email thomas

















By Thomas Wheeler

Despite the fact that I prefer to review only one action figure at a time, it occurred to me that it's been quite a while since I've reviewed anything from the world of Ben 10. And with a new animated series having turned up recently -- with toys, of course -- a thought a bit of catch-up was in order, so sit back and enjoy, dear reader, you're getting three reviews in one package!

The Ben 10 series of cartoons impresses me for a variety of reasons. The stories are entertaining and intelligent, the backstory is interesting. But above them all, it's not often that an entirely new animated concept just comes out of the blue and manages to establish itself as well as it has. There's just so much out there that's already pretty well rooted in place.

Consider how long super-heroes have been around. The first Superman animation actually dates back to the 1940's! The 1960's and 1970's saw a resurgence of this, and the 1980's did see the establishment of new, pop culture concepts, such as G.I. Joe, Transformers, Masters of the Universe, ThunderCats, and late on in the decade, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.

While this is a somewhat subjective analysis, in my opinion, the last kid-directed pop culture concept with a significant presence in the toy stores that really took hold and has maintained itself ever since, was in the early 1990's, with the Power Rangers.

And yet, there is Ben 10. And I don't mean this as a criticism to its creators, but it sincerely surprised me that ANY entirely new concept could come along and earn a fairly lengthy place on television and in the toy stores. When one considers the fairly extensive number and come and go, with their toys hitting the clearance aisle almost as soon as they're delivered, and the DVD's being reduced almost before the show is off the air, it's really a wonder that any new concept can find a place. And yet -- one has.

The popularity of the Ben 10 animated franchise on Cartoon Network continues with a new series titled "Ben 10: Omniverse".

The series is the fourth installment in the Ben 10 franchise. Man of Action (a group consisting of Duncan Rouleau, Joe Casey, Joe Kelly, and Steven T. Seagle) created the franchise, all four series, including the original Ben 10 and all of its sequel series, including Ben 10: Omniverse. The newest series was announced at Cartoon Network's Upfront in 2011.

The series follows the adventures of a sixteen-year-old Ben Tennyson, bearer of the Omnitrix, a watch-like device that allows Ben to change into aliens, who teams up with an alien named Rook, a rookie and a by-the-book partner. On a mission to explore a secret alien city, Ben explores the quirkier side of things in the alien underground and discovers that enemies from his past are looking for a rematch. All the while, Ben becomes targeted by a mysterious hunter, known as Khyber.

And somehow in the midst of all this, the sixteen-year-old Ben that we have known from the past two series encounters his ten-year-old counterpart from the original series.

I tend to believe that the reason the show is called "Ben 10 Omniverse" is because "Ben 10: Continuity Hell" didn't sound too good to the marketing staff.

The human characters in the show have undergone a substantial redesign. Despite the fact that this design is described as an "homage" to the original, I really have some trouble seeing that, myself, and frankly, I'm not that crazy about it. On the other hand, the alien characters have always tended to be all over the map, designwise, so a significant redesign of the show isn't going to impact them as greatly.

Of course, there's a line of toys from Bandai, the focal point for me, as always, being the 4" line of articulated action figures, based on the alien heroes that Ben Tennyson can transform into. These have started to turn up, and we'll be having a look at three of them this time around. Let's start with --

SHOCKSQUATCH - According to some information that I obtained from a "Wiki"-style Ben 10 fan site: "Ben 10 is back with a new look, a new Omnitrix, and a brand-new show. Get ready for Ben 10: Omniverse! Ben is all set to be a solo hero after Gwen and Kevin left, but Grandpa Max teams him up with a rookie, by-the-book partner. Together they explore a secret alien city. Meanwhile, a mysterious hunter sets his sights on Ben!"

That new "by-the-book partner" is an alien character by the name of Rook, who is also available in figure form. One wonders how well a rookie will be able to endure Ben's numerous transformations.

As for Shocksquatch, he is the Codon Stream's DNA sample of a Gimlinopithecus from the planet Pattersonea.

A Gimlino -- what!? Seriously, who comes up with these names? (Although in this case it wouldn't surprise me if it was someone with the last name of Patterson...)

Shocksquatch first appeared in Ben 10-Generator Rex: Heroes United, a crossover between the two animated series. He was accidentally unlocked and he was used to fight Alpha.

Shocksquatch returns in the series premiere of Ben 10: Omniverse, in The More Things Change: Part 2, and he battled Buglizard.

