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By Thomas Wheeler

In the mid-1990's, Marvel Comics created what could be considered the ultimate "What If" story. They created an alternate universe, borne out of the misguided actions of the son of Charles Xavier, a young man named Legion, who was able to travel back in time with the intention of killing Magneto before he rose to power. Legion believed that Magneto's constant interference was the reason Charles Xavier had never realized his dream of mutant equality with humanity. But the plan went horribly wrong, and Legion accidentally killed Xavier instead.

The result was a timeline thrown completely askew, leading to the rise of the Age of Apocalypse. Apocalypse was a centuries-old mutant with a vision for the planet of "survival of the fittest". This included select mutants who shared his views. It most certainly did not include humanity. And without the dream of Charles Xavier to at least stem the tide of hatred and violence on both sides, Apocalypse had conquered much of America and had his sights set on the rest of the world. The only ones standing in his way were a small band of mutants under the leadership of Magneto, who called themselves X-Men.

It was a truly amazing story, as the entire X-Universe, (and by extension the Marvel Universe, although the story only played out in the X-titles) was overhauled into this horrific vision. Characters were drastically changed, heroes were villains, the titles of the books themselves changed for the duration, and the end result was the most amazing storyline in the X-Men's history since "The Phoenix Saga", possibly surpassing that in some respects. And in my opinion, nothing like it has been seen since. And its ramifcations are felt to this day. Some of its characters still survive and turn up when you least expect it.

Not surprisingly, there have been "AoA" (Age of Apocalypse) action figures from time to time. Toy Biz turned out a small assortment of them around the time of the storyline itself. A few have even made it into the world of Marvel Legends. And it is there where we find the latest plastic likeness of an AoA character -- SUNFIRE.

The Marvel Legends Age of Apocalypse Sunfire figure is the end result of a ToyFare magazine poll to decide on a special Marvel Legends figure from Hasbro, a "Fan's Choice", if you will. AoA Sunfire was the winner out of a number of contenders, and some months later, was offered as an online exclusive at HasbroToyShop.Com.

Sunfire was not the specific creation of the Age of Apocalypse, although his "look" in the AoA storyline was radically different than how he had appeared prior to those events. Sunfire has a lengthy history in the X- Universe. Let's take a bit of a look at it:

Sunfire first appeared in the original Uncanny X-Men in issue #64, in 1970. Sunfire is a temperamental and arrogant Japanese mutant who can generate superheated plasma and fly. Not suited for teamwork, Sunfire was only briefly a member of the X-Men and has kept limited ties to the team since.

Shiro Yoshida was born to a mother who suffered radiation poisoning due to exposure to the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima, Japan. As a result, he was born a mutant possessing solar radiation powers.

Shiro's mother died of radiation poisoning when he was young and Shiro grew to hate the United States, despite the influence of his father, an ambassador to the United Nations more tolerant of the US. His greedy uncle Tomo inspired Shiro to take the identity of Sunfire and engage in a one-man battle against the U.S. He attacked the United States Capitol and battled the X-Men. Later, he saw Tomo kill his father. Distraught, Sunfire killed Tomo and surrendered to the authorities.

Months later, Xavier recruited Sunfire to join a new team of X-Men to rescue the originals from Krakoa, the Living Island in Giant-Sized X-Men #1. Sunfire accompanied the fledgling X-Men on this mission, but resigned from the team before he ever received official membership. This was mainly due to his arrogance and his irrational temper.

He would appear some months later in the pages of X-Men as the mutant team arrived in Japan just in time to witness a massive firestorm that had been caused by the villain Moses Magnum. Sunfire reluctantly accepted the X-Men's help to defeat Magnum, and Sunfire and the X-Men departed each other's company reasonably agreeably.

Sunfire has appeared sporadically in various Marvel comic books throughout the years. On a few occasions his temper has led to conflicts with other heroes such as Iron Man, Rogue, and Wolverine.

In 1998, Marvel published a mini-series entitled Sunfire and Big Hero Six about Sunfire's brief membership in a new superhero team sanctioned by the Japanese government.

Sunfire's life became involved with the X-Men once again when Apocalypse kidnapped Sunfire, as he was one of the Twelve, a group of unique mutants Apocalypse required to obtain the power to warp reality.

Later on, Sunfire became a member of X-Corporation, a non-government organization devoted to the protection of mutant rights. Sunfire joined the Mumbai branch of X-Corp.

