In my first blog of 2011, I could not help but go over my recent obsession with collecting Iron Man armors. And while I had been aware of Iron Man since my childhood, I did not develop any serious interest in the character until 2008, when the live-action film hit theaters worldwide. The film earned very positive reviews and did very well at the box office, spawning sequels and various merchandise tie-ins, not to mention reviving the career of actor Robert Downey Jr., who played American billionaire and weapons manufacturer Anthony Edward “Tony” Stark as well as his heroic alter-ego.

Iron Man 2 featured the Mark IV and War Machine armors, two of the most popular variants of the comic book's powered exoskeletons.

For those who may not be familiar with this superhero of the Marvel Universe, the original story began back in the 1960s during the Vietnam War. While Stark was observing his experimental technologies in the battlefield, he was injured during his capture by the Viet Cong (Vietnamese Communists) and later forced to make weapons for them. As shrapnel was located dangerously close to his heart, fellow prisoner Ho Yinsen created a small electromagnet to prevent these from reaching the vital organ thus keeping him alive. Knowing that they would die even if they created the weapons demanded, the two soon worked on creating an armored suit designed to allow them to escape. Eventually, Yinsen would sacrifice his own life to give Stark time to charge and fully activate the armor. While the American billionaire would successfully escape his captors, the memories of his fellow prisoner’s self-sacrifice and the needless deaths of millions of young soldiers in the ongoing war would cause him to reconsider his outlook in life. He would eventually create an improved armor and become the superhero Iron Man, devoted to fighting evil through his own genius and almost limitless resources. Powering the armor is a miniature arc reactor, based on technology designed by his late father Howard Stark, which is also used to power an electromagnet to prevent the deadly shrapnel from reaching his heart.

The main allure of Iron Man is that like his DC Universe counterpart Bruce Wayne a.k.a. Batman, he lacks superpowers (being a normal human being) and thus relies on intellectual genius, technology and almost unlimited wealth to defeat the supervillians he encounters in each issue. In response to the evolving threats, he created variants of the powered exoskeleton for specific situations. His creativity and ingenuity with the armored suits is such that he eventually leads directly (and indirectly) to the rise of other Marvel Universe superheroes and supervillains such as War Machine, Crimson Dynamo, Iron Monger, Titanium Man and Guardsman.

As a tribute to my growing obsession with Iron Man, I started collecting 3.75 inch action figures (courtesy of Hasbro) last November after purchasing a set of four from an officemate of mine. Currently, the count has gone up to ten and I have made plans to collect all the key armors from the comics and movie series. Here is a list of the armored suits I have compiled to date:

