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By Thomas Wheeler

A funny thing happened at the end of the line for the Marvel Legends Showdown series of action figures. One last assortment of new characters turned up at K*B Toys, at clearance prices. If the reaction that resulted from a posting I made about them, most of these figures will be quite popular commodities.

The Marvel Legends Showdown series by Toy Biz was, in my opinion, a great figure idea, but the concept as a whole, which basically resulted in nothing more than a driven-up price tag, no doubt hurt it.

The toys are 4" action figures of popular Marvel characters with a level of detail and articulation comparable to their larger counterparts in the standard Marvel Legends line. You'd think that would be enough to market the line, but somebody at Toy Biz apparently didn't think so. They had to make a game out of it -- literally. Each figure came with a set of playable trading cards from Upper Deck Entertainment, a so-called Power Base, and other assorted accessories designed to allow the figures to be used in some sort of trading-card-based game. This also drove the price of one of these 4" figures to a level comparable to their larger, non-game-based counterparts.

I've never encountered a single individual that has played the game. Everyone had just wanted the figures -- period -- and there's been no shortage of complaining about the price tag. Maybe, as such, it's not that surprising that Hasbro decided not to continue with it. Disappointing, certainly, but not surprising.

I never really collected the Showdown figures for this very reason -- they were just too expensive.

I've got a few, but that's it. However, I paid moderate attention to it, and I knew who, to some degree, was in the line, so when I saw this previously unreleased assortment at K*B Toys in early 2007, it took me quite by surprise. I had no great interest in them myself, but a number of other people were, and I did my best to help them out. Fortunately, in some cases I was allowed to open the figure before sending it out, so I could make a more detailed review.

This final assortment consisted of five individuals -- Thor, the Invisible Woman, Cyclops, Daredevil, and Venom -- a fairly diverse bunch if you think about it.

Thor and Venom were the quickest to disappear, along with the Invisible Woman. Daredevil tended to go next, and Cyclops was a complete shelf- hanger. NO ONE seemed especially interested in him, so -- we'll cut the poor guy a break and start this group review with him:

CYCLOPS - Cyclops is Scott Summers, a mutant and frequent leader of the X-Men. Cyclops has the ability to shoot red force-beams from his eyes. Unlike most super-heroes, mutant and otherwise, who have to consciously activate their powers, Cyclops is in the unenviable position of not being able to turn his off. This is likely the result of very slight brain damage caused as a child.

When Cyclops was a child, he and his younger brother Alex were with their parents on board a small private aircraft. That airplane was attacked by an alien spaceship. In order to save their children from abduction, their parents pushed Alex and Scott out of the airplane with the lone parachute. While the children's combined weight was probably equivalent to that of a single adult, the parachute caught fire on the way down. Doubtless it was a rough landing, which may explain Scott's inability to control his mutant power. He must constantly wear either eyeglasses or a visor, both with ruby quartz lenses, the only thing that can contain his eyeblasts.

Cyclops is a straight-forward character, and more than a bit grim. A near lifetime of having to keep his power in check and constantly worrying about losing control and hurting those around him has tended to make him aloof, earnestly serious, and occasionally a bit ill-tempered. But there's also no denying his leadership capabilities. He was one of the first mutants ever recruited by Professor X, and he remains active with the team to this day.

No one's ever going to accuse him of having a great sense of humor, but his leadership skills and his complete devotion to the team make him a well-respected member of the X-Men.

As for the Showdown figure, it features Cyclops outfitted in what I believe to be his best modern uniform. Generally designated the "S.H.I.E.L.D." uniform, because of its resemblance to the standard uniform worn by S.H.I.E.L.D. agents, the Marvel Universe's high-tech espionage organization, the costume is mostly dark blue, with yellow gloves, boots, and trunks, and a yellow shoulder and chest harness with the "X" logo on it, and upper leg straps. It's a superb design, really, and one I've always been impressed with. Cyclops has a metallic dark gold visor on his face with a red eyeslit. And no, it doesn't light up. Let's be reasonable here, people. The entire head here isn't much bigger than the average LED.

Articulation is, of course, excellent, but these figures feel just a little fragile to me, so I'm always reluctant to handle them too much. And in some cases, if a part has been painted and not allowed to fully dry, it can stick to another part, making the articulation that much trickier. Will that wrist finally free itself and move, or am I just going to twist the whole arm off? Better leave it be.

