REVIEW: EMCE TOYS RETRO STAR TREK MIRROR SPOCK
I think that many of us have occasional moments of thinking, "What if?" What if we'd done something differently than we had? What if we'd been born into a different family, a different country, a different time? What if history had played out much differently on a global scale? What would the world be like today?
It's a favorite focus of sci-fi storytellers to utilize this premise, often creating an entire alternate universe where some things are reasonably familiar, but others are radically different. DC Comics created the Crime Syndicate of Amerika, alternate-Earth counterparts to the Justice League, but villains on their world. Marvel Comics has put the concept to great use, in everything from their "What If?" title, to Exiles, to the epic, original "Age of Apocalypse" story. Dark Horse Comics turned the original Star Wars Trilogy inside out with its "Infinities" imprint.
But certainly one of the best-known alternate universe concepts is the Mirror Universe, as featured in Star Trek. It turned up first in an Original Series episode, the details of which I will get to shortly, but it hardly stopped there. The Mirror Universe turned up in both comics and novels, starting with an epic sequel of the original story. The Mirror Universe was revisited no less than four times during the run of Star Trek Deep Space Nine, and also had an epic two-part episode during the fourth season of Star Trek Enterprise, which also tied in to the Original Series episode "The Tholian Web", and also gave us our first and only modern look at not only a Tholian, but a Gorn.
Although Next Generation and Voyager didn't officially visit the Mirror Universe, there were episodes in each of these series that turned the familiar cast and settings around quite a bit. Next Generation's "Yesterday's Enterprise" brought a starship out of the past that was never supposed to have been, resulting in a very different history and a far more militant Starfleet. Voyager's "Living Witness" showcased a rather skewed retelling of a planetary civilization's encounter with the crew of the Voyager, much to the horror of The Doctor. Admittedly, Voyager had more than its fair share of run-ins with alternate histories and timelines over the course of it's seven-year trek through the Delta Quadrant.
But it all started with that one Original Series episode, "Mirror, Mirror", which is regarded as one of the classics of the series. In this episode, Captain Kirk, Dr. McCoy, Mr. Scott, and Lt. Uhura are paying a diplomatic visit to the homeworld of the Halkans. An unusual storm in the area causes a transporter malfunction when they leave, and our heroes find themselves arriving in the so-called Mirror Universe.
Here, there is no Federation. There is an Empire. Here, the U.S.S. Enterprise is the I.S.S. Enterprise, a crew of evil counterparts to the familiar faces that we know. Chekov is a devious schemer, Sulu is chief of Security and more than a little sinister and insidious, and Spock has a mustache and goatee.
Captain Kirk discovers that his counterpart rose to command through the assassination of his predecessor, Captain Pike, and has basically cut a swath of destruction and tyranny across the galaxy, with the Halkans as his next target.
The ship is more or less the same, the faces are reasonably familiar, but the Captain and the others need to find their way back to the universe in which they belong. None of them are likely to last terribly long in this harsh and cruel universe. Ultimately, Spock aids them in their return home.
It's not surprising that there have been action figures of the Mirror Universe crew. Playmates produced a superb series of six 9" figures in their Mirror Universe uniforms, including Kirk, Spock, McCoy, Sulu, Uhura, and Lt. Marlena Moreau, another key player in the episode. They also turned out a 5" scale figure of the Mirror Universe Spock, and there have been some figures since then.
What there never was -- were any Mego figures of the Mirror Universe characters.
In the 1970's, Mego pretty much ruled the action figure world. Mego created a basic procedure for virtually all of their action figures. They crafted several 8" scale bodies, to which could be attached any head that could be sculpted and molded, and which could be dressed in any outfit that could be designed and stitched together.
Their primary line was called "World's Greatest Super-Heroes", and certainly living up to its name, it featured the top tier characters from both DC Comics and Marvel Comics. But Mego didn't stop there. They created their own lines based on characters arguably in the public domain, such as Robin Hood, King Arthur and the knights of Camelot, various legendary Western and Pirate characters, as well as plenty of licenses, such as Planet of the Apes, the Wizard of Oz -- and STAR TREK.