  • Mark I (comics version, 1960s). This was actually the second suit Stark designed, based heavily on the original armor used to escape the Viet Cong during the Vietnam War. It was made from iron and gun-gray in color, being resistant to small-arms fire. It had relatively rudimentary features such as adding to the wearer’s strength (up to 10 times normal human strength), extended leaping ability and a chest-mounted proton beam generator.
  • Mark III (comics version, 1960s). In response to new threats and to make the suit less frightening to the public, the suit was given a gold and red motif, along with added features. These include palm-based repulsor beams, jet packs for sustained flight and a special alloy designed to resist heavier artillery while being much lighter.
  • Mark II (Iron Man, 2008). This was the second suit created by Stark shortly after his return to the US following his successful escape from terrorists in Afghanistan (updated plot from movie), which had a shiny aluminum appearance. While being much lighter than the original armor and having extra weaponry such as palm-based repulsor beams, it was found to be prone to icing during test flights. Eventually, in the aftermath of Stark’s revelation of his identity as Iron Man as well as his growing recklessness due to his impending death ironically resulting from the arc reactor that was keeping shrapnel from reaching his heart, it was taken by his close friend Lt. Col. James Rupert “Rhodey” Rhodes in a battle at his estate. Rhodes would soon surrender the armor to be upgraded by the US Air Force for the War Machine project.
  • Mark IV (Iron Man 2, 2010). This suit was created in the months following Stark’s revelation and is featured in the early part of the film. While very similar to the Mark III armor, it has some aesthetic improvements such as a brighter color scheme and a more aerodynamic form-fitting design. It also features an improved HUD (heads-up display) and possesses most, if not all the features of the previous armor.
  • Mark V (Iron Man 2, 2010). This suit was created shortly before Stark would take part in the Monte Carlo Grand Prix. In trying to make his powered exoskeleton accessible at a moment’s notice, he designed it to be stored in a special briefcase and was able to defeat nemesis Ivan “Whiplash” Vanko with it after being attacked at the said event. Whiplash happened to be the son of Russian scientist Anton Vanko, who had helped Tony’s father Howard Stark develop arc reactor technology but was eventually deported back to the Soviet Union and would die destitute. Based on the comic book Silver Centurion armor, it has a red color scheme interlaced with areas of silver. It is shown to have incredible strength despite taking significant damage from Whiplash’s weapons, and makes use of the same palm-based repulsor beam technology found in earlier armors.
  • Mark VI (Iron Man 2, 2010). After successfully creating a new element to power his personal arc reactor (and remove his dependence from the toxic element palladium as the previous fuel source), Stark would create a further improved suit to battle Whiplash and the Assault Drones from rival corporation Hammer Industries. It carries the abilities and appearance of the previous suits, but has added weapons such as a multi-fire adhesive grenade launcher and a hand-mounted laser weapon allowing him to cut several Hammer drones cleanly in half. It also possesses a triangular indicator in the chest, indicating the change in the arc reactor fuel, as well as touches of silver in some areas.
  • War Machine (comics version, 1990s). After Iron Man was defeated by the Masters of Silence, three Japanese warriors tricked by rival Justin Hammer of Hammer Industries into attacking him, he would design a suit known as the Variable Threat Response Battle Suit (nicknamed the “War Machine”) to tackle this new threat. Rhodes would first don the Iron Man suit for a time while Stark was battling his personal demons, then he would eventually don the War Machine armor and take the name as his own. The suit has a black-gray color scheme and is designed for all-out warfare with weapons such as shoulder-mounted machine gun and missile launchers. It was also provided with its own power source since Rhodes does not carry his own arc reactor.
  • War Machine (Iron Man 2, 2010). When Stark went into a drunken and reckless state while hosting a party at his own mansion, Rhodes would be forced to don the Mark II armor to stop his friend from causing further damage. With the US government and armed forces clamoring for the American billionaire to surrender his suit in the months before (with the superhero denying this request), his close friend would afterward turn the armor over to the US Air Force for their War Machine project. While very similar to the comic book version with the color scheme and much of the weaponry (which was supplied by rival Hammer Industries), this armor had a sleeker appearance and was remotely connected to the Hammer Industries interface to allow it to be controlled from a distance.
  • Hulkbuster (comics version, 1990s). Aware of the threat the Hulk posed should he go rogue, Stark designed a heavy-duty version of the armor specifically to allow Iron Man to hold his own against the green behemoth in combat. The suit is much stronger and so bulkier, reducing mobility and versatility. The suit has an uncanny resemblance to the Marvel supervillain Juggernaut.
  • Iron Patriot (comics version, 2000s). During the events of the Dark Reign comic series, American industrialist Norman Osborn (also known as the supervillain Green Goblin) played a key role in halting the Skrull invasion of Earth. Using his newfound hero status, he would force out Stark as head of S.H.I.E.L.D. (Strategic, Hazard Intervention, Espionage Logistics Directorate) and form new alliances with other Marvel Universe superheroes and supervillains in forming the organization H.A.M.M.E.R. to be responsible for Earth’s future security from invasion. In his pursuit of having the former S.H.I.E.L.D. director arrested, he would come across blueprints for the Iron Man armor and create his own powered exoskeleton. Osborn would thus assume the mantle of the Iron Patriot, an amalgamation of Iron Man and Captain America. The suit would have similar features and weaponry to the Mark IV (Iron Man 2 version) armor, but would also include built-in flamethrowers and could hook up to government satellites for data gathering and espionage, as well as a red-white-and-blue color scheme to match his new image. Although effective, the star-shaped beam generator on the chest was noticeably weaker than that on Stark’s versions.

