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Stark Expo Tony Stark/Natalie Romanova

by yo go re

For years, the majority of comic conventions in America have fallen under the "Wizard World" banner. They're the Taco Bell of cons, a toned-down, homogenous example of what was once an obscure yet beloved ethnic food niche hobby. They've engendered some ill will recently, however, by aggressiely trying to crowd other conventions out of the game. They've scheduled their shows on the same weekends as existing cons, in a clear attempt to leech big-name guests away and sink the competition. It's a dick move, pure and simple, and the industry was having none of it, which is why Wizard's since backed down in almost every case.

When Reed Exhibitions (the company behind most of the cons Gareb is trying to force under) announced the creation of the Chicago Comics and Entertainment Expo, Wizard wasted no time in unveiling their own Anaheim Comic Con for the same weekend - another plan that backfired, because while attendance was lower than they wanted, C2E2 was the talk of the town, so to speak, while the Anaheim Comic Con was basically forgotten. Not even a footnote in the conversation last month. C2E2 may have been new, but it defiitely felt like one of the "real" shows - it even got its own exclusive toys.

After deciding to halt all weapons development, Tony Stark must face the shareholders of Stark Industries and explain how to survive without lucrative government contracts or risk losing control of his company.

While all that is true, it really doesn't have anything to do with Iron Man 2, or with the Stark Expo that gives this figure its name. In fact, the very fact that they were having an Expo, a year-long outlay of already-dwindling funds, was more of a sticking point for everyone than the "effective immediately, I am shutting down the weapons manufacturing division of Stark Industries" stuff from the first movie. It caused ripples, sure, but that bio only applies in the loosest, most theoretical way.

Unexpectedly, there are quite a few completely unarmored Tony Stark Minimates from the movie - and we're not just talking about taking off a chest cap or something, but full-on "I'm wearing human clothes" Tony Starks. This one is wearing a green short-sleeved shirt, open just far enough to show off the Arc Reactor embedded in his chest - part of it is even glowing through the cloth. Brilliant! He has what on any other Minimate would be a belt piece to show that his shirt is untucked. Casual! The pockets on his shirt are painted on, as is the "Stark" name. He's ready to invent him some new elements!

If you look at the prototype shots on the packaging, you'll notice there's a paint app missing: on the toy, Tony's skin is clear; in the stock photography, his chest is marred by the thin, squarish blue lines that signify his palladium poisoning. Yes, it's a minor paint element, but it's a fairly substantial part of the plot, so cutting it out is rather disappointing. And hey, speaking of cutting things out...

Hired to be the latest in a long line of gorgeous personal assistants, not only does Natalie Romanova know her way around a multi-national corporation - she can also go toe-to-toe with Tony Stark and come out on top.

I just bet she can! But not in the movie you saw, because that was cut out. Everyone who's complaining that Scarlett Johansson didn't have anything to do in the film, there's a reason for that: as director Jon Favreau found out in test screenings, audiences root for the pairing of Pepper and Tony; if you have him getting flirty with anyone else, everybody checks out until she's gone and Pepper is back. Makes sense. So all the time Black Widow spent cozying up to Tony had to be axed.

For instance: there's a scene in the trailer that takes place at Tony's birthday party. Natasha is getting all cuddly with the boss, and he's showing her how to work the repulsor glove. Do you remember that showing up in the film? You shouldn't, because it most certainly didn't. The novelization of the film was obviously working from an earlier draft of the film, because that scene, along with several others (including Natalie constantly talking on the phone to "her dad" and telling him what was going on) are still in the story. It's almost worth checking out if you want a peek at an alternate reality version of the film. Wonder if that's why this figure is "Natalie Romanova," instead of her actual cover identity, "Natalie Rushman?"

There's nothing to give it away on the packaging, but this figure is based on that scene. She's wearing the same vaguely leopard-printed dress, though yet again we have the problem of trying to paint a feminine shape onto a square block and having it work... not so well. The torso is molded in pink, and the paint fails to adequately cover the lower edges, so there are flashes of fleshtone around her waist. I'm not sure why the spots only cover part of her skirt - wanting to save money by not paying for paint apps on the back and sides of an exclusive is understandable (though not ideal), but why don't they at least cover the front?

The hair is the same piece included with the other movie Black Widow, but the face is new. She also gets the only accessory in this set: the repulsor glove. As in the trailer, it's the left glove, and her hand is pointed instead of posed palm-up. There's a missile or laser or something sort of armament sticking up out of the back of the glove. Amusingly, this piece has only ever been included with exclusives: it originated with AFX's "Hostile Takeover" four-pack from the first movie.

For a first-year convention offering an exclusive toy set, this is pretty good. Yeah, it's based on a scene that got cut from the movie, but isn't that kind of cool in itself? That's never been done before, even if it was unintentional. [not so - there have been several Star Wars figures based on things taken out of A New Hope --ed.] Neither Tony nor "Natalie" are must-have items, but they're both true to the source, and not duplicated anywhere else. That ranks them pretty high on our criteria for the perfect exclusive, and you don't need to have attended C2E2 to get them: they were subsequently available for order through the Previews catalog. So yeah, if you're interested in the set, get 'em: they're not expensive, and they're not something you'll see anywhere else.

-- 05/24/10

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