Interestingly, Marvel Comics' Captain Marvel never achieved the heights of popularity or recognition of the DC version. He was, for quite a few years, a well-regarded hero, one with a certain sci-fi bent who tended to have more space adventures than most, and the stories were generally well-written. Jim Starlin, arguably the best "cosmic adventures" writer for Marvel Comics, handled Cap's adventures for a time, including his final one (more on that later), but even though Captain Marvel was well-regarded, occasionally spent time with the Avengers even though he was never officially a member (except posthumously), and took on a wide range of threats ranging from the Super-Skrull all the way up to Thanos, he just never quite made it to the big time.
So -- who is Captain Marvel? He started out as a soldier, a captain, in the Kree military. The Kree are one of the most prominent alien races in the Marvel Universe. If you want to talk about the major alien races in the Marvel Universe, the ones that have conquered the most terrority and are best known to the super-beings of Earth, then you've got the Kree, their ancient enemies the Skrulls, and somewhat more recently, the Shi'Ar, who have caused trouble for just about everybody at one point or another.
The Kree are the most human-looking of the three, although the dominant race of the Kree are blue-skinned. Captain Marvel comes from the oppressed minority, the so-called "white Kree". Their skin color is identical to Caucasian people of Earth (more recently, this reference has been changed to "pink Kree" on occasion).
His real name is Mar-Vell. He was appointed to be a Kree spy on Earth, although this was part of an overall plot by the Kree Supreme Intelligence to maintain his own personal power, a rather long and convoluted story that I won't get into at this time. Mar-Vell, despite his relative youth, was already recognized as a hero among his people for his adventures in the Kree military, and it was also noted that he tended to be more humane and compassionate than most Kree soldiers, something that was generally discouraged and suppressed among the Kree.
Mar-Vell initially assumed the identity of a space scientist whom he had seen killed in an automobile accident. Over time, as was part of the plan of the Supreme Intelligence, Mar-Vell began to be increasingly sympathetic towards the people of Earth, and sometimes subverted the plans of his superiors. Over the course of his adventures, he was granted powers and abilities far beyond those of any previous Kree, as well as a distinctive uniform (one far more super-heroic in appearance, it should be noted).
Sometime later, in what I've always believed was a surreptitious nod to the DC Comics' Captain Marvel, in which a young boy, Billy Batson, transforms into the adult Captain Marvel, a strange link was created between Mar-Vell and a young man named Rick Jones. Mar-Vell was cast into the mysterious realm known as the Negative Zone, but he wore a pair of wrist bands called Nega-Bands. Jones also had these wrist bands, and by bringing them together, he could trade places with Mar-Vell, who by now was known as Captain Marvel, an earthly corruption, but not too severe a one, of his name.
Mar-Vell was eventually cast out by the Kree Supreme Intelligence, and decided to stay on Earth and defend it against cosmic threats. He and Jones eventually were able to separate themselves from their strange situation, although they remained friends afterwards. Captain Marvel continued to have a distinguished career as a super-hero.
I wish I could say this story has a happy ending, but it doesn't. During one particular battle, Marvel fought a villain named Nitro, who had tried to release a cannister of nerve gas. Marvel had no choice but to seal the cannister by hand. Although he collapsed afterwards, it appeared that he recovered shortly thereafter.
Tragically, the gas acted as a carcinogen to Captain Marvel. As presented in one of Marvel Comics' first major graphic novels, THE DEATH OF CAPTAIN MARVEL, the hero ultimately succumbed to cancer despite the best attempts of the galaxy's finest minds to find a cure for him. He died surrounded by friends and family, ironically almost making more of a mark in death than he had in life. It's worth noting that if you look carefully at the back cover to the original graphic novel, among the heroes standing around his grave to honor him, you can see Superman in the background.
And now we have a Marvel Legends figure of this character! I decided to pick it up, if for no other reason than I've always liked the basic design of the character. He looks like a super-hero. The costume design is superb, and the overall look is excellent. Mar-Vell has wavy blonde hair, a mostly red uniform with black mask and shoulders, trunks, gloves, and boots, and a gold star on his chest. Of course, the gold nega-bands are also present on his wrists. The design could have come across as hokey if it hadn't been done properly, but instead, it's really one of the most impressive super-hero costume designs around. It's basic without being bland, is no more ornate than it has to be, and somehow manages to look distinctly heroic.
The figure itself is, on the whole, excellent, having the expected high level of articulation that the Marvel Legends line is known for. Honestly, I find myself thinking that this body design could just about serve as a "basic" body design for quite a few heroes, much as I dislike the repeated use of parts. Any further uses of this body would have to alter the wrists, to lose the nega-bands, but that wouldn't be too much of a challenge. And of course new heads would be needed.