In case you may be wondering how an American billionaire and an Air Force Lieutenant Colonel became close friends, they met during the Vietnam War. Rhodes had gotten stranded behind enemy lines after being shot down when he chanced upon the armored Stark who was escaping from the Viet Cong. They soon fought off an ambush and managed to escape to the safety of the American defense perimeter. After the war and taking many paths in his career, Rhodes accepted the offer to become Stark’s personal pilot, chief aviation engineer for Stark International, and one of Stark’s closest friends.

Ten down, several more to go. If I can’t find them locally, I may have to resort to online shopping to settle my armored addictions. Key on my list are the Mark I (Iron Man, 2008), Mark III (Iron Man, 2008), Extremis (comics version, 2000s) and Thorbuster (comics version 2000s) powered exoskeletons.

But if anyone happens to know where I can get these, I am all ears and eyes.

*****

My colleague Reia and her associates recently launched MeiDolls Cafe, the first-ever cosplay-themed maid cafe in the Philippines. The place is a unique experience, believe me.

Just a week ago, my former officemate Reia and her associates opened a small restaurant called Meidolls Cafe in Cainta, Rizal. It is the first-ever maid cafe in the Philippines, based on cosplay-themed restaurants in Japan wherein waitresses dress up as maids (usually the French variant) and as such, treat their customers more like masters and not cafe patrons.

I was unable to visit opening day as I had a lot to drink the night before and thus ended up nursing a moderately mean hangover. With my itching curiosity at my colleague’s business venture, I made up my mind to give the place a try the following day. I got directions from another officemate who lived nearby and quickly drew up plans from there.

The following afternoon, while my sisters, niece and nephew went to Greenhills Shopping Center to run some errands, I took my first trip to Cainta in more than a year and hopped on a jeep from Cubao. After a ride of 30-40 minutes, I was dropped off at the building where MeiDolls Cafe was located and I proceeded to the upper floor based on my officemate’s directions The quaint and brightly-lit shop caught my eye, as I was greeted by the sight of low-level chairs and tables along with the sound of Japanese and Korean pop music playing through the sound system.

I went in and asked for Reia, upon which I was informed that she had attended a previous engagement and would be out for the rest of the day. Nevertheless, I made up my mind to sample their menu and for my first taste, I ordered a plate of pesto-based pasta along with a glass of peppermint tea. While waiting for my order, I took pictures of the establishment using the camera I had borrowed for that time.

I soon had a taste of their unique menu and I was pleasantly surprised by the pasta and tea combination, which left a great impression on my palate. And with reasonable prices for many of their items, I made it a point that I would try everything out very soon. I also intended to set it up so that I could meet my colleague and give feedback and support for her one-of-a-kind business venture.

On my way back, I could not help but figure that I would travel to Cainta just to sit and dine in a cafe for about an hour while not being able to meet my colleague Reia. Then again, it was an adventure I did enjoy and I look forward to my next trip to that part of Rizal province.

MeiDolls Cafe is located at the second floor of the Saunterfield Building, Km. 20 Ortigas Avenue Extension, Cainta, Rizal (across Brookside Subdivision). They are open from 10:00 AM to 10:00 PM everyday (excluding holidays, I assume).

*****

I once said that if I survived up to January in my current account, it would be nothing short of a miracle considering the struggles I had gone through with my metrics and the other personal issues from the previous year. It looks like I have actually done it, to my great relief.

My next goal is to climb up the ladder and become a trainer (or lead, at the very least) while things are on my side. If I get that done, that will make my past several months a cakewalk by comparison. And then, I might actually be better able to tackle the demons that have refused to leave me be.

What I wouldn’t give to be able to don the War Machine armor now and blast those blues away.

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