REVIEW: DC UNIVERSE SIGNATURE SERIES MONSIEUR MALLAH and the BRAIN
Although Mattel's DC Universe Signature Series isn't expected to have as many special products as their Masters of the Universe Classics line -- there is at least one special for 2013, that has been released.
I suppose it could be classified as a two-pack, since it does feature two distinct characters, although there's also a degree to which it could almost be classified as one larger-than-usual figure, and an accessory that just happens to be a distinct character. Admittedly, this is a very unusual two-pack, consisting of a super-intelligent ape, and a human brain in a jar on top of an electronic pedestal. And yeah, you do sort of have to wonder what the original creators of this pair were thinking when they came up with a duo like that...!
I'm speaking of MONSIEUR MALLAH -- that's the big ape -- and THE BRAIN, who while obviously very intelligent, clearly isn't much for creative names. Sort of makes you wonder what he would've called himself if some other parts of his anatomy had survived the incident that required his cranial contents to be put under glass, but let's not go there.
Mallah and the Brain (okay, why am I suddenly hearing a weird version of the theme song to the Warner Brothers cartoon "Pinky and the Brain" in my head...) started out as Doom Patrol adversaries, forming the Brotherhood of Evil (I mean, really, what a name. The Brain seems to have a glaring mastery of the obvious) and given how oddball the Doom Patrol was, it's little wonder that these two are such unusual villains. Really, if you wanted "weird", then the Doom Patrol was the place to find it. They've since gone on to pester the Teen Titans, the Outsiders, the Secret Six, and then they made the mistake of ticking off Gorilla Grodd during the Salvation Run storyline and -- well, I'm getting ahead of myself a bit.
Let's consider the history of these two, and then consider this figure set from Mattel. Interestingly, Mallah and the Brain have managed quite a few media appearances outside of their comic book origins.
Monsieur Mallah first appeared in Doom Patrol #86, dated May 1964, and was created by Arnold Drake and Bruno Premiani. The Brain is a French mastermind and criminal genius. He is well known because every time he is defeated his robotic body is beheaded only to be fixed mysteriously the next time he appears.
As a scientist, the man who would one day become known as the Brain performed experiments on animals to raise their intelligence. One of these was on a captured gorilla, raising its IQ to the genius-level of 178. He named the gorilla Monsieur Mallah and educated him for almost a decade before making him his personal assistant.
According to The Brain himself, "Ten years ago, I took a superior ape - stronger than any human... more agile than the best athlete! Through secret teaching methods and shock treatments, I have it an IQ of 178! Genius status!"
The scientist's colleague, Niles Caulder, and founder of the Doom Patrol, grew jealous of his work and arranged for the scientist to get caught in an explosion, which destroyed the scientist's body. Only the brain survived, and Caulder planned on putting his brain in a robot body.
Mallah rescued the scientist, taking his brain and transferring it to a computer network that kept it functioning. Now known simply as the Brain, the scientist and Mallah gathered together the criminal organization known as the Brotherhood of Evil in hopes of conquering the world and getting revenge on Caulder.
Caulder, now known as the Chief, through a series of other accidents that he manipulated, would form the superhero group known as the Doom Patrol, including Cliff Steele, subsequently known as Robotman, who received the robotic body originally intended for The Brain. Setting out to destroy the Chief's "pets", the Brain, Mallah, and their Brotherhood became enemies with the Patrol. Their criminal activities would also put them into opposition with the Teen Titans, among other teams over the years.
One of the most formidable villains ever encountered by the Doom Patrol, The Brain is more of a cerebral opponent but all the more dangerous for it. A former polymath, The Brain has a genius level IQ which he puts to use as a criminal mastermind, and is more than capable of plotting out perfect crimes. The Brain is completely single-minded, and motivated almost entirely towards domination of others, the committing of even more perfect crimes, and ultimate revenge against Niles Caulder.
Adept in psychology, he is also a master of coercion, deceit and manipulation, being able to persuade almost anybody to do his dirty work for him, even to the point where his agents are under the illusion that they are not actually committing evil or immoral acts. This has, however, on occasion been hinted to be a result of mind control by the use of telepathy on the part of The Brain. It was through these vast cerebral abilities that The Brain was able to unite various villains under his leadership, and form the Brotherhood of Evil.