Over the course of several assortments of 8", cloth-costumed action figures, Mego turned out most of the basic crew, including Kirk, Spock, McCoy, Scotty, and Uhura. Sulu and Chekov were planned, but never quite made it. They also produced a host of aliens, including a Klingon, a Romulan, a Cheron, an Andorian, and others.
But they never got around to the Mirror Universe. It's not terribly surprising, really. Mego had a lot of irons in the fire, and once Star Wars came out, Mego's presence in the toy aisles started to dwindle. Their last Star Trek offerings were based on the initial movie, "Star Trek: The Motion Picture", and that was pretty well that, not only for Mego's Star Trek offerings, but for Mego itself.
Nevertheless, Mego had made such an incredible impact in the action figure world, that it has maintained a high level of popularity among collectors to this day. To that end, a rather enterprising (pun intended -- deal with it) group came together and, with the blessing of Mego's original founder, Marty Abrams, formed EmCe Toys, with the intention of bringing back accurate, Mego-style 8" cloth-costumed action figures. And their first license out of the gate was -- STAR TREK!
Here was Captain Kirk, Mr. Spock, Dr. McCoy, Mr. Scott, and Lt. Uhura. Here were finally figures of Lt. Sulu and Ensign Chekov! Hey, better thirty-five years late than never, right? Many of the aliens returned, as well, including the Klingon, the almost impossible to find Romulan and Andorian, and even a Gorn that actually looked like a Gorn this time around.
EmCe Toys has since expanded its Star Trek repertoire. They have produced figures of Captain Picard and a Borg from Star Trek The Next Generation, something that would have been impossible for Mego to have done, since the series didn't come along until 1987 (see my separate reviews of these figures). And now, they have produced figures from the Mirror Universe, of Captain Kirk and Mr. Spock!
This review will take a look at MISTER SPOCK from the Mirror Universe.
Certainly one of the reasons Mr. Spock wasn't included among the landing party that beamed to the Mirror Enterprise was in order to take one of the major characters from the series, and place him within that vicious universe -- and find out that he still fits, in his own way. Dr. McCoy even commented on this once the group had returned to the more familiar universe.
In the Mirror Universe, Spock was just as logical as before. But he was a lot colder, and he wasn't above making threats. When he discovers that Security Chief Sulu is monitoring him, he warns Sulu that should anything happen to him, those members of the crew that are loyal to him would not take it lightly. And some of them -- are Vulcans. This is enough of an implied threat to get even the sinister, underhanded Sulu to back off -- at least temporarily.
Spock ultimately assists the stranded crew members return to their universe, but only after forcing a Vulcan mind-meld on Dr. McCoy, something the other universe's Spock would be disinclined to do, and the main reason he assists is because he wants things put back where they're supposed to be. He requires his captain back, and Kirk and his companions don't belong in this universe. It's not done out of compassion or because it's the right thing. Kirk speaks to Spock about the inevitable downfall of the Empire and how illogical it is to follow it, and Spock says he will "consider" Kirk's words, but says nothing more.
If we maintain continuity into Deep Space Nine, then Spock did heed Kirk's words, and eventually was instrumental in overthrowing the Empire, but it did humanity no favors. By the late 24th century, humanity is enslaved at the hands of a combined Klingon-Cardassian alliance, along with their allies. Whoops.
Precisely why Spock grew a mustache and goatee in the Mirror Universe is anybody's guess, but it certainly made him look more sinister.
So, how's the figure? Outstanding, really. My evaluation of these Retro-type figures from EmCe is -- how much do they look like what Mego would have done, if Mego had done them. Especially since, of all of the toymakers presently making retro-style 8" cloth-costumed figures -- and there are several doing so -- EmCe Toys is really shooting for as precise a Mego likeness as possible, and they have the rights to do so.
They have certainly succeeded with Mirror Spock. The first thing we must pay attention to is the headsculpt. Honestly, I half-expected to find that they'd taken the Mego Spock head, and simply painted a beard on it. This is what Playmates did with their 9" Mirror Spock -- they used the head from their standard Spock figure, and just painted a mustache and beard on it.
