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By Thomas Wheeler

There can be no question that one of the hit movies of the summer of 2008 is 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.

Many of Iron Man's most interesting and challenging enemies have been armored individuals themselves. In the movie, Iron Man ultimately goes up against the Iron Monger, a massive armored creation built by Obadiah Stane. Iron Man actually faced this adversary in the comics, as well, although as one might expect, some of the story details were different.

But the Iron Monger is hardly Iron Man's only armored adversary. Two others actually emanated from the Soviet Union -- Titanium Man and the Crimson Dynamo. These are arguably Iron Man's best known armored opponents. Heck, they even made it into a song by Paul McCartney's band Wings years ago (along with X-Men foe Magneto).

One of them, Titanium Man, has turned up in the movie-based action figure line. Although Titanium Man doesn't actually appear in the movie, I believe the figure is an indication of Hasbro's plans for the line, which are not unlike what they have done with the extended Spider-Man line. In this, they have created additional figures, villains especially, that have not appeared in any of the Spider-Man movies, but Hasbro has created new likenesses of them that, while generally respectful to their comics origins, look very much like what possible movie incarnations of them might resemble. Characters such as Black Cat, Scorpion, Kraven the Hunter, Shocker, and a seriously weird Mysterio have all been added to the Spider-Man line in this fashion.

And so, in the Iron Man line, we have the addition of TITANIUM MAN. The figure has proven to be quite popular and rather elusive, much as the Iron Man line in general has been, admittedly, but some more than others. Let's consider the background of this character.

There have actually been several people who have been Titanium Man over the years. The first Titanium Man was named Boris Bullski and was born in Makeyevka, Ukrainian SSR, Soviet Union. According to the Black Widow, he was a KGB-member when he was a young man, and she was his combat instructor for a time. An ambitious official of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, Boris Bullski was demoted after displeasing his superiors.

While working as an administrator of a Siberian labor camp, he commissioned the imprisoned scientists at the camp to build a suit of armor using the lab of Anton Vanko, the creator of the original Crimson Dynamo armor. Seeking to win back the Party's favor, Bullski conceived the idea of winning a propaganda victory against the West by defeating the American superhero Iron Man. He assigned the scientists to create a powerful suit of titanium armor based on the Iron Man technology, though the inferior resources available to the scientists meant that the armor was twice the size of Iron Man's. Bullski received permission to issue his challenge and Iron Man accepted, defeating Titanium Man in a battle before a worldwide television audience.

Undaunted, Bullski prepared for a rematch by having the suit redesigned and undergoing medical treatments that increased both his size and strength. Traveling to the United States, Bullski fought Iron Man in the skies above Washington, D.C. but was defeated. Withdrawing for retrieval by a Soviet submarine, he discovered that he had been abandoned on orders from Moscow.

Later, he returned to the service of the Government of the Soviet Union and joined the third Crimson Dynamo in yet another unsuccessful battle against Iron Man. After several further defeats, Bullski continued to serve as Titanium Man, as a member of the Soviet Super-Soldiers, but felt increasingly despondent as the Soviet Union declined. After an attack on a Stark Enterprises factory in Russia he was believed killed while battling Tony Stark, who was wearing Crimson Dynamo armor that was being controlled by Colonel General Valentin Shatalov, a former friend of Bullski.

The second Titanium Man was the mutant formerly known as the Gremlin, and also served with the Soviet Super-Soldiers. The Gremlin was killed in combat with Iron Man during the first "Armor War" when the titanium in the suit exceeded its combustible temperature.

The identity of the third Titanium Man is the subject of some controversy. The first time this figure manifested itself, he attacked Stark Enterprises and Iron Man directly, apparently under orders of Stark-Fujikawa (possibly as a mercenary). While he was shown to cherish Soviet paraphernalia and newspaper clippings featuring Boris Bullski, his identity was not firmly established.

Some time later, during a space mission to destroy an enormous asteroid that threatened to impact on Earth, a Titanium Man, claiming to be this same person, stated his name was Andy Stockwell, and had never had a connection with the USSR. However, moments later it was revealed he was actually a member of "The Hammer", an international network of communist sleeper cells who wanted to destroy the United States. He was lost in space, but being not too far away from Earth, may have returned under his own power.

In any case, sometime later, someone in the Titanium Man armor was contacted and hired, ostensibly through the Hammer again, to do a mercenary job for, of all people, Tony Stark, in his efforts regarding the superhuman registration bill.

Obviously, any character with a history of being an agent of the Soviet Union is going to be difficult to work with these days, and clearly the Titanium Man has been no exception to this. Although Titanium Man was not in the movie (hey, there's always the sequel), he did appear on a couple of occasions in the 1990's Iron Man animated series, and a fairly traditional-looking version of the character has also turned up in the Superhero Squad line of smaller collectible figures derived from the Iron Man movie.

And then we have the action figure incorporated into the movie line. First let me say that despite the fact that Titanium Man is at no point in the movie, and even though he is currently the only figure in the Iron Man line that represents a character that ISN'T in the movie -- the rest of the line presently consisting of various versions of Iron Man and two of Iron Monger, this hasn't in the least turned the figure into a peg-warmer. We're still at the point as of this writing where if it's in an Iron Man package, it's going to sell. To what degree people are buying the Titanium Man because they're sufficient Iron Man experts to recognize the character, haven't seen the movie and assume the character is in it, or are just willing to pick up ANYBODY wearing a suit of high-tech armor as a gift for their child, I really don't know.

