REVIEW: MARVEL UNIVERSE DOC SAMSON
You know, there's some characters in any large, fictional universe, that you just sort of wonder why they haven't fared better than they have.
To me, Doc Samson from the Marvel Universe is one of those characters. Okay, his best-known costume has a sort of retro look to it, almost to the point of being goofy, but consider what this guy is capable of. He's nearly as strong as the Hulk, but manages to retain his decidedly prodigious intellect.
Why in the world the Avengers didn't sign this guy up is beyond me. On top of that, he's a trained psychiatrist. If anybody could have kept some of the more mercurial personalities within "Earth's Mightiest Heroes" from trying to kill each other when they weren't bashing on some bad guy, it'd be Doctor Leonard Samson.
But, like a number of other characters, he seems to have had a great deal of trouble getting out of his little corner of the Marvel Universe, which in his case, is that corner largely reserved for The Incredible Hulk. He's hardly the only one, either. Take The Leader. A superior, gamma-spawned intellect that is probably on a par with Reed Richards or Victor Von Doom, and pretty much all he's ever managed to do is get beaten time and again by the not-so-jolly Green Giant.
At least Doc Samson has managed to get himself into both the Marvel Legends and Marvel Universe line. There was a very impressive Doc Samson figure a while back in a Hulk extension of the Marvel Legends line-up, and now he's in the 4" scale Marvel Universe line. All The Leader ever managed was a Marvel Legends figure in a two-pack a number of years ago that was so scarcely distributed that it borders on urban myth.
In fairness, Doc Samson has also managed to squeeze out of the Hulk world, as well. Fairly recently he was a psychiatric adviser to Norman Osborn's incarnation of the Thunderbolts, particularly Penance, formerly and subsequently the oddball hero known as Speedball. Granted, I'm not sure Marvel fans or Samson himself necessarily regarded working for Osborn as a positive career change. Then again, when I started reading Samson's character profile from some online research, it seems that he really had some problems once he returned to the Hulk side of things. For that matter, at the moment, he's apparently dead!
And with that little advisory in mind, let's consider Doc Samson's backstory more comprehensively.
Doc Samson first appeared in Incredible Hulk #141, in July of 1971, and was the creation of writer Roy Thomas and artist Herb Trimpe. He has managed a number of "breakouts" beyond the "Hulk-verse" including appearances in She-Hulk, the Uncanny X-Men, and Spider-Man, as well as two self-titled mini-series, in 1996 and 2006. Gee, only had to wait ten years between 'em! The patience of the man...
Leonard Samson was born in Tulsa, Oklahoma. His father was one Leonard Skivorski, himself a popular psychiatrist in his home town, who was nicknamed "Samson" because of his long hair. Initially, the man who would become Doc Samson showed little interest in following in his father's footsteps. Despite this, he nevertheless became a college professor and a psychiatrist.
After Bruce Banner was temporarily cured of being the Hulk by siphoning off the gamma radiation that caused his transformation, Samson, who had been working with Banner/Hulk in his job as a psychiatrist, exposed himself to some of the siphoned radiation, granting him a superhumanly strong and muscular physique, and causing his hair to turn green and grow long, reminiscent of his Biblical namesake in length if not color.
Initially, Samson's physical strength was dependent upon the length of his hair, although eventually his gamma-induced mutation stabilized, making the length of his hair no longer a factor. Shortly thereafter, Banner returned to being the Hulk, due in part to actions on Samson's part. Feeling guilty about his role in his patient's return to being the Hulk, Samson would spend much time working with Banner over the years.
Samson would become caught up in any number of the Hulk's adventures, working alongside SHIELD, battling the Rhino, being captured by the Leader, encountering the Angel, Moonstone, Spider-Man, and others. He even cured Captain Ultra of his fear of fire. And, it seems he was offered a position with the Avengers at one point, with the Vision offering him leadership of a mid-western branch of the Avengers (one would hope this was something other than the Great Lakes Avengers, but I really don't know). Samson was flattered, but politely declined, having accepted a teaching position at Northwestern University, which he preferred to the life of a super-hero.
Samson was the first to diagnose Banner with Multiple Personality Disorder. Determined to cure him, Samson found a way to physically separate Banner and the Hulk. This proved a temporary measure at best, and the resulted re-merging of the two resulted in the transformation of Banner into a third entity, the gray Hulk.
