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REVIEW:
BEN 10 - MORE ALIEN FIGURES
By Thomas Wheeler


As I continue to collect the Ben 10 series of 4" scale aliens, I will continue to review them in assorted groups. There's no great rhyme or reason to this -- just whomever I've been able to find, and who looks like they'd make a good review.

Here's the basic Ben 10 concept: the show revolves around 10-year-old Ben Tennyson, his same-age cousin Gwen, and his grandfather Max. At the start of their summer camping trip, Ben is nearly hit by an alien pod that falls from space and crashes next to him. When he examines it, he finds a mysterious, watch-like device, called the Omnitrix, stored inside. The device attaches to his wrist and gives him the ability to transform into different alien heroes, each with their own unique powers.

Let's consider a few more of the Aliens this time...

WILDMUTT - This is one of the weird ones. His profile, on the Web Site http://www.ben10toys.net/alienprofiles/omnitrix.htm, which is proving to be a highly useful source of information on these characters, includes the following:

Wildmutt represents an alien species from the planet Vulpin. One of the few creatures to survive on this barren sphere is the Vulpimancer - a bizarre and beastly creature that is far more animal than humanoid. Bred for the hunt, Vulpimancers propel themselves through all sorts of terrain with the aid of two long powerful apelike arms. Vulpimancers have incredible athletic ability and heightened senses of smell, hearing and taste. And while they have no eyes, porcupine-like quills serve both as weapons and finely tuned sense receptors that can "see" in ways most other creatures can't. Super-adept, Vulpimancers can use their quills to detect the slightest movement, heat signatures and some even say even fear. Once prey is located, the quills on their backs can be fired off like projectiles, or the Vulpimancer can roll itself into a kind of spiked ball to attack its enemies. Having no eyes means that some enemies can get the drop on them fairly easily. Constantly on edge, Vulpimancers must be ready to fight because they have no way of communicating verbally - just snarls and growls - only adding to the danger of "blind" situations.

The planet Vulpin is described thusly: A pitch black planet at the galaxy's edge, Vulpin has long served as a dumping ground for hazardous materials far too dangerous for other worlds. The little that was once natural here long ago became corrupted by dangerous outside influences. Part penal colony, part toxic waste dump, whatever life that does survive here among the subzero temperatures and the poisoned forests must learn to adapt to the harshest of climates.

That 4" scale measure for these figures is a little vague at times, simply because of the wildly different looks of some of the aliens, who in fact in many instances aren't even to scale with each other. Fourarms, for example, is supposed to be 10 feet tall. Assuming Ben Tennyson is a boy of average size, his figure would have to be less than half of Fourarms' height, but he isn't. Just as well, too. Something like that could get lost.

Wildmutt is an interesting case. Although he's packaged on his card in a sort of two-legged stance, the figure, reflecting the character, isn't really means to stand that way. He's designed to be posed on all fours. To that end, he's somewhat less than 3" tall, but the 4" scale in this case refers more to his length.

The figure is one of the more extreme designs for a Ben 10 alien, and that's saying something. The character is a very bright orange, with a decided canine appearance to him. The front legs are huge, while the rear legs are relatively small. There are no visible eyes, which is just a bit creepy.

The figure is articulated at the head, all four legs, and the jaw - which opens to reveal a nasty set of teeth. If Wildmutt can be compared to any other pop-culture characters, I'd have to call him a bright orange cross between Lockjaw, a huge bulldog-like being that is a member of Marvel's Inhumans, and one of those Aliens that Sigourney Weaver was always up against. Fortunately, Wildmutt isn't THAT ugly, but he's pretty ferocious-looking.

While some of the aliens that Ben transforms into retain some resemblance to Ben, mostly in their clothing, this isn't the case with Wildmutt. The only real thing that sets Wildmutt apart from others of his own kind is an armband that has the Omnitrix symbol on it, something that all of the aliens Ben transforms into will have somewhere on their person.

Further information on the Web Site indicates that when Ben transforms into Wildmutt, he in unable to speak. All he can do is growl and snarl like any other member of this bizarre race.

Wildmutt comes with two accessories common to all Ben 10 figures in this scale -- an Animation Disc that looks something like a View-Master reel, and is designed to be used with a special viewer that comes with another toy, and a circular Lenticular Card, which shows Ben transforming into Wildmutt, and presents a summary of the character on the back, which reads: Beastly creatures that propel themselves with the aid of two apelike arms. While they have no eyes, porcupine-like quills serve both as weapons and finely tuned sence receptors that can "see".

Wildmutt has appeared in quite a few episodes, and in the toy line, is available in several of the other, larger scales of figures, which tend to be more selective about who they make, so obviously this is one of Ben's more popular alien forms. And if nothing else, his bright orange color certainly makes him stand out in any toy display. He's one of the weirder entries in the line, but interesting.