Although others often act as brawn to his brain, most notably Monsieur Mallah, The Brain has occasionally used agile robotic bodies to give him mobility. The different contraptions which have been seen to hold his brain were designed by The Brain himself (also a master in biology and robotics) and have proved time and time again to be durable and even nigh-indestructible -- at least until some super-hero gets a lucky shot and he's got to go back to the jar on the pedestal. On the rare occasion when The Brain has been caught vulnerable without robotic protection or assistance from other villains, he has protected himself by attacking opponents through telekinesis.
Except for the times when he has possessed robot bodies as mentioned above, the Brain is normally portrayed as an ordinary human brain, albeit housed within what could be described as a giant-sized chess piece which contains the equipment required to keep him alive, whichis arguably how he is best known. In the original Doom Patrol series, he was regularly portrayed as a disembodied brain, bobbing inside a sealed dome filled with a nutrient bath, hooked up with numerous machines, including a loudspeaker to convey his voice.
In the Salvation Run storyline, Brain and Monsieur Mallah appear amongst the villains that were sent to the planet Cygnus 4019. Brain and Monsieur Mallah arrive at Joker's camp, and Monsieur Mallah asks Gorilla Grodd to speak with him away from the others. Mallah proposes to Grodd that as fellow gorillas, the natural kings of the jungle, they should team up and, through their combined might, rule the entire place by themselves. Gorilla Grodd laughs at Monsieur Mallah for considering himself, an "absurd science experiment", comparable to "a proud child of Gorilla City." Monsieur Mallah strikes Gorilla Grodd and calls him a beast, causing Grodd to fly into a rage and try to kill him. Although Monsieur Mallah also has a gun and shoots Gorilla Grodd several times, Gorilla Grodd still has the upper hand, and is about to kill Monsieur Mallah when Brain interjects, pleading for Monsieur Mallah's life. Thinking better of it, Grodd picks Brain up and beats Mallah to death with Brain, smashing Brain's protective hull in the process and killing him as well.
Moral of the story -- don't tick off Grodd. That was, as far as I know, the end of Mallah and the Brain until the "New 52", and reportedly The Brain has turned up there, but I refuse to delve into that particular realm.
We've already discussed The Brain's abilities. Monsieur Mallah has super human strength, speed, agility, reflexes, and intelligence. He usually carries a machine gun. Why he thinks he needs one I have no idea.
As to other media appearances by this duo, ·The Brain appears as the main antagonist of the fifth and final season of the Teen Titans animated series, alongside Monsieur Mallah. As his name suggests, Mallah possesses a faux French accent. His appearance is very similar to a Dalek, the major antagonists in the British science fiction television series Doctor Who, and indeed the producers of Teen Titans mentioned the British show in interviews about Season Five. When interviewed, Derrick J. Wyatt stated that the Brain was a "Total Dalek", claiming that he even talked like one, and the resemblance was intentional.
The Brain seems to do very little during the series, and acts behind the scenes coordinating the villain attacks. When he appears in his secret base, he is frequently seen playing chess with Mallah and comparing it to the game of wits he considers himself to be playing against Robin. In the rare instances where he himself fights, he appears to possess limited telekinetic and telepathic abilities. He is otherwise defenseless and an easy target several times in the series, not even able to defend against a slap on the back from Beast Boy.
As a result of his defenselessness from a physical standpoint, he relies almost entirely on his evil subordinates to carry out his plans. With himself providing the strategy and intelligence, this reliance proves mostly justified in the episode "Calling All Titans." In this episode, the Brain uses a stolen Teen Titans communicator to track down and capture every honorary Teen Titan by sending villains to capture them. In most cases, the Brain is able to provide exactly the evil opponent needed to capture any hero. However, the Brain's over-reliance on his subordinates also eventually proves to be his undoing due to several key mistakes belying his usual intelligence; he seems unable to adapt to any possible holes in his plan, and this flaw costs him dearly in the very next episode "Titans Together" as the remaining heroes infiltrate his base to free the captured heroes.
