REVIEW: EMCE TOYS STAR TREK RETRO-MEGO-STYLE ROMULAN
In the 1970's, the dominant toy company for action figures was unquestionably Mego. They had the license to pretty much everything -- DC Super-Heroes, Marvel Super-Heroes -- and if having the license to the two biggest competitors in the comics business wasn't enough, they also had Planet of the Apes, Wizard of Oz, and some stuff that one sort of wondered why they bothered with. I mean -- The Waltons!? Popular show, but action figures?
Anyway, they also had -- STAR TREK. And over the course of several years, they produced most of the command crew of the Classic Series Enterprise, as well as a host of interesting aliens, such as a Klingon, a Cheron, and others.
But something -- happened -- in the third year of the line. I've never been entirely sure just what. But the third major assortment of Star Trek figures, an all-aliens assortment, just didn't come out to the same degree that the others did. I never even saw them in the stores. I only knew about them because I'd seen -- of all things -- a 60 Minutes report on the toy world. And there they were, a quick shot of a Mego Star Trek Andorian and Romulan! Whoa! Hey! Was that...?! Come back!
Which pretty well sums up my experience with the Romulan and the Andorian during the original run of Mego's Star Trek figures.
Oh, we'd get Romulans and Andorians later on. Playmates Toys would see to that in the 1990's. Heck, they even produced a really nice 9" cloth costumed Romulan, and a 12" cloth-costumed Andorian. But I never forgot those Megos.
And neither did a collector by the name of "Dr. Mego", who, through his company called EmCe Toys, and with the approval of Mego's founder Marty Abrams -- has brought back the Mego-era Star Trek figures. 8" tall, bodies designed much as before, costumes nicely done, heads derived from the original molds, the works.
And one thing EmCe Toys did, of which I heartily approve, is that they wasted no time in bringing out the two scarcest, highly popular aliens -- the Andorian and the Romulan. The Andorian was paired with Spock as the second assortment of the line, and the Romulan with Dr. McCoy as the third.
I didn't have any real trouble finding the Andorian. The Romulan...? I guess I wasn't the only one who really wanted him. Not only did I never see him locally, not only did a couple of online stores run out of him before I could get him, but it finally took ordering directly from Dr. Mego's EmCe Toys' online outlet itself to snag him! And even there, it warned, "Order him before he's gone!" All right, already, I get the point -- and not just the ones on the ears.
So -- who are the Romulans? They're an offshoot of Vulcans -- although nobody knew that until their first encounter in the Classic Series episode, "Balance of Terror". There had been a previous war between Earth and the Romulans, but it had been conducted entirely in space. No one knew what the Romulans even looked like. So imagine everyone's surprise when the Enterprise was able to get a visual of the Romulan bridge, and here were all these pointed ears! Yeah, even Spock was surprised at this.
Interestingly enough, the Romulan commander in that episode was played by Mark Lenard, who would go on in Star Trek history to be better known for a different pointed-eared role, that of Sarek, Spock's father.
This odd bit of history was maintained even in the prequel series "Enterprise". On the few occasions when the Enterprise crew encountered the Romulans, they never saw them.
The Romulans appeared all of twice in the Classic Series. In the second episode in which they appeared, it was revealed that they had struck up some sort of deal with the Klingons, and were now using Klingon ships. They'd apparently traded their cloaking device technology to the Klingons for the ships.
Why did the Romulans appear only twice in the Classic Series? Simple expense. Pointed ears didn't come cheap. It was a lot easier, when an established enemy was needed, to put somebody into a Klingon costume. This was "pre-ridge" Klingons, after all.
The Romulans would have a greater impact in subsequent Star Trek series. They turned up in the final episode of the first season of Next Generation. Here, it was explained that the Romulans had been absent for some fifty-plus years. It was determined that their alliance with the Klingons was distinctly a thing of the past. When the Romulans finally appeared, it was in a massive warship like nothing the Federation had ever encountered. The exchange between Picard and the Romulan commander was -- as cordial as could be expected. Both ships were investigating an incident that would ultimately turn out, a few seasons later, to have been the first sign of the Borg in the area.
At the same time, the Romulan commander, played by Marc Alaimo, better known as the Cardassian Gul Dukat from Deep Space Nine, warned the Enterprise that the Romulan Empire had been tending to internal business, but was prepared to once again re-enter the scene, and didn't much care for what they had seen this far. The exchange pretty much ended with the thinly-veiled threat, "We're back..."
And indeed, the Romulans were back. With a better and more efficient make-up budget, pointed ears weren't quite the big deal they once had been. For that matter, there had been something more of a physiological change in the Romulans, to differentiate them from their Vulcan cousins -- a sort of V-shaped ridge over their brow. Made them look nastier.
