REVIEW: MARVEL UNIVERSE GREATEST BATTLES COMIC PACK - SPIDER-MAN & CAPTAIN BRITAIN
Hasbro has been highly successful in recent years as the main licensee for action figures based on the Marvel Comics Universe, featuring such notables as Spider-Man, Captain America, Iron Man, the X-Men, and many others.
Along with various movie tie-ins and a distinct Spider-Man line, the core action figure concept for Hasbro is the all-encompassing MARVEL UNIVERSE, which is presented primarily as individually-carded action figures, but also as occasional store-exclusive multi-packs, as well as more widely-available comic-based two-packs that feature two Marvel characters from a specific instance in their history, with a reprint of the related comic book.
I am not an extensive collector of the Marvel Universe line, but every once in a while, something catches my eye. Usually it's an individual figure, but recently, a particular comic-based two-pack caught my attention. It was based on the late 1970's MARVEL TEAM-UP #65, which featured SPIDER-MAN and CAPTAIN BRITAIN. This particular story, written by Chris Claremont with artwork by John Byrne, both best known at the time for their legendary work on the Uncanny X-Men, featured the American introduction of Captain Britain, a character who had been created several years earlier specifically for Marvel's publications in the United Kingdom.
Since that time, of course, Captain Britain has gone on to have a far greater impact in the American Marvel Comics, but at the time, it was really quite something to see this character "imported", however briefly, into the stateside comics.
The set features a figure of Spider-Man, of course, and of Captain Britain in his earliest costume. There have been several Captain Britain figures, in both the Marvel Universe line as well as the Comic Series segment of the Captain America movie line, but all of these figures, decently impressive in their own right, feature more recent costumes.
So I decided to get the set, and present a review of it here for your enjoyment. Let's consider the two figures individually, as well as the comic book.
SPIDER-MAN - Spider-Man is one of those pop culture icons that one is almost embarrassed to provide an origin for, and for whom trying to present any sort of background history would be ridiculous because he's been around for so long and had so many adventures that one could go on for a great many pages and still readily leave out any number of crucial details. It'd be like trying to write up the backstory for Superman or Batman. Even people who don't follow the characters have some idea of who they are.
So, in brief: Spider-Man is Peter Parker, former high school wimp who attended a science demonstration and was bitten by a spider that had been exposed to a strange new form of radiation. Somehow, the spider-bite altered Parker's own body chemistry, giving him a range of super-powers similar to those of a spider. He was able to climb and adhere to walls -- a convenient skill in New York City. He gained astounding agility, prodigious strength, and a "spider-sense" -- a tingling in his skull whenever danger was imminent.
Parker, a superb science student, developed "web shooters" which he could wear around his wrists, and a chemical webbing that produced strands of a sticky web-like substance which Spider-Man could use to swing around town, or capture criminals. Parker did not have a natural web ability. Given that spiders tend to shoot their webbing out of their rear ends, somebody probably figured early on that this would've been pushing the spider-powers a bit too far from a "good taste" standpoint. In more recent years, Spider-Man's web shooting ability has alternated between being a natural ability or a mechanical device, since the first live-action Spider-Man movie did make it a natural ability, although he continues to shoot his webs from his wrists, regardless.
Parker developed his Spider-Man persona, but initially had no intention of becoming a super-hero. Instead, he cashed in on his ability, and became a moderate local celebrity. However, when leaving a studio one evening, he failed to stop a criminal that had just burglarized the place. Later that evening, that same criminal tried to break into the home of Parker's Aunt May and Uncle Ben, who had raised Peter since he was a small boy, and killed Uncle Ben. Parker went after the criminal as Spider-Man, and when he caught the man and discovered that it was the same crook he'd failed to stop, he realized that axiom which has been so oft-repeated since, "With great power comes great responsibility."