In a last-ditch effort to escape when the tables turn, he detaches the skull jar from the rest of his body, simultaneously turning it into a fusion device to blow up his base so he could escape (saying that sometimes the best strategy is to "clear the field"), which he immediately activates. As he gets alarmingly close to leaving the now-ravaged Brotherhood base, the Brain is knocked off the scafford by Beast Boy, which Robin retrieves seconds before the jar smashes onto the ground, and is subsequently flash-frozen by a smirking Beast Boy.
Mallah's role in these episodes is as one would expect, assistant to The Brain. Although it is claimed that Mallah's strength is only matched by his intelligence, and although he is smart enough to know not to continue fighting a losing battle and understands how to use technology (including weapons, tanks, and computers), he seems to prefer direct confrontation over tactical prowess, as he tends to be rather over-reliant on his own brute strength to accomplish the majority of his objectives (though one could make the argument that most of his objectives are simplistic enough to only require strength and confrontation), and is somewhat irritable and overconfident, traits that eventually prove his undoing. Whenever free time is on his hands, Mallah often spends his time playing chess with the Brain, as well as commenting on the actions and decisions the Brain makes during each game.
Monsieur Mallah appears in the Batman: The Brave and the Bold episode "Gorillas in Our Midst" voiced by Kevin Michael Richardson. Monsieur Mallah, Gorilla Grodd and Gorilla Boss form a secret alliance called G.A.S.P. (short for Gorillas and Apes Seizing Power) and replace Gotham City's population with gorillas. He is defeated by B'wana Beast, Vixen, and Batman. In "The Last Patrol", Monsieur Mallah assists the Brain in trying to kill Niles Caulder, but is stopped by Batman.
Monsieur Mallah appears in the Young Justice episode "Alpha Male" with his vocal effects provided by Dee Bradley Baker. He and Brain were behind a plot to use mind-control collars on India's wildlife, which he had enhanced into enlarged monsters using Kobra Venom. Monsieur Mallah used a special trap to capture Captain Marvel so that Brain can do a brain transfer on him. While Brain attempted this, Monsieur Mallah assisted the mind-controlled animals into attacking the Team. Although Monsieur Mallah was defeated by the Team, he and Brain ended up getting away.
In "Misplaced," Monsieur Mallah was present with Brain during his meeting with the other members of The Light (Project Cadmus' Board of Directors) even when Riddler and Sportsmaster bring them an organism that they stole from S.T.A.R. Labs which they plan to bring "into the Light."
He has been seen alongside the Brain in "Insecurity" when he was working with Klarion the Witch Boy and Professor Ivo into weaponizing the Starro-Tech. In "Auld Acquaintance," Monsieur Mallah helped Ra's al Ghul, Lex Luthor, Queen Bee, and Ocean Master into raiding Cadmus Labs of its valuables where Monsieur Mallah took Match's pod.
In "Summit," Monsieur Mallah accompanied Brain to the caves of Santa Prisca where the Light is having a summit with the Reach. During the three-way fight between the Team, the Light, and the Reach, Monsieur Mallah was defeated by Beast Boy who knocked him out in the form of a rhinoceros.
So, how are the figures? Extremely impressive. Let's start with MONSIEUR MALLAH.
No great surprise here, Mallah uses the same body molds as Gorilla Grodd except for the head. Mallah possesses a distinct headsculpt.
Grodd was offered as the Collect-and-Connect figure in Wave 2 of the DC Universe Classics line, which was an effective (and cost-practical) means of getting unusual or particularly large figures into the collection. Grodd qualified on both counts, as his body, although humanoid, was hardly human, and he stands 8 inches in height, compared to the more typical 6-3/4" for most of the human males.
Let me make one observation here. This isn't Planet of the Apes. Grodd and Mallah are not more-or-less human-shaped beings with ape-like faces. And I say that as someone who's a huge fan of the original Planet of the Apes movies and TV series, and related materials. No, both Grodd and Mallah are far more typically simian in their appearance. You could readily expect to see gorillas looking very much like them in the wild or in any number of zoos and wildlife parks.
Mallah manages to be distinctive from Grodd on two significant counts -- headsculpt and overall coloration. Mallah's nose is longer, and his muzzle not quite as pronounced as Grodd's, and the distribution of his facial hair is somewhat different. His facial structure almost looks slightly closer to that of a baboon, although I don't think I'd be terribly inclined to say that to his face.
