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     Friends, collectors, scalpers... I come not to bury Iron
Man, but to praise him.  (Besides, with that nifty new
Subterranean Armor, burial would be inconsequential).  While
I can hope that the reports of the Iron Man line's death are
greatly exaggerated, the likelihood of its passing seems all too
reasonable.  One need only look at the hordes of Blacklashes, Grey
Gargoyles and Mandarins hanging a-peg in every TRU from here to
Eternity, PA (look it up) (actually, don't, because it doesn't
exist.  But if it did, it would fit so well....) to see that
there were problems in the marketing as well as the demand for
ol' Shell Head's line.  (Like, whose idea was it to make a
Blacklash figure at all, much less to include it so prominently in
the first confounded series.  Sigh.)  I could rant until the
Skrulls-turned-into-cows came home about how this line deserved
better, but it would do no good.  "For Iron Man, your sorrow *is*
dead, and sunk he be beneath the mercantile floor..." (with
apologies to John Milton, though it is unlikely he'll be
     If it's not patently clear already, let me say it boldly:  I
*liked* the Iron Man line.  Heck, as action figures go, I *loved*
it.  Sure, these metallized homunculi may have lacked the
incredible detail of their McFarlane cousins, the fanatical
adherents of the X-brethren, and their vacuum-shined
accoutrements may fall off more often than they stay on, but they
had style.  They looked *classy*.  And perhaps more than any
other figures, their darned joints even looked somehow
appropriate, rather than, well, dumb. "Hey, they're part of the

     I know many collectors find ongoing iterations of single
characters boring (Indian Chiropractor Batman with the Spring-
Action Butt-Plug, please pick up the white courtesy phone....),
but in Iron Man's case, it made sense.  Heck, on the animated
series that spawned (if you'll pardon the expression) the figure
line, Tony Stark has a humongous silo ringed in dozens upon
dozens of levels of variant Iron Man suits.  (My favorite
recurring shot; just let your imagination run wild...suits enough
for everyone, everywhere....)
     And unlike some other figure lines, where the multiple
variants begin rapidly to range upon the truly inane, none of the
Iron Man multitudes seemed at all silly to me.  Even Space Armor
Iron Man at least had the virtue of being the only suit with the
signature color pattern, the "true Iron Man" I remember from the
glory years of the comic book (golden arms and legs, red gloves,
boots and torso).  For the record, the "regular" Iron Man I from
the first series of figures got this wrong, what with red legs
and boots, but at least they're consistent with the television
     And the others?  Stealth Armor?  Tremendous -- the dark,
dark blue looks great against the metallized pieces (no comment
about the dumbwaiter action feature), the little "wings" flare
out to dampen the radar signature, making for an effectivly dark,
and, well, stealthy effect.  Hologram?  The metallized red makes
a perfect contrast to the silver of the arms and legs; and you
gotta love those protruding triangular shoulder pieces.  Very
futuristic.  Hydro?  Gold and yellow, the combo actually looks a
lot better than you might expect.  And though I thought the head
bubble was lame at first (why didn't the space variant have it, I
asked myself), upon reflection it *did* make sense that Iron
Man's helmet would need extra buffering under the pressure of
miles of water, while the vacuum of outer space presents no
similar pressure disparities.  And the angular, heavy-duty
chestplate works, for the same reasons.
     (And by the way, I liked the way ToyBiz altered the basic
design between series, from having clenched fists to having hands
open in a spread worth of Dr. Strange, grand high poobah of all
tortured manual posings....)
     Tony Stark?  This figure got a lot of criticism, and in my
eyes it was unfounded.  Another longpack effect, IMHO -- when you
saw these Tonys cluttering rack after rack, it was hard to
appreciate the figure's appeal.  Which I think rests on both its
human-contrast (I *love* the idea of Stark caught with his
ferrous pants down) and the endless possibilities of adding on
any of the other armors.  The briefcase is great -- though I'd
have preferred it if it had been much slimmer, giving the right
effect even if it were thus unable to actually house any of the
armor.  The Stark head is a bit small, but I figure that's to
accommodate the helmet (which, admittedly, could have benefitted
from a back, but would have had to thus be unsightly large).  And
I love the printed-circuitry design on the figure's body.  Tony's
pale face looks a bit cheezy, but as action figures go it's
actually not that bad (remember, we're talking about toys that
include Age of Apocalypse Wolverine and Youngbloods Shaft, not to
mention POTF Princess Leia -- oh, guess I did mention her....)
     The much-maligned Polar Armor?  Stupendous.  That icy glean
brings tears to my eyes, and the clip-on tools and black hoses
add to the effect.  Another winner.  Hulkbuster?  Well, truth be
told, with its seemingly overinflated body, pump-you-up
musculature and odd pie-plate shoulder pads, this is probably my
*least* favorite IM variation, but I know several people have
praised it considerably.  And some day in the far future, when a
decent Hulk figure actually appears, I might well revise my
opinion upwards....

