But every so often something entertaining and enjoyable comes along, that isn't actually directly derived from a previously existing concept or translated from the Japanese (not to put down animé -- there's some of that I like too, but criminy, there's an awful lot of it around these days).
Such is the case with BEN 10. Granted, one of the things that really helped this concept was the impressive pedigree of its creators. Despite the vague animé look of the series, it's an American creation, the product of a group consisting of Duncan Rouleau, Joe Casey, Joe Kelly, and Steven T. Seagle. Even I recognize most of these names. I've certainly heard of Casey and Kelly, and a brief search online turned up the fact that all four of these individuals have considerable experience in comic books.
And while I'm not as familiar with Seagle or Rouleau, Kelly is known for, among other things, a healthy run on the very peculiar Marvel title Deadpool, and Casey is known for everything from Cable to the current G.I. Joe title. If you want to put together a new animated series that has a certain superhero motif to it, but is a little off-center from that, you're not going to do much better than bringing together a group such as this.
As for their creation, Ben 10, the series debuted on Cartoon Network in late 2005, and became part of its regular schedule (as regular as anything gets on Cartoon Network). The show revolves around 10-year-old Ben Tennyson, his same-age cousin Gwen, and his grandfather Max. At the start of their summer camping trip, Ben is nearly hit by an alien pod that falls from space and crashes next to him. When he examines it, he finds a mysterious, watch-like device, called the Omnitrix, stored inside. The device attaches to his wrist and gives him the ability to transform into different alien heroes, each with their own unique powers. Although Ben realizes that he has a responsibility to help others with these new abilities at his disposal, he isn't above a little super-powered mischief now and then.
Some of these heroes are pretty strange. One might wonder why anyone would want to change into a superhero that takes the form of a giant bug and goes by the code-name of Stinkfly. On the other hand, given the mindset of the average 10-year-old boy, that's probably precisely the sort of thing he'd get a kick out of.
Unfortunately for Ben, an evil alien warlord named Vilgax also wants the Omnitrix, and will stop at nothing to acquire it. This is the basis for most of young Ben's adventures, helped along by his grandfather, Max, who despite claims of being a mere retired plumber, it ultimately turns out that Max served in the Army, and while Max was indeed a "plumber", it wasn't exactly a typical definition of the term. He was part of a government organization called "The Plumbers" which dealt with extra-terrestrial, paranormal, and other situations that others could not. The group was disbanded shortly after Max defeated Vilgax for the first time, suggesting that Vilgax had been largely responsible for the various incidents they dealt with. He tends to take his grandson's newfound powers in stride, and does everything he can to help the boy, as the three of them travel around in Max's motorhome.
The show has proved to be a decent success on Cartoon Network, with thirty episodes to date -- which isn't bad at all for something based on Cartoon Network -- and still going. Honestly, I think it'd be even more popular if it could get on a more extensive network.
Of course, you take a situation where you've got a kid that can morph into a wide range of bizarre alien heroes, and that's just begging for a toy line. And, not surprisingly, it got one, courtesy of Bandai. The toys have been around for the better part of a year, but I'd never really picked any of them up. One thing really bugged me about the toy line.
The basic toy line is essentially a line of 4" scale action figures. There are other sizes, all the way up to some huge 12" scale figures. Bandai tends to do this as a matter of course with their toy lines. Consider the various sizes available in Power Rangers, Gundam, and even Teen Titans. But the basic line was around the 4" mark, more or less. At least that's what its scale was listed as. Designated the "Alien Collection", it featured figures of all ten aliens Ben Tennyson could transform into.
BUT NOT BEN!
For whatever ridiculous reason, Bandai chose not to do a figure of the kid that the whole series is named after! Okay -- compared to the various alien forms, I'll grant he's kind of ordinary-looking. Even so, without him, the others just don't even happen, and he's still technically the central character of the series! They even put the kid's likeness and name on the packages to the other toys! This glaring omission was just so flat out ridiculous that I couldn't bring myself to collect any of the other figures.
But right after Christmas, I was surveying the leftovers and a certain amount of new merchandise in the toy departments of various stores. Here was a supply of the Ben 10 figures in the 4" range. And -- whoa, hold it. That wasn't just an illustration of Ben. That looked like...!
Somebody at Bandai finally decided that just maybe they ought to consider adding Ben Tennyson himself to the action figure line-up. And so they have. And so I got him. And so now I'll review him.
As regards the character, a Wikipedia entry on Ben Tennyson describes him thusly: Ben is a typical 10-year-old boy - he plays video games, rides his bike, and sometimes gets into some mischief. During a camping trip with his grandfather Max and his cousin Gwen, he finds the Omnitrix, an alien device that gives him the ability to turn into various aliens. Unable to remove it, he uses its powers to become a superhero. He finds the job trickier than he imagined, especially with the evil alien warlord Vilgax pursuing him relentlessly to retrieve the Omnitrix. However, no matter what bizarre form Ben takes, inside he's still the same mischievous yet good-hearted 10-year-old boy.
