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Senate Hearing Tony Stark/Mark I Iron Man
James Rhodes in Mark II Armor/Black Widow

by yo go re

Today we're doing something we haven't done since 2003: two reviews at once.

As they have so many times before, Toys Я Us has picked up a few exclusive Minimates sets to go along with the newest series. TRU's series typically parallel the ones available at your local comicshop, without directly copying them: many of the same characters, but often in different pairings. Since the upcoming Series 35 is all about Iron Man 2, the exclusives follow suit. What with them being so closely related, we've opted to cover all four of them at once.

And be warned, even looking at the pictures in this review could constitute spoilers, so take caution.

With all of Stark Industries' advanced technology on the line, Tony Stark must face off against Senator Stern - the man behind the US Government's attempts to seize his Iron Man technology for military use.

One of the highlights of the first Iron Man 2 trailer was easily Robert Downey Jr. putting on the smarm to deflect questions before a Congressional panel. You know, playing to the crowd, posing for the cameras, flipping off the elected officials... all normal everyday stuff. It's a very "Tony Stark" moment, and this figure turns it into plastic. You love it!

Senate Hearing Tony Stark is definitely a new figure. There was a civilian Tony in the first bunch of Iron Man Minimates [Series 21, which yo still hasn't bothered to review --ed.], but this isn't a repaint. That was Tony as he was showing off his weapons in the desert, and this one isn't wearing the same clothes. His suit jacket is open, rather than buttoned all the way up, because that's what you do when you're sitting down. His belt is simply painted onto the figure, but his tie and the collar of his shirt are together a separate piece that fits around the neck. That's quite clever! And since most people never bought the Spirit Minimates, this'll be new to them.

Stark does get the same hair piece as before, but that's fine: it's not like he's drastically changed his 'do between movies. This is the first time we've seen him with a big grin on his face, however - this is Tony Stark at his playful best, projecting the air that the entire hearing is a big joke to him. There's a bit of RDJ in the design, but not so much that this wouldn't work as a 616 Tony, as well.

Originally created by Tony Stark to save his life in Afghanistan, the original Mark I Iron Man prototype was thought destroyed beyond repair. However, even the best technological secrets never stay buried for long...

Mark I Iron Man was also released in Series 21, and this is the same mold: usual Minimate body, with add-on armor to cover the head, torso, biceps, forearms, thighs and shins/feet; 10 pieces of custom-designed pieces, all heavily detailed and unique to this figure (save for the previous MkI release, naturally). This release is a darker grey than the original, which was nearly silver - the old version had a few more paint apps, but overall the new one looks better.

It's not clear what the figure's bio is hinting at: the original IM armor was recovered by the Ten Rings guys in the first movie, then handed over to Obadiah Stane to help him build his Iron Monger suit. Is it making a comeback in the sequel? We'll find out soon enough. If you strip off all the armor, you'll find Tony is wearing a tuxedo beneath - in the trailer, he does wear a tux under a suit of armor, but it's the Mark IV, at the big party. To complete the ensemble, the set includes a separate jacket, plus extra hands and feet to replace the ones that come off with the armor. Tony has a calm smile on his face, and the same hair as the other figure. The armor can leave silver marks on the edges of the figure, thanks to a tight fight and paint transfer. It's a minor thing, but it is an error.

So the first exclusive set offered two versions of Tony Stark - the other offers two different characters, one of whom you can't get anywhere else. And this is where the spoilers begin in earnest.

Forced to choose between his friend and his country, Lt. Colonel James Rhodes dons a newly upgraded War Machine armor in an attempt to balance the scales against Hammer industries and the deadly Whiplash.

Yes, yes he does. But this isn't War Macine. Like the package says, this is "James Rhodes in Mark II Armor." There was a MkII Minimate in the first-film-based Series 21 [it sure would be nice if you'd actually reviewed those, huh? --ed.], but only as a variant. And the figure that variant replaced in the set with the MkI armor? Jim Rhodes! Wow, parallel structure! The Mark II is basically the finished Iron Man suit, just unpainted, so the toy is almost entirely silver - only the eyes and unibeam are blue. It doesn't even get the painted rivets of the last version!

