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Iron Man Through the Ages

by yo go re

With the success of this summer's Iron Man movie, Art Asylum and Diamond Select Toys are working on an entire series of Iron Man Minimates. But given the production time required even for simple figures, those are still somewhere out on the horizon. However, online retailer Action Figure Xpress took advantage of the increased Iron Man interest to release a really impressive four-pack, Iron Man Through the Ages.

This is, easily, the most modular set of Minimates ever released. Yes, the bodyparts are always interchangeable, but then you get things like Captain America's head on Hulk's body with Spider-Man's legs and Wolverine's claws - not exactly a new character, you know? This set, however, is much different. We'll take a look at the individual figures first, then get into what makes this set different.

Even when running Stark Industries, Tony Stark can't turn his back on his duties as Iron Man for very long. Through the use of Iron Man decoys, holograms and even mechanical Life Model Decoys, Tony was able to maintain his secret identity - until a young child removed the Golden Avenger's faceplate and exposed the truth to the world.

This is "CEO Tony Stark," a figure showing him in his stylish grey suit. His shirt is open to reveal the Iron Man chestplate beneath. You'd think wearing that all the time would make him look bulky - forget the holograms and LMDs, people should have been able to peg Tony's secret identity by the fact that he looked like the Michelin Man. The jacket is a separate piece, of course, and the ends of his arms are painted white, suggesting the cuffs of his shirt poking out the ends of his sleeves.

Tony's hair is a new piece, with the sort of 'do that your parents would have considered "bedhead" but is now apparently fashionably appropriate for the head of a major company. He's sporting a goatee, rather than the old-fashioned pencil mustache. The face is printed low on the block, which is a good choice: the promo shot on the back of the box shows it a bit higher, and it just made Tony look fat.

The first armor to feature removable and upgradable parts, the Modular Armor was created to combat the near-unstoppable Ultimo. With a built-in Camouflage Mode and detachable modules like the powerful Railgun or the useful Scanalyzer, this armor can be upgraded even further with th awe-inspiring Hulkbuster exo-suit!

We've talked before about the modular armor and why it's so popular, so we can skip over all that stuff now. The suit is detailed nicely, with lots of fine black lines creating the details - they even got the "plug and play" attachment ports on his arms and legs! The figure is molded from white plastic, then painted red and gold (as opposed to red and yellow) for the proper look.

Modular Armor Iron Man also features an unmasked head, but with a much different face. His hair is smooth and parted on the left, with just a small strand out of place. He's sporting the thin Errol Flynn mustache, which is actually thinner than the lines that create his cheeks - now that's neat grooming! Compared to CEO Stark's face, there are less details overall, which may be intended as a commentary on the changes in art between the '90s and now (or could mean nothing - who knows?).

Lighter and more maneuverable than his original armor designs, the Mark III Armor featured the debut of Iron Man's iconic red and yellow appearance. Other upgrades included Tony Stark's first palm repulsor rays, anti-acceleration field, ultra-turbo jet boots and even built-in roller skates!

Yes, wow, look at that iconic red and yellow. It sure is red and yellow, eh? Just red and yellow as far as the eye can... oh, forget it. I can't pretend any more. This armor is as gray as the day is long. It's solid silver, just like the first armor Tony built while he was in that cave. The painted details are simple and sparse, but that works for old technology like this.

The helmet for the armor even looks like the original, with the simple slit eyes and the three-piece mouth slot. They're just painted black - no visible eyes, and no cut-outs to allow the figure beneath to see through. The armor over his chest is formed by one of the "powerhouse" pieces, and he has an extra belt piece to help bulk up his crotch. Ah, the advantages of being super rich!

Forced to create a new armor from scratch, Tony Stark brought it back to basics with his retro-inspired Mark VI Armor. When forced to take down a rampaging Jim Rhodes this armor design proved that it's not the technology that matters, but the skill of the man inside the suit.

Oh, well there's your problem: the big gray suit is the Mark VI, used for only about five issues back in 1985. The images accompanying the bio texts on the back of the box show it next to the info about the Mark III, and vice versa. So everything we said above about the bulky, old-style armor? It's actually the Mark VI, not the Mark III.

So the Mark III actually is the debut of the red and yellow color scheme. He wore this one for a year in the mid-60s, and it's most recognized for its pointy mask. Yes, this is the same armor worn by the Marvel Zombies Iron Man, though obviously this Minimate is painted differently. He's got gold instead of yellow, more fine details on the armor and, of course, a non-decayed face. The head and removable mask are the same mold as before, but the face (again, with a thin mustache) looks a bit small on the head.

So all that is very nice. We got four Iron Man figures we've never had before. But how does that translate to this being the most modular set ever? Because there are a bunch of extra pieces that can be traded around among all four figures. There are two extra bare hands, two red "repulsor blast" hands and a one silver. In addition to the Mark III's mask, there's a helmet for the modular armor, a different helmet for the MkIII and a third red helmet that you can give to any figure you feel like.

The silver MkVI conceals a tan shirt beneath the armor, so you can put that under Tony Stark's jacket and have a CEO without the visible IM chest. The head beneath the silver helmet has a detailed beard and long hair (like Tony did in the comics when he made this suit), but if you put that head on the open-shirted CEO body, you can make the classic "Demon in a Bottle" scene. That's variety! Of course, that's to say nothing of the general ease with which the two red IM armors can trade pieces to make a new suit of your own design.

It seems we were supposed to get a few other pieces that got scrapped along the way. Unless it was just for the promo shots, Tony was originally going to come with a blue bottle: it's been photoshopped out of the pictures on the box. The tray also includes a big empty spot just large enough for a Minimate torso, but no clue what might have been planned to go there; it's next to the MkVI, so maybe some sort of under-armor?

Finally, we get two very cool flaming exhaust stands. Molded from translucent plastic (one orange, one more magenta), the base stands 1½" high, and features a peg to allow any figure with a C3 foot to attach. Thanks to the large "smoke" cloud at the bottom, the stand remains sturdy even when a figure is plugged in place, making this a great new extra.

The Iron Man Through the Ages four-pack is a stunningly fun exclusive. All the extras make for a great variety in the figures, and none of them are ones we've had Minimates of before. If you're an Iron Man fan, this is definitely worth the price.

-- 09/03/08

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