Spider-Man has since been portrayed more often than not as a hard-luck hero, having a heck of a time garnering much respect from the general populace, although most of the super-hero community supports him. Parker has worked for the Daily Bugle, a newspaper, as a photographer, under the somewhat tyrannical reign of J. Jonah Jameson, who despises Spider-Man and most costumed super-heroes, but will still pay Parker for decent pictures of him. Spider-Man and Parker have faired slightly better in recent years, as Spider-Man was active with the Avengers for a time, worked for Tony Stark, and finally graduated from Empire State University and worked as a teacher for a time. But his life has never been an especially easy one. Nevertheless, he has persevered against hardships of all sorts in both his identities.
Certainly there's been no shortage of Spider-Man figures over the years. In the 1960's, there was a Spider-Man costume for Captain Action. Spidey was one of the first figures in Mego's "World's Greatest Super-Heroes" line. Mattel included him as part of their "Secret Wars" line-up. Toy Biz made plenty of him, including a gargantuan 18-inch Spider-Man in conjunction with the second live-action movie, articulated right down to the finger joints. There was almost a Spider-Man figure in the popular Microman line from Japan, and I really wish that one had happened, as the basic figure format was perfect for Spidey. And Hasbro is currently maintaining a distinct Spider-Man action figure line, even as the Web-Slinger turns up in the Marvel Universe line every so often.
So, how's the figure? Extremely impressive. In fact, it was one of the main reasons I decided to buy this set. In my opinion, there's been one distinct hurdle to most of the Spider-Man figures in recent years. I can't speak for Hasbro's separate Spider-Man line, since I haven't really followed it. But many of the Spider-Man figures that I have encountered in recent years have had to deal with one particular hurdle in the character's design, one way or another -- the webbing on the costume.
Spider-Man's costume design, his most iconic, anyway, dates all the way back to his earliest days, and is still used today, with very little alteration. And it's just about as recognizable as Batman, Superman, or any of a very small handful of truly iconic pop culture legends. Spider-Man's costume is red and blue. The red areas consist of his mask, most of the front of his torso, wide strips down his sleeves, his gloves, a belt, and boots. The rest of the costume is blue.
The remaining costume features include a large red spider-shape on his back; large, somewhat triangular shaped eye-pieces on the mask that are white with thick black borders, and a small black spider emblem on the front in the center of the chest.
However, with the exception of the red spider-shape on his back, all of the red areas of Spider-Man's costume have fairly intricate black lines of webbing running through them, in a fairly specific pattern. This includes the gloves and boots.
From an illustrative standpoint, it's probably something that most comic artists find time consuming, but hardly impossible. But when you start talking about a three-dimensional action figure, assembled from multiple parts with variable shapes, you start to have complications as to HOW precisely to accomplish the design!
The strategy for doing so seems to have taken two major formats in recent years -- neither of which has worked especially well in my opinion. One option has been to emboss the webbing into the design of the figure. I believe this is based on the fact that the live-action Spider-Man from the recent movies did in fact have raised webbing on his costume. This worked moderately well, although designing and aligning a paint stencil that would work consistently well was obviously not easy. About the only figure I saw that didn't have some measure of trouble with it was that aforementioned 18" Spidey, and on him, it'd be hard NOT to align the stencils properly.
The other option, which I really didn't think worked well, was to sculpt the webbing INTO the costume, and then do a black, watered down "paint wash" over the red areas of the costume, and wipe just enough of it off to hope some of it stayed within the indented web lines. This is just not the sort of thing that's going to work well in mass production, and the result has tended to be figures that, at best, looked inconsistent, and at worst, looked as though Peter Parker hadn't visited the laundromat for a while.
So what makes this Spider-Man figure from the new comic set so special? He uses a third option -- one that works extremely well. The webbing is IMPRINTED on the figure, which is otherwise smooth and does not have any webbing either embossed or indented. Not only does this mean that it is not necessary for paint stencils to try to align with a decidedly intricate sculpt, but it's more accurate to the character, as far as I'm concerned.
I'm not really sure how the imprinting method works, but it's been used on toy lines for decades. I first encountered it on G.I. Joe -- the Cobra emblems on the Cobra Trooper and Cobra Officer in 1982. It would continue to see considerable use in that line, and does to this day, everything from Cobra emblems to rank insignias to character tattoos.
