REVIEW: MARVEL UNIVERSE 3-3/4" SPIDER-MAN
If one word were to describe the life of Spider-Man, it would probably be "angst". Another good word would be "chaos". Peter Parker's costumed alter-ego may be one of the most popular and best-known super-heroes in the world, equated with Superman and Batman. However, within the Marvel Universe, the guy has a heck of a time catching a break.
For those of you who are unfamiliar with the character, here is a little background information: The character first appeared in Amazing Fantasy #15 (August 1962), and was created by scripter-editor Stan Lee and artist-plotter Steve Ditko. Lee and Ditko conceived of the character as an orphan being raised by his Aunt May and Uncle Ben as an ordinary teenager, having to deal with the normal struggles of youth in addition to those of a costumed crime fighter. Spider-Man's creators gave him the ability to cling to walls, shoot spider-webs, and react to danger quickly with his "spider-sense", enabling him to combat his many foes, including Doctor Octopus, the Sandman, the Lizard, and the Green Goblin.
Marvel has featured Spider-Man in several comic book series, the first titled The Amazing Spider-Man. Over the years, the Peter Parker character has developed from shy high school student to troubled college student to a married teacher and a member of the superhero team the New Avengers. In the comics, Spider-Man is often referred to as "Spidey", "web-slinger", "wall-crawler", or "web-head".
Along with Superman and Batman, Spider-Man is one of the most popular and commercially successful superheroes of all time. As Marvel's flagship character and company mascot, he has appeared in many various forms of media, including several animated and live-action television series, syndicated newspaper comic strips and a successful series of films.
A few months after Spider-Man's introduction in Amazing Fantasy #15 (August 1962), publisher Martin Goodman reviewed the sales figures for that issue, finding it to have been one of Marvel's highest-selling comics. A solo series followed, beginning with The Amazing Spider-Man #1 (March 1963). The title eventually became Marvel's top-selling series with the character swiftly becoming a cultural icon.
In his first appearance, Peter Parker is introduced as an orphaned science whiz teenager living with his aunt and uncle in the Forest Hills section of New York City. He is a brilliant student but the subject of mockery by his peers who regard him as a bookworm. One day he gets bitten by a radioactive spider during a science demonstration. As a result, he gains spider-like powers such as super-strength, the ability to climb walls, and a phenomenal jumping skill. Peter's own cleverness enables him to develop gadgets that fire an adhesive webbing.
As Spider-Man, he becomes a successful TV star. One day at a studio he refuses to stop a thief, saying that it is the job of the police not that of a number one star. Weeks later his beloved guardian, Uncle Ben, is murdered and an angry Spider-Man sets off to capture the killer. When he does, he is horrified to find that the man is none other than the burglar he refused to subdue. Learning that with great power comes great responsibility, Spider-Man becomes a vigilante.
After his uncle's death, Peter and his Aunt May become desperate for money, so he gets a job as a photographer at the Daily Bugle selling photos to J. Jonah Jameson, who vilifies Spider-Man in the paper. As he battles his enemies for the first time, Parker finds juggling his personal life and costumed adventures difficult. In time, Peter graduates from high school, and enrolls at Empire State University, where he meets roommate and best friend Harry Osborn and first girlfriend Gwen Stacy, and Aunt May introduces him to Mary Jane Watson.
In the course of his adventures Spider-Man has made a wide variety of friends and contacts within the superhero community, who often come to his aid when he faces problems that he cannot solve on his own.
Enemies frequently endanger his loved ones, with the Green Goblin managing to kill Gwen Stacy. Though haunted by the death of Gwen, he begins to date Mary Jane Watson. Peter discovers what he thinks is a black version of his Spider-Man costume, which turns out to be an alien symbiote; Peter is able to reject the symbiote after a difficult struggle, though the symbiote returns several times as Venom for revenge. Peter eventually marries Mary Jane Watson.
In a controversial storyline, Peter becomes convinced that Ben Reilly, the Scarlet Spider (a clone of Peter created by his college professor Miles Warren) is the real Peter Parker, and that he, Peter, is the clone. Peter gives up the Spider-Man identity to Reilly for a time, until Reilly is killed by the returning Green Goblin and revealed to be the clone after all.
