REVIEW: MARVEL UNIVERSE ICEMAN
I'll readily admit that I am not a completist with the Marvel Universe line of action figures. I haven't really followed the comic books for some time -- although that's not a reflection of my opinion of the toys. I just haven't cared that much for some of the overarching story directions that Marvel has taken. Certainly, I have plenty of respect for iconic characters like Spider-Man, Iron Man, Captain America, the X-Men, and others, and am just as assuredly familiar with them. I just haven't made Marvel Comics one of my reading priorities for a while, so the Marvel Universe action figures haven't been one of my collecting priorities, although I do believe that Hasbro has done a most commendable job with the line, which has become at least as extensive as Toy Biz, and arguably more impressive.
However, every so often a figure in the line does come along that garners my attention. Such was the case recently with a new addition to the Marvel Universe action figures. His name is ICEMAN, and he is one of the founding members of the X-Men.
Why him? Okay, he's not the most prominent mutant in the Marvel Universe by a longshot. But -- what can I say, I'm a sucker for transparent-colored figures...
Who is Iceman? Let's consider the character's background.
Iceman, real name Robert "Bobby" Drake, was created by writer Stan Lee and artist/co-writer Jack Kirby, and first appeared in X-Men #1, in September 1963.
A mutant, Iceman has the ability of cryokinesis where he can freeze anything around him and can also turn his body into ice. Although he is an Omega-level mutant, Drake has yet to tap his full mutant potential. He has, however, begun to take more interest over the years in developing his abilities. One of the original X-Men, Iceman has had a frequent presence in X-Men-related comics, video games, animated series, and movies.
Iceman has been a main character in both Uncanny X-Men and the second volume of X-Men and was also featured in the Champions and New Defenders as a member. He was also a main character in the first volume of X-Factor, and a star in flashback stories when he was a teenager in X-Men: The Hidden Years and X-Men: First Class.
Robert Drake was born in Floral Park, Long Island, New York, to William Robert Drake and Madeline Beatrice Bass-Drake. Bobby's powers first manifested when he was on a date with Judy Harmon, and a local bully by the name of Rocky Beasely tried to take Judy away for himself. Bobby pointed his hand at Beasely and encased him in a block of ice. Later, the local townspeople, having heard of the incident, came looking for him in the form of an angry mob. The local sheriff had no choice but to put Bobby in jail for his own "protection". While Bobby waited in his cell at the sheriff station, the outer wall was blown open, and Cyclops entered and offered to take Bobby with him. After Bobby turned him down, the two mutants get into a short battle, which was soon ended by Professor Charles Xavier.
After Xavier talked with Bobby and his parents, Bobby's parents suggested that he go with Professor Xavier to his "school for gifted youngsters". Bobby took the suggestion and became the second member of the X-Men. He is later joined by Henry "Hank" McCoy, Jean Grey, and Warren Worthington III as the founding members of the X-Men.
Iceman quickly befriended Hank McCoy (Beast). Drake, however, remained self-conscious regarding the fact that he is the youngest member of the group. Nevertheless, Iceman remained a prominent member of the first incarnation of the X-Men for years.
Iceman was among the original X-Men captured by Krakoa, leading to a new incarnation of X-Men. Along with most of the original team, he quit the X-Men.
Iceman moved to the American west coast to attend UCLA and became a founding member of the short-lived super-hero team known as the Champions, alongside fellow former X-Man Angel.
While in college, he briefly rejoined the X-Men to rescue the captives of Arcade's henchman, Miss Locke.
Iceman is reunited with Beast, and then returned as a full-time superhero in an incarnation of the Defenders alongside his former teammates, Angel and Beast. After the Defenders disbanded, Drake embarked on his career as an accountant.
The original X-Men, including Iceman, later reunited to form the superhero team X-Factor. During his time with the team, the Asgardian Loki captured Bobby, hoping to use him to gain control over the Frost Giants. Loki enhanced Bobby's powers and then extracted them to restore the size of the Frost Giants. Iceman was rescued by Thor, but Loki's tampering increased Bobby's powers to such an extent that he began to lose control of his abilities.
Iceman was fitted with a power-dampening belt which helped him control his abilities. Once able only to sheathe his own body in a protective coating of ice, Bobby found that he could encase the entirety of the Empire State Building. With time, Bobby gained sufficient control over his augmented powers that he was able to stop using the inhibitor belt. Believing he has achieved his full potential, Bobby does not attempt to develop his abilities further. Later. Iceman rejoined the X-Men along with the rest of X-Factor.
When Iceman came across Mikhail Rasputin he used his mutant abilities on him, and discovered that his potential was still far from being reached as he converted his body into ice, not just covered by it. By turning his entire body to ice, instead of just wearing an icy exterior, Bobby now was capable of using his power in new, aggressive ways, adding spikes and padding to his ice structure.
Later, Drake's mind was possessed by the powerful telepath Emma Frost, who was able to use Iceman's abilities in ways and to a far greater extent than he had ever imagined.
