REVIEW: MARVEL LEGENDS MADAME MASQUE
For many years, the primary manufacturer of Marvel Comics action figures was Toy Biz, and easily their top line was certainly Marvel Legends, an excellent line of 6" scale action figures based on characters from throughout the Marvel Universe.
When Hasbro acquired the Marvel license, they maintained the popular Marvel Legends line for a time, but then let it fade away. It seemed that Marvel was intent on dominating the 4" scale market, not only with Marvel Universe, and various cinematic counterparts such as Iron Man, Captain America, Thor, and now the Avengers, but with other action figure product lines, such as Star Wars and G.I. Joe.
Larger-scale action figures, say in the 6" range or thereabouts, seemed to be left largely to Mattel, with their DC Universe and WWE products, as well as their online Masters of the Universe Classics.
But now, and doubtless with the Avengers movie hopefully giving the Marvel Universe as a whole a distinct boost in the public eye, Hasbro has decided to bring back the larger-scale Marvel Legends line! In fact, the packages for the new action figures even go so far as to proclaim, "The Return of MARVEL LEGENDS!"
With two assortments having been released as of this writing, the offerings range from familiar characters such as Iron Man and Captain America, to lesser-knowns such as -- okay, I'll be honest, I have no idea who Fantomex is.
There are a couple of instances where more than one figure is available in similar packaging. For example, there are two members of the Wrecking Crew available. The package for both is identical, simply listing "Marvel's Wrecking Crew", with both characters portrayed in illustrations on the package, even though only one is available in the package. I really don't know if one is scarcer than the other. The two figures available, Thunderball and Piledriver, are similar enough to each other so that they can use the same body, just with different heads and paint jobs on their costumes.
So it is with a pair of figures listed officially on the package as "Marvel's Madames". The choice here is between a character known as Viper, a prominent female Hydra agent, or another character known as MADAME MASQUE, who shall be the focus of this review. Neither individual is likely to be known as a hero, certainly not Viper, although Madame Masque has had a more sympathetic side to her from time to time. Let's consider the character's history.
Madame Masque -- real name Whitney Frost -- first appeared in Tales of Suspense #98, dated February 1968, as Whitney Frost. She first appeared as Madame Masque in Iron Man #17, in September 1969. She was created by Stan Lee and artist Gene Colan.
She is an occasional love interest, and sometimes enemy of Iron Man within the Marvel Universe. She wears a golden mask to cover up her disfigured face.
Madame Masque was born as Giulietta Nefaria, the daughter of the master criminal Count Luchino Nefaria, in Rome, Italy. Her mother died when giving birth and Luchino wanted his daughter to lead a respectable life, so he gave the child to Byron Frost, a wealthy financier and an employee of Nefaria, and his wife Loretta to be raised. He called the child Whitney and raised her as his own.
As a young adult, Whitney was a debutante and socialite, and became engaged to politician Roger Vane. The Frosts died and Count Nefaria approached Whitney and revealed her true parentage. He told Whitney that he wanted her to take his place as leader of the Maggia, a Mafia-like organization running organized crime on the East Coast of the United States. Whitney at first refused, but when she told Roger about her father, he left her, afraid that her connections to a known criminal would hamper his political career.
Whitney accepted her father's offer to become a professional criminal mastermind and was trained by him in strategy, criminal activities, and combat. She turned out to be a brilliant student and when her father was imprisoned, she became the new Big M, the leader of the Nefaria family of the Maggia. Her role as Big M brought her into conflict with Iron Man.
Whitney was forced to flee after a raid on his company, Stark Industries. The plane she escaped in crashed and Whitney's face was scarred, but she was saved by the criminal Mordecai Midas and started to work for him as his agent. Midas was obsessed with gold and Whitney hid her face behind a golden mask and used the alias "Madame Masque".