In his first appearance, Shocksquatch has the appearance of a thick, muscular yeti-like alien. He has a grey lower body and white upper body including a white head, pointed eyebrows, and a pink, ape-like face. He also has black eyes with green pupils. He has metallic grey circular bolts on the back of his hands and on his lower jaws. He wears the Ultimatrix symbol on his chest.

In Omniverse, he appears slimmer than usual and he now has yellow and black fur, along with grey fingers and toes. He now has 4 fingers instead of five. He also now has two bolts on the side of his wrist instead of the back of his hands. He now has green eyes with black pupils. He also has yellow horns and a green belt. His Omnitrix symbol is on his belt.

Honestly, the difference between the two appearances is so considerable it's a wonder they're even considered the same character.

As for his powers and abilities, Shocksquatch has the ability to release strong, yellow electrical charges from his hands and mouth, the latter seeming to make the bolts more powerful, capable of electrocuting a creature much larger than himself. He is more agile than he looks as he jumped over Buglizard and can run fast on all fours.

So, how's the figure? Very cool. I would have to say that of the new characters being introduced in the series that I have thus far seen in figure form -- which admittedly isn't many (two new alien forms for Ben and a figure of his new sidekick Rook), Shocksquatch is one of the more visually dynamic characters.

There is something of a mild pattern to the character design of the alien heroes that are notable for, among other things, being physical powerhouses, and this certainly includes Shocksquatch. They tend to have very large torsos, massive arms, relatively small waists, and rather short, small legs. Shocksquatch dodges this a bit, since his lower legs are larger than is often reflected in this pattern, but it still applies.

Honestly, it amazes me that there's any sort of pattern to find. The alien heroes that Ben Tennyson is capable of transforming into are all over the map, designwise. Some have multiple limbs. Some are quite skinny. Several aren't even especially humanoid. This is a testament to the imaginations of the concept's creators, that they can come up with so much wild stuff and fit it into an animated series the way they have.

It's also a testament to Bandai that they can take so many wild characters that have been turned out in traditional animation and somehow figure out how to make three-dimensional action figures of them.

The one concession they've had to make is with regard to size. Some of these alien heroes are so small as to be nearly microscopic. Others are as tall as skyscrapers. The one named "Way Big" didn't get his name because he's short. It would be impossible to market a line of to-scale-with-each-other action figures for this concept. The smallest of them would likely be choking hazards, and the biggest ones would have difficulty fitting in the trunk of a person's car. So everybody's pretty much 4" in height, regardless of their relative size in the show. I can live with that.

Fortunately, Shocksquatch is based on his Omniverse likeness. I remarked that he is one of the more visually dynamic characters I've seen thus far in the Omniverse line. The same cannot be said of his original appearance in the Ben 10/Generator Rex crossover, where he basically looked like a decidedly obese albino Wookiee who'd gotten a bad dye job.

Not the Omniverse Shocksquatch. As described, he has a mostly black head with a gray face, yellow-orange body, with the furry equivalent of black trunks, gloves, and boots, with gray fingers and toes. The border between the orange and black is outlined in white at the neck, lower arms, and lower legs, with a very jagged pattern.

The figure doesn't really look furry per se. We're not talking Grizzlor from Masters of the Universe here. There are a few sculpted details on the shoulders and lower arms that look like ruffles of fur, in a cartoonish sense, so that compensates well enough within the design of the character.

One thing especially impresses me. The borders between the colors are clearly sculpted into the figure, as well as painted, and this includes the white lines. One thing that Bandai does extremely well is paint their figures very neatly. They stayed very much "in the lines" on Shocksquatch, and given how wild and jagged some of those lines are, that's very impressive.

Shocksquatch's face is somewhat simian in appearance, as one might expect given the basis for the character. He has a jutting lower jaw with a row of teeth pointing upward over his upper lip. He has a pushed-in nose and green, angular eyes. On his forehead is some sort of detail -- I don't know if it's supposed to be fur or what, but it has two yellow-orange lightning bolts jutting out to the side, and a single point upwards. It almost looks like a sort of crown.

Around his waist is a belt, green and white, with the Omnitrix symbol appearing as if it were a belt buckle.

As I described, Shocksquatch follows the pattern of a lot of the physical powerhouse characters among the alien heroes in Ben 10, in that he has a large torso, massive arms, and comparatively smaller legs. However, once again, his design basis allows for this. If indeed there are "sasquatch" creatures in existence, and they are based on some sort of simian, then they would have similar proportions themselves (although doubtless not quite this extreme).

