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By Thomas Wheeler

There can be no question that one of the hit movies for the summer of 2008 was IRON MAN. The adventures of Tony Stark and his high-tech armor have brought in a considerable box office -- perhaps more of one than expected. Certainly the action figure line had some initial trouble keeping up with the popularity. After being fairly readily available initially, the line started to disappear within a week prior to the premiere of the movie, and since then, has been showing up in fairly minimal quantity.

Of course, Iron Man is best known for his red and gold armor, and this is the armor in which Tony Stark spends most of his time in the movie. The movie, I believe, did an excellent job in creating an armor that reflected the traditional appearance of the popular Marvel Comics character, while at the same time creating a distinctive armor that would look good in a live-action movie.

But there's one thing about Iron Man. Unlike a lot of super-heroes, who tend to have one recognizable uniform with little variance -- Superman, Captain America, the Flash, and others -- Iron Man has actually had quite a few armors over the years. His basic red-and-gold has undergone considerable revision in the 40+ year history of the character, and he has had other armors along the way. A black stealth armor. Armors designed for special purposes, such as deep sea diving and space exploration. Tony Stark is, after all, an inventor. He's not going to rest on his laurels. And more than any other super-hero around, Iron Man needs to try to keep up with technology. His original armor was "transistor powered." Imagine trying to pass that off in 2008!

The movie, to a degree, reflected this, even as it did an excellent job portraying Iron Man's origin. In Iron Man's original comic origin, Tony Stark was demonstrating some new weapons systems in Southeast Asia, when he stepped on a mine and was captured by the enemy. Southeast Asia as a workable enemy is almost as archaic as "transistor-powered" armor, so the movie moved his origin to Afghanistan (I believe there has been some retcon in the comics to do the same, well prior to the movie).

But the basic premise was the same. Tony Stark, demonstrating weapons in Afghanistan, comes under attack my enemy forces, and is seriously injured. There is shrapnel near his heart, and it will ultimately kill him. In the movie, Stark is able to construct a small device based on a technology that his company had virtually abandoned as unworkable, and uses this to continue to power his heart. Those who have captured him want him to work on weapons for him. Stark builds a weapon, all right -- a powered suit of armor that allows him to escape his captors.

Despite the sophistication of the device that keeps his heart running, there are limitations to what he can design as far as his armor is concerned. It's not something he's done before, and resources, both for refining the design and in actually constructing the armor, are limited. The IRON MAN MARK 1 armor is a bulky, barely mobile, clanking pile of rewelded rusted junk that is just enough to allow Stark to fight his way free of his captors and accomplish a brief but sufficient airborne escape, followed by a nasty landing that turns the primitive armor into a bigger pile of scrap metal than it started out being.

Back in civilization, Stark realizes that the basic principles of the powered armor are sound, and with the full resources of his corporation now at hand, he can redesign the armor into something sleeker and more effective. This leads to the IRON MAN MARK 2, and eventually the IRON MAN MARK 3, which starts out as an all-gold armor, but even Stark considers this a little garish, and, inspired by the "hot rod red" of one of his fancy cars, created the armor that we all know so well.

However, this review is for the IRON MAN MARK 2. Where, precisely, does it fit into the scheme of things? Comic-wise, it's a bit of a sidestep. In the comics, Iron Man's initial armor, just as in the movie, was a dull grey pile of metal. By Iron Man's second appearance, he had painted it all-gold, much as the initial coloration for the Iron Man Mark 3 in the movie. Before long, Iron Man had a sleeker armor, and was going for the red-and-gold look.

However, over the long course of Iron Man's history, as I said, there have been other armors. One of these was a grey and silver armor, essentially a heavily-armed piece of work, dubbed "War Machine" and worn by Tony Stark's longtime friend and aide, Jim Rhodes.

And here is where the movie takes a slight but not extreme swerve. Jim Rhodes is in the movie, but is essentially a military liaison to Stark. He's not a Stark employee, nor does he don any armor in the movie.

However -- there is one scene, where Rhodes sees the Iron Man Mark 2 armor displayed in Stark's workshop, and comments to himself, "Someday...". If the inevitable sequel movie(s) are carried out with the same degree of quality and attention to detail that this first movie has, and are not rushed into production.

As to the Iron Man Mark 2 armor -- in the movie, it is portrayed as silver, from top to bottom. However, those are not quite the War Machine colors, and although there was a distinct Iron Man movie figure marketed as a Wal-Mart exclusive that did have the War Machine color scheme, the IRON MAN MARK 2 action figure manages a bit of a mid-point in that, while it is not as (dare I say it) stark as the War Machine color scheme, neither is it the silvery color scheme of the armor as seen in the movie.

A premonition of things to come, perhaps...?