But there's nothing really "extreme" about Captain Marvel's overall look. He's not a massive, bulky powerhouse like the Hulk. He's not hairy like Sasquatch. He's a good, basic, super-hero, and looks the part.
My one complaint about the body mold is the neck. From a front view it looks fine. From the side...this figure has a neck like Jay Leno has a chin. It juts forward to the point where I'm surprised he can keep his balance, and if he ever got a sore throat, he'd need an entire bag of lozenges to deal with it. His neck is almost bigger than his head. If this set of molds is ever used again, never mind the nega-bands, shave a bit off this neck!
Still, that's SORT of a minor complaint on an otherwise excellent figure of a hero that, in life, in my opinion, never quite got the respect he deserved. There is a variant figure out there, of Captain Marvel's son, Genis-Vell, who briefly took on his father's name. He tried to carry on his father's legacy, but was recently dispatched to a series of alternate dimensions by the Thunderbolts after his powers ran amok. I hear there's a daughter out there somewhere, too. Hope she has better luck than father and brother...
But I am content with the classic Captain Marvel. Stretch-neck notwithstanding, it's really an excellent figure with no flaws to speak of, and an excellent overall design. The Marvel Legends CAPTAIN MARVEL definitely has my recommendation! Now let's consider another MARVEL LEGENDS figure -- TASKMASTER...
Ever wonder where all those generic goons that some super-villains employ come from? You know the ones I mean. The dozen or so brain-dead apes that the average super-hero has to pummel his way through before he gets his hands on the main bad guy?
They come from the Taskmaster. More specifically, from his training schools. Taskmaster runs a series of schools for hired mercenaries, generally the "hired help" used by a host of super-villains, and he has very lucrative contracts with many of them to keep feeding them this "cannon fodder".
But there's more to the Taskmaster than that. A mercenary and a super- villain in his own right, Taskmaster may be one of the most dangerous adversaries a hero can face, at least in a physical confrontation. While Taskmaster may have no grand designs on global conquest, he possesses a distinctive trait called "photographic reflexes". If he sees a given maneuver once, he can duplicate it perfectly.
It started in his childhood. He was watching a cowboy show, and an actor was twirling a lasso. He found that he could twirl it with exactly the same proficiency.
The ability was not perfect, however. In his own mini-series a few years ago (more on that later), Taskmaster explained, "I could twirl a lasso, but that did not make me a cowboy." Indeed, as he found out not long after, still during his childhood, some skills required other skills to work properly. Spending time at a swimming pool one afternoon, he saw a man execute a flawless dive from the high board. He decided to imitate the dive. He did so to perfection, but upon hitting the water, realized one nearly-fatal flaw -- he didn't know how to swim. He came close to drowning.
He learned to accumulate skills. He watched enough football to become a star player in high school. He became proficient with a wide range of fighting skills. He even taught himself to be a superb chef by watching a wide range of gourmet cooking shows.
There are some things he cannot do. He's not bulletproof. He can't fly. He doesn't have super-strength. And he can't really exceed normal human parameters. On one occasion, he managed to do so. By watching a series of martial arts videos at double the normal speed, he was, briefly, able to imitate those same moves at twice their normal speed. But he remarked at the time, "The human body isn't meant to move this quickly." He had to slow back down to regular speed or risk shattering most of his bones.
Taskmaster's real name is unknown. He has used the name "Tony Masters" at times, but given the obviousness of it, this is probably an alias. Not interested in being a super-hero, and seeing a great deal of potential profit in his abilities, he became a mercenary, and later furthered his income by starting up a training school for hired help to super-villains.
He debuted in the pages of the Avengers, and has managed to make a nuisance of himself to a wide range of super-heroes ever since. Although not really the most prominent villain in existence, he presents a considerable challenge in a fight. How do you combat someone who can match you move-for-move? If he doesn't already have your moves down, he will as soon as you start throwing punches. And he can basically throw the combined skills of everybody he's ever seen or fought at you at the same time. And that's a fair portion of the Marvel Universe, and who knows how many hours of assorted cinema and other training regimens.
His classic costume, on which the Marvel Legends figure is based, is a pretty strange piece of work. Mostly blue-black, with some orange trim, white trunks, boots, and gloves, a white hood and cape with an orange lining, and a skull-like face mask. There is a second version of the Taskmaster, unfortunately NOT available as an action figure. This version of the Taskmaster debuted in the pages of Deadpool, and was carried over when that title briefly became Agent X. This outfit was designed by Udon Studios, and was frankly a massive improvement. The costume was mostly greyish blue, lost the cape, and turned the skull- face into something more high-tech looking. I'd love to see a figure of this version of the Taskmaster in the Marvel Legends line.
He also starred -- in this costume -- in a four-issue mini-series that was really quite excellent. This was also published by Udon Studios, and it's a shame that it was just a limited series, because it took a character who was hardly a major player with very little background or personality beyond the basics, and made a very fascinating individual out of him.