Iceman would continue to have a wide range of adventures with his fellow mutants, far too lengthy to get into for the purposes of this review. Those interested in greater details about the character, I encourage you to read the Wikipedia entry on Iceman.
As of this writing, following the "Schism" that have divided the X-Men after Wolverine and Cyclops have had a major falling out, Wolverine has decided to branch off and open "The Jean Grey School for Higher Learning" back in New York. Iceman was the first person Wolverine approached and recruited to his new X-Men squad as both a professor and teammate. Iceman was chosen because Wolverine feels he has the kind of spirit his the new school needs, and it would appear that Mister Drake has come full circle, from one-time youngest student, to professor of a new generation.
As to his powers and abilities, Iceman possesses the power to radically decrease the temperature of ambient water vapor in his immediate environment, thereby freezing it into ice. In this manner he is able to quickly form a great variety of ice structures, including projectiles, shields, ladders, baseball bats, etc. He often makes ice slides which form rapidly beneath and behind his feet, moving him along the slick surface at high speeds. He is also able to form exceedingly complicated structures within relative short time like, for example, miniature cities.
Originally, Iceman's own body temperature would lower dramatically when his powers were active, reaching -105 °F (-76 °C) within a few tenths of a second. Now his body usually converts to organic ice. Iceman is immune to sub-zero temperatures; he is also able to perceive the thermal energy level of objects around him. Because cold is the absence of heat, Iceman does not actually 'emanate' cold; rather, he decreases thermal energy. As mentioned by writer Mike Carey, Iceman is "an Omega level mutant...[and] has powers that can influence the ecosystem of the entire world."
In his early appearances, Iceman generally covered his body in a thick layer of what appeared to be snow; hence he looked more like a traditional snowman than an ice-man. Upon further training in the use of his powers, he was able to fashion an armor of solid ice around his body when using his powers, which afforded him some degree of protection against concussive force and projectiles. Later on, he manifested the ability to convert the tissue of his body into organic ice.
He sometimes augments his organic ice form with razor sharp adornments to his shoulders, elbows, knees, and fists. Iceman has also been able to move rapidly to another distant location while in his organic ice form, being able to deposit his bodily mass into a river and reconstitute his entire mass a great distance away in a matter of minutes by temporarily merging his molecules with those of the river.
Iceman is also able to reconstitute his organic ice form if any part of it is damaged, or even if it is completely shattered, without permanently harming himself. He can temporarily add the mass of a body of water to his own, increasing his mass, size, and strength. He can survive not only as ice, but as liquid water and water vapor. He can also transform his body from a gaseous state back to a solid, although it is physically and mentally taxing. Iceman can also freeze sea water, as seen during the "Operation Zero Tolerance" story arc. While he usually does not use his powers in lethal ways his powers are so vast that it extends to the molecular level, to the point that he can freeze all of the molecules of an object/being with a thought.
Aside from his superhuman powers, Iceman is also a fair hand-to-hand combatant, and received combat training at Xavier's School as well as coaching from the Black Widow and Hercules while serving with the Champions.
According to writer Mike Carey: "one of Iceman's best personality traits is that emotionally Bobby Drake is like the ice he manipulates -- not cold but transparent. He's devastatingly honest. He is very up-front with his emotions and his thoughts all the time. Also, he's obviously incredibly brave both in terms of facing external, physical danger as well as facing up to unpleasant situations and admitting his own mistakes."
Outside of the X-Men, he is good friends with Spider-Man for their shared sense of humor. He is also close friends with the Human Torch as their personalities complement each other and their respective powers are polar opposites.
Indeed, Iceman was one of the stars of the 1980's "Spider-Man and his Amazing Friends" animated series. Interestingly, he had more appearances here than he did in the 1990's X-Men series, where he was the focal point of only one episode, where he was portrayed as a failed student.
So, how's the figure? Well, first of all, I'd like to discuss the packaging. I realize this isn't something that I do very often, but in this case I would like to make an exception. In my opinion, few super-heroes have been able to take better advantage of computer-generated coloring techniques better than Iceman. Once he got rid of his early snowman-like form and tended to appear sheathed in a sort of ice-armor, the coloring methods of the time still couldn't do much more than just leave Iceman white with maybe a few streaks of light blue here and there.
But with the advent of computer-aided coloring, and the ability to add distinct color patterns onto a page, Iceman's general appearance definitely took a turn for the better. Now it was possible to give Iceman a wide range of patterned lines and swirls of blue and white throughout his physical form, that seemed at once reminiscent of ice sculptures and waves of water. It certainly added a more complex, three-dimensional look to the character.
Take a look at the package illustration. Study it, and realize that actually, the black lines are somewhat limited. The greater effect of the drawing comes from the coloring, which still only uses blue and white, but the overall effect is certainly impressive! It's a really great illustration.