Mallah also has a somewhat brownish coloration to his fur, whereas Grodd has black fur with silver highlights. This, as much as anything, is a bit of a carryover from the appearance of the two character in "Salvation Run", to the best of my knowledge the first time the two ever met. In order to differentiate the two gorillas, Mallah's fur was colored brown, something that hadn't necessarily been the case before. But, what the heck, it works, and I have to say that I'm pleased that Mattel carried the practice over. I fully expected that they would use Grodd's body molds for Mallah, with a different head, and I don't think any collector would've been interested in two virtually identical gorilla figures.
But, I'll admit, I wondered a little -- how legitimate was this difference? I am no zoologist, and it might be a stretch to apply real-world gorilla standards to a couple of fictional characters like Grodd and Mallah, but I still decided to do a little research. That is, I typed the word "gorilla" into WikiPedia to see what it had to say.
It was interesting reading. There are, in fact, two distinct gorilla species -- Eastern gorillas and Western gorillas, and at least two subspecies within each group.
Here, I think, is a key phrase: The eastern gorilla is more darkly colored than the western gorilla, with the mountain gorilla being the darkest of all. The mountain gorilla also has the thickest hair. The western lowland gorilla can be brown or grayish with a reddish forehead. In addition, gorillas that live in lowland forests are more slender and agile than the more bulky mountain gorillas. The eastern gorilla also has a longer face and broader chest than the western gorilla.
Now, this doesn't quite reconcile between Grodd and Mallah, but it does indicate that there are different types of gorillas that do give evidence of the sort of differing characteristics that we see on these two figures of Grodd and Mallah, and I am quite certain that the meticulous designers of the Four Horsemen Studio that crafts these figures did their research. They've had to do animals before and they go to great lengths to get them as right as their respective concepts allow.
Within the DC Universe, I think it's reasonable to assume that Grodd and the other gorillas of Gorilla City developed from one particular species of gorilla, whereas the scientist who would become The Brain somehow secured a different species of gorilla who eventually became Mallah.
Mallah also has more specific paint detailing compared to Grodd. Grodd was molded in black and most of his paint detailing, other than his eyes, is the silver highlights in his fur.
In contrast, I believe that Mallah was molded in the more brownish color of his fur -- although it's possible it was painted this color, I'm honestly not 100% certain -- and while there is a certain amount of detailing in the fur, Mallah's face, chest, fingers, and toes have been very distinctly painted black, and stand out more against his brownish fur as such. Additionally, Mallah's fingernails and toenails have been painted a slightly darker, gloss shade of black.
Other painted details include Mallah;s eyes, which are a light brown, very deepset underneath a prominent brow, and his nostrils, which have been given the same glossy touch as his nails.
Mallah is wearing a red beret. Whether there is any legitimate military reference here I really don't know. Clearly it's intended to be a military-style beret, and it has a cold circular medallion attached to the front of it. The beret has been molded as part of Mallah's head.
Mallah is also wearing a long ammunition belt over his right shoulder, which drapes across his entire torso diagonally. And, what good is an ammunition belt without a gun? Monsieur Mallah likes to use machine guns, so he comes with one. It's an impressive piece of hardware, very nicely sculpted and extensively detailed. It's mostly a gunmetal gray, with some pewter-silver highlights.
I do not believe it is based on a real machine gun, however. Now, I am no gun expert. My knowledge of guns is limited to what I've picked up from being a G.I. Joe collector for several decades, and having a friend who is a gun expert. And this machine gun looks just a little too fancy and futuristic for me to think that it's based on any real weapon. It looks like a machine gun, no question about that -- maybe something someone would come up with if they intentionally wanted to come up with a machine gun that looked like something from fifty or so years in the future. It's not quite Star Trek or Halo, but it's not something that I'd expect to see displayed on the racks of a local gun shop, either.
