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Maria Hill & Iron Man

Marvel Legends
by Artemis

"Maria, I just met a girl named Maria"... no? Well, if it had been this Maria, you can bet the Jets would've been wrapped up inside of a month. Not as poignant a statement as Sondheim and co. would've liked, perhaps, but you have to respect a can-do attitude.

Maria Hill is a talented spy, a skilled soldier, and a gifted battlefield commander, but as an administrator she leaves much to be desired. Appointed Director of S.H.I.E.L.D. after the disappearance of Nick Fury, she conflicted constantly with the soldiers under her command, and the Super Heroes with which she was forced to work. After the Super Hero Civil War, when Iron Man was asked to step into the directorship, she was all too happy to step down. As Director, Iron Man has applied his business skills to the administration of S.H.I.E.L.D., reinventing the organization as a sleek, responsive military/industrial machine.

Marvel Legends ain't what it used to be - while Mattel's manufacturing arm has put all its efforts into making giving DC a 6" line it could be proud of (and Mattel's marketing arm has predictably put all its efforts into sabotaging it), Hasbro's attitude to its inherited Marvel line could be best summed up, in recent times, as: "Huh? Oh, yeah... Right, we'll get right on that, sometime, sure..." Whether Marvel Legends will once more prosper as a line remains to be seen, but the one olive branch extended to its fans has been the occasional two-pack, reminding us that Marvel hasn't been completely consigned to the smaller scale of Marvel Universe.

As the bio text alludes to, Iron Man and Maria Hill worked together quite a bit as Director and Deputy Director of S.H.I.E.L.D. - but Tony wasn't wearing this armour when he did it. Instead of going for the most recent design in Iron Man's perpetual upgrade cycle, this set gives us a classic Iron Man from simpler times (Tales of Suspense #66 and onwards, specifically). The red-and-gold suit, with its simple, musculature-shaped components and ribbed boots and gauntlets, served Tony faithfully for the better part of two decades - real-world time; heaven only knows how Marvel's sliding timescale accounts for all this in-universe - and, in either a happy coincidence or an example of very crafty forward planning on Hasbro's part, is currently in use again, as Tony Stark's self-inflicted mental degradation has rendered him unable to control more sophisticated armours, necessitating the use of older models. It's also the same model of armour (barring very minor cosmetic differences) as was featured in the very first series of ToyBiz Marvel Legends, so from all sorts of angles it's a gold-and-red-plated nostalgia-fest.

All that pseudo-muscle design gives Hasbro's sculptors an easy time of it, since they get to cut corners by just re-using existing guy-in-spandex parts - although to be fair to them, the '60s and '70s art of Iron Man in his classic digs basically did make him look like a guy in spandex bar the add-ons, so there's no reason for Hasbro to have done otherwise. Where there's armour detail - the boots and gauntlets aforementioned, plus the hips, chest and head - the work is precise and meshes well with the "non-armoured" portions of the body. The use of metallic red paint on those areas really shows off the sculpting too, and the pure yellow - somewhat glossy but not at all metallic - keeps the figure looking true to its old colour comics origins.

The helmeted head looks fine in place, until you realize it is a helmet - it's too small to properly contain a head, at least if it's supposed to be made of anything thicker than nylon, but again that's hardly Hasbro's innovation; the fact that it does look okay has a lot to do with how often the comics made the same mistake. The alternate bare head gives Tony his traditional rich playboy looks - though I can't help seeing Timothy Dalton in Hot Fuzz in it - but while the sculpt itself is sound, the unpainted sheen of the skin colour plastic hampers it, and seen from side-on the high cut at the side reveals too much of the metal-coated neck.

Tony's articulation is pretty much your standard Marvel Legends fare: balljoint neck and shoulders, double pin elbows, swivel/pin wrists, pin sternum, swivel waist, balljoint hips, double pin knees, swivel/pin ankles. The width of the bicep "muscles" combined with the hard edges of the shoulder rings keep the arms from coming down to his sides properly, but if Tony's in an action pose (fighting, that is, not the other kind of action he's notorious for) that's not too much of a problem. The discs on the waist interfere with the mobility of the hips to a degree, but short of mounting them on hinges - which would've been nice, but is really the kind of thing you'd only demand from a higher-grade collector figure - that was always going to happen.

Besides the alternate head, Tony gets swappable hands to keep him entertained. He's packaged with a clenched right fist, and the left hand open but clawed in a firing-palm-repulsor kind of shape. The alternate pair are flat with fingers splayed, slightly curled - they look a bit odd on their own, but used with one or other of the standard hands, in combination with an appropriate pose, they're handy (a-ha).