But it's a technology that seems to be increasing lately. I've seen it on Star Wars, especially on Clone Troopers that need precise unit markings or whatever. Bandai's Classic ThunderCats seem to be using it for their eyes and eyebrows, of all things. Hasbro has also been using it on some of their Iron Man figures, for the intricate eyes and chestplates. I suspect Mattel has been using it for some of the more detailed costume emblems in their various DC Universe lines. Alas, it's not a perfect system. I saw one Iron Man figure where the eyes had missed rather badly. But I call that "human error". I also call it a quality control issue. There's nothing wrong with the technology.
Now, Spider-Man's webbing is more complex than a Cobra emblem or a ThunderCat's eyes. His webbing encompasses quite a bit of his costume, is very intricate, and from an action figure standpoint, is going to have to be spread across multiple parts.
I am very pleased to report that whoever set up the means for this procedure to be carried out on Spider-Man did one truly excellent, superb job of it. The alignment is near perfect, especially on the head, which can't have been easy, the webbing details well-drawn, and it all comes together to present THE finest Spider-Man figure I've seen in years in any scale.
I honestly can't say for sure if the separate Spider-Man line uses this method, but I would hope that they do, or consider doing so, because with this comic-pack Spider-Man as an example, it's incredibly effective. It amazes me that they were able to do it on the individual fingers of Spider-Man's open left hand. Just incredible.
This is really an amazing and excellent Spider-Man figure, and I'm truly pleased to own him. He's somewhat on the slender side relative to some of my other Marvel Universe figures, but Spider-Man has always tended to be just a little like that. He's not musclebound.
Of course, the figure has excellent articulation, and is fully poseable at the head, arms, upper arm swivel, elbows, wrists, mid-torso, legs, knees, and ankles. The figure isn't a contortionist to the level that Spider-Man is, but you'll still be able to get him into a nice variety of poses. He comes with a length of tangled webbing for an accessory.
Now, let's consider the other half of this comic pack --
CAPTAIN BRITAIN - Less well-known than Spider-Man, so I don't feel badly about presenting a history for him.
Captain Britain's real name is Brian Braddock. Created by Chris Claremont and Herb Trimpe, he first appeared in Captain Britain Weekly, #1 (October 13, 1976).
The character was initially intended to be a British equivalent of Captain America. Endowed with extraordinary powers by the legendary magician Merlyn and his daughter Roma, Captain Britain was assigned to uphold the laws of Britain.
Born and raised in the small town of Maldon, Essex and educated at Fettes College in Edinburgh, Brian was a shy and studious youth, living a relatively quiet life and spending a lot of time with his parents and siblings (older brother Jamie and fraternal twin Elizabeth). The family were an aristocratic one who were no longer rich enough to fraternize with their former academic peers, leaving Brian (too proud to fraternize with lower classes) a lonely child who immersed himself in the study of physics.
After the death of his parents in what seemed to be a laboratory accident, Brian takes a fellowship at Darkmoor nuclear research centre. When the facility is attacked by the technological criminal Joshua Stragg, Brian tries to find help by escaping on his motorcycle. Although he crashes his bike in a nearly fatal accident, Merlyn and his daughter, the Omniversal Guardian, Roma appear to the badly injured Brian. They give him the chance to be the superhero Captain Britain. He is offered a choice: the Amulet of Right or the Sword of Might. Considering himself to be no warrior and unsuited for the challenge, he rejects the Sword and chooses the Amulet. This choice transforms Brian Braddock into Captain Britain. He would also acquire a weapon known as the Star Sceptre.
As his career as a superhero begins, Brian fights as the champion of Great Britain, often clashing with S.T.R.I.K.E. and Welsh anti-superhero police officer Dai Thomas. During one episode, he learns that his parents did not die in an accident, but rather were killed by the sentient computer Mastermind. He would develop a rogues gallery including the assassin Slaymaster and the crime matriarch Vixen. As time goes on, Brian begins fighting more supernatural enemies rather than regular supervillains.