Whatever the case, Titanium Man has been just as popular a seller as the rest of the line. So I'm doubly pleased to have him at this point.

So, what's the figure like? Pretty impressive, really. The origin story on the back of the package deliberately avoids any specific Soviet references. It reads, "The Titanium Man is built to destroy Iron Man! The technology used to construct this armor is not as advanced as the Iron Man Mark III, but concussion blasters mounted in the arms and a titanium outer shell makes it a serious threat."

Titanium Man doesn't entirely escape his background, though. Around a circle in the chestplate that looks a lot like the one in Iron Man's armor, there is a sickle very similar to that of the Soviet emblem, and above the circle is a star. The traditional hammer of the Soviet emblem is pretty much missing, but it would go through the circle in the chestplate.

The vast bulk of the armor is dark grey. The green color is distinctly minimized. This bugged me a bit. In the comics, the color division between green and grey was a little more even, if not in favor of the green. Maybe someone decided that green was too implausible a color for the armor, or made him too colorful, or would put him in competition with the Incredible Hulk, or whatever. The figure still has an overall impressive design, enough for me to get past the color emphasis, but I still would've liked to have seen more green on it.

Unlike the Iron Man Mark II, or even the Iron Monger, the Titanium Man armor is a VERY dark grey. It also has a more uneven and haphazard look to it, the more you study it. This would be in keeping with the comic book origin, if not visual likeness, of the original Titanium Man, who had his armor constructed in a Soviet labor camp. Let's face it, you're not going to get the best of the best there.

A casual look at the Titanium Man figure would seem to look fairly symmetrical, until you get into the details. The figure is about a quarter-inch shorter than the Iron Man Mark 3 figure, which really isn't a big deal, and has an overall stockier build. To what degree this can be attributed to the build of the wearer, or to the materials used, can only be speculated upon. Although the helmet and chestplate are reasonably symmetrical, that's where it ends. The lower arms are distinctly different from each other, although the lower right arm would appear to be intended to display some sort of built in weapon. The lower torso has been designed to look distinctly cobbled together, and the legs are quite different from each other.

The sculpted detail, however intentionally haphazard it may be, is all neatly sculpted and nicely design. Elements of a dark olive green do come through here and there, mostly on the arms and legs. One thing the Titanium Man has over his Iron Man counterparts -- his shoulder pads are more securely attached...

Articulation of the figure is excellent. The figure moves at the head, arms, upper-arm swivel, double-jointed elbows, wrists, mid-torso, legs, upper-leg swivel, double-jointed knees, and ankles. Most points of articulation on the figure have a multiple range of motion.

And he moves very well and very smoothly. My one gripe with the Iron Man Mark 3 figure, the one in the red and gold armor, is that he has such a thick coat of red paint on him to give him an admittedly very nice metallic finish, that he is very difficult in some respects to move. The paint has stuck the articulation points somewhat. That's not the case with the Titanium Man figure, who does not have such extensive paintwork on him, and as such moves more readily.

Now, I'm not saying that the Iron Man Mark 3 shouldn't have been given a nice red metallic finish. Certainly he should've been. Just making a comparison regarding movement, is all.

The only other real painted detail on Titanium Man, other than a few areas of green on his armor, is on the helmet and the chest. There are two large areas on the helmet, where his eyes would be, but far larger, and two on his chestplate to either side of the center circle. All of these, including the circle, are inwardly framed in green and have been painted to have what appears to be cascading white energy flowing through them. Specifically what this is supposed to denote, other than presumably whatever the power source of this armor is, I'm not certain, and it may be just that.

Whatever the case, it looks good, and not only adds a little more green to the overall color scheme, but the white also enhances the overall look of an otherwise very dark-colored figure.

Accessorywise, Titanium Man comes with a "Double Concussion Blaster". This is a dark grey piece of hardware that has apertures for two spring- loaded missiles. The missiles are a translucent green with a sort of "fireball" head and are probably intended to represent an energy-based weapon. The device has one button which fires both missiles simultaneously. Interesting little gadget, really.

So, what's my overall take on this? Even though he wasn't in the movie, I am pleased to see Titanium Man in the toy line. I would hope that Hasbro, certainly now realizing how popular both the movie and the toy line are, I suspect well beyond expectations, has plans to continue and expand the line, so that Titanium Man (and everyone else) will not only be a little more available in the near future, but that perhaps Titanium Man's occasional colleague, the Crimson Dynamo, might also turn up along the way. I'd like very much to see what Hasbro could do with a "If he'd been in the movie"-style Crimson Dynamo, and CD would certainly be a logical contender.

As to future movies, who knows? I can see a sequel bringing Titanium Man and Crimson Dynamo into the mix, and putting them up against Iron Man and putting Jim Rhodes into armor and getting him involved as War Machine to even the odds. The Soviet background of the two characters would be a bit of a hurdle, but hardly an insurmountable one. Whether this will happen, or whether such characters would have the slightest resemblance to any current or upcoming toy counterparts, cannot be predicted.

Meanwhile, we have this very cool and very impressive Titanium Man figure, who looks, in my opinion, very much as if he COULD have been in the movie. It's an impressive figure, nicely made, well-detailed, well- articulated, with an interesting design element in the somewhat haphazard look of some aspects of the armor assembly. Just because he wasn't in the movie is no reason to pass him up. The IRON MAN MOVIE TITANIUM MAN Figure definitely has my enthusiastic recommendation!