During the early story arcs of the latest edition of Marvel Team-Up, Sunfire attempted to combat the powerful villain known as Titannus, a reject of the Super-Skrull program who had made his way to Earth after being brainwashed by an alien race to serve as their ultimate weapon.

When the Age of Apocalypse universe took hold. Sunfire was drastically altered, as was, of course, his backstory. A brief flashback sequence showed him in the same costume he had worn in the "real" universe, but he had been captured by Apocalypse and the big "A"'s son, then known as Nemesis, later known as Holocaust.

In the Age of Apocalypse, Japan was destroyed by Holocaust, one of the Horsemen of Apocalypse. Shiro, a survivor of the massacre, was captured and given to Maximus (the Horseman of Death), as a test subject for his experiments. Shiro's powers were pushed to their limits, causing his whole body to be set aflame, injuring him as a result. Shiro was rescued by the X-Men and joined them, taking on the codename Sunfire. Sunfire wore a containment suit to control his powers, although he was constantly on fire.

Interestingly, the "real" Marvel Universe's Sunfire ended up looking like his AoA counterpart a little while back. Sunfire had lost his powers after an altercation with Rogue, and apparently had been left in a coma, although his body had disappeared when Rogue brought other X-Men to help.

It was later revealed that Sunfire had been rescued by a mysterious group of ninjas, and taken to a hospital in Aspen. After being revived from his coma, the world's leading specialist in prosthetic limbs, Masanori Kuzuya, offered him his services. Before the reasoning behind the rescue could be revealed, Apocalypse appeared and offered Sunfire the chance for vengeance, as well as the recovery of his lost limbs and power, in return for his service as one of Apocalypse's new Horsemen.

Sunfire accepted, but after being chained away and locked in a prison while listening to the tortured screams of Gazer (another of the new Horsemen), Sunfire tried to escape. Unable to leave Gazer to his fate, Sunfire went back to free him. However, Gazer's transformation to the Horseman 'War' had already been completed and War attacked Sunfire. Captured again, Sunfire was transformed into the Horseman of Famine, and was given an outfit that was virtually identical to his AoA outfit, as well as restored powers. Since the "real" Marvel Universe had no knowledge of the Age of Apocalyse, as cool as this costume design was, this struck me as pushing both coincidence and perhaps irony a little too far.

Recently, Sunfire's power as Famine has faded away and is back to his original power set but has the new ability to cover himself in flames and intense heat without harm.

As to his powers and abilities, which one must assume applies to both the "Marvel Universe" Sunfire as well as the "Age of Apocalypse" version, Sunfire has the ability to absorb solar radiation, and convert it into high energy plasma which bursts into flame when exposed to oxygen. He can project his powers though his hands as blasts of searing heat, deadly radiation, explosive force, or simple flames. By ionizing the air around him, he can surround himself with an aura of heat intense enough to melt steel, or fly by focusing his aura downwards in a tight stream of ionized gas to propel him though the air like a rocket. Sunfire can see heat, by shifting his vision from visible light to infrared. Due to the nature of his powers, Sunfire is immune to extreme heat and radiation.

Shiro also seems to be quite the accomplished martial artist. He has displayed impressive hand to hand skills on several occasions and stated that he didn't need to employ his powers in order to defeat mere hand ninjas. He has at least peak human strength and endurance.

Despite the fact that the Marvel Universe Sunfire apparently continued to resemble his AoA counterpart, the packaging for the figure clearly denotes him as "A.O.A. SUNFIRE". And before I start analyzing the figure, I'd like to have a look at the packaging for a moment.

Since Sunfire is not part of any Marvel Legends assortment, but is rather a stand alone figure, Hasbro was able to get more individualistic with the package design. It bears the Marvel Legends logo, of course, but the backdrop to the card behind the figure is a colorful, swirling illustration of flame, in bright yellows and oranges. The name "A.O.A. SUNFIRE" runs vertically up the left side of the card. A small sticker reading "ToyFare Fans' Choice" has been placed on the plastic bubble housing the figure. The bubble itself has been molded with embossed flame shapes on it.

Since the figure is not part of any specific assortment and therefore does not include any "Build-A-Figure" component, which is customarily outlined on the back of a Marvel Legends figure card along with a short outline of the individual in the package, more space can be devoted to Sunfire. A photograph of the prototype of the figure is shown, along with illustrations in the background (which, somewhat strangely, I believe to have been taken from the "real" Sunfire after he started looking like his AoA counterpart).

A brief history of the figure is also provided, which is pretty much in basic terms. Various physical details, including height, weight, and such, are also provided.