On a flight from America, he came under mental attack by the demonic Necromon, causing Brian to leap out of the plane; he spent some time as a hermit on the Cornish coast, repairing his psyche. He was eventually called to Merlyn's service again, fighting alongside the Black Knight and the elf Jackdaw to defend Otherworld from Necromon. With his memories partially restored Brian and the Knight, allied with Vortigen the Proud Walker, battled Mordred the Evil. Both the Black Knight and Captain Britain were snatched out of time to join the Grandmaster's Contest of Champions, where Captain Britain fought against the Arabian Knight, but they were soon returned to resume their quest.
Over time, he has been a member of the European super-team Excalibur, which was founded by several former X-Men, the British government agency MI:13, and recently he also became a member of the Avengers. This doesn't include various supernatural and cosmic roles, including the multiversal "Captain Britain Corps". We really don't have time to get into that here, and I'd just as soon stick with Cap's earlier days for this review.
Originally, Captain Britain's powers were linked to the mystical Amulet of Right, worn around his neck. When Brian Braddock rubbed the amulet he was transformed from an ordinary mortal into a superhero version of himself, complete with a more muscular physique. The amulet could also mystically replenish his superhuman energies. He also possessed a telescoping staff to vault. This also had other functions, the most heavily relied upon being the ability to project a force field. Later, Merlyn changed the staff into the mace-like Star Sceptre, which he could utilize like a quarterstaff and which also gave him the ability of flight. Merlyn changed his costume just before he entered the alternate Earth-238, fusing the powers of the Amulet and the Scepter into the new uniform and then later put these powers within Brian himself when he was forced to rebuild Brian following Brian's death at the hands of the Fury, making the suit a regulatory device for his powers. Eventually, Brian no longer required even the battle-suit for the full use of his powers, as his heritage of being the son of a denizen of the extra-dimensional Otherworld became enough to power him.
Brian Braddock has superhuman strength, speed, stamina, durability, reflexes, senses, and the ability to fly at supersonic speeds. He also possesses enhanced perceptions that allow him to be aware of things others may miss (such as objects cloaked by spells of illusion).
So, how's the figure? Really very nicely done. I tend to be of the opinion that given the stated intention that Captain Britain should be the British equivalent of Captain America, some fans, myself included, expected him to look the part more than he did. Captain America's costume is very clearly based on the Flag of the United States of America, although it is obviously not a precise copy of it.
Although some of Captain Britain's later costumes came closer to resembling the British flag, his original costume didn't, really. And if one thinks about it, that particular "look" has long since been the province of another British super-hero, appropriately named "Union Jack".
Captain Britain's earliest costume, showcased by this figure, is almost entirely red. A shock of his blonde hair emerges from the top of his made, and half of a Union Jack can be seen across the forehead. Although the mask fits the format of a "typical" superhero mask, seeming to leave the nose and mouth open, these areas are in fact covered by a triangle of blue. Thus, only the top of Captain Britain's head is exposed.
The remainder of the costume is almost completely red, with the exception of blue bands around the arms near the shoulders, wrist bands that feature the British Union Jack, and an immense gold lion on the torso. This, in and of itself, certainly conveys Captain Britain's British background.
Although the figure would seem to be less detailed than Spider-Man, the detail areas need to be very precise. The British Flag elements on the forehead and wrists are not sculpted, which is probably just as well. The British flag, while perhaps not an especially complex design, is a very precise one. Clearly, the same techniques which were used to imprint Spider-Man's webbing so effectively on his costume, have been used to similar effect with the Union Jacks on Captain Britain's costume, especially around the wrists. We're talking about a Union Jack that measures 1/4" x 3/8". That's a very small flag, and it has to be wrapped around a wrist twice. And I am pleased to say, it looks darn good on both wrists.
The golden lion was probably somewhat easier, as it did not require any multi-colored detail, except for a little black dot representing an eye. It does cross from upper torso to mid-torso, but it does very well in the process. The hair and eyes are also painted neatly. The figure has the same level of articulation as Spider-Man. It's pretty standard for most Marvel Universe figures, and it's an excellent range of motion.