Over the course of Next Generation, the Romulans would turn up repeatedly. One Romulan commander in particular, by the name of Tomalak, made multiple appearances, played by Andreas Katsulas, who would also play the alien G'Kar on the unrelated sci-fi series Babylon 5.
A half-Romulan by the name of Sela, daughter of long-lost Enterprise crew member Tasha Yar, turned up on more than a few occasions to cause trouble, including basically starting a Klingon civil war, as well as being the power behind an attempt to have Romulan warships invade Vulcan. This particular two-parter also featured Leonard Nimoy, reprising his role of Spock, and gave us our first look at the Romulan homeworld.
Deep Space Nine didn't escape the Romulans. When the Dominion began to threaten the entire Alpha Quadrant, that included the Romulans. The Romulans tried an ill-advised invasion of the Dominion homeworld, in concert with the Cardassians. This was a plot on the part of the two powers' respective intelligence organizations, the Romulan Tal-Shiar and the Cardassian Obsidian Order, as much as anything. They also attempted to destroy the Bajoran wormhole. Ultimately, the Romulans joined the Alliance with the Klingons and the Federation to defeat the Dominion.
The Romulans even appeared on Voyager, as improbable as that seems. Early in the series, a Romulan from the Alpha Quadrant was beamed through a microscopic wormhole into the Delta Quadrant where Voyager was stranded. He promised to inform the Federation of the whereabouts of the ship, but it turned out that the wormhole was also a time portal. The Romulan was from the past, and according to records, had died before Voyager was even launched. In another episode, The Doctor is beamed to an experimental Federation ship at the extreme edge of the Alpha Quadrant, only to discover it's been taken over by Romulans -- Whoops!
Romulans also figured heavily in the last two Star Trek movies, but frankly, the less said about either of those, the better.
So, maybe it's not all that surprising that this retro Romulan has proven to be so popular. The first time around, the Romulans had appeared in all of two episodes. The figure was scarce at the time because -- of some absurdity that I've never figured out. And even though this retro-Romulan is based on the classic look of the Romulans, and not their more modern appearance, he's STILL a Romulan, and certainly the Romulans have become a prominent part of the Star Trek universe.
So -- how's the figure? Really very impressive. Although Mego, and as such EmCe, took a few liberties with the uniform design, it still looks very much like a Romulan.
In the Original Series, Romulans tended to dress in uniforms that appeared to have alternating black and metallic segments -- sort of a Romulan herringbone pattern as much as anything. This has been duplicated very efficiently on the Romulan figure with a fabric that interlaces black and metallic silver threads. It really is very impressive.
Romulans also tended to wear a sash, that was a different, if similarly intricate pattern, that was generally black blended with some color denoting rank. Even the first time the Romulans appeared in Next Generation, they had a sash, although this was later dropped, although the 9" Playmates action figure has a very nice sash.
The Mego Romulan, and it's EmCe descendant, did not come with a sash. Rather, part of the front of the uniform, and most of the back, down to the trunks, was done in straight black. This, I suspect, allowed Mego to produce something of a variant of something they knew how to do very well -- a superhero costume. However, in fairness, they did do a nice job adding a turtleneck-like collar and cuffs to the outfit, and the overall design is no more of a compromise than Mego used on a few other figures in the Star Trek line, including the Klingon, whose uniform was based more on the color scheme of the animated series, or the Cheron, whose figure was outfitted entirely in half-black and half-white, whereas in the episode, both Cherons wore grey body-suits.
There's also a little fabric belt across the middle, barely distinguishable, since it is also black. But it is there, and it's a nice additional feature on the figure. The uniform is secured in the back by two metal snaps.
The Romulan is wearing brown boots, with ridged cuffs. The boots are a fairly rigid plastic, and how precise they are to actual Romulan boots, I really can't say. They might have been brought over from some Mego line that I didn't follow, perhaps one of the Western lines. Or they might have been entirely original. While it's been a good number of years since I've seen either Original Series episode featuring the Romulans, I don't recall a lot of boot shots, especially in their first appearance, which this Romulan seems more closely based on.
And I say that because of the helmet. Especially in the first Original Series episode in which they appeared, many of the Romulans on board the Romulan vessel, in fact all of them except the Commander played by Lenard and his elderly advisor, wore these fancy gold helmets. I suspect that the helmets were somehow less expensive to produce than customized pointed ears (the helmets notably covered the sides of the head), or at the very least, required less time and effort to utilize. How long does it take to don a helmet compared to sitting in a make-up chair getting an ear job?