Madame Masque met Tony Stark and he showed concern for her despite her scarred face. She turned on Midas to save Stark, but left Stark because of her criminal past. Unable to forget him, she returned as Krissy Longfellow, Stark's personal secretary. Both came to know each other's secret identity and started a romantic relationship. Their happiness was short-lived as Count Nefaria, her father, was dying as the result of an attempt to gain superhuman powers.
Whitney hired the Ani-Men to bring her father to her and then asked Stark to find a cure for him. Nefaria tried to use violence to force Stark, and a battle started between the Ani-Men and Iron Man. During the battle Whitney was unable to choose between her father and her lover and when Nefaria's life-support was damaged in the fight, she went insane with guilt and grief. Whitney subsequently returned to the Nefaria Maggia and as "The Director" became its leader. She then often fought Iron Man and his friends.
At one point, Whitney became paranoid and started to create copies of herself, known as bio-duplicates. One of her bio-duplicates known as Masque, was an ally of the Avengers. She also created robotic servants known as the Inner Guard and named individually after notable historical traitors (including Benedict Arnold, Brutus, Guy Fawkes and Vidkun Quisling).
One member of the Inner Guard, Benedict, eventually recaptured Masque for Whitney. Masque then tried to convince her the Avengers were benevolent and that she should reach out to Stark again, but Whitney was still too fearful to do so.
She continued to be a criminal figure of importance, until her father returned from the dead once again and destroyed her base. She reluctantly assisted the Avengers and the Thunderbolts against Nefaria, but she secretly planned to betray and destroy both sides, her increased paranoia causing her to believe that both sides wanted only to kill her.
Masque again tried unsuccessfully to convince her to side with the heroes, then joined the battle in Whitney's place and was promptly slain by Nefaria, who showed only glee at her apparent demise while Iron Man was clearly genuinely horrified at the loss of the woman he'd once loved. Madame Masque was shocked by her duplicate's nobility and sacrifice, with Iron Man's reaction forcing her to recognize that her duplicate had been right about the Avengers.
Whitney joined the battle and played a key role in her father's defeat, causing him to begin leaking ionic energy until he finally collapsed. She then decided to renounce her criminal past, and MACH-II of the Thunderbolts offered her membership, but she politely declined, departing to parts unknown to consider her future. Before leaving, she asked MACH-II to thank everyone for her, especially Iron Man.
Afterward, Jasper Sitwell, an old ally of Iron Man's and Whitney's who had been in contact with him over the course of the conflict asks if that was the real Whitney. Iron Man says that it was, but that she slipped away in the confusion. He says that she really came through when it mattered. He says that she is gone, but that if you look at it - she is really back.
Sometime later, Madame Masque was hired by the Hood to take advantage of the split in the superhero community caused by the Superhuman Registration Act. She was the Hood's second in command and helped them fight the New Avengers, but was taken down by Doctor Strange and taken into S.H.I.E.L.D. custody.
During the Secret Invasion, Madame Masque was one among many supervillains who rejoined the Hood's crime syndicate and attacked an invading Skrull force.
In a flashback, it is revealed that when Madame Masque was taken into S.H.I.E.L.D. custody, a group of Skrulls disguised as S.H.I.E.L.D. agents were trying to learn her true face so they could switch her out. The Hood frees her and kills all the Skrulls except one. In an unknown location attended by most of the Hood's army, they learn from the Skrull agent that the Skrulls plan on taking over Earth, believing it to be rightfully theirs. The Skrull agent dies from the injuries received under torture.
Madame Masque is seen amongst the rest of the Hood's crime syndicate as they assist the heroes in their final battle against the Skrulls.
During the Dark Reign storyline, Madame Masque is part of a surprise attack on the New Avengers, a trap set up by Norman Osborn. Later, when The Hood attacks Doctor Strange in order to become the Sorcerer Supreme, she tries to help him deal with his possession by Dormammu, taking off her mask and confessing her feelings for him.
