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By Thomas Wheeler

For whatever reason, it's always surprised me just a bit that the DC Universe has never really had a truly prominent high-tech, armored hero, a DC version of Marvel's Iron Man, if you will. There's something about the concept that just seems so obvious.

Iron Man is, after all, more or less a modern incarnation of that most classic of heroes, a knight in shining armor. It just happens that Iron Man also incorporates his armor with the best that modern technology has to offer, something that certainly the DC Universe is not lacking in, any more than the Marvel Universe is.

I've often thought it would be a kick to send Iron Man to the DC Universe -- just for a while. Along with being an interesting addition to an iconic Justice League line-up, imagine the fun of seeing Tony Stark square off against (or work alongside as the case may be) the likes of Bruce Wayne -- or Lex Luthor.

But, such is not terribly likely to happen, and the DC Universe will simply have to proceed along without Stark's high-tech Armored Avenger. That's not to say that the DC Universe is completely lacking in armored heroes. Certainly it has its share. Steel is probably the best example. But there isn't a single one that's achieved quite the same level of prominence.

Another good example would be the character who is the Collect-and-Connect figure for Wave 19 of Mattel's excellent line of DC UNIVERSE CLASSICS action figures. Wave 19 has a very strong emphasis on Golden Age characters, and the Collect-and-Connect figure is an interesting combination of a character from the Golden Age, wrapped up in a very modern high-tech package. His name is S.T.R.I.P.E., and in this form, he was first introduced alongside a character originally known as the Star-Spangled Kid, later Stargirl, also one of the individual figures in Wave 19, and herself picking up her original moniker from a Golden Age hero, who worked alongside the man inside the S.T.R.I.P.E. armor. But I'm getting a little ahead of myself.

Let's consider the background of S.T.R.I.P.E., and the man who designed and built this fearsome battle-suit, Pat Dugan.

S.T.R.I.P.E. (Special Tactics Robotic Integrated Power Enhancer) is a powered armor suit invented and worn by Patrick "Pat" Dugan, the former adult sidekick to teenage superhero Sylvester Pemberton, the Star-Spangled Kid.

"Stripesy", as he is often called, is a gifted mechanic who built the Star Rocket Racer, a bubble-topped limousine with the functions of a rocket and helicopter. Together, they were members of the Seven Soldiers of Victory and the All-Star Squadron. Stripesy was created by Jerry Siegel (co-creator of Superman) and Hal Sherman, and first appeared in Action Comics #40 (September 1941).

Pat Dugan became the costumed hero Stripesy after aiding a young Sylvester Pemberton III against Nazi spies posing as protesters at a movie on the 4th of July in 1941. The two teamed as embodiments of the American flag, Star-Spangled Kid and Stripesy, in order to track down and stop the spies.

When the Soldiers were lost in time during the late forties after battling the Nebula Man, they were rescued by the Justice League of America and returned to the present day. Batman, Hourman and Starman retrieved Stripesy from ancient Egypt despite being tied up and trapped in a pyramid.

Upon his return, Dugan married a woman named Maggie, who left him later to raise their son Michael on his own. Compounding his problems was the fact that Sylvester Pemberton's black sheep relative Arthur had stolen Dugan's patents during their disappearance. Upon hearing about this, Sylvester returned the patents to Pat, and the two reconciled.

Dugan was later involved with Infinity, Inc. and their battle against the Injustice Society (Infinity,Inc. #53). The group's first victim is Sylvester Pemberton. The villains Harlequin, the Dummy, and Hazard focus their attention on Dugan just days later. Their plan was to kill him at Stellar Studios, the headquarters of Infinity, Inc. When Pat's son became involved, Hazard experienced a change of heart and used her powers to save their lives. Dummy used the two as bait, but Hazard further threw the battle, and the group was defeated. Hazard willingly gave herself up to the police.

The character has been updated for a new audience: In the Stars and S.T.R.I.P.E. series, debuting in 1999, written by Geoff Johns, with a 14 issue run, Dugan had gotten married (for the second time) and settled in Blue Valley. His stepdaughter, Courtney Whitmore, became the second Star-Spangled Kid, partly in order to annoy him. This led Dugan to develop a robotic suit of power armor and assume the identity of S.T.R.I.P.E. so as to accompany and protect her. Dugan also has gone on missions without Courtney.

During the Day of Judgment incident, he travels into space with Captain Marvel and Starfire. Their goal was to retrieve the Spear of Destiny to use against the fallen angel Asmodel, who had led a demonic invasion of Earth. The trio of heroes battle reanimated corpses of abandoned Russian cosmonauts and the corrupting influence of the Spear itself. Dugan is forced to subdue Starfire and the Spear is brought back to Earth and successfully used.

Following the events of the series, Dugan and his family moved to Metropolis, where he has assisted Superman's comrade Steel. Since then, they have moved back to Blue Valley.

Like the rest of the Seven Soldiers, Dugan is younger than he should be, owing to time travel.

Pat worked with the Justice Society of America for a short time, mostly in a supporting role. He retooled one of Ted Knight's old designs and created the Steel Eagle, a new aircraft for the team. He also completely re-engineered S.T.R.I.P.E., changing its entire appearance.