In a subsequent attempt to cure Banner of his MPD, with the aid of the Ringmaster, Samson successfully hypnotized Banner and began the process of integrating the three disparate personalities. The result of this was a new Hulk, with Banner's intelligence and a certain amount of the gray Hulk's attitude, but nevertheless a more benign version of the Hulk than had previously been known. It was nice while it lasted, at least.
Over the following years, Samson managed supporting roles, acting in a professional capacity with the second incarnation of X-Factor, Dr. Strange, and even the Punisher.
Later, Samson took the side of the Pro-Registration Alliance, during the events of the Civil War, and was instrumental in the Illuminati plan to exile the Hulk into outer space that kicked off the "World War Hulk" storyline. He subsequently worked with the Thunderbolts, and Penance in particular.
Following the Secret Invasion, Doc Samson leads a support group meeting for those that had been replaced by Skrulls and held in captivity for an extended period of time.
In the debut of the 2008 Hulk title, Samson appears in Russia, alongside Iron Man, General Ross, and She-Hulk, investigating the murder of the Abomination at the hands of a Hulk-like creature. After an altercation over jurisdiction with the Russian superteam known as the Winter Guard -- a fight that Samson uncharacteristically starts -- Samson and Ross return to the United States aboard a Helicarrier to consult with Banner, who is imprisoned in a high-security facility.
However, the Helicarrier crashes near New Jersey. Tony Stark orders SHIELD commander Maria Hill to investigate and search for survivors. It is discovered that the area is bathed in gamma radiation, and Samson and Ross are missing. Samson's coat is found ripped and shredded in a Hulk-like fashion, exhibiting higher gamma radiation values than every other item in the wreckage. Later, Samson shoots longtime Hulk ally Rick Jones and drags him away after Jones attempts to reveal the identity of the mysterious Red Hulk.
In Incredible Hulk #600, it is revealed that the reason Samson shot Jones is because Samson now has Multiple Personality Disroder. Samson grows larger in size than ever before, his hair grows out, and in this form he is stronger and faster than ever. He also has a lightning bolt scar across his chest, mimicking the insignia on his usual shirt. Samson claims, just before his evil persona takes over, that he was brainwashed by the super-villain MODOK. This new personality refers to himself only as "Samson", and claims that "Leonard is never coming back."
A subsequent appearance features "Samson" apparently attending a psychological evaluation. This is revealed to be a confrontation in Samson's mind between his three personas - Samson, Doc Samson, and Dr. Leonard Samson. Ultimately, the "Samson" persona wins out.
Sometime later, a plan on the part of the villainous group known as the Intelligentsia to use a device called the Cathexis Ray Generator to create an entire group of "Hulks" using captured super-heroes -- is foiled by Banner, who retools the Generator to reabsorb and turned the heroes back to normal. Banner tries to absorb all the energy with his body, and mostly succeeds, but at a crucial juncture, the machinery begins to break down from the feedback. Samson steps in and absorbs the additional excess energy, but for reasons unknown, his body is unable to absorb the energy as readily as Banner, and he is apparently killed by the overload, reduced to a charred skeleton in seconds.
Yeah. Used to be you could say about the Marvel Universe, "Only Bucky stays dead" -- but heck, they even brought him back and made him Captain America.
As to his powers and abilities, Doc Samson possesses superhuman physical abilities as a result of exposure to high levels of gamma radiation. His exposure was significantly less than that of the Hulk, however. The gamma radiation mutated Samson's physique by adding considerable muscle and bone mass to his body, granting him high levels of superhuman strength. It also turned his hair a bright shade of green.
Aside from granting him more muscle mass, Samson's bodily tissues are fortified and are considerably harder than those of an ordinary human, granting him a high level of resistance to physical injury. Samson can withstand falls from great heights, extremes of temperature, high-caliber bullets, and tremendous impact forces like being repeatedly struck by the Hulk without sustaining injury. He has demonstrated sufficient stamina to battle the Hulk for more than six hours.
The discovery of a new persona within Leonard's psyche, which he calls "Samson", reveals that Doc Samson is capable of much higher powers than previously observed.