Shocksquatch isn't quite as exaggerated as some character. His arms are massive, as are his hands, but his legs aren't quite as relatively short, and his lower legs have a decent amount of size to them, as do his feet.

Articulation on the figure is very decent. One never quite knows what one is going to get with a Ben 10 figure. Some of them are better articulated than others, and in Bandai's defense, some of these characters have designs that don't really allow for a lot of articulation. Shocksquatch does. His head does not turn, but for all intents and purposes, this guy appears to have little in the way of a neck, or it's covered by such a shaggy mass of fur that it's just not readily apparent. He is, however, nicely poseable at the arms, elbows, legs, and knees.

As to accessories, many of the aliens in the Ben 10 Omniverse line come with miniature sculptures of themselves, which can be used with some new toy called the "Omnitrix Challenge" -- which itself apparently comes with 10 miniature alien "statues" of its own. Shocksquatch is no exception to this, and there's a small yellow-orange-colored miniature statue of him in the package.

Let's move on to the second figure in this group review --

FEEDBACK - Feedback is the Codon Stream's DNA sample of a Conductoid from the planet Teslavorr.

Feedback has a black and white color scheme similar to another electricity wielding alien, Buzzshock.

Feedback has one green eye in the middle of his head. He has two antennae and a tail that looks like plugs on the end that allows him to draw energy to himself. He has four fingers on each hand with similar plugs on the tip of each finger.

Feedback has the ability to absorb and redirect any kind of energy from his antennas, tail, and fingers.

He has been shown to possess the ability to shoot electricity from his hands without absorbing any, and propel it out in punches. He has also been shown to have enhanced agility.

Feedback first appeared in "The More Things Change: Part 1", when 11 year old Ben used him to defeat Malware. He absorbed the electric charge from Malware and redirected it back to him causing a small explosion.

In the episode "Trouble Helix", Feedback battled the Unknown Galvanic Mechamorph Villain.

Okay, who comes up with some of these names? I haven't encountered a mouthful like that in a cartoon since an off-the-wall episode of G.I. Joe where Cobra raided a science-fiction convention to kidnap a scientist to repair their new weapon which was called the "Voltronic Galaxidor". G.I. Joe team members Sci-Fi and Sgt. Slaughter featured heavily in that episode, Sarge making no shortage of sarcastic remarks about the whole thing.

But really -- "Unknown Galvanic Mechamorph Villain"?! Don't get me started on a character named "Feedback" defeating a bad guy named "Malware". You want to put down the computer manuals while you're writing your stories, guys?

So, how's the figure? Very cool, really. I've noticed something of a limited pattern among Ben 10 aliens that tend to be (a) reasonably humanoid -- which isn't all of them by any means, and (b) physical powerhouses. Given that the show itself is not entirely trying to present a realistically-designed world, but a clearly animated one, exaggerated proportions tend to be the order of the day to one degree or another, and as such the pattern for characters such as I have just described tends to be huge chests, narrow waists, massive arms, and small legs.

To a degree, Feedback fits this basic description. However, he's not quite the same sort of physical powerhouse as, say, for example, Rath, who's probably the Ben 10 universe's closest equivalent to the Incredible Hulk, so Feedback's proportions, while certainly fitting this general description, aren't quite as extreme.

He does have very long arms and huge hands, and they are definitely larger than his legs. But he doesn't have quite as broad a chest, and his legs are somewhat longer than the typical "powerhouse" body design, if anything can be said to be typical among the Ben 10 aliens.

Feedback's head and much of his body is black. He has a broad white stripe that runs from around his neck all the way down his front to his legs. This is what you get when you take fashion advice from either a formal wear shop or a bunch of penguins, I suppose.

There really doesn't seem to be all that much to Feedback's head, as much as it's a place to put his large, central, bright green eye, a jutting jaw with a toothy grin that would scare the Joker, and two massive, thick antennae that jut upwards a short distance, and then curve downwards nearly to the figure's waist.

Feedback has a fairly broad chest, with long arms, that feature relatively slender upper arms, but huge, broad lower arms, with massive, relatively humanoid hands that each have three fingers and a thumb. Credit to the figure sculptors, each finger is separate from the others.

Feedback has a fairly narrow waist, and relatively slender legs, that end in long feet with two tapered toes. He also has a fairly lengthy tail in the back. This was packaged separately on his card and has to be plugged in. I might recommend a cautious bit of glue, since the tail isn't designed to be articulated, and can come loose.