More recently, this version of the Taskmaster turned up in the first issue of the Avengers/Power Pack mini-series, but elsewhere, Tasky has reverted to his original costume, and has turned up in the Civil War title, as well as Cable/Deadpool. None of these were from Udon, so one has to assume that Taskmaster basically dresses in whichever costume suits his present mood or some such.
The Marvel Legends Taskmaster figure is excellent, as one would expect it to be. It's also apparently rather hard to find. Granted as I write this review, the figure goes back a couple of assortments to the "Legendary Riders" series, but based on some postings I've encountered on some message boards, there's some question among a few collectors as to whether or not Taskmaster even really exists. Well, he does, although he might've been a distinct short-pack in an assortment that could get away with it more readily than the "Build-A-Figure" groupings.
The only really odd thing about this figure, and it's honestly not all that odd, is the hood and cape. Capes in the Marvel Legends line are a difficult proposition. Toy Biz doesn't make them out of fabric, and a fabric cape on a figure in this scale probably wouldn't "hang" all that well, anyway. So they sculpt them and try to mold them reasonably thinly. My only gripe with this is that sometimes, they "pre-pose" the cape, to make it look wind-blown or something.
Fortunately, they didn't do this too much with Taskmaster. The cape "hangs" well. It looks like it's a little flared out at the sides, but basically, it looks good. About the only negative thing I'd say is that its attachment point is a little weak. I'm not sure how this could've been remedied without attaching it TOO much, but it's really only snapped in the front. The cape and hood are a single piece, and something they feel like they're not going to stay put very well. At least they're not so heavy as to affect the balance of the figure. He stands up quite well.
There's another interesting aspect to the Taskmaster figure. He comes with more accessories than I've ever seen a Marvel Legends figure come with. Now, this actually makes sense. It doesn't do much good to be able to imitate Captain America throwing his shield unless you've got something to throw. And seeing as how Taskmaster has learned the moves of quite a few of Marvel's finest, he's going to need to carry their hardware, as well.
Taskmaster's best-known piece of hardware is, indeed, his own version of Cap's shield. But it's not red-white-and-blue. It's silver, with a blue and black center, and a stylized gold "T" in it. But the principle is certainly the same. He also has his own versions of Daredevil's billy club, Hawkeye's quiver (no archery equipment though -- must've gone over budget), a sword, and a pistol.
Since he's part of the "Legendary Rider" series, he also comes with his own version of Hawkeye's flying "atomic steed" or whatever the heck that contraption is called that Hawkeye flies around in. This is a multi- piece unit that snaps together and has its own display stand. Even has a seat belt. Nice to see that even weirdly-dressed mercenaries are safety-conscious.
While I might well have preferred that the Marvel Legends Taskmaster figure had been dressed in his mini-series uniform, I recognize the fact that his original costume is the better recognized outfit. And certainly the Taskmaster is an interesting, and dangerous, individual, who I think is one of a number that has been underestimated in the Marvel Universe.
Scarce as it may be, I'm pleased that there is a Marvel Legends TASKMASTER figure, and he definitely has my recommendation -- if you can find one...! Finally, let's have a look at one more Marvel Legends character -- THE FALCON!
You know, it really is amazing to me how a character that would otherwise probably barely be a blip on the super-hero radar if it weren't for the fact that he hangs around with Captain America a fair bit has managed to get SO MANY action figures over the years.
This is not a racist statement. I know The Falcon is black, or African-
American if you prefer. This has nothing to do with that. It's just
Mego was the first company to make an action figure of this character, and when I first encountered him, I had no idea who he was. I knew who Spider-Man was. I knew who Captain America was. Iron Man, The Incredible Hulk, Thor, the Fantastic Four -- but The Falcon? See my point? How'd he get in there? You've basically got all the major names right there, and then -- who?
Some years later, he turned up in Mattel's rather short-lived Secret Wars series of action figures. Granted this line was a little more extensive than Mego's, and he was not the only lesser player on the field, but still...
Then once Toy Biz started turning out Marvel figures, Falcon actually worked his way all the way up to the 9", cloth-costumed Famous Covers series! Okay, again, this line was more extensive than Mego's, and had more than its share of oddballs in it (I mean, the Toad, for pity's name!?), but still, you wondered who The Falcon was paying off to get this many figure incarnations. In fairness, though, the Famous Covers Falcon had one of the better headsculpts of the Famous Covers figures, if for no other reason than they sculpted him with his mouth mostly shut, instead of the very annoying "screaming face" that way too many prominent characters had, including Falcon's buddy Captain America. I'm rather looking forward to Hasbro's planned 9" line of cloth-costumed Marvel heroes now that they have the license. A recommendation, Hasbro? Keep their traps shut.