     Which brings us to the newest series, Iron Man IV.  Now, I
did just procure these this morning, so a certain flush that
accompanies the successful toy hunt may be coloring my
perspective slightly, but I think these may be the best suits
yet.  We're back to the clenched fists scheme, but the
resemblance to IM-I ends there.
     Samurai Iron Man?  Though I find the Samurai Armor variation
closest in (malevolent) spirit to the endless Bat-alternatives,
there's something about the black and the green together with the
chrome that is starting to work some magic on me (perhaps a
subtle hint of Green Lantern?  And don't be fooled by the blue
and green of the photos; in the flesh, well, plastic, the figure
is a true GL black and green).  Okay, so the hood-effect is
pretty silly on an otherwise armored figure -- it might have made
more sense if the armor was supposed to be hidden, say, behind
monk's robes, but then it wouldn't be even *close* to an Iron Man
type figure (which, well, it arguably isn't...but we're starting
to go in circles here).
     The Subterranean Armor?  Mmmm, that orange-gold is dazzling. 
And against the gold of the boots and gloves, you really don't
mind the pale custard yellow of the arms and legs.  And the add-
on shoulder pads and boots give the figure a marvelous anthro-
scorpion look.  Inferno Armor?  A rich, burnished red,
highlighted with hints of orange and yellow that makes for a very
pleasing combination.  And if the hip boots are a little Kirby-
esque (on a character that rarely got the royal King Kirby
treatment), so much the better!  I happen to hate "water
squirting" action features, but I can forgive it on figures where
you can leave off the offending squeeze-pump with no ill effects
(as here).
     Then you've got War Machine....mmmmmm.  Now, I can't say as
I really had much enthusiasm for the character in the comics, or
the tv show.  After all, part of Iron Man's appeal is that he's
not just a flunky -- Tony Stark as-ultra-high-tech-munitions-
designer (humanitarian considerations aside) is every bit as
compelling as the "armored bodyguard."  (Cf. my comments above
about the Tony Stark figure).  I think the late 60s Marvel
cartoon Iron Man theme song even described him as oozing "sex
appeal" -- who can argue with that?
     But back to War Machine.  And let's go all the way back, to
the IM-I series.  I guess it's just the way the figure looks with
the shiny silver on rich gray on dull silver, but it has always
been my favorite of *all* my action figures, all series, all-
time.  Now, remember, I'm talking about the series one War
Machine here -- we'll get to the new release in a paragraph or
two.  The shoulder cannons are silly, but you can just pull 'em
off and, voila!  Action figure extraordinaire.  From the
triangular designs on the belt to the segmented boots, the
crenelated designs on the abdomen to the camera (hmmm, or laser)
affixed to the right side of the helmet, War Machine I is my sine
qua non of action figures.  I display this figure both at home
and in the office, and make a point of calling attention to it
whenever anyone makes the mistake of entering my various domains. 
Though basically no one agrees with me on its incontestable
appeal, harumph, I rest my love of action figures in general on
the affection I feel for this single figure.  To each their own,
and all that.
     And now there's a new War Machine on the block, the Series
IV War Machine 2.  You might think I'd be ill-disposed to accept
changes to this best-of-all-figures, but actually, WM II is quite
well-done.  Granted, there aren't *huge* changes from the
original, mostly a repainting scheme worthy of McToys, but there
are some modifications, including substantially fortified missile
attachments.  And the one sour note, the dark grey upper chest,
gets hidden nicely by the chest plate, giving the figure a
pleasing, almost-Silver Surfery presence.  (And let me take a
moment here to admit that, series-wide, the Iron Man missile
pieces *were* pretty silly.  And not just in how they looked;
having the "action feature" being driven by how hard you could
flick the missile with your fingertips didn't add much to their
quality.  Here, on the new War Machine, the "double-barrel"
shoulder cannon is, well, "double-lame," but hey, ya can't have
everything.)  Thumbs-up on WM2.  And all in all, Iron Man series
IV rocks!

     Well, it sure didn't help the line that the supporting
heroes were of a stature less-than-classicly-heroic.  Sure,
Hawkeye has his fans, and the figure was quite well-done, but
he's no star.  Especially since they preserved his irritating
character faults for the tv series.  "The once-bad boy who just
doesn't get the understanding he needs...."  Pfui.  Though I
think ToyBiz did a fine job with Century -- his wizened face
looks much more interesting than the cartoon, and the costume
came through pretty well, considering its level of detail.  If he
didn't sound so much like a therapist wanna-be on the show, I'd
probably like him more.  Spider-Woman was cool, but WHERE THE
HECK WAS NATASHA?!?  Now *there's* a figure ready for action....

     Perhaps the most-overlooked figures in the Iron Man pantheon
are the lovely Dragons.  Granted, these figures were self-
defeatingly expensive at first, but once Target marked them down
to $4.99 just before Christmas, aahooogah, aahooogah!  Lemme at
'em!  Snag them I did, and with all haste.  These figures are
terrific!  Extremely well-done, great sculpting, ferocious looks,
everything a monster needs.  And to actually have a figure named
"Fin Fang Foom" ... somewhere, Jack Kirby is smiling.  Though
mine seems to have lost his purple shorts somewhere (I hope the
prurient negativity nabobs at the Comics Code Authority don't
find out!).  Aureus and Argent make fine companions for this
blast-from-the-past beastie, and afford excellent battle targets
when Iron Man gets tired of using his superior weaponry against
the Mandarin's stable of usual bad guys.