Later, Pat and his family were almost slain by The Fourth Reich, a Nazi organization who tried to wipe out heroic legacies. Right before this, Pat was encouraging his son, Mike, not to create S.T.R.I.P.E. parts in shop class. Pat and his family were saved by the Justice Society. Later, Pat hosted Courtney's birthday party at his house, inviting the whole Justice Society.

So much for secret identities, right? And you have to love the explanation for the abbreviation: Special Tactics Robotic Integrated Power Enhancer. One of those times where you know the abbreviation came before the explanation. I encountered that sort of thing in G.I. Joe all the time. Still do, for that matter. I think their best was when they explained Destro's new T.A.R.G.A.T. Soldiers as "Trans-Atmospheric Rapid Global Assault Troopers". One of those times where the explanation sounded almost as good as the abbreviation, and made sense with it.

So, how's the figure? Well -- big. S.T.R.I.P.E, fully assembled, stands over nine inches in height, and is very bulky. This for a line where 6-1/2 to 6-3/4 inches is the standard height for an adult male.

Early pictures of S.T.R.I.P.E. made him look like a significant recoloration of another Collect-and-Connect figure, the robotic Green Lantern known as Stel, who was the Collect-and-Connect in the second wave of the DC Universe Green Lantern Classics branch.

Stel himself had undergone a significant upgrade within the comics in recent times, altering his appearance from something that -- quite frankly looked a lot like a cheap knockoff robot toy from the 1950's, into something a lot more modern-looking, impressive, and certainly more detailed. Honestly, Stel is one of my favorite DC Universe Classics figures.

However -- the resemblances between Stel and S.T.R.I.P.E., within the comics, are minimal at best. The modern Stel is an extremely intricate and detailed robot. S.T.R.I.P.E. always had a more straightforward and somewhat retro design to him. I won't say he looked like a cheap knockoff robot toy from the 1950's, but he had a certain retro flavor to him, and got away with it better than Stel ever did.

Needless to say, there was some concern about the early appearance of the Collect-and-Connect figure of S.T.R.I.P.E., concerns that I myself shared. As cool and impressive and intricate as Stel was, it just wasn't right for S.T.R.I.P.E..

I can understand Mattel wanting to get a second use out of a very intricate and doubtless expensive set of distinctive molds such as Stel's, that realistically didn't really have the potential for much additional use. At the same time, Mattel has done its best to keep the likenesses of the DC Universe Classics figures as accurate as possible, including the Collect-and-Connects. Stel would hardly have been the first time that a set of molds had not seen further use. Metamorpho, Kalibak, Darkseid, Imperiex, Solomon Grundy -- none of these had shared their parts with anyone else. Why compromise S.T.R.I.P.E. so much?

Well, ultimately -- they didn't. I won't say that the S.T.R.I.P.E. figure is a precise, faithful rendition of the character as he initially appeared in the comics. Then again, Pat Dugan has redesigned the armor at least once. Who's to say he hasn't done so again? Just ask Tony Stark -- there's always room for improvement.

The S.T.R.I.P.E. figure does use some Stel parts -- but nowhere near as many as one might think. As far as I can tell, the only Stel parts on S.T.R.I.P.E. are the upper arms, lower legs and boot tops, and the lower torso, and on that, you can hardly tell it, since it has a new piece covering the front of it.

Even then, some reworking seems to have been done on the existing parts. S.T.R.I.P.E.'s knees are not as heavily ridged as Stel's. S.T.R.I.P.E.'s knees have five ridges each. Stel's have nine, and S.T.R.I.P.E.'s knees are more pronounced.

Beyond that, S.T.R.I.P.E. has an entirely new head, upper and mid-torso, lower arms, upper legs, and feet.

Certainly the two figures have entirely different color schemes. Stel is mostly metallic green, with black and silver trim. S.T.R.I.P.E. is almost entirely a semi-metallic white, with a certain amount of red and blue trim. You're not going to be confusing the two.

This raises another matter. The DC Universe has never really seemed to have a prominent patriotic hero, such as Captain America. At least no one that really looked the part. Arguably, the Star-Spangled Kid came closest in appearance, but even in the 1940's, I'm not entirely sure how prominent he really was. While I wouldn't say that either S.T.R.I.P.E. or the modern Stargirl have the same color scheme as Captain America -- although Stargirl's shirt comes close, if it wasn't for the bare midriff -- the red-white-and-blue color scheme of both characters presents an effective enough nod to the colors of this nation.

S.T.R.I.P.E.'s head isn't particularly human in appearance. It has almost a cartoonish look to it, being shaped somewhere between a dome and a bucket, with a ridge of knobs over the top of the head. There is a narrow slit of red across the front for the eyes, two knobs on either side of the head to represent ears, and a jutting jaw for the mouth, giving the helmet a sort of semi-comical "tough guy" look.

S.T.R.I.P.E. has a high "collar" around his head, that spreads out to become a large part of the upper torso, as well as broad, curved shoulder pads -- slightly reminiscent of the average football player. There are four "screws" on either side of the front that have been painted metallic blue, and broad red S.T.R.I.P.E.s on indented sections on the shoulder pads.

