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REVIEW:
MARVEL LEGENDS FACE-OFF 2-PACKS
By Thomas Wheeler



One new product in the Marvel Legends line before the entire works gets transferred to Hasbro is the FACE-OFF series of two packs. These sets pit a well-known hero against one of his deadliest adversaries.

Let's take a look at them one at a time:

THE HULK vs THE LEADER

Here we have the quintessential in opposites - two men, both affected by gamma radiation. But whereas Bruce Banner, an eminent scientist, was transformed into the raging powerhouse known as The Hulk, The Leader was an anonymous janitor who, when exposed to gamma radiation, had his intellect expanded to a level that would make Einstein and Hawking look like candidates for remedial education. Granted, his skin turned green, and over the years he's developed a cranium that looks like he's wearing two heads of lettuce for a hat, but if your IQ is the combined equivalent of your state's Mensa membership, you're probably not that worried about looks.

Granted, that high intellect also somehow convinced The Leader that he was best-suited to rule the entire planet, and his attitude hasn't been helped over the years by the fact that he's been regularly beaten by a mental midget like the Hulk. Odd thing about The Leader - he's never really broken into the top tier of super-villains. He's got this incredible intellect that would probably put him on a par with Reed Richards or Doctor Doom, but outside of the Hulk comics, I don't think he's been heard from all that much. One doesn't exactly think of him as being on the same level as Doom, or the Red Skull, or Magneto, or major players like that, and really, there's no reason he couldn't come along and try to take on all of the Avengers or something and make a name for himself. Might get rid of some of the embarrassment of being regularly whupped by someone who considers "Hulk smash!" to be a lengthy diatribe.

The figures are both excellent. Although the Hulk has been made as a Marvel Legends figure before, this is really a classic version of the character. The headsculpt is very close to his 1970's look, and the body sculpt is properly muscular and bulky, not at all pre-posed, and of course has the high level of articulation expected from a Marvel Legends figure. If I didn't already own a Hulk figure in the Marvel Legends line, this is the one set that I would've snapped up without hesitation.

The Leader is impressive, too. In his early years, the Leader didn't exactly have much of a visual dynamic. He just had a large, narrow head and wore a generic jumpsuit. In more recent years, he's grown the very weird "lettuce brain" and has adopted an impressive orange and black costume that rather contrasts his green skin quite well. It's definitely an improvement. I'm inclined to recommend this set just on the basis of The Leader figure, and it is easily the best of the two-packs.

There's a variant set out there that features The Leader with his original "just plain large", not so vegetable-like cranium, for lack of a better description, but personally, I sort of prefer the more common, weirder version.

CAPTAIN AMERICA vs THE RED SKULL

Of course Captain America has been part of the Marvel Legends line before, so there's nothing all that dynamic here. It's an excellent figure of him, although he's wearing this rather bulky belt with pouches that doesn't really work all that well with the rest of the uniform. Still, I have no complaints about this particular Captain America figure.

Then we come to the Red Skull. There has been a Red Skull figure in the Marvel Legends line. But it was a while back, was a near-impossible to find "chase" figure, and frankly, wasn't very well articulated. It hardly lived up to the level of the expected articulation of a Marvel Legends figure.

There's always a bit of a problem in marketing the Red Skull. He's a Nazi. Seriously. He was created in World War II by Adolf Hitler as a symbol of fear and conquest, and, like his eternal foe, Captain America, managed to survive the war, slipped into suspended animation, and was revived in the modern day. But marketing a toy of a Nazi isn't going to go over that well. Dragon may be able to get away with making 12" military figures of World War II German soldiers specifically for the collectors' market, but that's a long way from sticking a character who's a Nazi into the action figure aisle at Wal-Mart (or anywhere else - this line is not an exclusive) alongside a bunch of comic-book super-heroes.

So Toy Biz has had to fudge the design a bit here and there in order to get away with making a Red Skull figure who's basically Captain America's "arch-enemy" or something, and leave the origin to the collectors who know about it.

This Red Skull figure isn't bad, but it is a bit peculiar. At least it's well articulated. The headsculpt borders on the cartoonish. Granted, so did the Skull's design for quite a few years. In more recent times, the design has looked far more like a real skull than something a bit more exaggerated. Then there's the costume. It's this dark blue outfit with red trim that looks like it may be padded or even armored. It's not a bad design, really - it's just that offhand, I don't recall the Skull ever wearing anything like this. It certainly isn't especially military in appearance, and the Skull had tended to wear fairly military uniforms at times.