On the whole, though, this is a superb version of Cyclops. Interesting especially considering this ISN'T the version of Cyclops that was used for the main Marvel Legends line. I wish it had been.

DAREDEVIL - Daredevil's real name is Matt Murdock. Murdock grew up in the very rough Hell's Kitchen section of New York City, the son of retired boxer Jack Murdock, who was determined that his son should have a better life than he had. He had Matt study schoolwork as much as possible, which unfortunately did nothing for Matt's reputation among the neighborhood bullies, who mockingly called him "Daredevil".

However, Matt excelled at his studies, and continued them even after an accident in which he was exposed to a radioactive substance that blinded him. However, the curious compound also heightened Murdock's other senses to an astounding degree, as well as gave him a "radar sense" that allowed him to interpret objects around him in a sort of outline/ topographical form. He could hear a person's heartbeat, count the grains of salt on a pretzel, and pick out a single distinctive scent in the perfume department at Macy's if he wanted to.

Matt graduated high school and college with honors, and became a distinguished lawyer. He also became a super-hero. His father, trying to raise some extra funds, agreed to fight in a "fixed" boxing match, but ultimately refused to take the dive when his son was present to watch him fight. This got Jack Murdock dead.

Matt made a costume for himself, and took the identity that he had been mocked with as a child -- "Daredevil". He dealt with his father's killers, and realized that his hyper-senses and his radar sense enabled him to be a natural acrobat and crime-fighter, so he retained the dual role.

A curious thing about Daredevil -- I've never been entirely sure just how prominently to regard him. One generally doesn't consider him in the same category as the Fantastic Four, Spider-Man, or Captain America, but then again, I wouldn't put him THAT much further down. He's had a distinguished career, although he's steadfastly avoided being part of any of the major teams that have developed in the Marvel Universe, which may be a partial explanation -- he doesn't get around as much as some of the bigger names. He's largely an urban hero, and tends to stay out of the more cosmic-level crises that the other super-beings get involved in.

The figure is very well made. Until recently, the only Daredevil in the standard Marvel Legends line was one based on the live-action movie, which was less than well-received. Fortunately, a more comic-based Daredevil did turn up in the two-packs at the tail end of Toy Biz's run, packaged with that mountain of a crimelord known as the Kingpin.

The Showdown figure is very nicely made, well proportioned, well articulated, and well detailed. He's dressed in his typical all-red suit, with a little bit of variance given to the figure with some slightly darker red belt, gloves and boots. About the only problem with these figures is that their small size and flexible plastic can lead to a slight bit of warping in package. Daredevil's left knee joint is a bit askew. I've heard that this sort of thing can be corrected on many action figures by placing the figure in a pot of boiling water for about thirty seconds, bending the part back into position, and then letting it cool. I've never tried it, and someday I really should. I've got a few around here that could benefit from such a treatment. Still, the articulation on these small figures is nothing short of astounding, right down to wrist joints and swiveling, pivoting ankle joints and even the fronts of boots. I pity the assemblers...

There's reportedly a Daredevil variant out there. Daredevil's original costume was yellow and red. He switched to the all-red one as of the seventh issue of his magazine, back in the 60's, but the yellow and red one has cropped up infrequently since that time. Even so, it's a legitimate version of Daredevil, and as scarce as this entire shipment is likely to be, I would imagine that any variants such as this would be that much scarcer.

On the whole, though, this is an excellent Daredevil figure.

THOR - is a character based on Norse mythology. There was always just such a grandeur about the character. He was big, he was powerful, he could call up fierce storms, and he could go toe-to-toe with the biggest and baddest in the Marvel Universe and generally come out of it relatively unscathed. If the Marvel Universe had an equivalent of Superman, it was probably Thor.

Obviously Marvel didn't create Thor -- they took him and his whole pantheon from Norse mythology and made it part of the Marvel Universe. They did give the character, initially, a more human background. Somewhere along the way, in order to teach him a sense of humility, Thor's father Odin transformed his son into an ordinary human, one with a lame leg at that, made him a doctor, and sent him to Earth. Some time later, this doctor -- Donald Blake by name -- discovered a seemingly ordinary gnarled stick on the ground while on a hike in the Scandanavian countryside. He stamped this stick on the ground -- it transformed into Mjolnir, Thor's hammer, and Blake found himself transformed into Thor.

