REVIEW: EMCE TOYS RETRO STAR TREK MIRROR KIRK
Many of us, I believe, often have moments of "What if?" What if we'd done something differently than we had. What if we'd been born into a different family, a different country, a different time? What if history had played out much differently on a global scale? What would the world be like today?
It's a favorite focus of sci-fi storytellers to utilize this premise, often creating an entire alternate universe where some things are reasonably familiar, but others are radically different. DC Comics created the Crime Syndicate of Amerika, alternate-Earth counterparts to the Justice League, but villains on their world. Marvel Comics has put the concept to great use, in everything from their "What If?" title, to Exiles, to the epic, original "Age of Apocalypse" story. Dark Horse Comics turned the original Star Wars Trilogy inside out with its "Infinities" imprint.
But certainly one of the best-known alternate universe concepts is the Mirror Universe, as featured in Star Trek. It turned up first in an Original Series episode, the details of which I will get to shortly, but it hardly stopped there. The Mirror Universe turned up in both comics and novels, starting with an epic sequel of the original story. The Mirror Universe was revisited no less than four times during the run of Star Trek Deep Space Nine, and also had an epic two-part episode during the fourth season of Star Trek Enterprise, which also tied in to the Original Series episode "The Tholian Web", and also gave us our first and only modern look at not only a Tholian, but a Gorn.
Although Next Generation and Voyager didn't officially visit the Mirror Universe, there were episodes in each of these series that turned the familiar cast and settings around quite a bit. Next Generation's "Yesterday's Enterprise" brought a starship out of the past that was never supposed to have been, resulting in a very different history and a far more militant Starfleet. Voyager's "Living Witness" showcased a rather skewed retelling of a planetary civilization's encounter with the crew of the Voyager, much to the horror of The Doctor. Admittedly, Voyager had more than its fair share of run-ins with alternate histories and timelines over the course of it's seven-year trek through the Delta Quadrant.
But it all started with that one Original Series episode, "Mirror, Mirror", which is regarded as one of the classics of the series. In this episode, Captain Kirk, Dr. McCoy, Mr. Scott, and Lt. Uhura are paying a diplomatic visit to the homeworld of the Halkans. An unusual storm in the area causes a transporter malfunction when they leave, and our heroes find themselves arriving in the so-called Mirror Universe.
Here, there is no Federation. There is an Empire. Here, the U.S.S. Enterprise is the I.S.S. Enterprise, a crew of evil counterparts to the familiar faces that we know. Chekov is a devious schemer, Sulu is chief of Security and more than a little sinister and insidious, and Spock has a mustache and goatee.
Captain Kirk discovers that his counterpart rose to command through the assassination of his predecessor, Captain Pike, and has basically cut a swath of destruction and tyranny across the galaxy, with the Halkans as his next target.
The ship is more or less the same, the faces are reasonably familiar, but the Captain and the others need to find their way back to the universe in which they belong. None of them are likely to last terribly long in this harsh and cruel universe. Ultimately, Spock aids them in their return home.
It's not surprising that there have been action figures of the Mirror Universe crew. Playmates produced a superb series of six 9" figures in their Mirror Universe uniforms, including Kirk, Spock, McCoy, Sulu, Uhura, and Lt. Marlena Moreau, another key player in the episode. They also turned out a 5" scale figure of the Mirror Universe Spock, and there have been some figures since then.
What there never was -- were any Mego figures of the Mirror Universe characters.
In the 1970's, Mego pretty much ruled the action figure world. Mego created a basic procedure for virtually all of their action figures. They crafted several 8" scale bodies, to which could be attached any head that could be sculpted and molded, and which could be dressed in any outfit that could be designed and stitched together.
Their primary line was called "World's Greatest Super-Heroes", and certainly living up to its name, it featured the top tier characters from both DC Comics and Marvel Comics. But Mego didn't stop there. They created their own lines based on characters arguably in the public domain, such as Robin Hood, King Arthur and the knights of Camelot, various legendary Western and Pirate characters, as well as plenty of licenses, such as Planet of the Apes, the Wizard of Oz -- and STAR TREK.
Over the course of several assortments of 8", cloth-costumed action figures, Mego turned out most of the basic crew, including Kirk, Spock, McCoy, Scotty, and Uhura. Sulu and Chekov were planned, but never quite made it. They also produced a host of aliens, including a Klingon, a Romulan, a Cheron, an Andorian, and others.
But they never got around to the Mirror Universe. It's not terribly surprising, really. Mego had a lot of irons in the fire, and once Star Wars came out, Mego's presence in the toy aisles started to dwindle. Their last Star Trek offerings were based on the initial movie, "Star Trek: The Motion Picture", and that was pretty well that, not only for Mego's Star Trek offerings, but for Mego itself.