As one would expect for a Ben 10 alien, Feedback has the symbol of the Omnitrix displayed prominently on him. However, very unusually, the green and black hourglass shape does not appear within a circle! Instead, it's within this somewhat tapered, straight-edged, six-sided polygon. I'd have to rummage through my entire collection of Ben 10 figures to be certain, but I think this is the first time ever the Omnitrix symbol has appeared in anything other than a circle. Some tradition holds, though. The emblem is bordered in gray.

One of Feedback's most unusual features is the fact that the tips of his antennae, his tail, and all eight fingers and thumbs end in short, metallic gold cylinder shapes that all look more or less like the business end of coaxial cable. I wonder if this guy would do my Cable hook-up any good?

In any case, it's an interesting feature, and certainly helps to effectively present the character's super-power capabilities.

Painted detail on Feedback is relatively minimal -- mostly the facial features, "cable" tips, and the chest with the Omnitrix emblem. However, all of Feedback's painted details have been very neatly done. This is something that Bandai seems to specialize in.

The figure's articulation is excellent. Feedback is nicely poseable at the head, arms, elbows, legs, and knees. Sometimes with these Ben 10 figures, you never quite know what you're going to get articulation-wise. Admittedly, some of them are so extreme, that Bandai just has to do what they can to allow the character to move somewhat, without costing him too much of his likeness.

As with Shocksquatch, Feedback comes with a small statue of himself in the package. This one, not surprisingly, is black.

Finally, let's consider a rather colorful fellow in the line, by the name of...

BLOXX - Bloxx is the Codon Stream's DNA sample of a Segmentasapien from the planet Polyominus.

Bloxx's appearance looks similar to that of a gorilla made out of building blocks. He has three main colors: red, blue and yellow, with black lines all over his body. And he wears the Omnitrix symbol on his chest.

Bloxx is capable of shapeshifting and can transform into a variety of shapes, such as a cage or a catapult. Bloxx can also stretch and build himself around things. If his body is broken, he can easily reform the broken pieces almost immediately. His body is strong enough to escape explosions unscathed.

Despite his shape-changing abilities, his body is fragile and is easily broken when hit with enough force, but can easily reform himself right after.

Bloxx makes his debut in The More Things Change: Part 1, he saves Mr. Baumann's shop from being destroyed with Rook's help.

The Codon Stream, by the way, for those who don't know, is described as follows, according to some research I did.

The Codon Stream is a system of rivers of "green lava" that are spread throughout Primus. The stream originates in a volcano, which is actually the processing plant for the DNA of the stream. There are no non-sapient/sentient species DNA in the Codon Stream. Originally, there was thought to be 10,000 DNA samples in the Codon Stream, as hinted from the episode "Ben 10,000". But Azmuth has revealed that there are samples from every sapient species of every world in the Milky Way Galaxy: over 1,000,000. According to Dwayne McDuffie, some of these samples include Osmosian DNA and Human DNA.

The river is actually the key to the primary feature of the Prototype Omnitrix, and Ultimatrix in that both are actually wireless receivers connected to the Codon Stream, allowing them to alter the DNA of their wearer.

When the Omnitrix in question is activated, it opens up a holographic display of all aliens unlocked. When the faceplate is pushed back into place, it emits a signal that is picked up by the volcano on Primus, then sent throughout the Codon Stream and back to the Omnitrix, with the selected alien's DNA attached. The selected DNA is then merged with the wearer's DNA, transforming the user into the selected alien.

So, how's the figure? Very cool. Also not easily found. The initial assortment of Ben 10: Omniverse figures consists of both versions of Ben (16 and 11 years old), Rook, Feedback, and Bloxx.

Most of these are easy enough to find. Rook, Feedback, and the two Bens are likely to turn up fairly readily at any retailer carrying a decent supply of Ben 10 figures.

And it just occurred to me that between a 16-year-old Ben Tennyson and an 11-year-old Ben Tennyson in the same show, we've practically got the Ben 10 version of the "Young Indiana Jones Chronicles". Precisely what makes me think of things like that I have no idea...

Anyway, Bloxx is a little tougher to come by, and I think the reason for that is he's the largest, or at least the bulkiest, of this initial shipment of figures, and he's certainly the most colorful. Rook and Feedback have a lot of black on them. So does the 16-year-old Ben, and the younger Ben's clothing is mostly white and dark green. Not a lot of the color spectrum being used there.