These broad red S.T.R.I.P.E.s actually appear to have been hand-painted. Normally, I dislike this practice, since in a mass production setting, it's almost impossible to maintain the same level of precision and neatness that paint stencils afford. However, in this particular instance, the hand-painting works well enough, if only because the areas needing to be painted are so big -- and so straightforward, really -- that it would be almost impossible to mess it up. And indeed, it took close scrutiny on my part to even notice.

At the base of the chestplate is a metallic blue circle with two indented lines in it, that make the circle appear to be a stylized letter "S". This is S.T.R.I.P.E.'s logo. His mid-torso region is a series of angled segments, one of which actually comprises the mid-torso articulation point. These segments are painted red, white, and blue. It's probably the most patriotic portion of the robot.

S.T.R.I.P.E.'s upper arms are entirely Stel, and as such do seem just a little out of place relative to the smoother portions of the figure, but given that there are Stel portions elsewhere on the figure, it all works out fairly evenly in the end. Additionally, given the fact that these areas are entirely metallic white, rather than painted various colors of green, black, and silver, while it doesn't really simplify their look, it does make them work a little better with the figure as a whole, without making him look like a Stel rip-off.

The lower arms are entirely new, and much more massive than Stel's. The lower arms have huge curved plates on the outsides, with thick ridges. The circular "S" emblem also appears at the base of these plates. S.T.R.I.P.E.'s hands are clenched into fists, and are also larger than Stel's hands. There's a certain amount of metallic blue detailing on them.

Although S.T.R.I.P.E.'s lower torso is the same as Stel's, it has an entirely different plate secured to the front of it, that makes it look quite different.

The upper legs, at first glance, seem similar to Stel's, but they're not as much so as one might think. They're more detailed than the original S.T.R.I.P.E. design as it appeared in the comic, but they're bulkier and there's a lot more plating. What's interesting is that it appears that what has been done is that the Stel leg molds were taken, and actually modified to have the additional plating for S.T.R.I.P.E.. One can clearly see elements of the Stel legs underneath the plating. I have to assume here that it was more cost-effective for Mattel to have existing molds modified, than to have entirely new molds produced. This would also explain the different knee pads.

The lower legs, except for the slightly altered knees, are entirely identical to Stel, but the feet are completely different. They're slightly larger than Stel's, with a more ridged base and additional details.

The end result is one extremely impressive S.T.R.I.P.E., even if he's not a dead-on match for his comics counterpart. If DC ever decides to bring the character back, they could do a lot worse than to base him on this design, frankly.

The only lingering mystery for me is whether the toy was molded in this semi-metallic white color, or painted head to toe in it? I can usually tell that sort of thing fairly readily, but in this instance, for some reason, I'm just not 100% sure. I'm leaning towards saying he was molded in this color, but I'm not going to try to scuff him up to find out. All of the parts that I rounded up from purchasing the individual figures of Wave 19 are in superb condition, and I'm keeping S.T.R.I.P.E. just as he is, thank you very much.

Any complaints? No, not really. About the only very mild criticism I can give this figure is that his legs are so heavy, his leg joints don't always hold a pose as well as they should. He's a little loose-jointed at the hips. It's not really a big deal, though. He still looks cool and works very well.

And certainly, his overall articulation is excellent. S.T.R.I.P.E. is fully poseable at the head, arms, upper arm swivels, elbows, wrists, mid-torso, waist, legs, knees, boot tops, and ankles.

Paint work, although limited, is very well done. Almost imperceptible except in the brightest light is the fact that some of his parts have a very, very, very slight light blue wash on them. It's most apparently on the ridge on the top of his helmet, and some of the more intricate detail on his arms and legs.

I would also add that he looks very cool standing alongside Stargirl, who is also part of this wave, as one of the individual figures. It just wouldn't have been quite right to have one without the other, either.

So, what's my final word? I'm extremely impressed. And this is likely the last "Collect-and-Connect" figure I'll be interested in The one for Wave 20, the last "retail" wave for the foreseeable future, is Nekron, the hideous bad guy from Blackest Night. As impressive as that storyline was, I don't think I need a Collect-and-Connect figure of something so ugly it would be considered excessive as a Halloween decoration, and probably give nightmares to Freddy Krueger. So -- I'm glad we got S.T.R.I.P.E. when we did. He was a good choice for a Collect-and-Connect.

Now, he's obviously not sold on his own. You have to round up his parts with the individual figures. Fortunately, there's not a loser in the entire group. Wave 19 of DC Universe Classics features the Golden Age versions of Hawkman and Atom, Golden Age hero Sandman, Lord Naga, better known as Kobra, Magog, and the aforementioned Stargirl. I have found all of these to be very impressive and welcome figures, and would recommend them all.

And along with all of those, you get this very impressive S.T.R.I.P.E. figure! Maybe he and Stargirl never quite achieved the heights of an Iron Man or a Captain America, but they're cool characters, and they're certainly impressive figures.

The DC UNIVERSE CLASSICS "Collect-and-Connect" figure of S.T.R.I.P.E. definitely has my highest recommendation!