Nevertheless, Mego had made such an incredible impact in the action figure world, that it has maintained a high level of popularity among collectors to this day. To that end, a rather enterprising (pun intended -- deal with it) group came together and, with the blessing of Mego's original founder, Marty Abrams, formed EmCe Toys, with the intention of bringing back accurate, Mego-style 8" cloth-costumed action figures. And their first license out of the gate was -- STAR TREK!
Here was Captain Kirk, Mr. Spock, Dr. McCoy, Mr. Scott, and Lt. Uhura. Here were finally figures of Lt. Sulu and Ensign Chekov! Hey, better thirty-five years late than never, right? Many of the aliens returned, as well, including the Klingon, the almost impossible to find Romulan and Andorian, and even a Gorn that actually looked like a Gorn this time around.
EmCe Toys has since expanded its Star Trek repertoire. They have produced figures of Captain Picard and a Borg from Star Trek The Next Generation, something that would have been impossible for Mego to have done, since the series didn't come along until 1987 (see my separate reviews of these figures). And now, they have produced figures from the Mirror Universe, of Captain Kirk and Mr. Spock!
This review will take a look at CAPTAIN KIRK from the Mirror Universe.
Technically, the Captain Kirk that we see throughout most of the episode is the Captain Kirk from the universe we're familiar with. He just ends up dressed like his Mirror Universe counterpart (and I really wonder if anyone's ever taken the time to figure out what sort of transporter mishap could not only switch people between universes, but switch their clothes between them!).
The only time we really see the Mirror Universe Kirk is when he gets tossed into the brig of the "real" Enterprise at the hands of Mr. Spock, in the same cell as an equally ill-tempered McCoy, Scotty, and Uhura. Kirk is demanding answers, wondering where Spock gets off committing an act of mutiny, wondering where Spock's beard is, wondering what sort of odd uniform he himself is wearing, and when the outbursts don't have any effect on the Vulcan, Kirk resorts to bribery. He promises Spock all sorts of things -- command of his own ship, wealth, power, whatever -- if Spock will just set him free. Spock declines, leaving Kirk in a state of combined confusion and outrage.
So, how's the figure? Outstanding, really. My evaluation of these Retro-type figures from EmCe is -- how much do they look like what Mego would have done, if Mego had done them. Especially since, of all of the toymakers presently making retro-style 8" cloth-costumed figures -- and there are several doing so -- EmCe Toys is really shooting for as precise a Mego likeness as possible, and they have the rights to do so.
The one notable accommodation that the figure has made to the Mego design, and it's a perfectly understandable one and I suspect Mego would have done the same thing, is with regard to the boots. Most Mego figures wore separate boots. Not the Star Trek figures. Those narrow black boots wouldn't have worked especially well as separate footwear, so Mego molded specific lower legs for their Star Trek figures that were molded in black and included the boots, over which the slightly flared, boot-high trousers were donned.
The Mirror Universe uniforms were different, in that they featured very high black boots that were very nearly hip boots. This would have been virtually impossible for Mego to pull off using existing Star Trek molds. As such, EmCe Toys maintained the existing Star Trek boots and trousers. I suspect Mego would have done the same, nor am I complaining.
Captain Kirk didn't wear a standard uniform. Although we clearly see uniforms among the crew of the Mirror Universe Enterprise that aren't too far removed from the standard ones, Captain Kirk's is not one of these. He wears a bright metallic gold vest, leaving his chest and arms visible. Apparently one thing the two Kirks had in common was taking every opportunity to show off their muscles... The vest had some fringe at the shoulders, and a gold sash around the waist.
The figure has been outfitted superbly well. Mirror Kirk is wearing a very impressive bright metallic gold vest, that if you study it closely you can see is actually imprinted with a series of little gold sparkles, and it even has the fringe and the gold sash around the waist. One side of the front of the vest has the emblem of the Empire -- a dagger through a representation of the Earth -- on it, and the other side has assorted medals and awards, doubtless for various acts of piracy and tyranny.
The headsculpt is the same as the original Mego figure. When EmCe Toys announced their intention to bring back the Mego Star Trek figures, they also stated that they planned to base the headsculpts on the originals, and for those figures that are among those that Mego first created, this has been done. But at this point, we also encounter a bit of a mystery.
Even among those figures that did exist before, a particular detail had to be changed -- the copyright on the back of the neck. Since most Mego figures used the same body of one sort or another, any individual copyrights had to be placed on the figure's head, and were typically done so on the back of the neck, arguably the most unobtrusive spot available. These were usually lettered in by hand, and if they were done by the original sculptor, I think it's safe to say that there were some very talented sculptors out there who were capable of producing some remarkable character likenesses -- who had nevertheless flunked penmanship in school. A lot of the lettering was, to put it charitably, a bit haphazard.
With EmCe Toys, the figures received an updated copyright on the backs of their necks, especially since technically speaking, the copyright holder for Star Trek was no longer Paramount, but CBS. Please don't ask me to get into the legalities of that one. And EmCe Toys also found a way to do the lettering a lot more neatly.
