Monday, May 10, 2010

A Brief History of Iron Man Action Figures

Iron Man 2 is finally in theaters, thus ending the geek frenzy after 5 or 6 viewings and beginning the long count down to the next Marvel Comics theatrical release. Now we'll celebrate the small army of shell heads you can buy in stores now (in classically awesome 6 inch scale) from Toy Biz to Hasbro, from the weakest, clunkiest sculpts to the most bad ass of high tech plastics.

In the beginning, there was MEGO. And MEGO beget Secret Wars and thus it was that the world was filled with generic bodies bearing different heads and the Marvel fan was happy, because this is all we had to buy...but there was always hope for something more. Then came the people's republic of Toy Biz with a shiny new 5 inch action figure line called Marvel Super Heroes. Series 2 re-introduced Iron Man to retail stores and celebrated the reveal of Tony Stark's plastic mustache for the very first time. As Marvel cartoons began flooding the airwaves, new action figures flooded toy stores and it wasn't long before Iron Man began showing up in all his zazziest armors. Four series of figures gave us 13 armors with 15 more figures ranging from 5 to 10 inches surfacing in multi figure packs, special exclusives and the legendary, wacky 10 inch figure line that would become a staple on the KB Toys shelves. As the popularity of these figures dropped off and KB clearanced out 5 inch figures at 3 for 10 dollars (sending collectors like me home with BAGS FULL of toys I'd never have room for..and still don't), the future began to take shape. Toy Biz took a chance on some very obscure but current comic reader identifiable characters with one shot figure series like New Mutants and The Vault. Almost as if conducting a science experiment, they also released a wave of Silver Surfer and Avengers figures in a 6 inch scale. Fans clutched these new figures, screamed WHYYYYYYYYY to the heavens, and then bought them anyway. Little did we know this was the start of something Legendary. (woka)

Enter the dawn of Marvel Legends!! Figures were a bit wobbly in construction, sculpts were somewhat cartoony and the figures themselves were bulky, but coming from the barely posable 5 inch line, it was like parking a Porsche next to a Gremlin. Marvel Legends promised a wide array of characters, ever improving sculpts and paints and the best posability on the market packed with a free comic, accessories and sometimes, even a flight stand or diorama piece! You couldn't beat the value for the price and even though we often complained about the quality of the plastics used (which has become even more of a sad note as most of our aging figures can't even stand upright), we got in line whenever a series hit the pegs and scrambled to get every character and their variants and completed each insane build a figure that came with them. There will never be a line like this again, so those of us with expansive collections look on those creations with fond memories. ~geek tear up~
Before Toy Biz called it quits, they managed to crank out quite a few Iron Man action figures alongside the hordes of Wolverines and Spider-Men. They also crammed in an excellent cast of Avengers team mates, a close friend, an aspiring hero with a familiar name and some of Iron Man's toughest foes. Here's a check list! (starred figures are seen in the pics)

*Iron Man - Classic Look (Series 1) There are also gold with pointy mask and stealth variants of this figure.
*Silver Centurion Iron Man (Series 7)
*Modern Iron Man (Series 8)*War Machine (Series 9)
*Hulk Buster Iron Man (Legendary Riders Wave)
*Iron Lad (Young Avengers Boxed Set) - Technically unrelated to the actual Iron Man character, but we know why he was named that.
*First Appearance Iron Man (Mojo Wave) There is a gold variant for this figure.
*Thorbuster Iron Man (MODOK Wave)
*Modular Iron Man (Face Off 2 packs series 2) There is a War Machine variant of this figure.
*House of M Iron Man (House of M Boxed Set)
Count at 14 different Iron Man figures

Also of interest are *The Mandarin (two pack with Modular Iron Man and a variant with War Machine), The Beatle (released in the Spider-Man line) and MODOK (ML Build A Figure). Most other villains count as Avengers baddies. Sadly, better known Iron Man villains were not made in this scale.

