Monday, June 18, 2012

Cancelled Iron Man 2 Unmasked Stark, Rhodey & Black Widow - Undercover Assault

A couple weeks ago, we looked at the cancelled unmasked War Machine, which suddenly became available in large quantities on eBay about a month ago.  Today, we look at the entire cancelled boxed set.

This set has been somewhat of a grail for me over the last couple years.  Just before the Iron Man 2 line officially launched at retail back in 2010, exclusively revealed five figures from the line based on the actors likenesses.  We of course got Whiplash in the single carded line, and Nick Fury in a Toys R Us exclusive pack, but the other three - Tony Stark, James Rhodes, and Black Widow - were supposed to be released together in a Target exclusive set toward the end of 2010, according to Hasbro at that year's San Diego Comic Con.  This set was unfortunately cancelled before making it to retail.  This left many collectors, including me, feeling like their Iron Man 2 collections were incomplete.

I've been trolling the secondary market for these figures ever since they were cancelled.  A small number of loose samples made it onto eBay last year, but I unfortunately missed them.  Then about a month ago, War Machine alone showed up in big numbers on eBay from a variety of Chinese sellers.  The day after publishing my review of that figure, another Chinese seller listed this completed set, mint in box.  He had only three available.  To the best of my knowledge, this was the first time a complete, packaged sample had shown up.  In fact, other than a blurry snapshot of a Hasbro powerpoint slide at SDCC 2010, I'm pretty sure the packaging had not been seen by collectors until this eBay auction.  I pulled the trigger and bought one of the sets, knowing full well that these could show up in higher numbers and a lower price later down the line... but then again, they could not.

Ever since receiving the set a couple days ago, I've been conflicted as to whether or not to open it.  I'm an opener.  I believe that figures should be freed from their plastic prisons.  I gave up MOC collecting years ago.  But... this is a cancelled item that, as far as we know right now, exists in very limited quantities.  For now, I'm going to leave it sealed in the package.

The package is very similar to the first Target "Super Value" 3-pack, which included Iron Man Mark V, Whiplash, and the Sea Assault Drone.  Tony Stark and Rhodey are presented together, in front of a backdrop made to look like Stark's lab, with cardboard gantry arms "holding" their helmets, as if they're suiting up.  On the right, in a separate chamber of the package, separate from the "suiting up" scene, is Black Widow.  Widow stands in front of a S.H.I.E.L.D. logo encircled with the words "Avengers Assemble".  The "Only at Target" sticker is present in front of Widow, and the "Undercover Assault" title is printed beneath Stark and Rhodes.

The back of the package features photos of the three figures included, as well as a brief synopsis of the scenario this set portrays, and a cross-sell featuring a couple other items from the line.  The two armored figures are shown with their alternate heads, and Black Widow is again shown separately from the men, this time in front of a yellow backdrop, again with the "Super Value" tag line.  Overall, the packaging is pretty nice.  My sample does have some minor wear, though.  A dinged corner and minor scuffing on the window.  You can tell this has been sitting around somewhere for a couple years.

According to the date stamp on the box, this set was manufactured in the first week of August, 2010.  Shortly after it was officially announced at SDCC, and a couple months before it was due to show up at retail.  So the timing definitely fits.  And this is definitely not recent production, as some have speculated.  I don't think that these sets are currently in production to fill the demand for fast-selling Avengers product, or to be sold through the discount retailers like Ross or Marshalls.

Let's look at the figures themselves...

Tony Stark uses the same Mark VI body that was available everywhere else in this line, but with a newly sculpted head based on Robert Downey Jr's likeness.  Of note, this head sculpt is a scaled down version of the one included with the Walmart-exclusive 6-inch Iron Man Mark IV, but without the sun glasses.  The curl in the hair on the left side is a dead give away.

Also of interest, despite the mustache and goatee being sculpted to look like RDJ's in the movie, the paint job is somewhat inaccurate, covering some area where no hair is sculpted.  Overall, the likeness to RDJ is pretty decent.  It's a real shame that to this day, we still don't have a Tony Stark head sculpt released in the 3.75" line.  Especially since we now have an unmasked Captain America.

James Rhodes uses the same War Machine body available elsewhere in the line, and includes the "realistic" mini-gun and ammo belt, as well as the "realistic" missile pod that was only available in one other 3-pack (the K-Mart exclusive Proving Grounds set).  No spring-loaded shooty launcher, thankfully.  The head sculpt bears a strong resemblance to Don Cheadle.

One peculiar thing to note with Rhodey... the head included in this set is cast in a much darker brown plastic than all of the loose Rhodes currently on eBay.  I bought two of the loose Rhodes, from two different sellers, and they both came with lighter colored heads.  I'm not sure exactly what this means, but I think it may indicate that all of the loose Rhodes were either from a different production run, or were not actual Hasbro production.  They're definitely from the same molds, but it's possible they may have been run on factory workers' own time, using what plastic was on hand, rather than Hasbro's specs.  Just my speculation.  I guess we may never know exactly where all those "Chinese market" figures actually come from.

Black Widow uses a unique body, completely different from the figure out now in the Avengers line.  To be honest, I think the current Avengers version is an overall nicer figure, but the figure in this set is still cool.  She features quite a bit of articulation; ball-jointed head and torso, ball hinged shoulders, elbows, hips and ankles, double jointed knees, and swivel wrists.  She includes two different handguns, one silver and one grey, including a holster for one.  I think the silver one may actually be the device she uses to inject Stark with Lithium-Dioxide in the movie, to "take the edge off" his Palladium poisoning.

The likeness to Scarlett Johansson is decent, but not as good as the current figure.  The hair and costume do match the Iron Man 2 character's design better than the Avengers figure does though, so for me at least, she's still a desirable addition to the collection (I'm a sucker for costume accuracy).

The figures in this set obviously don't look quite as nice as the hand-painted prototypes that originally showed, but I do have to say, the figures in my set look a little nicer than the photos of loose samples seem to look.  The deco on the faces in particular seems more detailed than the loose samples that have shown up in photos on a few message boards.  Especially the eyes.

All told, I'm glad to have finally added this set to my collection, even at the higher secondary market price.  It really is a shame that it was never released at retail.  I still hold out hope that this set may spontaneously show up in the discount-chain channel, or that at the very least, the Stark head sculpt will be put to use in the current Avengers line.  Time will tell if either of those eventually happen.  If not, I just may be slicing this set open in the future.

If you're not already following One Per Case on Twitter or Facebook, you should.  We don't suck.  You can also follow me on Twitter at @zaksousa.