The first in a series looking at the highs and lows of those Minimates with multiple incarnations. The opinions expressed herein should be considered absolute canon law and are not to be questioned and/or argued.
If you think about it, it's pretty amazing that the Marvel Films juggernaut began with Iron Man of all things. Because, for much of his existence, Iron Man was a B+ player. Comic book geeks love to place super heroes in little tiers, as if they will be inviting them to a party and are trying to decide on the guest list. This guy's A-list, this guy's B-list, and so on. Most of these lists are, inevitably, completely wrong. An A-list character is one that you would expect to have near-universal name recognition. The end, no other criteria necessary. And Iron Man didn't qualify; he fit comfortably on the next tier, mainstays popular enough to always support their own series, but not so much so that they've seeped into the wider public consciousness.
But Iron Man, indisputably, made the leap, thanks in large part to Robert Downey Jr. being basically the living embodiment of Tony Stark. It's a much harder leap to make than you might think: Thor's not quite there, I think, since I'm still not convinced he's not riding on the Avengers' coat tails; Green Lantern tried and failed; Green Arrow has a successful show but already seems to have been replaced by the Flash. And just because you make the A-list doesn't mean you can't fall off: Captain Marvel was an A-lister back in the 40s and 50s, but certainly isn't now.
All of which, I suppose, is a long- winded and roundabout way to say that Iron Man has a lot of Minimates. 62 at last count, including three still to come out later this year. That puts him ahead of even Spider-Man. If it seems like every new series or box set has an Iron Man in it, that's because they usually do. The character's current popularity notwithstanding, his frequent redesigns make him a toy line planner's dream. No need to invent specious reasoning or comb back issues for a new Batman or Spider-Man; Iron Man's loaded with legitimate looks, often within the same comic or movie.
But what's the best Iron Man? What's the one that you should absolutely have in your collection? And conversely, which ones should you stay away from? Well, I'm glad you asked!
THE BEST IRON MAN MINIMATE
Art Asylum's first Iron Man offering holds up surprisingly well; it's one of the few figures from that era that doesn't look out of place alongside current day releases. Still, he's essentially a starter wife for our grand champion Classic Iron Man, shared between specialty's Wave 25 and Toys R Us' third wave. With tons of newly sculpted parts and a shiny finish, the design team clearly set out to make the definitive version of Tony Stark's most famous look, and darned if they didn't succeed. This same basic design is turns up in a few other figures: wave 25's variant Bolt Face Iron Man, the Disney Store's exclusive Classic Heroic Age Iron Man, and the 10th anniversary Best Of wave. All three have their strengths, though I still prefer the original's color scheme, and Tony Stark's baby blue eyes staring back at me.
Many people will tell you that Hulkbuster Iron Man is the single best Minimate ever released, and I wouldn't argue that point. Why is it in second place then? Because it's a gimmick outfit, and all things being equal, I'm going to choose a primary outfit every time. Still, it's an amazing figure, one that every Minimate fan should seek out. Unfortunately, that will prove costly, as he was short packed to Toys R Us and demands a considerable amount on the secondary market. A second Hulkbuster figure was released as a DVD promotional item, but with his flat colors I personally find him to be a pale imitation of the original, no pun intended.
If you're looking at movie Iron Men, well, you've got plenty to choose from. Nearly half the Iron Man Minimates are movie figures, and that's not even including several straight Tony Starks. Personally, I find a lot of sameness in the movie figures, but if I had to pick one I'd probably go with the Mark VII armor, as seen in the Avengers. I also like the original Mark III armor, and it's removable faceplate, though I must be in the minority since all subsequent releases have had a second helmet with a flipped up visor. To each their own.
THE WORST IRON MAN MINIMATE
I think the best way to look at the period between the early, simple days of Minimates and the current level of execution as the awkward adolescent years. Diamond Select was obviously trying to expand the definition of a Minimate, seeing what worked and what didn't work. Well, one figure clearly in the "didn't work" category is Civil War Iron Man. Featuring a load of recycled parts, he's bulky and clunky rather than sleek. But it's that helmet that really sinks him. Rather than sculpting a new shell head, DST decided that the original's helmet was good enough, and attempted to overlay a new tampo over the existing part. Which might had worked, had the eye and mouth slots not been sculpted, leaving him with these weird dents in his face. Though he does include bonus parts to make a dearmored Tony Stark (one of the first "hidden" Minimates), and the Stark head under that helmet is my personal favorite, there's really no reason to pick this guy up rather than Wave 32/TRU wave 5's Extremis Iron Man. File this one under growing pains.
He's not a bad figure, per se, but Modular Armor Iron Man has always been one of my least favorite Iron Man designs; he looks like he's wearing a track suit. A perennial source of mockery among Minimate collectors is TRU's wave 14 Iron Man. Another take on the Extremis armor, in this case the problem appears to be a production one rather than design. It appears that the peg holes in his thighs aren't deep enough, leaving him strangely bow-legged. As far as the movie figures go, as I mentioned, they all have an acceptable level of quality, but the yellow version of the Mark 42 Armor has always looked off to me; it appears to be detailed by coffee ice cream.