     What's that?  You think the Iron Man villains were stupid? 
Ah, yes, I hear this a lot.  My belief is that the aforebashed
Blacklash is indeed a lame figure (as well as a lame character --
not to mention the question of his appropriateness for the little
kiddies, S&M anyone?), in fact so lame that, in combination with
the overmanufacture of the other IM series I villains, his mega-
multiple presence in toy stores everywhere has ruined it for all
the other villains in the series.
     Okay, I'll admit, the powers-that-be didn't stretch
themselves very far in setting up the basic rogues' gallery of
the Mandarin's quotidian thugs.  Maybe they didn't want to show
up the Mandarin by comparison.  Or maybe all the really good
villains had contractual obligations elsewhere.  I mean,
Whirlwind was a second-rater from the get-go; similarly Blizzard,
and Hypnotia (though after a career in the porn industry, what
choices does a woman have, really?).  But not all of them were
substandard.  Modok?  A great character -- and a great figure,
once you get past his migraine cranium blaster!  (If only they
didn't make him so whiney on the cartoon....)
     And the Grey Gargoyle?  Not only a terrific character, but
the sculpting on the figure is tremendous -- all planes and
edges, and you can even make out his toe- and finger-nails (if
only he had a "talking" feature with a scurrilous french accent--
"headwaiter by day, evil supervillain by night...").  His action-
bricks look cool, and I'm proud to display him alongside the
Mandarin on my main figure shelf.  Hell, Dreadknight is a great
figure, even if the character himself is irritating.  I think
they did a particularly fine job of sculpting his head/face.
     And what about the Eastern European contingent?  Boris and
the *other* Natasha, eat yer hearts out:  Titanium man, while
much-changed from his juggernaut solidity in the comics, looks
still-quite-menacing, thank you (though I could do without the
power saw -- save it for Tim the Tool Man Taylor's action figure,
okay?).  And the new Crimson Dynamo rises above his Spawn-style
literal heartlessness and Japanese-styled insectile brow
attachment to cut a dastardly figure in his own right.  And while
the somewhat, er, pinkish color of his torso, loins and
extremities is a bit odd for a super-villain, at least they
distinguished him thereby from the pigmentation of Hologram IM. 
So he's got a freakin' hole in his chest -- slap a little foil
over it, snap on the chest plate, and he looks great.  And you
can give the "blasting action" pom-pom to Firelord, a figure that
makes Blacklash begin to seem attractive.
     Writing of which... I never bought a Blacklash, not even at
$2.50 (hey, I wouldn't take him *for* $2.50; 'nuff said).  And
second-stringers though they may be, the Whirlwind and Blizzard
figures looked pretty fine.  (I especially liked the detail in
the scales on Whirlwind's mail-plated longjohns.)  And my gripe
with Blizzard is more that his "power" is artificial, and
stolen -- I prefer mutants, or environment-empowered aliens,
super-serums and star-gems, and failing that, those that rely
upon the handiwork of one's own sweat and toil.  Hell, the
Blizzard figure was so hard to get, I barely care -- much as I
hate to admit it, I felt considerable triumph in finally securing
     Which brings me to my sad conclusion.  Because when you get
right down to it, I think the only thing really wrong with the
Iron Man line, sales-wise, was a poor marketing, a poor figure-
ration strategy, which is to say, a bad shortpacking strategy. 
Or lack thereof.
     Now, I detest shortpacks, I really do.  But if stores like
TRU had been a little more circumspect in flooding the sales
floor with the series I villains, things might have been
different.  Basic sales technique -- keep all but one or two in
the back room, then keep replacing them on the pegs as they sell. 
But that takes thinking, and a bit of effort....
     Ahh, who am I kidding?  This isn't about shortpacks, or
longpacks.  (What was I *thinking*?!?  Chalk it up to grief....) 
I have to assume a line ultimately gets canceled because the main
sales base, the kiddies, just aren't buying the figures.  And try
as I might to make up for the imbalance, buying up a new War
Machine every month, it's the dollars that speak louder than
affection and preference.
     So hail and farewell to a fine line of figures.  Iron Man,
we knew ye well, just not in great enough numbers.  "Repulsor to
repulsor, circuit to circuit...."
     I guess what hurts the most is that ToyBiz went so far as to
publicize those swell photos of the next Iron Man series, "Dark
Aegis."  And even if Living Laser looked a bit odd, he was
another second-rate villain at best.  Hey, ToyBiz, why wasn't
Thanos in the Iron Man series?  The Blood Brothers?  Nick Fury? 
Scorpio?  The whole damned Zodiac?
     *Sob*.  Now I'll probably never get to see that way cool
looking last series, "Dark Aegis."  Radiation Armor Iron Man --
gone.  Lava Armor -- gone.  Magnetic Armor -- gone.  And Dark
Aegis -- gone.
     And you think finding a Tapestry Picard is hard.
Copyright (c) 1996 by John Gersten. All rights reserved.

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