Now -- how's the figure? Really very cool -- no pun intended. As I said earlier, I'm something of a sucker for colored transparent toys. One of my favorite G.I. Joe figures is the Cobra Inferno B.A.T. I have several transparent Gundams here. I also like chromed toys and ones that glow in the dark, but those don't really apply to Iceman.
I have to say that I'm obviously very pleased that Iceman has evolved his form from his early "snowman" look. And I suspect Hasbro is pleased, as well. That particular look not only would have made for a rather silly-looking action figure, but given the rather rough look of the character in the comics, would've required an entirely distinctive set of molds.
Iceman, I believe, uses a set of body molds, a muscular if somewhat slender male human, that have doubtless been used on other characters, and will continue to be, whose requirements for use are being molded in the proper color, and then have the appropriate paint stencils designed and used for them. I'm sure it's not quite that simple, but you can hardly blame any toy company for wanting to get as much use out of existing molds as possible, and while some collectors decry this sort of thing, I for one appreciate the consistency.
The entire figure has been molded in a very light translucent blue. Fortunately, no attempt was made to try to put in the swirls and patterns that appear from modern coloring techniques. I doubt that would've worked very well anyway. I've seen multi-colored plastic molding before, and while it works well for some things -- like molded-in camouflage on some G.I. Joe figures, I don't think it would've done well here.
Iceman's headsculpt is fairly straightforward. When Iceman turns into his ice mode, his hair disappears, for whatever odd reason. Thus we have an individual with an apparently bald head, that is nevertheless very slightly squared off, as if representing an ice cube just a bit. His facial features are normal, and the figure has a bit of a grin on his face, with his mouth slightly open, and his eyes and teeth have been painted white.
The painted detail on Iceman's body is somewhat limited, but is appropriate, and allows the figure a little more "presence" than just being a solid block of transparent blue. Given the fact that the primary colors of Marvel Universe packaging are also blue and white -- not counting the huge red Marvel logo -- one might tend to wonder if there was even a figure in the package. This is Iceman, not DC's Invisible Kid...
Iceman's gloves and boots have been painted a very light silver, and there is a silver "X" across his front and back, very neatly done, especially when one considers that it has to cross the mid-torso articulation point.
Iceman comes with two accessories. One is a display base, common to all Marvel Universe figures. Oddly, it looks like it spells out Iceman's name as two words - Ice Man -- which he's never been known by, and indeed, the package itself keeps his name as one word. This isn't the first time there's been a spelling gaffe on these bases, either.
The other accessory is a transparent blue -- well, let's call it an "ice burst". It can attach to Iceman's hand, and looks like a funnel or small tornado of ice. Here's the interesting thing. I've seen this accessory piece before, generally molded in other transparent colors, and generally used as some sort of energy manifestation. Iron Man's repulsors, for instance.
And the funny thing is -- I've never thought it worked well. Nothing against the design of the piece, I've just never thought that trying to render any energy-based super-power in plastic was a particularly effective thing to do. And I've seen it attempted in any number of action figure lines -- Marvel Universe, DC Universe, Star Wars -- okay, lightsabers can get away with it, but I didn't think the "force lightning" came across very well.
But, as an ice sculpture? It works. It honestly works. Somebody finally found a way to use this accessory piece that looks decent.
Iceman is very well articulated, and is fully poseable at the head, arms, elbows (including a swivel) wrists, mid-torso, legs,. Knees, and ankles. I'm amazed the double-jointed knees come across as well as they do in transparent plastic. I'm still no fan of double-jointed limbs on any action figure line, but I would've expected that to really be bad-looking on a transparent figure, but it's -- well, no worse than on anybody else.
Any complaints? A slight one, but I think it may just be the figure I bought. He stands a little crookedly, and when I tried to adjust him, his left leg popped off. I was able to pop it right back on again, but I've never had THAT happen before. Between that and the slightly off stance, it makes me wonder if maybe the leg wasn't quite fully molded.
I will say this -- the leg articulation design is excellent. Some of the early Marvel Universe figures were overly complex, using a strange sort of combined ball-and-socket and back-and-forth design that really -- didn't work very well. It still turns up in other Marvel lines, and occasionally still in Marvel Universe, and I think it needs to be retired. The more common leg articulation design used these days, including on Iceman, is more reminiscent of the ball-and-socket design used by G.I. Joe, and it works perfectly fine.
So, what's my final word? This is an impressive figure. Those who may not have followed the X-Men's adventures all that closely may see Iceman as not very prominent. I was quite surprised when I read his entire backstory to see just how involved the character has indeed been over the years, including in recent years. He may not be as well known as Wolverine or Cyclops or some of the others, but he's been there since the start, and he's still around, and looks to be assuming a new role of authority, as well.
Certainly he deserved the action figure treatment, and Hasbro has done a truly superb job turning out this figure, and I believe any fan of the X-Men will be pleased to add him to their collection.
The MARVEL UNIVERSE figure of ICEMAN definitely has my most enthusiastic recommendation!