As to the figure himself? Well, for one thing, he is significantly different from the prototype shown on the package in one very notable aspect. Fortunately, I regard it as an improvement.

The prototype shows a Sunfire figure with a pale yellow body, with the black detailing of the containment suit. This would have been a perfectly fine way to carry out this figure. However, one has to believe that perhaps the prototype for Sunfire was brought together from whatever initial parts were available and/or sculpted for prototype purposes, and painted in a reasonable color scheme. That's fine for the prototype, and really, the color scheme as it stands would have worked entirely well for mass production.

However, the production figure is actually molded in TRANSPARENT yellow, something that would have been very difficult to do, obviously, for a presumably hand-created prototype. Either that or somebody made a change at the last second here. In any case, I certainly approve. I've always had a soft spot for figures molded from transparent plastic (or that have chrome features, or that glow in the dark.

The transparent yellow body works exceptionally well, and makes Sunfire look more complex than ever. In a way, the moderate visibility of the "internal workings" of the figure almost seem to accentuate the fact that Sunfire is supposed to appear to be made out of flame somehow, and is held in check only by the black framework of the containment suit.

Speaking of that, the black framework has been very neatly and intricately done, both front and back. Shiro has a quite complex design to his suit, and it tends to be very symmetrical. The paint stencils for the individual parts of this figure no doubt were quite a complicated piece of business, but the end result is extremely impressive as well as extensive.

For the most part, the body used to make Sunfire is a sort of "standard male hero body" that Hasbro has put to use on a number of occasions. Not to the same degree that Mattel has with its molds used in their DC Universe line, but I think that as a general rule, the heroes of the Marvel Universe had a weirder wardrobe anyway. It's honestly tougher to get a significant percentage of their characters into a common body mold. I certainly can't blame Hasbro for wanting to use it when possible, though.

The main differences are, of course, the head, which I will discuss in a moment, a wide black collar with yellow circles on it that is glued to the upper torso, and has flames emerging from it which are painted in a mostly transparent orange, and flames emerging from the lower arms and lower legs below the swivel points for those sections, which are also painted in a transparent orange, and which appear to be molded to those parts, so Hasbro created new below-the-swivel lower arms and legs for this figure.

Sunfire's head is a perfect likeness of the character. His face, such as it is, consists of a white mask. Remember those two masks that have essentially been around since ancient Greek times, and which are used to represent the theater? One is smiling, and one is sad. If there was a third one that represented "mad", that's what this looks like. The forehead and eyes are sculpted in a perpetual angry scowl. There is no visible mouth, but the angry arch at which the mask ends is more than indication enough of the wearer's constantly angry mood. There is a red circle on the forehead of the mask, representing Sunfire's lost homeland of Japan. There is a huge burst of flame emerging from behind the mask over the top of Sunfire's head.

Sunfire stands about 6-1/4" in height, NOT counting the flame on his head, which I really don't think it's entirely fair to count, but just for the record, that takes him to the high side of 7 inches. As one would expect from a Marvel Legends figure, Sunfire is superbly well-articulated, and is fully poseable at the head, arms, upper-arm swivel, elbows, lower arm swivel, wrists, mid-torso, waist, legs, upper leg swivel, knees, lower leg swivel, ankles, and foot fronts. The elbows and knees have a double joint.

The Age of Apocalypse was one of, if not THE most, impressive, sweeping storyline in the long, considerable, and often confusing history of the X-Men. I still have my original figures from the Toy Biz line. But Sunfire was never a part of that group, and I'll be forthright and say that, compared to the handful of Marvel Legends entries that have happened since then -- Sabretooth and Weapon X from Toy Biz, and now Sunfire from Hasbro, those early Toy Biz figures -- come up a little short. Still glad to have them, though.

But anytime the Age of Apocalypse turns up in the modern action figure world, I'll be there, and since AoA Sunfire here was a contest winner, clearly there's fan interest in the concept to this day. I know that Holocaust (aka Nemesis for the sake of the toy world) is on his way as I write this as a "Build A Figure", but there are certainly others from that grim world that I wouldn't mind seeing Marvel Legends versions of someday.

In the meantime, we have Sunfire. And at the risk of making a bad joke, he's cool. He's also only available from HasbroToyShop.Com, so now that you're pretty much finished with this review, head on over there and see if they have any left!

The MARVEL LEGENDS AGE OF APOCALYPSE SUNFIRE figure definitely has my highest enthusiastic recommendation!