Mallah's overall sculpt is superb. The Four Horsemen excel at extreme detail work like fur and hair, and certainly Mallah has plenty of this. His articulation is excellent, if not quite up to the level of a standard DC Universe Classics-type figure. He is fully poseable at the head, arms, upper arm swivel, elbows, wrists, legs, and feet. No mid-torso, waist, or knees. I suspect that given the anatomical requirements of the figure, these might have been just a bit too much to include without really breaking up the figure too much. Would that they would exercise similar restraint every time they think double-articulated elbows and knees are a good idea.
Then we have The Brain. He stands about 3-3/4" in height -- which means that while he's certainly to scale with the DC Universe line, you could, with a height like that, probably have some fun with him in G.I. Joe or Star Wars -- and is an excellent likeness of the character, in that it's a pink mass of brain tissue under a clear dome sitting on top of a thick pedestal with a stylized skull on the front.
Here's the thing about doing a mechanical-looking toy. You'd better be on top of your game when it comes to precision. Unless the machine that you're sculpting is supposed to look like some sort of falling-apart rustbucket, you need to have your precision game on.
I appreciate precision in all action figure designs, but I'll admit that some designs have more leeway than others. I appreciate the fact that the musculature of the DC figures is as even, precise, and consistent as it is. But take a furry character like Mallah. He doesn't need to look all that neatly combed. If the fur on one arm doesn't precisely align with the fur on the other arm, who cares? Or take figures that are sculpted to look like they're wearing loose-fitting cloth outfits. G.I. Joe is a good example here. As long as the folds and wrinkles at least look plausible for the uniform, it doesn't matter if they're perfectly aligned with one another or whatever. No one expects their outfits to look perfectly pressed and starched.
But something mechanical? It had better look precise. And The Brain definitely does. The only slightly "random"-looking part of his sculpt is the brain itself, a wrinkled organic mass neatly encased underneath a clear plastic dome. On the front of the top part of the pedestal is a sort of skull shape, with deepset black eyes and a nose, but even this has a robotic look to it. Still, it gives The Brain something of a face, and not an especially friendly one. The rest of the top of the pedestal looks like the back of a skull perched atop a length of ridged metal.
Following this is a series of compressed rings that have a sort of "Jetsons" look to them, that jut out a bit from the main shape of the pedestal. The remainder of the pedestal tapers to the ground, gradually becoming slightly wider, ending in a distinctly wider base. There are a few more sculpted ridges that travel around the perimeter of the pedestal, but the only other significant detail on the bottom half of the pedestal is a recessed black panel with a series of five circular buttons or lights, most of them red, one of them yellow, and a yellow bar below them. Volume control for The Brain's loudspeaker? A built-in radio? A soft drink dispenser? Not really sure, but it's nice that there's some additional detail.
Most of The Brain's -- body -- is straight silver, although a few areas on his upper portion that have a bit of a blue caste to them. The figure is molded from a somewhat flexible plastic, and almost seems to have a slight tip to one side, but I don't think this is intentional. Overall, he's very impressively made.
Articulation? There isn't any, but then The Brain doesn't have any of his own even in the comics. Monsieur Mallah carries him around. I mean, really, all that genius and he can't at least figure out how to install wheels and a motor in this thing? Personally, I think that'd be a preferable ride for his organic components than getting jostled around by a big hairy ape all the time.
So, what's my final word? Well, there's no question that Monsieur Mallah and The Brain are among the more unusual villains in the DC Universe. A super-intelligent gorilla with a French accent and a genius brain encased in an overgrown robotic chess piece. And the monkey wears a beret and carries a machine gun. Hey, I'm not going to be the one to call them peculiar -- even if they are.
But, they're definitely prominent enough villains, and have harassed more than enough super-teams in the DC Universe, both in the comics and in the cartoons, to certainly be viable contenders for inclusion in the DC Universe Signature Series, as it carries on where DC Universe Classics left off. They're definitely well made, and I appreciate the fact that Monsieur Mallah is quite different in appearance from Gorilla Grodd, and appropriately so based on the occasion in which they met, since I knew full well that Mallah would be using Grodd's body molds.
These are two fine figures, and if you're a DC Universe fan, you'll certainly want to add them to your collection.
The DC UNIVERSE SIGNATURE SERIES figures of MONSIEUR MALLAH and THE BRAIN definitely have my highest recommendation!