Except for that Omnitrix device and being pursued by a nasty alien, that sounds about like most 10-year-old boys are probably like these days. It's been over 30 years since I've been 10, so I can't exactly speak from direct experience. There weren't any video games back then, and I couldn't ride my bike worth a darn for some reason. But "mischievous" and "good-hearted" would seem to be qualities one might expect the average 10-year-old boy to have.
As for that Omnitirx device on his wrist (and yes, there's a toy of it, too -- which I assume IS removeable unlike its animated counterpart), it basically looks like an oversized wristwatch. When the button on the side is pressed, the face pops up and shows a silhouette of an alien. The face can then be twisted to select different aliens. By settling on a specific alien and pushing the face back down, the Omnitrix transforms Ben into the alien selected.
But this thing is a little glitchy. Sometimes the Omnitrix transforms Ben into an alien that wasn't the one selected, or a previously unknown one on rare occasions, or even a weird hybrid of two aliens (this happened one time when Ben fiddled with the device more than he should've and removed its face). Technically, there's ten aliens available through the Onmitrix. But more than ten have turned up, which would explain this year's toy line expansion.
Wonder if the fool thing is even properly waterproof...
The figure of Ben Tennyson is very nicely made. Sometimes translating a cartoon character into a three-dimensional figure, especially if that animated character is somewhat stylized, isn't an easy thing to do, and sometimes it doesn't work out all that well. But I think Bandai has done a very capable job here.
Certain parts of Ben's sculpt can't have been easy. He doesn't have much of a nose, and his hair is just a little long in the back. Not a mullet, thankfully. Honestly, though, the kid looks a bit like he doesn't even know what a comb is for -- not atypical for a lot of real-life boys, either, I imagine. Bandai has done an excellent job of translating Ben's two-dimensional image into a three-dimensional action figure. The head sculpt is an excellent likeness.
The rest of the figure is interesting. Ben is a fairly ordinary-looking kid, at least within his animated world. There's nothing all that unusual about him. He wears a short sleeved shirt that is mostly white with a black collar, sleeve cuffs, and a broad black stripe down the front. Interestingly, this color patten translates over to a number of his alien counterparts to one degree or another.
Ben wears the same sort of rather baggy trousers that a lot of kids wear these days. His legs seem to be inordinately thick compared to the rest of the kid, but it's strictly the pants, which are olive green in color. What look like high-tech sneakers with rather rugged soles can be seen where the trousers end.
Articulation on the figure is interesting. Ben is articulated at the head, arms, legs, upper leg swivel, and knees. Granted trying to articulate what are some very narrow elbows would've been nearly impossible, but it's interesting that Ben's legs are distinctly more poseable than the rest of him.
The figure is very neatly painted, although the straps on the tiny Omnitrix device on his wrist are not painted all the way around. Still, I regard this as a relatively minor omission on an otherwise superbly done figure.
Ben comes with a number of accessories. Chief among these is a small skateboard, which actually does roll and includes a peg for Ben's foot so he'll stay put on it.
The other accessories are ones that most of the figures in this line come with. First is a lenticular motion card that's almost part of the packaging. It's circular, and shows Ben activating the Omnitrix and beginning his transformation. Bandai's done a good job making sure this card stays intact. It has a removable protective layer of plastic on the back, and it is this part that is actually taped to the internal packaging bubble.
The other item is a small disc that's designed to be used with the Alien Laboratory. This is the largest toy in the Ben 10 line, and it's a reproduction of the motor home that Ben and his grandfather travel around in. The motor home opens up into a weird laboratory, which includes an "Alien Viewer" that this "Animation Disc" can be used in. The disc looks like a descendant of a View-Master reel, and if you hold it up to the light, you can see small images from the Ben 10 cartoon on it -- if you don't mind a bit of eyestrain in the process. Or if you own a magnifying glass.
On the whole, I'd have to call Ben 10 a bright spot in a near-wasteland of largely worthless (or at least astoundingly mindless and sometimes outright offensive) animated series around these days. It's a cool show with some impressive people at its creative head.
And now that Bandai has finally gotten around to making its central character as an action figure, I might just start rounding up some of the aliens. According to a recent letter that I received from Bandai itself, the line IS expected to continue (I was a bit concerned because one individual on a message board reported a possible clearance in his area). And all of the ten original aliens are shown on the back of the package card, and according to sources, are expected to continue to be available. One nice thing about these 4" scale figures -- they're probably the most reasonably priced action figures around right now. They're under $5.00 apiece in most stores.
So hopefully, you can look forward to some further reviews, of Ben's
various alien counterparts. Meanwhile, I recommend the Ben 10 animated
series, and I certainly recommend the BEN TENNYSON action figure! A
good one with which to start a collection! And show me a 10-year-old
boy that wouldn't love the ability to transform into super-heroes -
even weird alien ones. Or perhaps especially so. That is a big part
of what makes this concept so cool. If a boy could do this for real,
he probably would. I hope it continues to do well, or dare I hope -
even better? It deserves to.