Now, I've not been a regular follower of Captain America comics, so it's entirely possible that the Skull did wear a costume like this at some point. But here's an additional factor. There's a variant of this set out there, in which the villain isn't the Skull, it's Baron Strucker. Strucker also survived World War II, and went on to found the terrorist organization known as Hydra. The Strucker figure is wearing the same costume, but it's been recolored in the Hydra color scheme of green with yellow trim. And frankly, I don't recall Strucker ever wearing anything this ornate, either.

That's not to say it's a bad figure. It isn't. And I'd say that about either the Skull or Strucker. It's just that I'm fairly convinced that Toy Biz pretty much made up the costume design to give them something decent to wear that wouldn't give away too much of their backgrounds for the politically-sensitive among us.

Reportedly, the Captain America/Red Skull set isn't too hard to find, but the Captain America/Baron Strucker set is pretty scarce. I'd give both sets my recommendation.

DAREDEVIL vs KINGPIN

Here's the one somewhat disappointing set in the group. Now, I'll readily admit we've needed a good Daredevil figure in the Marvel Legends line. The only one to date was based on the completely forgettable movie starring Ben Affleck, and much like the first Red Skull figure which I cited in the last section, it wasn't very well articulated, and of course, since the uniform was based on the movie costume, it didn't exactly blend in with the rest of the line anyway.

This new Daredevil is actually a very decent figure. Good costume, good sculpt, well-articulated. I personally think they painted the gloves and boots far too dark a red, but that's a relatively minor point in an otherwise very decent figure, of a hero who does, sometimes, seem to have a little trouble being thought of in the top tier of heroes, despite the fact that DD has been around since the early days of Marvel.

Obviously Daredevil isn't the disappointing figure in this set. The Kingpin is. The Kingpin is Wilson Fisk, a crime lord who considers all of New York City his "turf". A massive mountain of a man, it would be a mistake to perceive his bulk to be fat. It's all muscle. The Kingpin is superhumanly strong, and woe be to anyone - generally Spider-Man or Daredevil - who crosses him thinking his huge size is all blubber.

As for the figure - frankly - it's not bulky enough. Oh, he's plenty big, just not quite big enough. He looks like the Kingpin after several weeks on the Slim-Fast plan. Now, articulation could have been a consideration here. It might have simply been impossible to make Kingpin appropriately bulky and keep even a reasonable level of articulation in the figure. Still, visually, the figure is a little disappointing.

For further visual disappointment, we need only look to the paint job on his fine white suit. The details - granted fairly minimal, and consisting of coat buttons, shirt collar, and ascot - are all hand- painted, and inevitably sloppily.

I realize that this isn't something that a toy company is going to make a priority out of. And really, it's more the factories in China that are doing this. But it's getting worse. I've seen on at least one occasion a child turn down a toy because it was badly painted. When it gets to that degree, something needs to be done.

As for Kingpin, yeah, he's probably fixable, but that shouldn't be necessary, and it's still a disappointment. I'd recommend this set only if you're a huge Daredevil fan and want a good version of DD to go with your Marvel Legends.

There's a variant set out there which features Kingpin in a dark suit instead of his traditional white coat. I doubt the paint job is any better, though.

There's a second series, which has been showcased in some of the toy magazines, that will feature IRON MAN vs MANDARIN, PUNISHER vs JIGSAW, and WOLVERINE vs SABRETOOTH. There were not pictured on the packages for these three, but I'm assuming these will turn up at some point.

Paint problems on the one set notwithstanding, these are good Marvel Legends figures. It's odd, but in the package they look a little smaller than the single-packed figures, but it's strictly a weird illusion of the packaging somehow. I put a single-packed figure next to the two- packs, and everybody is properly in scale with each other. And you're getting a few figures that it's either been difficult to find in the Marvel Legends line for a while - Cap and Hulk were part of the earliest assortments - or where this might be your only chance to own them - such as The Leader or Baron Strucker.

The sets cost, almost precisely double the single- packs, which is to be expected. So if there's only one figure in any given two-pack that you want, it's a little expensive from that standpoint. But if you're looking to grow your Marvel Legends collection in general, the FACE-OFF Two-Packs are not a bad way to go at all.

The Face-Off two-packs DO have my recommendation, if only because several of them present characters -- Daredevil, Baron Strucker, Kingpin, The Leader, Mandarin -- that have yet to see Marvel Legends figures, and this is likely the only time most of them will.