Well, it's taken a while, but I have finally rounded up the remaining figures from what I would call the "basic" aliens among the 4" scale Ben 10 action figure line. I'll explain that comment more towards the end of the review, but for now, I'd like to concentrate on these two particular figures.
For those wanting a refresher, Ben 10 is a decently successful animated series running on the Cartoon Network. It features the adventures of a young boy named Ben Tennyson, who has come into the possession of a device called the Omnitrix, which allows him to transform into various heroes representing a fairly wide range of alien species. The show was developed by a number of prominent individuals in the comics world, and has been generally well-received.
Bandai has produced quite a supply of action figures in several sizes since the series first started, and it maintains a decent presence in most toy departments. I delayed getting involved in the toy line for some time because, for all the alien forms they were doing, it took them well over a year to finally getting around to doing a figure of Ben himself! Once that was accomplished, I was a little more prepared to pick up the rest of the alien heroes in the basic 4" scale line.
This review will feature the last two, including one that was incredibly difficult to acquire. We'll start with him.
GHOSTFREAK -- I'm honestly not sure why this one was so hard to get. Maybe he's been dropped from the assortments, and yet he continued to be listed on the back of the package cards even as they were updated with new characters. Indeed, the package card that this Ghostfreak figure came on has the most up-to-date listing on the back. But despite reasonably consistent hunting, he just never turned up. I had EVERYBODY else I wanted -- except Ghostfreak.
Unlike most of the other alien heroes that Ben 10 can transform into -- Fourarms, Wildmutt, XLR8, whomever -- Ghostfreak is a more specific individual, and he's not a very nice one. The lenticular motion card that comes with Ghostfreak does indicate that he is a representative of a specific alien race, called Ectonurites, from a planet called Anur Phaetos. According to the card, Ectonurites exist as translucent phantoms with eerie glowing eyes, and can phase through walls and make themselves invisible, as well as inhabit other bodies and "possess" them for brief periods of time.
However, in Ghostfreak's case, a copy of his evil personality was trapped within the Omnitrix when his DNA was sampled. He managed to free himself from the Omnitrix during the show's second season. Apparently he was only used once by Ben initially, and the boy realized that there was something not quite right about this particular alien form, and he never used him again. Once free, Ghostfreak tried to possess Ben, which didn't work, so he coerced some other villains to work with him. Ghostfreak was defeated when he was exposed to direct sunlight.
Even the opening credits of the series were altered, replacing Ghostfreak with the new character Cannonbolt starting in the third season. However, in that same third season, Ghostfreak became one of the main antagonists. He is revived by an alien scientist named Dr. Vicktor. Gathering a group of horror-themed aliens as minions, Vicktor enacted a plan to resurrect Ghostfreak, whose master plan was to plunge the Earth into darkness. Ghostfreak himself is still intent on gaining control of the Omnitrix. They set up a corrodium beam that will block out light from the sun, allowing Ghostfreak to exist in eternal darkness. Ghostfreak succeeds in doing so, allowing him to reach his full potential, but only for a while before the corrodium projector is destroyed in battle. In the end, Ghostfreak perishes on board a space shuttle, when Max, Ben's grandfather, opens the shuttle's roof and exposes him directly to the sun.
Ghostfreak, in this form, looks like a cross between a somewhat traditional interpretation of a ghost, and a wadded-up paper towel. It is a sort of protective skin which Ghostfreak can shed, but one might assume only at risk of damage to himself as the result of direct sunlight. Ghostfreak is a rather long and lanky being, pale grey in color, whose only real notable features are the Omnitrix symbol, a single pinkish eye peeking out from the head, seeming "cracks" in the protective skin, and two long, narrow arms that end in hands with three fingers and a thumb.
Ghostfreak has no visible legs, and I suspect he was a little hard to figure out some articulation for. Bandai has made the figure poseable at the head, arms, and lower torso. Totally lacking legs, the figure is incapable of standing up on its own, but fortunately, it does come with a small display base. He's about 4" in height. Definitely a weird entry in the line.
Now let's consider the other alien:
BENWOLF - This is one of the newer aliens, and as such didn't have much of a listing on the Web Site. According to his lenticular card, Benwolf is a Loboan from a planet called Luna Lobo. They are apparently a race of humanoid wolves, not unlike werewolves in appearance, with sharp claws and pointed fangs. In addition, they can emit a concussive howl strong enough to knock down almost any enemy. The severe sound amplification of this howl is accomplished by spreading their quadra-lobed muzzle into four separate parts. That's right, when this guy opens wide, it's REALLY wide.
I'm not sure that there's a connection, but I think it's worth mentioning that under the information for Ghostfreak, there was a reference to "horror-themed aliens", and certainly a werewolf-like alien would qualify, although with a name like "Benwolf", I think we need to assume he's one of the good guys, or at least is now. I also recall a reference to a character called "Benmummy", although there isn't a toy of that character.
The Benwolf figure stands about 3-3.4" in height. The figure has a distinctly wolflike head, a powerfully-built upper torso, huge arms with articulation at the elbows, and very canine-like legs, which are substantially smaller than the arms. The figure comes with a tail that is supposed to be snapped into the back of the figure, but either I got a weird one or Bandai needs to correct its molds, because this piece does not want to snap into place and stay put.
Benwolf also comes with a second head, an "open-mouthed" version, that showcases that quadra-lobed howl feature. The figure's costume, like many of the costumes worn by a fair percentage of the aliens that Ben 10 can turn into, reflects the boy's own outfit, which is mostly white with black trim. The Omnitrix symbol is visible on the belt buckle.
Benwolf, I would have to say, is one of the more interesting and better detailed figures in the line, and has a good level of articulation in a line that, given its decided weirdness, has been a little tough to find any sort of consistent articulation for.
Certainly Ben 10 on the whole continues to be a success. There are other figures in the line, including in the 4" range, which I have chosen not to collect at this time. This includes villains such as Vilgax, SixSix, Kevin 11, and some others, as well as a new series of heroes, to some degree remakes of the existing ones, but with special features of one sort or another.
Two Ben 10 movies have also aired recently. The first is an animated movie called "Secret of the Omnitrix", in which Ben accidentally sets the Omnitrix to self-destruct and must track down its creator to stop it.
The second movie was actually a live-action film, and was entitled BEN 10 - RACE AGAINST TIME. This movie, based on the commercials that I have seen, was an extremely capable live-action adaptation, with actors who abundantly looked like their animated counterparts, with some excellent computer animation bringing the various aliens to life.
Online sources say a sequel to the animated series is apparently in the works. It is entitled "Ben 10: Hero Generation", and will premiere before spring 2008. The new series will focus on a slightly older Ben and Gwen, who serve as mentors to a younger generation of heroes with powers similar to Ben's Omnitrix-based ones. Though aimed at the same demographic, the series will reportedly address more mature issues than its predecessor -- whatever the heck that's supposed to mean. Personally, I don't like the idea of aging cartoon characters (it's NOT necessary), and "more mature issues"? Gimme a break. Can't we just have some decent action-oriented entertainment and leave it at that?
Anyway, it appears that Ben 10's future is fairly promising, and I have little doubt that Bandai will carry on with it as well in the toy aisles. In a world where, I have to say, most new cartoons and most new toys tend to fall rather flat and he rather disappointing, it's nice to see one do so well. The Ben 10 animated series, and any of its action figures, definitely have my recommendation!