For some time, Blake believed himself to be Blake first and foremost, and Thor was an alternate identity. The truth was ultimately revealed, however. Thor no longer maintains the Blake identity, but has had several others over the years.

The Marvel Legends Showdown Thor figure is -- well -- it's -- BIG, for starters. Whereas the average Showdown figure comes in at around 4 inches, give or take an eighth, Thor comes in on the high side of 4-3/4", and that doesn't count the feathers on his helmet! That may not sound like much of a difference, but at this scale, that's huge. The figure's legs are almost as big around as the relatively skinny Spider-Man's body.

Thor is amazingly well-detailed. The circles on his costume have been painted with a metallic finish. The legstraps on his boots are amazingly well detailed. His belt buckle has his "T" initial. The feathers on the helmet are astounding. The facial detail is remarkable, both sculpted and painted. And of course, the articulation is superb. Even the fingers of his left hand are articulated (as a group). About the only glitch is, they didn't paint his neck. But it's not a big deal, really.

Of course, he has his hammer, and it's as well-detailed as the figure, right down to some elvish-looking script carved into it. Does Tolkein know about this!?

My one complaint -- the cape. It is detachable, but Thor is really supposed to have his cape. And the thing is, in the first place, far too heavy, and in the second place, sculpted to look very windblown. Okay -- Thor can call up storms, and that's going to blow his cape around. I realize that. I still don't think this looks that good, and it certainly doesn't help the figure's balance any.

But it's hard for me to gripe too much, because really, this is an outstanding figure. It's no surprise to me that it's been one of the first ones off the shelves when this assortment turns up. I suspect that, in the long run, Thor will prove to be one of the most popular and best-regarded Showdown figures of all, and he certainly deserves to be!

VENOM - A bit of background on this character. Venom started out as an apparent alien costume for Spider-Man, acquired during the Secret Wars (see review on Black Costume Spider-Man a little further along). This costume eventually turned out to be an alien symbiote that really didn't want to let go of Peter Parker. But the symbiote's one weakness, ultra sonics, were used to detach it. Subsequently, it "teamed up" with Eddie Brock, who had no great love for either Parker or Spider-Man, and became Venom, and soon became one of Spider-Man's greatest (and most popular) enemies, despite coming along years after Spidey's core cast of villains was established.

Venom tried his hand at being a hero for a while, a "Lethal Protector", such was the popularity of the character, but this didn't work out all that well. More recently. Brock sold the symbiote, and the winner was Max Gargan, the Spider-Man villain formerly known as the Scorpion. As of this writing, he's working with the Thunderbolts, although how willingly is anybody's guess. And, of course, the "black costume" is a major part of the Spider-Man 3 movie this summer.

Although the black costume started out as a Spider-Man costume, when it became Venom, some substantial differences cropped up. For one thing, Brock was a lot bigger than Parker. He's no Hulk or Juggernaut, but he's still a huge individual. The Spider-Man like "eyes" became distorted and more jagged, and speaking of jagged, a huge fanged mouth appeared on the costume, along with a tongue that would make Gene Simmons envious.

As one would expect, this figure is large, and bulky. There is a very rough texture to the costume, not inappropriate, really. The spider insignia on the chest is very well done.

The really only weird part about the design is the tongue -- which granted is weird enough to begin with. But Toy Biz saw fit for some reason to paint little yellow speckles on it. What are these supposed to be -- gumdrops?

Articulation appears to be excellent, even including finger groups, and I would expect that Venom's fairly bulky frame would allow for a greater sturdiness to the articulation points than some of the more slender figures in this line. I hate to call a line of action figures that features super-heroes "delicate", but honestly, a lot of the more "average-proportioned" figures in this series have felt just a little bit fragile.

Interestingly, there has never been a single-carded Marvel Legends Venom figure in the standard size, although if memory serves, he did turn up in a boxed set of Spider-Man's villains. I can't say that I've ever been a great Venom fan, but this Showdown figure is really an excellent representation of the character, and at a full 4-1/2" in height, he's one of the larger ones in the line, too, especially with that bulky build.

INVISIBLE WOMAN - Well, they can't all be winners. This was one that I couldn't open for further inspection, because it was intended for someone that wanted it kept in package. Then again, I didn't really NEED to open it to see the one major flaw in this figure.