RIPJAWS - As if one alien with big teeth wasn't enough. Ripjaws' alien species is described as "Piscciss Volanns". The background on this nasty- looking alien species reads as follows:

While the Volanns are not the biggest fish in the Pisccian sea, they are definitely the most hazardous. A monstrous hybrid of alligator, eel and leech, Volanns are incredible swimmers who are amazingly fast and agile in the water. A Volanns' huge mouth, filled with rows of razor-sharp teeth, can chomp through almost anything. Their lower jaw unhinges, enabling them to grip large objects with the strength on an industrial-sized vise. Sinewy and covered in slimy scales, Volanns use their claw-tipped fins to fight in a unique "zero gravity" style that makes them masters of aquatic combat. They can dive deep to the ocean's floor, easily withstanding the crushing pressure while continuing to breathe through their gills. For all their skill in the water, Piscciss Volanns are unable to walk and are basically useless above the waves. Volanns must keep their gills wet or they'll dehydrate rapidly, which can actually result in their drowning on dry land.

Their homeworld is described as follows: The water world of Piscciss is one of extreme danger. Thousands of exotic species live in a vast anarchic ocean of eat or be eaten. While most Pisccians live in schools because of the safety in numbers, there is still little feeling among these cold-blooded kinfolk. A world of strong currents and highly stratified environments, the deeper one dives on Piscciss, the darker and more dangerous it becomes.

The figure certainly captures the combination of "alligator, eel, and leech", although I'm not really sure where "leech" comes in, and I might be more inclined to substitute "shark". This thing is a mean-looking critter. It has a head that looks like a shark that got some work done to make his mouth look that much meaner. He has a somewhat narrow but powerful-looking upper body, long, fairly thin arms ending in clawed hands with long fingers, and fairly slender legs. I am a little surprised that Ripjaws, like his species, is unable to walk on land. The legs, while slender, don't appear to be useless, but who am I to go against the concept?

The entire figrue has a certain angled design to it that one could imagine would help in swimming. In keeping with the aliens that Ben transforms into, Ripjaws is mostly an off-white in color, with some black trim, and the Omnitrix symbol on one shoulder. Of note is the little stem on his forehead that ends in a light greenish-yellow. Animation has shown that, like some species of fish on Earth that live so far underwtaer that surface light cannot reach, this is a little item that provides a certain bio-luminescence. As far as the toy is concerned, I think I may dip the end of the stem in some glow-in-the- dark paint, just for a little more authenticity.

Ripjaws is quite well-articulated, moving at the head (including the fin which tapers partway down the back, arms, legs, and knees. For supposedly semi-useless legs, they're nicely poseable. His jaw also opens, as well.

Some further information, from a press kit, also posted to the Web Site, bring the leg situation into mild question. It reads: When Ben is Ripjaws, his teeth can chomp through almost anything and his lower jaw unhinges to grab bigger objects. Ripjaws is basically useless on dry land; he can't walk very well and his gills must be kept wet or he'll dehydrate rapidly.

Now here is says that he can't walk VERY WELL on land. While I haven't seen any Ben 10 episodes featuring this alien form, one wonders if the fact that Ben himself is a land-based being, if enough of that nature translates over to the Ripjaws form to let him walk somewhat on land, whereas a normal member of this species wouldn't be able to. But that's just speculation.

Of course, Ripjaws comes with the Animation Disc and Lenticular Card, the latter of which reads, "A monstrous hybrid of alligator, eel and leech, Volanns are incredible swimmers with huge mouths filled with rows of razor-sharp teeth that can chomp through almost anything. Volanns must keep their gills wet or they'll dehydrate rapidly."

No question he's ugly. But I don't think he's as ugly as Wildmutt.

Let's get away from the teeth for a bit and into another alien hero:

UPGRADE - This is a seriously weird one. At least he doesn't have teeth. The name implies a certain high-tech background, and certainly the figure, peculiar as he is, reflects this with what look like lines of printed circuitry in his head, back, and arms. His profile on the Web Site reads as follows: A result of environmental engineering gone awry, Galvanic Mechomorphs are an entirely new and unique species in the galaxy. These amorphous biomechanical beings are living machines with liquid metallic skin and complex systems of self-forming organic circuits. Due to the "nanites" that makes up the core of their biology, Mechomorphs are able to merge with any technology and "upgrade" it into an incredible piece of ultra-tech. In this merged form, Mechomorphs can literally bring anything - from a toaster to a satellite - to life. Spreading over a machine like a fluid blanket of mercury, they are able to communicate with the apparatus, vastly increasing its functions. While Mechomorphs are masters of the mechanical, their powers are useless on living creatures. Sentient science kits, there is nothing artificial about them - even the plasma beams they produce come from a series of complex internal machinations. Being highly sensitive, finely tuned beings, electromagnetic pulses, acid or any other sort of corrosive can upset their delicate chemistry and wreak havoc on a Mechomorph's systems.

Sounds like a cross between the Changelings from Star Trek Deep Space Nine, like Odo, and the Borg, also from Star Trek. Sounds potentially dangerous, I'll give it that.

Their homeworld is described as follows: Originally an uninhabited moon orbiting Galvan Prime, Galvan B was accidentally brought to life by an environmental disaster. Galvan scientists mining the resource-rich world for its raw materials misused an experimental self-replicating nanotechnology, which bonded with the moon's minerals and imbued the fertile ground with sentient consciousness. Though Galvan B seems to have reverted to its natural state, subtle surface ripples and the occasional metallic glint say otherwise. Any alien presence on the moon is sure to be consumed and quickly disappears.