Rather than being a straight re-use of the Series 21 design, this Minimate gets several new parts - including pieces that aren't part of the standard Minimate body! The lower legs, for instance, are sculpted to show the details of the movie armor, but they're not boots: they're solid pieces. Though the gloves are reused, but the thighs and upper arms are also entirely sculpted, something we haven't seen before. The armor on the chest is a new mold, and the helmet is, as well: the Series 21 helmets had removable faceplates, while the Series 35 versions are seamless. There is a second helmet included, though, with the faceplate molded in a flipped-up position.

Beneath the armor, the figure's chest and back are painted with lots of details showing the internal workings of the armor. The face under the helmet is definitely Rhodey, because like most white people, Tony only knows one black guy. The original Iron Man movie Minimates didn't have the best likenesses, but this certainly looks more like Don Cheadle than the last one looked like Terrence Howard - i.e., his skintone is right.

Dropping cover as Tony Stark's accountant, Natalie Rushman discloses herself as a SHIELD spy of the highest order. Natasha Romanov - codenamed Black Widow - takes orders directly from Nick Fury and implements years of of espionage training in pursuit of global security.

Okay, now all that? Other than her posing as the accountant, none of it is stuff we knew before. Her alias? Okay, that's not going to ruin anyone's enjoyment of the film, but it's still a first reveal. However, the fact that she's working for the Strategic Homeland Intervention, Enforcement, and Logistics Division is new, and a bit surprising. Before you say "of course she is, she works for SHIELD in the comics, too" remember that she's a Russian spy, the movie has a Russian villain, and she started out as a bad guy in the comics, as well. Her alignment was kind of up in the air until this figure came out.

Iron Man follows the Spider-Man path more than the X-Men one: sticking with the comic designs for the costumes, rather than trying to update them for no reason. Just as the Iron Man Mark III was virtually interchangeable with the Extremis Armor from the comics, Black Widow is wearing her familiar leather spy suit and her "Widow's Sting" bracelets. If you didn't get the Champions box set, this will be a good comicbook stand-in. The details painted on the chest and legs to give her definition are hard to see, but they're there. She has SHIELD logos on her arms, which you can actually spot in the newest ads if you know to look for them.

Black Widow is played by Scarlett Johansson in Iron Man 2, marking her third(!) comicbook movie and, amazingly, second Minimate. Remember, she was also Silken Floss in The Spirit, and got a Minimate in her little nurse's uniform. Appropriately, this Minimate's face looks a lot like that Minimate's face, with lovely eyes and full red lips. Her hair is a new piece, matching the hairdo seen in the first promotional images.

There is one other new piece on this figure, and it's not a good one. Her belt is a separate piece, rather than a painted element, and she has a holster for her small black pistol. Can you guess where this is going, yet? The holster and the belt are attached - it's one big piece that fits over the waist and the leg, meaning that the hip articulation in the left leg is pretty much useless. You can only get a few milimeters of motion before the plastic keeps it from going any farther. And good luck disassembling her if you want to take the thing off; remember, how are you going to disarticulate the hip if you can't move it very far?

All the Minimates share the same body with different paint decos, and they all move at the same 14 points: neck, waist, shoulders, elbows, wrists, hips, knees and ankles. That's a heckuva lot of motion for something so tiny.

Face it: if you're going to get the Iron Man 2 Minimates, you're going to want a Black Widow to go with them, and buying the Toys Я Us exclusive is the only way to get her. The figure she's paired with isn't great, but neither is it anything that's been released before. Meanwhile, the other pair may give us armor pieces we've seen before, but also two Tony Starks we haven't. Both these TRU exclusives are decent offerings, but we wish you luck in trying to find them. Minimates move fast at The House of Giraffe, and these are tied into summer's hottest film.

-- 04/26/10

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