Thus, if you were to take a look at, say, my Mr. Scott figure, while he looks just like, and is in fact derived from, the original Mego figure, the back of his neck has a very neatly-lettered "CBS Inc" on it -- not Paramount, as well as a much more recent date, rather than the original 1974.
So somebody explain to me why Mirror Kirk here has "(C) 1974 Paramount Pictures Corp" scrawled on the back of his neck as if someone had lettered it with whichever hand they weren't used to writing with...?
That's not the only variance, either. Some of this I encountered when I purchased the Picard and Borg figures, and I chalked it up at that time to the fact that these characters had never been made before. But Mirror Kirk and Spock "almost" have been. For one thing, the entire head has been painted, the face in a proper skin tone, and the hair in its proper color.
Now, this is something that really annoys me, because it's just so pointless and wasteful, and to me, it's not only very apparent, but it doesn't look very good. And I've encountered it on other action figure lines in the past. But really, why do it here? Even EmCe Toys' first Kirk wasn't done like this. So why do it to the Mirror Kirk?
In fairness, the facial details are neatly painted, although the eyebrows look a little thin. I've also long been of the opinion that the Kirk headsculpt, especially, was influenced by the design of Captain Kirk from the animated series, which was on the air at the time these figures first came out. But that's something to put on Mego's shoulders, not EmCe's.
There still just seems to be no good reason to paint the entire head like this, and I can't honestly fathom why it was done.
That's still not the only variance. The figure is distinctly heavier than previous EmCe figures. Again, this is something that started with Picard and the Borg, which were the first new Star Trek figures from EmCe in quite a while. And if you remove the vest, you'll notice that the figure has screws in his back! That's something that no Mego, nor any prior EmCe Star Trek figure ever had!
I have to believe that EmCe, for reasons unknown to me, has started to use a different production facility. Precisely why they have done so, and more to the point, why they have made these rather radical changes, I have no idea. I can't say that I entirely approve, however.
There are some quality issues. If you look at the arms, there's a strange sort of mottling in certain light, as if the plastic was injected into the mold rather strangely. Hopefully, this won't make the figure fragile, but come on -- it's not that hard to get a smooth and consistent finish. Other toy companies do it all the time.
I can't explain the heavier weight of the figure. I honestly think I'd need to x-ray one of these recent EmCe Star Trek figures, next to one of their previous ones, and maybe even throw in an actual Mego figure from back in the day, to fully get a handle on the differences. But clearly, there are some differences. Why they were made, I don't know. Some of them may even be regarded as improvements. But not all of them, and unfortunately, the ones that aren't tend to have a somewhat adverse effect on the figure's overall appearance.
Still, it's hard to complain too much. I had a ton of Megos in my younger days, and I certainly welcome the format back, and am pleased with the expansion that EmCe is carrying out. And "Mirror, Mirror" is one of my all-time favorite episodes. I tend to feel that both Deep Space Nine and especially Enterprise paid it great respect with their takes on it, as well.
Mirror Kirk comes with an assortment of accessories. He has the standard plastic belt with Mego-designed phaser and communicator. Be advised that the phaser doesn't like to stay in the belt, and you're probably better off leaving the little clear rubber band in place. I wish I had. Mirror Kirk also comes with a new accessory, a gray dagger, similar to those carried by the Mirror Enterprise crew.
Of course, the figure is superbly articulated. Mirror Kirk is fully poseable at the head, arms, elbows, wrists, waist, legs, and knees.
A brief work about the packaging. The card is a very nice duplicate of the original. It's amusing to see how they've handled the addition of Mirror Kirk and Spock. Kirk looks pretty much the same, of course, although the collar was altered on the portrait shot. Spock obviously picked up a mustache and goatee, and I do find myself wondering if they used the original artist. I know they brought him back to do the new portrait shots for Sulu, Chekov, and the Gorn a while back. Whether they'd bring him in for a beard, I don't know.
So, what's my final word? I'm sincerely impressed and pleased here. I know I've griped a bit, but the few negatives on this figure are, unfortunately, some of my touchy points when it comes to action figures. I've always believed that a fully-painted head was ridiculous. Mold it in the proper skin color and paint what needs to be, then leave it at that. And there has definitely been a substantial change to the design, if not the structure, of the body, and I don't like needless change -- certainly not without knowing why it was done. There's something else I don't like -- mysteries.
However, that aside, this is truly an excellent figure, from a decidedly iconic episode of the original Star Trek, and it looks very much like what I can readily imagine Mego turning out, had they ever decided to do this particular character. They didn't, but EmCe did, and I'm very pleased that they did, and with the results. I believe you will be, too.
The EMCE TOYS RETRO STAR TREK FIGURE of MIRROR KIRK definitely has my highest recommendation!