Additionally, Doc Samson is one of the most renowned psychiatrists on Earth. He is often called on to counsel various superhumans. He has an MD in psychiatry, and is a skilled theoretical technician and inventor of various medical devices. He is a skilled hand-to-hand combatant, which coupled with his physical attributes, has allowed him to engage the Hulk for extended periods of time, and has held his own against Iron Man, Wonder Man, Namor, and Hercules -- all at the same time.
So, how's the figure? Really very nicely done. For one thing. He's distinctly taller than the average figure in the Marvel Universe line, which generally comes in at about 4-1/4". Doc Samson is over 4-1/2" in height, almost 4-3/4". At that scale, that's huge, but then we are talking about someone who could arguably be described as a "near-Hulk".
Although Doc Samson has had a number of different costumes in his career, and a few times where he's eschewed the use of a costume entirely, this particular figure shows him in his best known costume -- moderately cornball though it might be. I have to believe that when Roy Thomas and Herb Trimpe came up with the design for this character, they were intentionally looking to go just a bit "over the top" with the design, and they certainly managed that.
Doc Samson is wearing a tight-fitting, short-sleeved red shirt, with a sideways yellow lightning bolt imprinted across the chest (don't want to make Captain Marvel or the Flash mad...) He has very dark blue leggings, which are so dark on this figure they're very nearly black. He wears a yellow belt, with circular studs around it, and yellow boots with Captain America-like cuffs at the tops. The leggings have red stripes down the sides. In other words, some seriously primary colors, which work, as well as can be expected with the long green hair.
The end result looks a little corny, but in a way, it sort of works. Doc Samson looks like someone who's maybe trying just a little too hard to look like a traditional super-hero, but he's also very nearly getting away with it. None of the background information I turned up on the character offered any explanation as to where he got the costume.
The headsculpt is excellent. In a recent question-and-answer session, it was stated that these figures are sculpted at the same size at which they are produced -- 1:1 -- which pretty well boggled my mind. I would've guessed that they were sculpted at about twice the size they were produced, hardly an uncommon procedure, as that's how the entire original 3-3/4" G.I. Joe line was developed. But 1:1 -- at this size? I get eyestrain just studying the details. I can't imagine trying to sculpt at this size. Definite credit and a round of Visine to the sculptors.
Doc Samson's features are, dare I say it, rather chiseled-looking, definitely heroic, and definitely a determined expression on his face. The green hair is better than shoulder length, and has been molded as a separate piece from distinctly flexible plastic. Here's a little lesson that Mattel could learn for their DC Universe Classics line. Doc Samson, a 4: scale figure, can readily turn his head from side-to-side. Zatanna, for example, a 6" scale DCUC figure? Not so much, and there's no darn reason why she shouldn't, obviously.
Doc Samson has a large and muscular physique. I don't collect the Marvel Universe line extensively enough to know if his body molds have seen use elsewhere on other figures. Given their sheer size over the average figure -- and yet they're not bulky enough to have been a Hulk figure -- I'd have to say probably not. There's also the matter of the cuffed boots. And yet the rest of the costume is strictly tights. The sleeve details are painted on, and the belt is a separate piece. The inside of one leg has a 2009 copyright date on it, and I found this figure in very late 2010, but given how far in advance toys are developed, that doesn't necessarily mean anything.
The body is superbly made, and is as chiseled in physique as Samson's face is in features. The musculature is very well defined. The red shirt has a certain amount of "shadow" painted into the musculature, which probably wasn't at all necessary, but at least it was done neatly.
About the only curious point is that the ankle articulation points, on Samson's yellow boots, are molded in red. One has to assume that these were part of some other set of parts in a single mold that had to be molded in one particular color. Fortunately, given the design of the lower legs, they don't really show all that much, but it's still a little odd.
I would like to discuss one aspect of the figure's design in particular, which I have also encountered on a couple of other recent Marvel Universe acquisitions, Iron Man 2020 and Spider-Man 2099 (and my, aren't we just jumping all over the timeline these days?). The hip articulation has been redesigned from the earlier days of Marvel Universe, and it's a vast improvement. Would that the Iron Man 2 line would take a cue from this.