Osborn had also put a bounty on Tony Stark's head and offered mountains of gold to the first person in the Hood's gang to get him. He personally called Madame Masque over to Stark Tower, offering the locations of multiple Iron Man armories to help her find Stark. She tracks Stark to Russia, which Pepper Potts had also done. While Stark is away collecting firewood, Masque captures Pepper, torturing her, before demanding that Stark tell her his true feelings to her real face. Weakly, Tony admits that, though they have been fighting, he always loved her, to which Masque reciprocates. However, when faced with a direct choice between Pepper or Masque, he actually chose Pepper. As he escapes to Afghanistan, Masque and Pepper go hand-to-hand with each other.
After her fights, Masque later reports to Osborn that she killed Pepper in combat, and returns to the United States with the Rescue armor, which is placed in storage with other Stark armors that Osborn has acquired. Later, it revealed the Madame Masque is Pepper in disguise, with the real Madame Masque imprisoned in Stark's discarded Crimson Dynamo suit.
During the Siege storyline, Masque, along with the rest of the Hood's gang, join in helping Osborn with the siege of Asgard. However, Loki retook the Norn stones from the Hood to help the Avengers and Asgardians battle the Void. Masque helped the Hood slip away. The Hood was pessimistic, knowing that his gang would simply sell him out. However, Masque refused to let him go down. Therefore, she seeks out her father Count Nefaria for help. The New Avengers track her and the Hood using John King. After a battle with Nefaria, the New Avengers capture all four and bring them to S.H.I.E.L.D. Director Maria Hill to place them under arrest..
When the Hood escapes from prison and makes a play to assemble the Infinity Gauntlet, the one ally he visits is Madame Masque. Using his reality gem, he heals her face.
As to her powers and abilities, Madame Masque has no superhuman powers, but is an athletic woman and a skilled hand-to-hand combatant in various martial arts and an expert markswoman. She is a master strategist and organizer, although she suffers from mental instability. She has access to advanced technology like her bio-duplicates.
Madame Masque wears body armor of an unknown composition with a gold metal faceplate, underneath which her face was chemically scarred. The faceplate is hard enough to deflect bullets without causing her any permanent injury. She carries a .475 Wildey Magnum revolver or any various types of handguns, including guns firing concussive blasts of energy and guns firing sleeping-gas cartridges.
As leader of the Maggia family, Madame Masque commands unspecified numbers of Dreadnought robots modified from the original designs stolen from HYDRA.
So, how's the figure? I'm going to be very forthright here and say that given how impressed I've been with Mattel's DC Universe Classics for a number of years now, I am not easily impressed by other figures in the same scale. It takes quite a bit to impress me. That being said, I'm impressed by Madame Masque.
Hasbro has turned out a truly excellent action figure here, very well sculpted, nicely proportioned, and well articulated. And if the 2012 date stamped on the inside of one leg is any indication, then it's also an entirely new figure design, as well.
Madame Masque is admittedly not the most colorful character in the Marvel Universe. She has the gold mask over her face, long black hair, and she wears a tight-fitting costume that consists of a white suit with black sleeves, black legs, white gloves, and white boots.
The face ask is interesting. One might assume that it looks a bit like Ms. Frost before her face was scarred. It's not like Doctor Doom, whose grim armored visage seems intended to inspire fear. Rather, it's designed to look very much like a human female face, the gold color and a series of small rivets around the perimeter notwithstanding.
The gold is a somewhat dark metallic gold. I personally think a slightly brighter color could have been used, but gold seems to be one of those colors that can be a little tricky to achieve well in either plastic or paint. And I don't think it would've been entirely appropriate to have tried to chrome the mask.
The only visible parts of Ms. Frost's face are a small portion of forehead, a slight bit under the chin, her ears if you move her hair to one side, and her eyes. The eyes have been extremely well-detailed and painted, with the whites of the eyes, blue irises, black pupils, and black lines around the eyes representing eyelashes.