And now the Falcon has found his way into the Marvel Legends line.
Despite the fact that Toy Biz said a while back that he wasn't really
a terribly likely contender, I can't say as I'm surprised. Again, granted,
the Famous Covers line has run longer than any of the aforementioned
other lines -- Mego, Secret Wars, or Famous Covers, and has been known
for doing a fair range of decidedly lesser-known characters, but even
Falcon's real name is Sam Wilson, the son of a minister in Harlem who died trying to prevent a street fight. For a time, Wilson tried to emulate his father, but when his mother was killed in the streets not long after, Wilson became embittered, and a near split-personality, that of "Snap" Wilson, a street racketeer, emerged.
Wilson was later captured by accomplices of the Red Skull, who then used the Cosmic Cube on him to restore his original personality, figuring that Wilson's idealism would make him the perfect partner for Captain America, who could then be later turned on him by the Skull. Utlimately, this plan failed. Wilson retained his original personality, and became Captain America's partner for some time.
Wilson always had an affinity for training birds, and developed an especially close bond with a falcon named Redwing. Here's where Wilson's background gets a little muddy. I've read differing accounts that the Red Skull used the Cosmic Cube to heighten the bond between Wilson and Redwing to permanent and near-telepathic levels, and I've also heard that Wilson's ability to bond with birds is a mutation, admittedly nothing on the scale of Cyclops or Magneto. I'm honestly not sure which version is considered correct these days.
Wilson was largely just a highly athletic adventurer for a time, until he met up with the Black Panther, who used the considerable technology available from his homeland of Wakanda to design a set of jet-powered glider wings for the Falcon, enabling him to fly. This is actually a harness that is attached to Wilson's arms and torso, underneath his costume, and is controlled by cybernetic circuitry inside Wilson's mask.
The Falcon was briefly a member of the Avengers, but it wasn't his idea. During a time when the government, in the form of special agent Henry Peter Gyrich, particularly tried to oversee and control the actions of the Avengers, they forced the Falcon onto the team in order to meet government criteria with regard to hiring minorities. Falcon accepted the "invitation" as a favor to Captain America, but was never comfortable on the team. He's remained in peripheral contact with the Avengers from time to time, but has no great interest in being a full member. Largely, Falcon is a street-based hero, occasionally working with Captain America.
The figure is really very good, although for some reason it's hard to find one that has a neatly painted mask. I finally tracked one down and decided to get it while I had the opportunity.
The one tricky thing about this character is -- how do you do the wings? In all honesty, I think the Mego version of this figure accomplished this the best. They made the wings out of fabric, and sewed them to brown, skin-color sleeves that were part of the costume. The Famous Covers version, in my opinion, blew it, making the wings out of rather rigid plastic and trying to articulate them at the shoulder and elbow. This honestly didn't work especially well, and hindered the articulation of the figure.
The Marvel Legends version does a reasonably capable job, splitting the wings between upper and lower arm segments, and not attaching them to the back. Obviously this figure is going to look best standing with his arms up and his wings displayed, but the articulation isn't hindered, and really, they look pretty good. Detail work on the wings is excellent.
There are two versions of The Falcon available, one with his his classic costume, and one with a more recent version. I went with the classic version (if nothing else, it's the more readily available), and Toy Biz did a capable job with it. The insignia on the costume is a little off, but not too severely. And the boots are nicely detailed, right down to the "feathered" section and the "claws" on the boots.
If I have one complaint, it's with regard to the articulation segments at the neck and upper shoulders. They're molded in red, when in both instances, they're up against Falcon's brown skin. Nor are they even painted (granted, sometimes this backfires anyway). I don't see why they couldn't've been molded in the proper color, although I suspect the reason for this is because all of the articulation pieces were molded in red. The wrist and finger joints appear to have been molded in red, with some white paint slapped on after the figure assembly -- and not very well. This was almost enough to keep me from buying the figure.
Then we have Redwing. Of course, Falcon comes with his -- falcon. And the bird itself is an excellent sculpt. Nicely designed, well painted, well sculpted. However -- he's attached to this transparent post that's rather -- lumpy in its sculpt, and this can be attached to a peg in Falcon's back. I'm sure that the intent was to make it look like Redwing was swooping up from behind Falcon, and the transparent post designed to look like some sort of air turbulence or something. I highly recommend carefully sawing the display post off of Redwing (yeah, it's glued into place, and not too far from his tail feathers), and finding some other way to display him.
This unintentional peculiarity aside, The Falcon is really a very decent
figure. I'm still not sure this character deserves all of the action
figure attention he's received for the better part of thirty years or
so, but this is actually a very decent version of him, as one would
expect from a Marvel Legends figure. Good sculpt, excellent detail,
generally good paint work, glitches reasonably minor. THE FALCON definitely
has my recommendation!