Previously -- and still, in the case of the Iron Man 2 figures -- the leg articulation design was a sort of ball-and-socket thing, where the hip joint was the "ball", installed into the lower torso somehow or other, and possessing a rather peculiar and not always cooperative swivel and rotation, that didn't always work that well together. The rest of the leg was then attached to this, allowing it an additional rotation, which to be honest, wasn't much of an improvement. As I have discovered with my Iron Man 2 figures, you can get an interesting variety of action poses out of these figures, but just try to get one to stand up straight and evenly...
The new design for the legs that I'm seeing in Marvel Universe is a distinct improvement, both visually and functionally. It takes its cues significantly from G.I. Joe, in that there is a small "ball" for each leg, already attached to the lower torso, and which cannot be readily seen once the leg itself is secured. The only thing that's lost is the upper leg swivel -- hardly a major loss in my opinion -- and the look of the figure is distinctly improved because the area is not as "broken up" visually with multiple articulation points. I'm not sure what the overall fan and collector response has been to this alteration, but I, for one, certainly approve. The figure looks better and works better. Now somebody call Stark Enterprises about it...
Overall articulation of the figure is excellent. Doc Samson is fully poseable at the head, arms, upper arm swivel, elbows, wrists, mid-torso, legs, double-jointed knees, and ankles. I don't usually approve of the double-jointed articulation, because I think it breaks up the look of the figure too much relative to the alleged improvement in articulation, which itself doesn't always look that good in operation, but it's a strange fact that it at least looks a little better on darker colors, because the look of the figure isn't as apparently broken up. Doc Samson's dark blue leggings are so dark that you really can't tell.
Any complaints about the figure? Not really. It sometimes seems that one leg is very slightly longer than the other, and Doc Samson doesn't always want to stand up evenly straight as a result, but I may be imagining this. Paint work is neatly done, even on the very small eyes, although one looks a little bigger than the other. Still, at this size, it's hard to criticize. Articulation is excellent, as is the overall look of the figure.
Doc Samson doesn't really come with any accessories, although he does come with a display base. And here we come to a matter that has been mentioned in the collector community. Although Doc Samson's name is spelled correctly on his package, somebody goofed on the display base, where his name is spelled -- DOC SAMPSON. Whoops!
Honestly, I can't imagine where this came from, or why it wasn't caught. I can find no mention of a character named "Sampson". Even the Biblical character, the first one to have this name, didn't spell it like that. The only rationale I can theorize here, and even that's a longshot, is that someone was thinking "Simpson" -- like the cartoon characters.There's some thought that Hasbro might get around to correcting this, but I honestly don't know.
I don't usually discuss packaging that often, but there are a few things worth noting. When the Marvel Universe series first started, Nick Fury was pictured on the back, encouraging buyers to become a member of SHIELD, and directing them to a Web Site called "furyfiles". In keeping with events taking place in the comic book at the time, with future assortments, Nick Fury was replaced by Norman Osborn, and the SHIELD emblem on the front and back of the package was replaced with that of Osborn's organization, HAMMER. Now that that particular fiasco is done with, we have a third image, that of Steve Rogers in his new role as "Super-Soldier", and a new SHIELD emblem is back on the package.
However, the reference to "furyfiles" is no longer present, and there's also no longer a little envelope within the package, featuring a trading card of the figure with biographical details on the back, or an "official" sounding letter addressed to Tony Stark, Norman Osborn, or whomever. The lack of the Web Site doesn't really bother me, but I sort of liked the little packet, and I'm wondering how many other fans will miss it.
Conversely, I don't miss Norman Osborn's ugly mug at all. I wish Steve Rogers would become Captain America again, but at least he's a more tolerable individual, whatever role he's presently playing.
So, what's my final word here? I'm pleased to see that the Marvel Universe line is willing to bring out figures of less prominent characters. That's something that more action figure lines need to do, whatever their core concept. Doc Samson certainly qualifies, as do some of the other recent releases in this line. And the figure is excellent. He's huge, relatively speaking, well-sculpted, superbly detailed, nicely painted, and very well articulated. Any fan of the Hulk's side of the Marvel Universe, or of Doc Samson in particular (and I'm sure he must have some fans!) will be very pleased with this figure.
The MARVEL UNIVERSE figure of DOC SAMSON most definitely has my very enthusiastic recommendation!