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REVIEW: MARVEL UNIVERSE MODULAR ARMOR IRON MAN
By Thomas Wheeler

I think it would be fair to say, from an action figure standpoint, that the three most prolific super-hero action figures in the world are Batman, Spider-Man, and Iron Man. And while I don't have the exact numbers, I suspect that Gotham's Dark Knight is way in front of the other two. Half a dozen movies, as many animated series, not to mention all of the variants that have just come up as a result of toy designers' imaginations -- even Bruce Wayne would be hard-pressed to find room for them all in stately Wayne Manor.

Spider-Man is probably second. Three movies, several animated series, and an ongoing action figure line that pretty much stands on its own merits, without really being directly tied into anything. It's a good thing Peter Parker knows how to sew, because poor Aunt May would've broken her fingers trying to make all those costumes.

And then there's Iron Man. And I've said this before, but although he's probably in third place behind the other two, he gets away with all those different armor versions better than Batman and Spider-Man can get away with all those different costumes, because Tony Stark really has developed a wide range of armors over the decades. Granted, things really took off for the Armored Avenger after he had a couple of serious blockbuster live-action movies, and now he's starring in the Avengers film as well, but Tony Stark's armored alter ego has turned up plenty of times before this, in his own line some years back based on his original animated series, and certainly he's been a frequent presence in the current MARVEL UNIVERSE line of action figures.

I've always liked Iron Man. He's a technological hero. Tony Stark really doesn't have any super-powers of his own, other than what his very considerable creative, inventive genius can come up with, and that his just as considerable billions can pay to have built. But he's managed to come up with armors over the years that have been able to take on powerhouses like the Hulk, Thor, and in one very cool crossover mini-series, even the Decepticons!

DC Comics doesn't really have anyone that much like him. Steel is probably his closest counterpart, and that's really not saying all that much. I'm not aware of any other comics companies that have a really prominent, high-tech, armored hero, either.

And all of those Iron Man figures that have been turned out -- a fair number of which are sitting on a desk in my apartment -- are a lot more plausible than day-glo orange Batman or Kung-Fu Spider-Man in a kimono or whatever.

I've reviewed quite a few Iron Man figures here over the past several years, and -- it's time for another one. Hailing from the MARVEL UNIVERSE line, this one is referred to as MODULAR ARMOR IRON MAN.

When I started to do a little research into the name -- Iron Man has had enough armor variants even in the comics over the years that it's a little hard to keep track -- I hit an interesting -- well, I won't call it a glitch. Perhaps a mild misnomer?

Anyway, when I looked up "Modular Armor Iron Man", the first thing I was referred to was an armor that was first developed in 1994. This figure certainly didn't look as though it had been designed in 1994, and first appeared in Iron Man #300. It was described thusly:

This unit is a drastic departure from all of the previous armors. Instead of a single cohesive unit, each piece of the armor is a stand alone subsystem that can be interchanged at will. As such, while the overall unit is still referred to as the Mark 11, the actual configuration at any given time will vary. The shell was composed of layered "flex-metal" which could condense itself like a 3-dimensional accordion pleat. Micro-scale suit tiles were fabricated by genetically engineered metal-affinity bacteria, which assembled themselves in specific orderly arrays and then expired, leaving behind various metallic deposits which form all the metal shapes and micro-electronic circuits.

The Modular Armor is rather well-known outside of comics due to it being the main armor in the Iron Man animated TV series and Capcom's Marvel vs. Capcom video game series.

Okay, something just wasn't right here. This Modular Armor Iron Man figure just did not look like something that had been developed in the 1990's. The helmet was too movie-esque, for one thing, and I certainly didn't remember seeing Iron Man with anything resembling this armor back then. Then I called up a picture of the Modular Armor Iron Man armor, and I knew I didn't have the right suit. I certainly recognized it, but it wasn't this figure.

A little more research revealed that what is being called "Modular Armor Iron Man" in the Marvel Universe action figure line, is otherwise known as the "Bleeding Edge Armor". Obviously this is intended as something, shall we say (and pardon the deliberate pun) deeper than "cutting edge", a common phrase for something new and advanced. It could probably be argued that the term "Bleeding Edge" wasn't something that Marvel or Hasbro wanted to put on a toy package, so they brought in a different term that technically applied to a different armor, one that, as far as I know, hasn't been turned out as a modern action figure in any of the current lines.

So, okay, fine. What's the Bleeding Edge armor, then? It does appear to be Iron Man's current suit, based on some images and advertisements I've seen in Marvel Comics. I'll be honest here -- I don't read a lot of Marvel Comics. These days, I don't read a lot of DC, either. The reasons in both cases, I have addressed elsewhere, and won't get into here.

How long the Bleeding Edge armor will be Stark's most up to date suit is anybody's guess. One of the major factors regarding Iron Man being a technological hero is that he not only has to keep up with real-world technology, he has to stay ahead of it to be seen as this high-tech superior super-hero.