It's interesting to note that between the relatively neutral expression of the face mask, and the entirely normal look of the eyes, Madame Masque doesn't really look like a super-villain. It's just a little hard to believe that underneath there is a dangerous criminal with a few loose wires in the cranium.
Madame Masque has long, fairly thick black hair. This was sculpted as an entirely separate piece from flexible plastic, and attached to the head during assembly. It's superbly sculpted, and flows well with the contours of the figure's shoulders, but is flexible enough to allow the head to move without hindrance. This is something that Hasbro seems to do extremely well. The first example I ever saw of it was in 1984, with the Baroness figure -- another femme fatale from the G.I. Joe line, who also had long black hair. It's also something that Hasbro seems to do better than Mattel, who would have been well served, and still would be, to look into this for some of their long-haired female DC Universe and Masters of the Universe characters.
Madame Masque's costume is tight-fitting, and Hasbro has designed a very impressive female form to accommodate the figure. I suspect it works just as well for the Viper version. The only really distinct detail is a high collar and a zipper on the front of the torso, with a little ring at the top. The simulated zipper and ring have been painted silver. If you look under the hair, there's a couple of straps around her shoulders that lead to a ridged piece on her back. Not really sure what purpose it might serve, except to provide a little extra detail.
Also distinct are Madame Masque's gloves, which come up almost to her elbows. These pieces are molded from a more flexible plastic, allowing a very decent flexibility in her hands.
Although the boot tops are not distinctly sculpted apart from the lower legs, the bottoms of the boots have nicely ridged soles and heels sculpted along their sides. Madame Masque is also wearing a belt, molded separately but clearly not intended to be removable. The belt has a number of small equipment pouches, as well as a working holster for one of her firearms.
The white portions of Madame Masque's uniform have been given some airbrushed light blue highlights. I usually don't care for this sort of thing, but this isn't like "dirtying" or "weathering" the figure, and in this instance, it's actually worked out very agreeably.
As one would expect, the figure is superbly well-articulated. Madame Masque is fully poseable at the head, arms, elbows, including a swivel, glove tops (substituting for wrists), mid-torso, legs, upper leg swivels, knees, and ankles.
Madame Masque stands almost precisely 6-1/4" in height, which interestingly enough is precisely the same height as many of the female figures in Mattel's DC Universe Classics collection. I'm fairly certain that wasn't intentional. The proportions are even extremely similar, even if the articulation pattern is somewhat different. So, for those of you who miss the days of DC/Marvel crossovers, there's no reason you can't have Madame Masque drop in on your DC Universe Classics collection and look like she blends in very nicely.
Madame Masque comes with two accessories -- both of them firearms. She has a gold pistol, which may be intended to represent the .475 Wildey Magnum revolver mentioned in the information I tracked down, although honestly this gun doesn't look like a revolver to me; and she also comes with a good sized rifle, mostly black with some light tan trim on it. Both of these are impressive-looking weapons.
So, what's my final word? Okay, Madame Masque isn't exactly an A-list character in the Marvel Universe. But that just makes her appearance in the revitalized Marvel Legends line that much more interesting. Once again, consider this line's counterpart, the DC Universe Classics line. Look at all of the obscure characters they've managed to work in. And Hasbro's 4" Marvel Universe line has been getting around to articulated plastic incarnations of some of the lesser-knowns. In a world as vast as the Marvel Universe, not everybody is going to be a top of the line player. That's just inevitable. It doesn't mean they don't deserve an action figure. And I'm pleased to see the same philosophy being applied to the 6" scale Marvel Legends line, and I hope it's back for a good long run.
Now, you may not be all that familiar with Madame Masque, although it does seem she's been more active in recent years than I was aware. But if you have any recollection of her whatsoever, and are interested in a really superb and truly impressive action figure, then this is definitely what you want. I'm very pleased to have her in my collection.
The MARVEL LEGENDS figure of MADAME MASQUE, one of two of MARVEL'S MADAMES, definitely has my highest recommendation!