And, this Romulan figure is wearing a helmet. And it's very nicely done. It looks very accurate to the series, including an insignia on the front that looks very much like an early version of the Romulan "bird of prey" emblem that would become better known during the Next Generation era. The helmet has also been done in gold chrome.
And -- it is removable -- although this takes some doing. I was almost convinced that it wasn't removable, although it certainly looked as though it should have been. Ultimately, with a strange combination of force and careful handling, I was able to extract it. Apparently I'm not the only one who experienced some difficulty in this regard, as a friend of mine found more than a few references on some Mego collector message boards online of people who were having a similar problem with their Emce Romulan.
It looks to me as though the situation is twofold. The helmet is, for starters, a very tight fit. Secondly, it tends to stick to the painted hair underneath the helmet. If you remove the helmet, you can expect to have to do a little touch-up work on the head. A good acrylic based dark brown should suffice for this.
You know, if the Romulan helmets fit this tightly in "real life", given the V-shape on the front of the helmets, it might explain that V-shaped ridge that Romulans developed on their foreheads between the Original Series and the Next Generation...
So, how's the headsculpt? Very nicely done. However much of an "ear cheat" the helmet might have been in the TV episode, the headsculpt underneath the helmet on the action figure very definitely has pointed ears. And, although he didn't actually wear a helmet in the episode, the headsculpt has a mild resemblance to Mark Lenard.
I say "mild" because he doesn't look as much like the Romulan commander from that episode as, say, the Captain Kirk figure looks like William Shatner, or the Dr. McCoy figure looks like DeForest Kelley, etc. There's a mild resemblance, but it's not as specific.
It's also not the only time Mego (and by inference Emce) did this. The Klingon figure bears more than a passing resemblance to actor William Campbell, who played one of the better known Klingons -- Koloth, from "The Trouble with Tribbles". Even though the figure was simply called "Klingon".
Paint detailing is excellent. The Romulan has dark brown hair, arched eyebrows, and extremely well detailed eyes, including the whites of the eyes, brown irises outlined in black, black pupils, and little white "light reflection" dots, as well as a line over the eyes representing eyelashes. Very impressive work.
The figure is, of course, superbly articulated, and is fully poseable at the head, arms, elbows, wrists, waist, legs, knees, and ankles.
Let me say something about one figure design aspect of Mego, which of course Emce has replicated to great precision here. Just an offhand comment, but it's sort of been on my mind since I started picking up some of these Emce figures here and there. There were two major Mego body designs over the years. The first one was rather primitive. The second one was a vastly superior design in every respect, and is an overall design that I believe holds up well today, as a good representation of the human form, perhaps a little accentuated muscle-wise for super-hero use, but still an overall excellent and accurate design.
And I would especially like to draw attention to the design of the hands. They're fantastic. They are well-proportioned, well-sculpted, and well-posed. Now, as much as I enjoy a wide range of action figures -- G.I. Joe, DC Universe Classics, Masters of the Universe, Star Wars, whatever -- I have never, since the days of Mego, seen human hands designed with the same degree of accuracy and just overall good design work as the ones that Mego crafted for their figures. Toy designers take note! Here's the best hands ever made in the business, as far as I'm concerned, now appearing on most of Emce's offerings.
Okay, I realize that was a slightly odd digression, but it's been on my mind for a while.
Accessorywise, the Romulan comes with a phaser and a communicator on a plastic belt, and a tricorder. These are identical to the ones given to the Enterprise crew figures, except they're molded in red. Accessories weren't the key point in this figure line, and Mego just wanted everyone equipped as basically and simply as they could be. So the Klingon and the Romulan -- established villains -- got red equipment, while the crew of the good ship Enterprise got light blue equipment. The colors were inaccurate, of course, and although the designs of the toys certainly looked like a Federation communicator, phaser, and tricorder, neither Klingons nor Romulans were likely to be using such equipment. But in the 70's, no one was that fussy about such things.
I'll admit, there are a few things I'm concerned about with regard to this Star Trek line. Now, I have no complaints about the Romulan figure, as he was from one of the early releases. A few of the newer releases, especially Lt. Sulu, do have some quality issues, which I discuss in my review of that figure. Hopefully this isn't going to be a trend, because I think there's a lot that can be done with this Star Trek line, if Emce gets the chance.
And since Marty Abrams regained control of the name "Mego" in early 2009, we might see the name "Mego" applied to future figures! That'd be pretty cool -- if they can address the quality concerns.
Anyway, what's my final word on the Romulan? Spectacular figure, truly. And based on what it took for me to get one -- extremely popular. As such, I'm not saying he'll be easy for you to get, but if you can track one down -- do not hesitate! You won't be disappointed. The EMCE TOYS MEGO-RETRO-STYLE STAR TREK ROMULAN figure definitely has my highest recommendation!