The Iron Man Mark 2 figure stands about 6-1/4" in height, and as one would expect, is based on the same molds as the Iron Man Mark 3. The figure is about the same height as a Marvel Legends figure, but is arguably a little to "movie-realistic" to really blend in well with that line. Still, if you're not fussy about that sort of thing, there's no reason it can't be used with them.

The figure's main color is a semi-metallic grey. However, this version of Iron Man doesn't have the metallic luster of the Mark 3. This armor version is clearly intended to represent a "work in progress". Arguably, this could even be called a sort of primer grey. There is some metallic silver trim on the figure, basically in the same places as the gold trim on the Mark 3 - the faceplate, upper arms, and upper legs.

The overall armor design is excellent. There's enough added detail that hasn't always tended to appear on the comic book Iron Man armors to make it look better (and to whatever degree possible, more plausible) for the movie, without detracting from the fact that this is indeed Iron Man. The armor has a more sectioned look to it than its comic book counterpart, which is probably the greatest concession to wanting to pull off a "movie real" look, but really, it works very well.

The most solid piece of the armor would have to be the chestplate, and there is a blue disc in the center, which is not only well in keeping with the look of Iron Man's armor -- he's always had some sort of gizmo there -- but in the movie, this little item, which normally glows very brightly, is Tony Stark's heart regulator.

To perpetuate the intention that the Mark 2 armor is a work in progress, the hip and knee joints have yellow sectioned circles painted around them. Clearly these are intended as reference points for analysis. I honestly don't know if the Mark 2 armor in the movie had these, because that second armor appeared relatively briefly, and was always moving pretty quickly.

Articulation of the figure is excellent. The Iron Man Mark 2 figure is poseable at the head, arms, upper arm swivel, double-jointed elbows, wrists, mid-torso, legs, upper leg swivel, double-jointed knees, and ankles. And here is one area where the Iron Man Mark 2 armor is actually superior to the Iron Man Mark 3. In order to get the red metallic finish on the Iron Man Mark 3, it was necessary to give the figure a rather thick coat of paint, which, while not tacky or anything, perhaps didn't set quite as well as it should. Articulation is somewhat difficult on some parts of the Iron Man Mark 3 because the paint likes to stick to itself articulation points. I had a heck of a time getting the head to move, and at one point was afraid I'd broken it off completely, until I realized it had just popped off its ball-and-socket joint.

The Iron Man Mark 2 armor is not so encumbered. The figure is actually molded in the semi-metallic grey that it appears to be. Therefore there is no thick paint to stick the articulation points. He moves very nicely and without difficulty.

One additional area of detail is the little shoulder pad pieces. These are snapped on, not directly attached. But they hold on better on the Mark 2 than on the Mark 3, I think again because of the paint work. The Mark 3 has such a thick coat of paint that it partially fills in the little peg-holes where these shoulder pads are supposed to fit. Granted, they're not very deeply sculpted regardless.

Let's discuss the paint detail on the Mark 2, now. For the most part, it's very good. The silver areas on the faceplate, upper arms, and upper legs are all nicely done, as is the center blue circle. The eyeslits are extremely neatly painted, as are the repulsor units on the hands, and the yellow circles are a nice touch. What I could've done without is the faint evidence of a black wash on the darker grey sections. Okay, this armor is a work in progress, it's not intended to look fancy, but one would think that Tony Stark would keep his labs a little cleaner than this. There isn't MUCH of it on the figure, and I'll admit that this is a practice that I tend to dislike regardless of what toy line it shows up on, but I really don't see it as at all necessary here.

Let's discuss the accessories. Although in the movie, Iron Man doesn't carry any weapons other than what's built into his armor -- which is considerable -- that doesn't quite work for an action figure these days. There has to be a little something extra. In this case, it's a couple of spring-loaded missile launchers, molded in the same metallic grey as the armor, that can be clipped to the figure's arms. Each of them has a translucent blue missile with a sort of "fireball" head that I think is intended to represent repulsor blasts.

So what's my final word on this figure? You know, it would be easy to overlook this one for several reasons. It doesn't entirely look like its movie counterpart, it's not all that colorful, it's not quite War Machine, and it's the armor design seen for the least amount of time of the three in the movie. But I believe it would be a mistake to pass this figure up. It's representative of what Tony Stark was able to do with the basic principles applied in the clunky Iron Man Mark 1 once he had access to his laboratories and technology once again, and was clearly a vital step on the way to the Iron Man Mark 3. In its own right, it's a cool figure, nicely made, well-detailed, very well-articulated, and in that last respect, a little easier to operate than the Mark 3.

If you see it, you should definitely consider getting it. Keep it around in the hopes that the sequel will be as impressive as the first movie, and that we might see something akin to this suit of armor being worn by Jim Rhodes at some point.

The IRON MAN MOVIE MARK 2 ARMOR Figure definitely has my enthusiastic recommendation!