In stories published in 2005 and 2006 (such as "The Other"), he develops additional spider-like abilities including biological web-shooters, toxic stingers that extend from his forearms, the ability to stick individuals to his back, enhanced Spider-sense and night vision, and increased strength and speed. Peter later becomes a member of the New Avengers, and reveals his civilian identity to the world, furthering his already numerous problems.
His marriage to Mary Jane and public unmasking are later erased due to a deal made with the demon Mephisto, resulting in several adjustments to the timeline, such as the resurrection of Harry Osborn and the return of Peter's mechanical web-shooters and loss of his additional spider-like abilities.
Much as I would personally oppose making any sort of deal with any sort of demon, and with the notable exception of the dissolution of Pete's marriage to Mary Jane, if this is what it took to get rid of some of this extra baggage, so be it...
As to his powers and abilities: A bite from an irradiated spider causes a variety of changes in the body of Peter Parker, giving him superpowers. Spider-Man has the ability to cling to walls, superhuman strength, a sixth sense ("spider-sense") that alerts him to danger, perfect balance and equilibrium, as well as superhuman speed and agility. Brilliant, Parker excels in applied science, chemistry and physics.
With his talents, he sews his own costume to conceal his identity, and constructs many devices that complement his powers, most notably mechanical web-shooters. (This mechanism ejects an advanced adhesive, releasing web-fluid in a variety of configurations, including a single rope-like strand to swing from, a net to bind enemies, a single strand for yanking opponents into objects, strands for whipping foreign objects at enemies, and a simple glob to foul machinery or blind an opponent. He can also weave the web material into simple forms like a shield, a spherical protection or hemispherical barrier, a club, or a hang-glider wing.) Other equipment includes spider-tracers (spider-shaped adhesive homing beacons keyed to his own spider-sense), a light beacon which can either be used as a flashlight or project a "Spider-Signal" design, and a specially modified camera that can take pictures automatically.
Spider-Man has been around now for over 45 years. His ride has been a wild one, and some things have worked better than others. No one was that fond of Spidey's black uniform, acquired during the Secret Wars mini-series, but the subsequent creation of the character of Venom gave Spider-Man a new, truly classic villain, when he honestly hadn't had one in years. Most of the better-known names in his gallery of enemies -- Dr. Octopus, the Green Goblin, the Lizard, the Vulture, Electro, and others -- had been created back in the 60's.
The Clone Saga turned into such a fiasco that even Stan Lee admitted in his Bullpen Bulletins column within the pages of Marvel Comics that he wasn't especially fond of it, and the idea of clones became almost a running joke in the pages of other comics. When the mercenary Deadpool discovers that his presumed-dead wife is apparently alive, he has tests run on her, and says, "Please don't tell me she's a clone. The readers would kill me if I had a clone in this book..."
Spider-Man's inevitable participation in the Civil War storyline, as well as "The Other", saddled the character with things that, in my opinion, did no favors to him. His deal with Mephisto, to save the life of his Aunt May, however unpleasant that dealing may have been, and whatever its other consequences, managed to unload some of this nonsense.
Now, let's discuss the figure. This is Spider-Man as he is best known, in his classic red and blue costume. And let me tell you, I have little doubt that that costume has caused no end of frustration for toy-makers over the years. It's not just red and blue. It's a fairly complex pattern of red and blue, that doesn't really follow the semi-traditional super-hero motif, and if that wasn't problematic enough, the red ares has all that webbing drawn through that.
It's one thing to do that as a drawing on a page. It's another thing to make a three-dimensional toy of it. Mego pulled it off in the 1970's with a cloth costume in which the costume detailed were just imprinted on the fabric. That worked reasonably well. Hasbro did a pretty nice 9" cloth-costumed version a couple of years back where the red and blue areas were separate pieces of fabric, and the web pattern was printed on the red. This worked surprisingly well -- but I wouldn't've wanted to have been on the sewing teams.