Yes, it's a cheap way of going about it. But it's also understandable. Molds are the single most expensive part of toy manufacturing. And really, it didn't look bad at all. It wasn't as though the mustache and goatee were all that big even in the TV episode. It wasn't as though Spock was trying to audition for the Vulcan version of ZZ Top.
So, imagine my surprise when I discovered that EmCe had molded a new head, with a specifically sculpted mustache and goatee! Okay, I'm impressed. Clearly what they have done, although I can't say I'm entirely sure how they did it, was to take the original Mego head, and add the facial hair.
EmCe Toys took a great deal of pride in the fact that their Star Trek figures used heads that were derived directly from the original Mego figures, at least for those characters that Mego had manufactured back in the day. That included Spock, of course.
There's only one thing that's always nagged me just a little about the Mego Spock head -- the ears. For whatever reason, Mego really exaggerated them. Okay, Spock's pointed ears are his most prominent feature. In the series, they set him apart from everyone else, and made him a pop-culture sensation. And this was in a time before ridge-headed Klingons and CGI aliens that could be just about anything. And more often than not, when the crew of the Enterprise encountered aliens, they were pretty human-looking. We saw the occasional Andorian, or Tellarite, or Orion, but these were more body paint and wigs than anything else. Nothing all that complicated. Spock's pointed ears were in every episode.
So, I can see why Mego would want them to be noticeable. But -- there's noticeable and there's extreme. And these come close to being extreme. Much worse, and this Spock could have gotten a bit part in the movie based on "Watership Down" -- as one of the rabbits.
Still, it is what it is, and the first EmCe Spock wouldn't have been an accurate remake of the Mego Spock if it hadn't been for the ears, I certainly commend EmCe for their accuracy, and it wouldn't make sense to do that Spock, and not use the same headsculpt for the Mirror headsculpt, ears and all, and I'm especially impressed that EmCe went to the trouble of actually sculpting the mustache and goatee onto the face.
The one notable accommodation that the figure has made to the Mego design, and it's a perfectly understandable one and I suspect Mego would have done the same thing, is with regard to the boots. Most Mego figures from other lines wore separate boots. Not the Star Trek figures. Those narrow black boots wouldn't have worked especially well as separate footwear, so Mego molded specific lower legs for their Star Trek figures that were molded in black and included the boots, over which the slightly flared, boot-high trousers were donned.
The Mirror Universe uniforms were different, in that they featured very high black boots that were very nearly hip boots. This would have been virtually impossible for Mego to pull off using existing Star Trek molds. As such, EmCe Toys maintained the existing Star Trek boots and trousers. I suspect Mego would have done the same, nor am I complaining.
Mr. Spock didn't wear a standard uniform. Although we clearly see uniforms among the crew of the Mirror Universe Enterprise that aren't too far removed from the standard ones, Spock's is not one of these. Rather, Mr. Spock wears a blue shirt, the appropriate color, but seemingly from a more elegant-looking fabric than the average blue-shirted crewman. It has a particularly high black collar to it, with a slight split in the front, and some gold braid around the collar and down the front in a narrow line. Spock has a gold sash around his waist, as well, and his uniform includes the emblem of the Mirror Universe, a dagger through an image of the Earth, and several medals and awards on the other side of the shirt.
The Mirror Spock figure is certainly properly outfitted. The shirt is, for the most part, a masterpiece, looking very much like what one would have expected a Mego version of the Mirror Spock's uniform to look like, had Mego ever made this figure. He also has his gold sash belt.
There are some quality issues, and some odd variances from what one would expect from a figure trying to emulate Mego, however. Some of this I encountered when I purchased the Next Generation Picard and Borg figures, and I chalked it up at that time to the fact that these characters had never been made before. But Mirror Kirk and Spock "almost" have been.
For one thing, the entire head has been painted, the face in a proper skin tone, and the hair in its proper color. Now, this is something that really annoys me, because it's just so pointless and wasteful, and to me, it's not only very apparent, but it doesn't look very good. And I've encountered it on other action figure lines in the past. But really, why do it here? Even EmCe Toys' first Spock wasn't done like this. So why do it to the Mirror Spock?
