fortunately, paint work is also not overly complex. The helmet is probably the trickiest.

Articulation on the figure is superb. Iron Man is fully poseable at the head, arms, elbows (including a swivel), glove tops, mid-torso, legs, upper leg swivel, double jointed knees, and ankles (including a swivel). The head does not seem to be on the same sort of ball-and-socket articulation as some of the other Iron Man figures, but rather just turns side to side. This isn't really a complaint. I've had a little trouble with loose parts on some other figures, including the head. That's not the case here.

The leg articulation is a little peculiar in my opinion. The design is not quite a ball and socket design. Rather, there's a back and forth movement in the spherical articulation structure, and then an upper leg rotation. This makes it a little tricky to get the legs to pose in certain directions, and in my opinion it's a very odd and possibly overworked design, but it's not impossible to work with. It was a source of loose limbs on a couple of other figures, but I have heard from other collectors who did NOT have the same problem, so perhaps it's not that widespread. It's definitely not the case with Iron Man. No complaints there at all.

Iron Man comes with a "Blast-Off" figure stand and an energy burst that can be attached to his hand. These are molded in transparent red plastic and -- okay. I know they're supposed to look cool. But regardless of what line or company they come from, I have yet to see any sort of "energy display" of super-powers rendered in plastic that I thought worked all that well.

Better in my opinion to use the "futuristic floor" base, which comes with three Armor Cards. This is an interesting little bonus to the figure line. Two of the cards are transparent, while the third is opaque. All have components of Iron Man's armor on it, and when displayed in the base, almost manage to look 3-D. There's also a code on the combined cards which can be used at IronManCard website. The code for this figure is M6Y P4R FK9.

So, what's my final word? Hey, no question that the Iron Man movies have been impressive, as have been the armor designs from them. They're the perfect realization for a live-action movie. But if you want something that's a little more quintessential Iron Man from the comics, here he is. This is the Iron Man you want. The Comic Series Iron Man. I'm very impressed with him, and I'm glad to have him in my collection.

The IRON MAN 2 COMIC SERIES figure of IRON MAN definitely has my highest recommendation!