Since you rarely find Tony without an attractive woman or two around (and I certainly wouldn't be buying him otherwise), behind door number two in the package we find Maria Hill, who's either awesome or a meddlesome bitch depending on which fans you listen to (guess which side I favour). Thanks to some rather biased plotting she hit her nadir in Civil War, when she was basically the face of all the totalitarian allegories various writers could think of, although since for the most part it was Steve McNiven drawing her, at least she was the really hot face of totalitarianism. When you bear in mind that (showboating writers notwithstanding) Cap was the bad guy, Hill's image gets a little un-tarnished - for the most part, she's kind of Marvel's answer to Jack Bauer, and the only reason she's not the most ass-kicking hero on the planet is that she's up against genuine superheroes.

(She's also one of Tony's few remaining allies at present, so - although the uniform is then wrong - packaging her with Tony in his old-and-current-again armour is actually quite a timely move.)

Maria's in standard S.H.I.E.L.D. combat gear, which manages to be both eye-catching and subdued - the latter mainly because of what all the other characters are wearing, granted. She's a bit more shy of sculpted detail than Tony, with both the gloves and boots being simply painted on, but the important elements are there, either sculpted into a new piece in the case of the shoulder harness, or as an add-on for the belt. The bodysuit is painted a well-chosen navy blue, which has just enough gloss to pick up some physical definition for the sculpt from a light source, but still looks fairly flat and practical, while the pale blue of the details is an attractive contrast.

Hill doesn't wear a helmet (despite my personal hopes during Civil War that she was being set up to switch places with Tony and, incognito, be the new Iron "Man"), so there's just the one head for her, which sticks fairly close to her comicbook appearance; attractive but severe face, dark hair cut very short. The sculpt of her hair is good, but I find it a little messy around the fringe - it looks kind of like she's been wearing a crash helmet and her hair is matted down - while on the paint front, the little eyelash tags at the edges of her eyes seem a little out of place to me, though I'll grant the line between making her look non-glamour and accidentally stumbling into under-detailed is a thin one at this scale. Overall the face and head is quite satisfactory to a Maria Hill fan like me, and the addition of a silver comms earpiece is a neat bonus.

Maria's articulation is a hybrid of ToyBiz and Hasbro styles, a la Elektra - her arms have the two-axis balljoint elbows Hasbro favours, plus there's the sternum swivel rather than a waist, but on her legs it's double knees and full balljoint hips like ToyBiz used to do. For the record, the full layout it: balljoint neck, swivel/pin shoulders, elbows and wrists, swivel sternum, balljoint hips, double pin knees, swivel/pin ankles. There are no sculptural impediments to the range of the various joints - notably, Maria is one of that minority of female figures who can look around in any direction without worrying about her hair - but during posing I found the hip balljoints a little frustrating to work with: they're stiffish to move, and although that's an asset to keeping her standing once she's posed, it does mean turning the balljoint in its upper swivel requires the whole leg to be swung up, to give some purchase to push against.

One other weakness of the articulation is that the elbows aren't quite up to Maria's largest accessory, a full-sized assault rifle with under-slung grenade launcher. She can get it in both hands - and the sculpts of the hands work more or less equally well no matter which is on the trigger and which is supporting the barrel - but she can't couch it back in the crook of her elbow. Instead she's stuck holding it out in front of her to a degree, which looks unnatural with a weapon that, with that size, you'd naturally expect to have a fairly hefty kick when fired. The rifle is a good sculpt, but cast in black and unpainted - as a toy's accessory it's perfectly serviceable, but as an accessory for display it's nothing impressive. Maria also has a pair of handguns - unpainted black like the rifle, and again sculpted well enough to pass muster - but sadly nowhere to put all those guns, no holsters or means to attach the rifle to her harness at the back.

She also comes with an alternate head, but rather than being a different look for Hill - who hasn't really been around long enough to accumulate many looks in any case - hers makes her a whole new character: Sharon Carter, agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. and liaison to Captain America's pants. Although her white bodysuit is more iconic these days, a S.H.I.E.L.D. uniform is perfectly logical for a Sharon figure to wear (especially since this is a two-for-one deal); obviously, from the neck down she has all the same strengths and weaknesses as her body double Maria.

With her long blonde hair Sharon is more the traditional comicbook looker, and the alternate head does a fine job of recreating her. There's something somewhat generic about her appearance, mind you, but with Hasbro aiming mainly at "toy" rather than "collectable" that was bound to be the case, and at least her narrowed eyes give her a characterful sense of intelligence and determination to go with her non-specific good looks. As with Hill the unpainted skin tone, with its glossiness, is a weakness for her looks, but in every other respect the alternate head is good work.

It's a shame there aren't more Marvel Legends around, although when you think about it, the two-packs are covering a lot of ground (and unlike DC's competition, at least I can find the blasted things without going to extraordinary measures). I don't know that anyone really needed another Iron Man - though that figure is a worthy recreation of his classic armour - but the Maria/Sharon figure is something new and, in a costumed-hero-dominated field, something different. And given the mass-market-toy nature of them, both figures are well made, look good, play well, and have useful accessories, making this a solid thumbs-up for Hasbro.

-- 09/07/09

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