Bloxx? You want color? You want the three primary colors of red, yellow, and blue very much in your face? Then here's Bloxx.

As described above, Bloxx looks something like a gorilla, but one assembled from interconnecting blocks. I think he's far enough removed from anything like Lego or Mega Bloks to avoid any legal entanglements, but it's a near thing.

The toy does not disassemble, by the way. That probably really would've pushed somebody's luck a little too far.

Bloxx is all sweeping curves and right angles. He looks like a child's block toy come to life somehow. The most intricately designed part of him, not surprisingly, is the head, which does have some resemblance to the basic cranial structure of a gorilla, in that Bloxx's head has a rather simian brow, pushed up nose, and pronounced jawline, more of a muzzle, really, than any sort of standard mouth.

A fair portion of Bloxx's head is read, but the brow and upper jaw and yellow, and the lower jaw is blue.

Bloxx's overall physique is quite exaggerated. It's more or less standard practice within Ben 10 -- if any sort of standard practice can be designated to the wild alien heroes that have appeared in this series -- for any physical, reasonably humanoid powerhouse to have a massive upper chest, relatively narrow waist, absolutely huge arms, and fairly small legs.

Bloxx takes this to an extreme, and it's only because he's meant to resemble a gorilla, which already deviates in these respects relative to human anatomy, that he gets away with it. The arms are so massive and the legs are so little that, staring at the figure, you feel as though you're looking at an action figure study of forced perspective, from several angles.

Bloxx is wholly incapable of standing on his diminutive legs, which don't even have distinctive feet. He gets around on all fours, his gargantuan hands clenched into fists at the ends of massive, down-curved arms. Squared-off fingers and thumbs are visible on his hands.

Looking at this figure, I can't decide if he was a really easy sculpt for the designers, or a real pain in the neck -- and a few other anatomical regions. All the curves and right angles aren't exactly what I'd call "intricate detail", but they'd still have to be smoothly sculpted, not to mention symmetrical. Good luck.

Bloxx's colors don't exactly alternate, but they don't really run up against each other, either. Following Bloxx's head, there's a sort of yellow "collar", followed by a red chest and upper back, and an abdomen and lower torso that runs blue to yellow to red. The upper arms are blue, the mid-arms are yellow, and the lower arms and hands are red. Bloxx's upper legs are yellow, and his lower legs are red. If any color comes up a little short on this figure, it's probably blue.

Bloxx has a number of raised circular areas on his body, one on the top of his head, three down his back, one on each shoulder, and two on the back of each hand. These are clearly intended to be reminiscent of Lego and other similar building-block toys, but I don't believe it's so close that Bloxx is going to get anybody into legal trouble.

The divisions between the colors are separated by rather thick black lines. Here is where one of Bandai's specialties comes through. They are capable of some of the neatest, most precise painting in the business. If you want intricate, but also very precisely placed painting on your action figure, your best bet for that is Bandai. In this respect, Bloxx was tailor-made for their capabilities.

Beyond the main colors of red, yellow, and blue, and the black lines, Bloxx has green eyes, typical for the alien heroes that Ben transforms into, and also typical for these characters, Bloxx also has the Omnitrix emblem on his chest, the green hourglass shape inside of a black circle, outlined in light gray.

Let's talk articulation. How do you articulate something that looks like this? On a somewhat limited basis, really. Bloxx is poseable at the head, arms, wrists, and legs. I realize that doesn't sound like much, but I really think to have done any more than this would have severely and negatively impacted the very cool look of the figure.

As with the others, Bloxx has a small statue of himself in the package. And it must have been tough to decide on a color, but ultimately, Bandai went with yellow.

So, what's my final word? Personally, I think the animated series shouldn't have done such a massive redesign of the human characters, and can we get a bottle of aspirin to the writers that are going to have to sort out the kinds of continuity nightmares that always happen with time-travel stories or however they're playing this?

But, there's nothing wrong with the alien characters. They still work well with the toy line as a whole, and these three are all interesting and distinctive new additions to the alien heroes that young Ben Tennyson can transform into. The figures are cool, as well, and I believe any longtime -- or new -- fan of Ben 10 will be pleased with them.

The BEN 10: OMNIVERSE figures of SHOCKSQUATCH, FEEDBACK, and BLOXX definitely have my most enthusiastic recommendation!