But -- what do you do when the figure isn't wearing a cloth uniform, and the webbing has to be put on the plastic parts themselves? Well, these days, the most common practice, which was followed on this figure, is to sculpt the webbing pattern into the design, and then give the areas a black overwash of paint, clean most of it off, hope some of it stays in the indented red lines, and hope for the best.
This can work reasonably well, and on this Spider-Man figure, it has. It still took me a fair amount of time to find one that I thought looked really good. Granted, I am Mr. Nit-Picky when it comes to this sort of thing. Nevertheless, I did see a few figures where the black hadn't been cleaned off well enough, where you sort of wondered if the Venom symbiote was left behind.
This is not really a complaint. Granted, I've never thought the practice of applying a wash of paint to intentionally dirty a figure was a good idea. But that's not really what's trying to be accomplished here. The objective here is to bring out Spider-Man's costume web lines. And any way you do it, that's not an easy thing. This is as effective a method as any. That doesn't mean it's going to be easy, and there's bound to be some inconsistency.
The design of Spider-Man's costume overall isn't the easiest thing to render into plastic. His legs are probably the easiest part. His costume legs are blue, and he wears red webbed boots. The rest of the costume is the tricky part. It's mostly red, but the sides and back of the costume are mostly blue, except around the shoulders. There's two lines of webbed red running down both arms and meeting up with the gloves. Then you've got that big red spider emblem on the back. It's an iconic, immediately recognizable image. And it's probably a real pain in the neck for toymakers.
Hasbro's really done a nice job here. This figure really looks like Spider-Man, and all of the costume elements are just where they should be. The headsculpt is really excellent, including those big eyes of the mask.
Articulation is excellent. Here is where I had a concern. Hasbro has been playing up the considerable articulation of these figures. My problem with articulating a small-scale figure like this is -- too much articulation can, if not done correctly, spoil the look of the figure. And I really was quite concerned on this point. I didn't need a Spider-Man that looked too much like a Microman. (Ironically, Takara did have plans at one point to do a Microman Spider-Man figure.)
That level of articulation works fine for Microman, but really, too many really visible points of articulation on an action figure that's supposed to represent an iconic character like Spider-Man, who didn't start out as an action figure, could have ruined his look.
I should have had more faith in Hasbro. They've made a specialty of 3-3/4" lately, and they came through abundantly well here. Spider-Man is superbly articulated. He is poseable at the head, arms, upper-arm swivel, elbows, wrists, mid-torso, waist (nice to see them BOTH poseable, since I generally don't like the mid-torso point and like it even less when they don't pose the waist), legs, double-jointed knees, and ankles. And it all works. Oh, some of the more obvious points are visible, of course. I wouldn't expect otherwise. But one can still see the character of Spider-Man IN the figure.
Detail is really amazing, right down to the ridges on the fingers. I'm honestly not even entirely sure in some cases which parts on the figure were molded in red and which in blue. I think most of the parts that have red on them were molded in red. In which case, the blue paint is a really good match for those areas molded in blue. The paint work is very neatly done.
Spider-Man's accessories include a molded length of tangled web line, as well as a "Top Secret" envelope containing information from SHIELD. This includes a "Superhuman Registration Act" identification card -- I suppose Hasbro had to keep somewhat up to date on existing scenarios in the Marvel Universe -- as well as a SHIELD Surveillance Log of several agents attempts to follow Peter Parker/Spider-Man around town. Hate to have that assignment.
So, what's my final word here? I'm impressed -- and somehow, I didn't expect to be. Maybe my present disdain for events taking place within the comics Marvel is publishing had put me off the toys. In which case, that wasn't very fair of me. This is really a very cool and very impressive Spider-Man figure, and I'm glad to have him. And Spider-Man, as I hope I have outlined in the review above, is not an easy character design to turn into an action figure.
But this guy is well-designed, nicely-made, well-detailed and painted, and very well-articulated -- without the articulation getting in the way of the look of the character.
The MARVEL UNIVERSE figure of SPIDER-MAN definitely has my enthusiastic recommendation!