Captain Britain stands a good bit taller than Spider-Man. Spidey is about 4-1/4" in height. Cap is 4-1/2". At that scale, it's a fair difference. Captain Britain is also wearing his Amulet, a separately sculpted and nicely detailed piece, but it seems inclined to stay put well, and he also comes with his Star Sceptre as an accessory.
Overall, this is a really excellent figure of the earliest version of Captain Britain, something that I doubt would have been made as an action figure had it not been for this comic set.
Let's consider a brief review of the comic book. It seems that this story was initially presented in the UK Captain Britain comic, before being reprinted in the Marvel Team-Up title in the United States. However, let us remember that this was the late 70's. Lacking the Internet or any such global media access, most fans probably had no idea that what they were reading was a cross-continental reprint.
The story starts with Peter Parker arriving -- late -- for an appointment with the dean of Empire State University. It seems that Parker has signed a consent form to allow foreign exchange students to share his apartment. Enter Brian Braddock, freshly arrived from the British Isles. Parker tries to protest, concerned for his secret identity, but when the prospect of being paid for allowing Braddock as a temporary roomie is offered, along with the dean's insistence, Parker relents.
Meanwhile, a couple of organized crime bosses have just contracted the assassin known as Arcade to eliminate Braddock, as he is one of a number of men suspected to be Captain Britain, who has interfered with their plans on several occasions.
Later that evening, Parker dons his Spider-Man costume and intends to go out on patrol. He hopes he can slip out quietly, with Braddock asleep in another room, but a fire engine with sirens blasting away soon scuttles that plan. Braddock is awakened, and bursts into Parker's room (despite Parker having locked it, and Braddock forgetting his strength), and sees Spider-Man fleeing the scene.
Since Spider-Man's reputation is somewhat less than sterling, even overseas, Braddock suspects Spider-Man of having committed foul play against Peter Parker. He transforms into Captain Britain, and the two heroes bash each other around New York City for a while, until Spider-Man gains the upper hand, saves Captain Britain from a potentially deadly fall, and then explains himself as a hero, and manages to convince Braddock that he and Parker have a working relationship where Parker photographs Spider-Man for the news media and they split the paycheck, and Spider-Man had just "dropped in" to visit Parker, who had "apparently stepped out" at the time.
Just as they're leaving the area, the two heroes are captured by Arcade associate -- in a tricked-out garbage truck -- and... that's when anyone new to this comic book realizes that Spider-Man's first meeting with Captain Britain was a two-part story that was continued in Marvel Team-Up #66, the cover for which is shown in this reprint. Now, that's bound to annoy some people.
Without giving away too many details, for those who would like to track down the original book (and I have no idea how scarce or valuable it might be), Spider-Man and Captain Britain find themselves in Arcade's "amusement park", known as Murderworld. Arcade is pretty much a total lunatic with a decent amount of engineering skill, and he's actually built an "amusement park of death" to assassinate those he's paid to kill. He would subsequently go up against the X-Men during th Claremont-Byrne run, and has managed to make a pest of himself on occasion ever since. He even converted an entire island into a murderous playland.
So, what's my final word? Well, if the worst thing I can say about this set is that you only get the first part of a two-part comic adventure, I'd say that says a lot for the action figures. As I said earlier, this is easily the best Spider-Man figure I've seen in quite some time, due particularly to the highly effective way the webbing was done, and getting a figure of Captain Britain in his original outfit is a real kick, as well! If you're a Spider-Man fan, you'll want this figure. And Captain Britain has had enough of an impact in the Marvel Universe -- in other costumes -- which have been made into action figures -- that it's very cool to have the opportunity to own a figure of the original.
The MARVEL UNIVERSE "GREATEST BATTLES" COMIC PACK featuring SPIDER-MAN and CAPTAIN BRITAIN from MARVEL TEAM-UP #65 definitely has my highest recommendation!