For a bit of background first, the Invisible Woman is Susan Storm Richards, one fourth of the legendary Fantastic Four, Marvel's First Family of super-heroes, and pretty much the group that got the modern Marvel Universe started. She's also probably been a little reviled over the years by toymakers that remain convinced that female action figures don't sell, but if you're going to do the Fantastic Four, you've pretty much GOT to make her.

As her name implies, the Invisible Woman has the ability to turn herself invisible. But beyond that, she can also turn other objects invisible, as well as create and project invisible but very solid force fields around herself, others, or at almost any designated target. She can even, if pressed, make invisible objects partly visible.

She is the wife of Reed Richards, leader of the Fantastic Four, and sister to Johnny Storm, the Human Torch, also a member of the Fantastic Four.

As for the Marvel Legends Showdown figure -- good grief, who sculpted this head!? The face has this smarmy grin on it, which isn't helped by the painted on lipstick. The eyes, while well-painted, have these painted eyelashes that look very strange.

In fairness, the body is well designed and looks to be as well articulated as any other Marvel Legends Showdown figure. I'd be a little concerned about the fragility of such narrow limbs, but I'm not going to argue with the basic quality of design or extent of articulation. And the "4" logo is very neatly applied to the costume. I just can't quite get around that face.

There are reportedly three versions of this figure out there. I have the one with the most traditional uniform -- blue with black collar, gloves, belt, and boots. There's a version out there with white trim instead of black, and also one that's partially transparent. I wonder if it's too much to hope that the head is transparent? It might be an improvement.

About the only degree to which I can recommend this figure is to say that -- well -- at least you can get the entire Fantastic Four in the Showdown format now. The Thing is sold with Spider-Man, Mister Fantastic is sold with the Mole Man, and the Human Torch has proven to be one of the least popular Showdown figures for some reason, and should be readily available on a single card just about anywhere that still has some of these figures.

Just so I don't end this review on a low note, on the whole, the Showdown line has been decently impressive, and certainly within this assortment, Cyclops, Venom, and Daredevil are very capable figures, and Thor is truly outstanding.

Now, as a special bonus review, and with a certain movie looming as I write this, I'l like to throw in a review on the Marvel Legends Showdown BLACK COSTUME SPIDER-MAN!

Recently, Marvel Comics has been touting the fact that Spider-Man is "Back in Black" -- his black costume, that is, not only on the heels of the events of "Civil War", but also no doubt as a plug for the fact that in the forthcoming Spider-Man 3 movie, Spidey wears his black costume.

Spider-Man's first appearance in this black costume, roughly 25 years ago during the course of the "Secret Wars" mini-series, was considered highly dramatic at the time. These days, it seems a little unusual that such a fuss was made. Many super-heroes alter their costumes with fair regularity. Iron Man has reworked his armor so many times that the Stark Enterprises recycling plant must be pushed to the limit. The X-Men seem to change their costumes more often than Wolverine sharpens his claws. But in the 80's, it was considered highly unusual for a major super-hero to make much of an alteration to his costume, and certainly Spider-Man never had.

But his costume was trashed during the Secret Wars and, lacking a sewing kit, he found a machine that he believed made him a high-tech costume. It was black, with white eyeslits and a white spider emblem on the front and back. It was certainly a different look, but not a bad one. And the costume had some pretty handy features. It could alter its appearance, it could fire different types of webbing...

Too bad it wasn't a costume at all, but an alien symbiote. Spidey finally got rid of the thing, whereupon it latched onto Eddie Brock, and the two of them together became one of Spider-Man's most notable enemies
-- Venom! These days the symbiote is worn by Max Gargan, formerly the Scorpion, another of Spider-Man's enemies. As to where Spider-Man gets his new black costume, those stories haven't been published as of this writing.

The black costume look was, at the time, considered highly controversial. It ultimately didn't go over well. An attempt at a compromise was made, whereby Spidey wore his traditional threads by day, but used the black costume at night. This still wasn't all that well-received, so ultimately, Spidey got rid of the black costume, after realizing its true nature, the villain Venom was born, and Spidey went back to his traditional red-and-blues.