Iron Man first came along in 1963. Although my own memories of that time are a little sketchy, I do have memories of "how things were" not long after that. Telephones were attached to a cord on the wall, and had these circular discs on their fronts called "dials", and you couldn't carry them around in your pocket. Where I lived, we received three networks on television, along with PBS, a handful of local independent stations, and one network from Canada. There were no video games, personal computers, cell phones, DVDs, or Internet. And no, we didn't have to hunt for food in the backyard.

It was into this world that Iron Man first entered. Back then, "transistor-powered armor" probably seemed pretty fancy. But back then, the only way we heard anything from other parts of the world apart from the television was to use this huge, fancy tabletop radio that my father owned that was capable of pulling in short wave transmissions -- provided it was a clear night, atmospheric conditions were good, and we strung the wire antenna out the window.

Need it be said, things have changed a bit since then, so Iron Man has had to keep up with it. Several years ago, Marvel came up with what I'm sure they believed was the ultimate suit of armor for the character. It was called the Extremis Armor. There's a figure of it now in the revitalized Marvel Legends line. Nice design, made for a good figure, but anybody thinking that they've come up with the "ultimate" armor for Iron Man is just kidding themselves -- and these days you'd think they'd realize it once they figure out that in the time it took them to design a new suit of armor for Iron Man, their cell phone needs upgrading... again.

I'm sure that in a few years -- or less -- the "Bleeding Edge" Armor will also be in need of an overhaul, or an outright replacement. But for the moment, it's what Tony Stark seems to be wearing most often in the comic book, and action figure name change notwithstanding, it's clearly what's represented by this figure. So, what does my research have to say about this particular suit of armor?

In Invincible Iron Man #25, published in June 2010, Tony Stark created a new armor in the aftermath of the "Stark: Disassembled" storyline. Created by writer Matt Fraction and artist Ryan Meinerding, this new armor is sleeker in appearance, and is featured in the 2010 crossover storyline, the "Heroic Age".

Disputing the Bleeding Edge as an upgrade to Extremis, Tony Stark commented, "Nah - this is what comes next." As such the new armor is a part of Tony Stark's now-posthuman biology - it is stored inside Tony's body in its entirety, "manifesting" itself when mentally commanded.

The neurokinetic user-controlled morphologic nanoparticle bundles that form the suit reside in Stark's body, and form a fibrous wetweb of iron and platinum, that can be commanded to form any type of structure upon Stark's skin, such as large boxing gloves, or weapons, including large guns extending from his arms or a light saber-like energy sword with which Iron Man was actually able to harm one of the Worthy during the 2011 "Fear Itself" storyline. The nano-machines can even mimic the appearance of clothes, and then dissociate to transform into the Iron Man armor whenever Stark wishes. The suit adds less than twenty-five pounds to Stark's body mass, and can stop a howitzer shell.

The armor and Stark's own transhuman body are powered by the high-yield arc reactor mounted in his chest. The high output of the arc reactor has greatly augmented Stark's intelligence and provided him superhuman-level multitasking and learning capabilities.

Unlike earlier armors, this new armor does not appear to rely on motors and servos for motion. Instead, the nano-machines create a secondary artificial musculature over Stark's body, upon which additional rigid structures are assembled. This also enables the armor to self-repair and be almost invulnerable, as the armor is capable of transforming and healing itself as long as the power output from the arc reactor is not interrupted or terminated; when the armor was briefly apparently destroyed in a fight with an alternate version of the Scarlet Witch who was one of Apocalypse's Horsemen, it was restored to normal after only a matter of seconds (although it was still out of action long enough for Stark to need rescuing by Spider-Man to stop himself hitting the ground as he fell).

The suit's repulsors, which are located around the knuckles, chest, back and legs of the armor, as well as in the traditional palms, now function also as cameras, or "eyeballs", which afford Stark a 360-degree panoramic view around himself.

Which you'd think would give him a headache, trying to process that sort of visual input. I do find it interesting that Stark specifically denied that this was an upgrade of the Extremis Armor, instead claiming, "This is what comes next." Good comment, really.

So, how's the figure? Which, for the sake of reviewing it as an action figure, I will now go back to referring to as "Modular Armor Iron Man". The figure is extremely impressive, really. This is a very intricate and highly detailed Iron Man, and it's been rendered superbly well as an action figure.

Clearly, the armor takes a number of cues from the cinematic Iron Man. The faceplate of the helmet bears some resemblance to the movie version of Iron Man. The term "arc reactor" was, I believe, coined by the movies, and one suspects that the increased number of repulsors on the armor also adds to Iron Man's flight capabilities, something which was also developed in the movies, as opposed to the repulsors being primarily blast weapons, as they had been in the comics.