That sounds even more like a Changeling/Borg combo. Weird.

So's the figure. Upgrade doesn't seem to necessarily be confined to an entirely humanoid form, based on the animation, although this does seem to be some sort of, for lack of a better term, a "default setting" for the character. But still, this isn't the sort of thing that's going to translate all that easily into action figure form. So how does one do it?

You give the figure absolutely massive arms that look like they're reaching out to take over your computer or something. These aliens must be hackers' dreams... or nightmares.

Upgrade's figure design is humanoid, but has a sort of "unfinished" look to it, for lack of a better term. There is a head, that sort of tapers and slopes into the body and the huge arms, and the body itself sort of "slows" down into two rather short, and sort of unfinished-looking legs. The impression, based on the nature of the aliens themselves, actually works quite well.

The figure is superbly well detailed, especially on the back, which can't readily be seen in the package obviously. The "Ben" influence can be seen by a white front to the otherwise mostly black (with green curcuit lines) figure, and the Omnitrix symbol dead center.

Upgrade is articulated at the head, arms, and legs. However, the arms are so massive compared to the rest of the figure, that if you want to just stand the figure for display, the only way he'll hild his balance is if you use the arms as two additional legs. But this doesn't look bad at all.

Some additional information on the Web Site reads, "Upgrade is a biomechanical alien - a living machine with liquid metallic skin and a system of organic 'circuits.' Upgrade can merge with any technology and bring it to life with enhanced abilities, like extra speed or plasma cannons. When Ben is Upgrade, he literally becomes the thing he has merged with." I tend to wonder just a bit if this means Ben-as-Upgrade is restricted to technology. I wish Cartoon Network would put this show on at a reliable time.

Upgrade, of course, comes with the Animation Disc and Lenticular Card, which reads, Mechomorphs can merge with any technology and "upgrade" it into an incredible piece of ultra-tech. Their powers are useless on living creatures and acid or any other corrosive can upset their delicate chemistry.

Finally, let's check out one of the newer entries in the Ben 10 collection...

WILDVINE - Great, just what we need -- a PLANT that looks like it has teeth... This is a seriously weird one, folks.

This is one of the newer characters in the line, and his profile on the Web Site isn't very long. In fact it's taken directly from the Lenticular Card. Wildvine is a Florauna. Florauna are quick to regenerate by spreading seeds, yet they need steady exposure to sun and water in order to thrive. They are particularly sensitive to cold, and when denied their energy source they will quickly dry up, wilt, and perish.

Nothing on the homeworld, but I think it'd be safe to say that it's probably a jungle or a swamp. This thing looks tropical to me.

Plant-based sentient life-forms have been found before in popular culture, and in animation. In one episode of the Star Trek animated series, the crew of the Enterprise encountered the Phylosians, who were semi-humanoid intelligent plants that had numerous tentacles and heads that looked something like artichokes.

In the original Masters of the Universe animated series, one of the most popular episodes was entitled "Evilseed", in which a character of the same name attempted to take over all of Eternia with his plants, and it took the combined forces of He-Man and Skeletor to defeat him!

Wildvine, appearance-wise, isn't too far removed from either of these previous plant-based characters. He certainly has an interesting design, though, I'll give him that.

Question -- how do you make an action figure of a character who has five legs? I doubt it was easy for the good folks at Bandai, but they found a way. The front four legs are united in groups of two on either side of the torso, and can move forwards and very slightly backwards. The fifth leg almost acts like a tail, and swings a bit from side to side, but also has a second articulation point on it that allows it to raise backwards or move forwards between the other leg groups.The legs, honestly, look a lot like vines.

Wildvine has two arms, relatively humanoid in appearance. They are slender, have visible elbows (although they are not articulated at the elbow), and end in three-fingered hands that frankly look like sharp leaves.

The head has a single eye in it, a sort of blue orb, although interestingly, there are identical blue orbs on the shoulders of the figure. Does this thing have one eye or three? Given the leg structure, there's no reason to assume that Wildvine is particularly bound by human construction in any regard. The head has a small mouth, and is surrounded by a "collar" that rises up from the torso on either side that looks as much as anything like the mouth of a Venus Flytrap plant. Whether the spines along the edges of this are teeth or something else, I'm not certain.

The last notable feature on Wildvine are these eight black protrusions on his back. Are these seed pods or some sort of defensive mechanism? Honestly, your guess is as good as mine. Wildvine has apparently appeared in all of one episode to date.

Wildvine is certainly one of the wildest entries in the Ben 10 collection to date.

On the whole, these are all interesting figures, as is the Ben 10 concept itself. I hope that it continues to prosper on Cartoon Network, and that the producers of the show, which include some top talent in the comics world, keep coming up with interesting adventures for Ben, and interesting aliens for him to transform into, and or Bandai to make into action figures.

BEN 10 definitely has my highest recommendation!