However, in recent years, the black costume has come to be seen as -- well, if not all that traditional, then still pretty cool to some fans. At the very least, it's considered an agreeable variant for Spider-Man, and there have been no shortage of action figures of Spidey in this format dating all the way back to Mattel's Secret Wars toy line, certainly on multiple occasions from Toy Biz, and now that Hasbro has the Marvel license, they've turned one out, as well.

But I want to focus on one particular black-costume Spider-Man at this time -- the one from MARVEL LEGENDS SHOWDOWN. Sadly, this line is not being carried over by Hasbro, which has led to decided increase in demand of certain remaining characters on the toy store shelves.

The Showdown series -- hmmm -- how can I put this. Great figure idea, but the concept as a whole, which basically resulted in nothing more than a driven-up price tag, no doubt hurt it.

The figures are basically 4" action figures of popular Marvel characters with a level of detail and articulation comparable to their larger counterparts in the standard Marvel Legends line. You'd think that would be enough to market the line, but somebody at Toy Biz didn't think so. They had to make a game out of it -- literally. Each figure came with a set of playable trading cards from Upper Deck Entertainment, a so-called Power Base, and other assorted accessories designed to allow the figures to be used in some sort of trading-card-based game. This also drove the price of one of these 4" figures to a level comparable to their larger, non-game-based counterparts.

I've never encountered a single individual that has played the game. Everyone had just wanted the figures -- period -- and there's been no shortage of complaining about the price tag. Maybe, as such, it's not that surprising that Hasbro decided not to continue with it. Disappointing, certainly, but not surprising.

I never really collected the Showdown figures for this very reason -- they were just too expensive.

But I have a few, or have picked them up for friends. One of them is the black-costume Spider-Man.

For those who need a brief refresher on Spider-Man, Spidey is Peter Parker who, bitten by a radioactive spider during a science demonstration, gained the proportionate strength of a spider, the ability to cling to walls, and other spider-like abilities, including a "spider-sense", a mental warning of approaching danger.

Initially attempting to cash in on his new abilities, Parker quickly learned a lesson often repeated -- "With great power comes great responsibility" -- after he refused to stop a petty thief in a television studio where he had just finished a performance. That same thief later killed Parker's Uncle Ben. Spider-Man went on to become one of the most prominent, if troubled, heroes of the Marvel Universe.

The black-costume Spider-Man has one distinct advantage over his more familiar counterpart -- the costume as a whole is of a simpler design, and lacks the intricate web patterning that can frankly be a huge pain in the web-shooters for toymakers to deal with. Do you sculpt the webs into the plastic? Print them on later? If you sculpt them, do you try to color them in? It's not easy.

But the black-costume Spider-Man doesn't raise those issues. The costume is solid black, no intricate web detailing, just the typical "Spider- Eyes" on the mask, and a large white spider insignia on the front, whose legs connect on the sides to a identical insignia on the back. The trickiest part of this design from a toy standpoint is making sure the front and back "spiders" line up reasonably well.

So, how is the Showdown figure? Not too bad, but not without its problems, either, in my opinion. Spider-Man is not a husky fellow. In fact he's got rather slender limbs. And this can be a bit of a problem when you're molding figures in this size range in somewhat flexible plastic. However long Spider-Man has spent in his package, when I got him out, his legs were rather bent to the side. I suspect this is a correctable problem, but it is notable.

Somewhat stranger-looking are the shoulder joints. There's almost an excess of space between the upper torso and the ball-and-socket construction of the shoulder joint, and the arms almost look partially detached. I'm sure Toy Biz did the best they could, but this still looks pretty weird.

However, there's no denying that the figure certainly looks like the black costume Spider-Man. It's an excellent likeness. And it does have the good level of articulation of a Marvel Legends figure. He feels a little fragile to me, but then I tend to be a little jumpy about that sort of thing. I'd honestly be reluctant to pose the figure too quickly or forcefully, out of concern of breaking one of the articulation points.

On the whole, it's a decent rendition of this interesting version of the Web-Slinger, and as such it does have my recommendation.

It's a shame that the Marvel Legends Showdown line was saddled with a game that drove up the price beyond what a lot of people were prepared to pay who weren't interested in the game, and that, possibly because of that, Hasbro chose not to continue it when they obtained the Marvel license. But at least at the end there were a few more cool additions, and if you can find them at this point, I would certainly recommend most of them.

I suspect that over time, the Marvel Legends Showdown line will be fondly remembered by most fans of super-hero action figures, and it deserves to be.