I have to say, the capabilities of this armor are going to be hard to top, after reading that description. Enhancing Stark's intelligence? Nano-machines that create a secondary musculature? Try saying that in 1963... The concept can just about get away with being called "Modular Armor" if you accept the premise that the nano-machines themselves are sort of modules, as are the additional rigid armor pieces they can create.

And, to be honest, the armor looks modular, certainly more than most. On the helmet alone, apart from the faceplate, the cheeks and jaw seem to be distinct segments. The red sections of the armor, which dominate the suit, clearly have a very modular appearance to them, as if comprised of multiple connecting or overlapping sections. Even the feet seem to separate Stark's big toes from the rest of his feet. The gold sections, which are most in evidence on the arms, legs, and back, seem to be more form-fitting to Stark's body than ever before.

The complete image is one of an extremely sophisticated, and extremely segmented suit of armor. Hence, I believe, why the "Modular Armor" sobriquet was given to it for the purposes of the action figure.

I had a couple of friends who commented that this Iron Man figure looks rather slender compared to some of the others. Well -- consider the nature of the armor. Is this especially surprising? I don't know if it was a deliberate design intent in Hasbro's part. Certainly the figure is entirely unique and isn't borrowing body parts from any other Marvel Universe action figures, definitely not anyone in the spandex-wearing set. But given how this armor works, one might expect that it presents a somewhat more slender profile than Stark's previous efforts.

The entire figure has a really nice, smooth, and decently bright metallic finish. It's been my experience with other action figures that metallic gold can be a tricky color to achieve for some reason. It can be too dark, too dull, too yellow. At the risk of sounding like "Goldilocks and the Three Bears", the gold finish on Modular Armor Iron Man's armor is just right.

So too, the metallic red details. Some of the Iron Man figures from the movie line went with a fairly dark metallic red. Appropriate perhaps for the movie, although on some occasions I believe it was taken to excess. Since this figure is from the comics universe, he doesn't need to worry about matching the move colors, so his metallic red finish is a very nice, decently bright shade of metallic red. Both colors have been painted very smoothly.

These are not the only colors on the figure. The mouth has been painted with a black line, and the eyeslits have been painted white, with a blue outline. The arc reactor on Iron Man's chest has a white center, with blue around it, and small black lines in the blue.

Then there are all the little repulsors. These have been painted white with blue outlines, and there's twenty of them, if you count one hidden by the clenched fist of the right hand, and assume that the boot jets on the bottoms of his feet also operate like repulsors. To be perfectly honest, I can't quite tell if these were painted through stencils, or by hand. I'm leaning towards saying they were painted by hand, but if this is indeed the case, then it's one of the most impressive hand-painted jobs I've seen. These are some seriously tiny details, and each one requires two colors, placed with fair precision. I've got figures here whose eyes aren't much bigger than some of these little repulsors.

The end result sort of makes Iron Man look like an armored motion-capture subject, in a way. You've probably seen these in "behind the scenes" documentaries for movies that use a lot of CGI characters. They'll film a live actor wearing tights and put dots or some other points of reference on him for the camera and computer system to track. Iron Man's not quite that obvious, but there's a hint of it here.

The entire paint job is really impressive, though, especially since, the last I knew, Hasbro achieved a lot of their metallic colors by painting portions of the figure silver, and then spraying a transparent color over the silver. If they had to do that here, then it's doubly impressive that they were as precise as they were with that is definitely a highly intricate armor design, especially between the gold and red colors.

The text on the package for the figure gives some extra explanation for the "Modular Armor" name. It reads as follows: This is the sleekest, most lightweight armor ever designed by Tony Stark. Built to meet the parameters of any possible challenge, it is covered in ports that can house any of hundreds of mission-specific modules. In the space of moments, this armor can swap out a suite of research scanners for a weapons package that would put most battleships to shame.

I don't recall reading about that capability elsewhere, but given what this armor is capable of, that's probably within its capabilities -- and it justifies the "Modular Armor" name a little better.

The figure comes with a display stand, as well as a transparent blue -- object -- that's meant to look like a repulsor blast. It's turned up before, with other figures, in other colors, basically anytime somebody needs to be able to show that they've got energy based powers. It's okay, but this just isn't an effect that readily renders in plastic in my opinion.

Of course, the figure is superbly articulated, and is fully poseable at the head, arms, upper arm swivel, elbows, wrists, mid-torso, legs, upper leg swivel, knees, and ankles. The leg articulation is a little peculiar, but it's workable.

So, what's my final word? This is seriously a cool figure. It was reportedly rather hard to come by for a while, but as of this writing has become much easier to find. I can see why it might have been tricky for a while, as this figure does indeed represent Tony Stark's most recent and certainly most advanced armor ever. I don't envy whichever comic book writer and designer has to surpass it. And it makes for one very cool and impressive action figure.

Call it Modular Armor, call it Bleeding Edge Armor, any Iron Man fan will be very pleased to add this to their collection.

The MARVEL UNIVERSE figure of "MODULAR ARMOR" IRON MAN definitely has my highest recommendation!