In fairness, the facial details are neatly painted, but there still just seems to be no good reason to paint the entire head like this, and I can't honestly fathom why it was done.
That's still not the only variance. The figure is distinctly heavier than previous EmCe figures. Again, this is something that started with Picard and the Borg, which were the first new Star Trek figures from EmCe in quite a while.
I have to believe that EmCe, for reasons unknown to me, has started to use a different production facility. Precisely why they have done so, and more to the point, why they have made these rather radical changes, I have no idea. I can't say that I entirely approve, however.
Additionally, I discovered that the figure has screws in his back! That's something that no Mego, nor any prior EmCe Star Trek figure ever had!
There are some quality issues. The shirt does not fit well in the back. This is how I discovered the screws. Nothing I have attempted will keep the shirt from being rather open in the back. Part of me thinks this is because the shirt had to be newly tailored, and doesn't use the more elastic fabric typical for Star Trek Mego-esque figures. But really, the shirt is just poorly tailored. It looks fine from the front, but I don't think any attempted adjustment would straighten it out on the back. There simply isn't quite enough material, especially since it doesn't have any "give" to it, and to be perfectly blunt, I call that sloppy, and from a line from which I have come to expect better results.
I can't explain the heavier weight of the figure. I honestly think I'd need to x-ray one of these recent EmCe Star Trek figures, next to one of their previous ones, and maybe even throw in an actual Mego figure from back in the day, to fully get a handle on the differences. But clearly, there are some differences. Why they were made, I don't know. Some of them may even be regarded as improvements. But not all of them, and unfortunately, the ones that aren't tend to have a somewhat adverse effect on the figure's overall appearance.
One other thing. The figure's feet tend to be rather spread out when he stands. There is no upper leg swivel, so I really can't explain why this is. It's not typical.
Still, it's hard to complain too much -- even if it sounds like I have. I had a ton of Megos in my younger days, and I certainly welcome the format back, and am pleased with the expansion that EmCe is carrying out. And "Mirror, Mirror" is one of my all-time favorite episodes. I tend to feel that both Deep Space Nine and especially Enterprise paid it great respect with their takes on it, as well.
Mirror Spock comes with an assortment of accessories. He has the standard plastic belt with Mego-designed phaser and communicator. Be advised that the phaser doesn't like to stay in the belt, and you're probably better off leaving the little clear rubber band in place. I wish I had. Mirror Spock also comes with a new accessory, a gray dagger, similar to those carried by the Mirror Enterprise crew.
Of course, the figure is superbly articulated. Mirror Spock is fully poseable at the head, arms, elbows, wrists, waist, legs, and knees.
A brief work about the packaging. The card is a very nice duplicate of the original. It's amusing to see how they've handled the addition of Mirror Kirk and Spock. Kirk looks pretty much the same, of course, although the collar was altered on the portrait shot. Spock obviously picked up a mustache and goatee, and I do find myself wondering if they used the original artist. I know they brought him back to do the new portrait shots for Sulu, Chekov, and the Gorn a while back. Whether they'd bring him in for a beard, I don't know.
So, what's my final word? I'm sincerely impressed and pleased here. I know I've griped a bit, but the few negatives on this figure are, unfortunately, some of my touchy points when it comes to action figures. I've always believed that a fully-painted head was ridiculous. Mold it in the proper skin color and paint what needs to be, then leave it at that. And there has definitely been a substantial change to the design, if not the structure, of the body, and I don't like needless change -- certainly not without knowing why it was done. There's something else I don't like -- mysteries. And there's really no excuse for the shirt.
However, that aside, this is truly an excellent figure, from a decidedly iconic episode of the original Star Trek, and it looks very much like what I can readily imagine Mego turning out, had they ever decided to do this particular character. They didn't, but EmCe did, and I'm very pleased that they did, and with the results. I believe you will be, too.
The EMCE TOYS RETRO STAR TREK FIGURE of MIRROR SPOCK definitely has my highest recommendation!