The announcement of Hasbro taking the wheel of the Marvel toy machine was met with mixed emotions from die hard fans fearing change. On one hand, Hasbro toys are placed with every retailer and etailer across the globe. Pull like that could mean wave after wave of Marvel characters to add to our Marvel Legends armies with better quality, sculpts and paints. On the other hand, Hasbro could follow the thought that they are making Marvel figures primarily for children and "dumb down" the artistic aspects of the figures, cut back on articulation and raise the prices. Hasbro released Marvel Legends series 1 with improved quality and an impressive character line up, but articulation was cut back and changed, sculpts seemed softer, paint details like dry brushing to create shading were all but non-existent and comics and stands disappeared. Only 4 series of figures hit all points before exclusive waves made collecting very difficult for most fans. Quality remained consistent in the core line but some exclusives seemed to cut corners in quality control and by the time the new 2 packs hit, we were back to figures that could barely stand on their own power. The latest waves of Shield themed 2 packs have improved that quality a bit (at least back to the core wave's standards), but the loss of the core Marvel Legends line is still lamented on many a toy forum. Meanwhile, Hasbro has embraced a new 3 and 3 quarter inch scaled Marvel Universe line with poor sculpts, dodgy quality control, sloppy paints and a price tag just 3 dollars from what we'd become accustomed to pay for their 6 inch brethren.

Only 4 new Marvel Legends scaled Iron Man figures have seen a retail release under the Hasbro banner. Two of those are repaints. I'm sure the thinking was that pegs full of Iron Man movie figures would satisfy the demand for the character, but these figures were slightly smaller than the Legends line, making them a bit too short to play with the rest of the Marvel Universe and still look as imposing as he should. Never the less, fans continue to buy most repaints of figures in this scale packed with new accessories, proving the old collector adage still holds true..."If you make them, we will buy them!" Despite this fact, 95% of the Iron Man 2 figure line has been released in 3 and 3 quarter inch scale. Quality on this line is far better than their Marvel Universe cousins, but it's still not the same. At the time of this posting, only 3 new Iron Man movie scaled figures have been released in a Toys R Us exclusive boxed set. Those of us with Marvel Legends collections eagerly await more. Until that time, or the miraculous return of Marvel Legends to the pegs, here's a check list of Hasbro Iron Men.

Marvel Legends
*Ultimate Iron Man
*Heroes Reborn Iron Man
*Ultimate War Machine
(Classic) *Iron Man (in a 2 pack with Maria Hill) There is also a stealth version of this figure.

The Spider-Man line released an *Iron Spider figure and since Tony Stark built this suit, I'm including it in the lineup. There is also a "stealth" version cast in translucent plastic.

Iron Man Movie Figures
Iron Man Prototype
Mark I (also comes in gold)
Mark II (also comes with snap on armor in the Concept series)
Mark III
Torpedo Armor
Captain America ArmorSatellite Armor (comes in silver or white)
Hot Zone Armor
Inferno Armor Subterranean Armor
Heavy Artillery Armor
Stealth Striker Armor
Atmospheric Diving Armor
Repulsor Red Prototype (Exclusive to Target)
Stealth Operations Suit (AKA War Machine armor Walmart Exclusive)

Iron Man 2 Releases
*Arctic Crusader*Star Flare Armor
*Sandstorm Armor (Toys R Us Exclusive 3 pack)
Mark VI
War Machine

Also of interest should be the Iron Monger figure, which works well with Marvel universe but is a little short for Marvel Legends battles (with 1 redeco and one retro-fitted with an opening cockpit), Titanium Man (sporting a look from the video game, but we'll take what we can get) and *Fin Fang Foom (Hulk series Build A Figure).

With Iron Man 2 busting up the box office as we speak, there will be no shortage of Iron Man action figures for a very long time. Currently alongside those meager 6 inch offerings mentioned, you can score an army of 3 and 3 quarter Hasbro movie and comic figures, Minimates from Diamond Select, building sets from Megabloks and brilliant 12 inch figures from Hot Toys. We've stopped counting at around 112 figures available to date. Free up a wall in your dusty old living room and create your own Hall of Armors today!


  1. Great post man. I have an hasbro iron man checklist but I haven't bothered checking it lately to check if it's up to date.

    Is that Sue on Iron Man's lap? And look at that catwoman she looks like a man.

    I found this so good I posted and mentioned you: iron man action figure history.

  2. Thanks! and yes, specifically that's Jessica Alba Sue because i think Tony would rather hook up with Alba dressed as Sue. Extra dirty.