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FLASHBACK/CUSTOM REVIEW: MICRONAUTS PHOBOS
By Thomas Wheeler

The Micronauts have an interesting history among toy lines. Developed in 1974 in Japan by Takara Toys, under the name MicroMan, they were introduced in the United States in the late 70's by Mego, a company then best-known for its 8", cloth-customed action figures of Super-Heroes from both DC and Marvel, as well as a host of other licenses ranging from Planet of the Apes and Star Wars, to the surprisingly popular Wizard of Oz figures, to less likely candidates such as Dukes of Hazzard and The Waltons.

The Micronauts were a decent success for Mego, and an even more popular comic book for Marvel. The concept brought us such names as Acroyear, Baron Karza, Space Glider, and Time Traveler. When Mego folded, another company acquired the molds, and produced a series of toys called the Inter-Changeables.

The Micronauts enjoyed something of a quirky resurgence recently, with an unfortunately short-lived comic book, a trilogy of paperback novels, and an attempt by Palisades Toys to recast the original action figures. The first batch of these, unfortunately, was so poorly made that it resulted in a rather unintended action feature -- figures that self- destructed in their own packages. Now SOTA, perhaps best known for its superb line of Street Fighter action figures, plans to make a new 6" line of figures based on the Micronauts characters. The idea isn't bad, but the designs look a little -- well, McFarlaneized, for lack of a better term. Not really my cup of tea.

Meanwhile, the MicroMan line in Japan has been running for over 30 years, seeing a renewed vitality in 2003 when the basic figure was completely overhauled with an all-new body, better detailed and more articulated than ever. But this article pertains to the original Micronauts -- one in particular, making this both a Flashback and Custom review.

Among my personal favorites of the original Micronauts were the oddball aliens that came along in the collection. Arguably precursors of the Lunartix Empire from G.I.Joe, these 3-3/4" oddities often weren't especially human or even humanoid. Plus, they all had glow-in-the-dark brains. Repto, Membros, Lobros, Kentaurus, Antron, who was my personal favorite (wish I still had him). And then there was Phobos. I was stunned to discover him hidden among some long-forgotten possessions recently. I didn't think I had any original Micronauts left. And then I remembered something else about him. I'd customized him a but. However cool the Micronauts were, and they were indeed cool, many of them, especially among the aliens, didn't have any paint applications worth a darn, which made for unfortunately rather plain-looking figures in some respects.

Even 25 years ago, that wasn't something that I was especially prepared to let slide if I could do something about it. Phobos is best described as a humanoid version of a praying mantis. His head and arms especially evoke this image, and his feet are something that even the oddly-footed X-Man known as Nightcrawler would think were pretty strange. They almost look like tree roots. Phobos' head, arms, and legs were molded in a light green plastic. His torso and trunks were molded in a bright, almost neon red. He was also given what amount to bright red spats over his feet. Nice little fashionable touch.

As with all the aliens in the Micronauts line, Phobos has a glow-in-the- dark brain visible on the back of his head. Two long antennae emerged from this. Phobos was tall and slender even by Micronauts standards. He stands 4-1/ 4" in height -- not counting antennae, and his body, arms, and legs are quite thin. There were also no paint applications on him whatsoever.

He was a cool figure, but a little plain in appearance. I was determined to resolve that. There were some features on the figure that looked like they would look good painted. There were two sculpted circles visible on one side of the upper chest -- pretty much right where a "Star Trek" insignia would be worn. I felt that painting the larger of the two might be a bit much, so I just painted the smaller one silver. Then I painted the collar of the uniform black, as well as the inside of Phobos' mouth, which was characterized by two small mandible-like protrusions.

But the most obvious feature on Phobos that I felt was in dire need of being painted -- were the massive, insect-like, bulbous eyes on his head. They were, of course, molded as part of the head, and had been left unpainted. This made Phobos look, at best, asleep, and at worse, somehow less like a figure of an alien being, and more like some sort of robot. I knew that I wanted some sort of insect-looking, multi-faceted eye, but I also wanted it to look alien. Besides, I wasn't about to try to outline intricate facets on such a small surface and then try to color them in one by one, either. I started with a black undercoat.

Fortunately, the plastic used to make the Micronauts figures was close enough to model kit plastic that I knew model enamels would work. These days you can get an action figure that's got three different types of plastic in him and there's just no telling. Once the black was dry, I went in with successive coats of silver, gold, and red. I wanted to use the metallics, and I figured if I used red, it would complement his uniform. I dotted these in with the tip of a toothpick, creating a sort of alien-faceted look.

Since some of these paints were flat, and others were glossy (or metallic), and I wanted the eyes to have a more shiny look, I finished it off with a bit of GlossCote. The end result? A Phobos that at least looks like he can see what's going on around him!

By the way, if the basic construction design of Phobos looks familiar, it should. It's the same one found on 3-3/4" G.I.Joe figures. But if G.I.Joe didn't come along until 1982, and the Micronauts existed in the late 1970's, how is that possible? Hate to disappoint the G.I.Joe fans, since I AM one, but G.I.Joe didn't invent his own figure format. Microman and the Micronauts were doing the rivets-in-the-arms, leg-screws-and-back-screw, metal-T-bar-and-O-ring assembly nearly a decade before G.I.Joe came along! Mego would also use this construction method on their own, for their 3- 3/4" scale action figures based on the Buck Rogers TV show (I still have my Twiki figure), and for the 3-3/4" figures based on Disney's sci-fi movie "The Black Hole". This size had become a standard in the United States on the heels of Kenner's Star Wars line, a concept that Mego actually passed on. But the design started with Takara, and I noticed the identical construction right off in 1982 when I bought my first Joes.

Now, in fairness, G.I.Joe figures were bulkier than Micronauts, and arguably sturdier, and G.I.Joe DID invent the "Swivel-Arm Battle Grip" right the next year, substantially improving the arm construction in a way the Micronauts never had - or any of Mego's product lines, either.

And just to throw one more layer onto this, the Micronauts, in a sense, owe their origin to the original 12" G.I.Joe. Takara developed a 12" action figure, very much along G.I.Joe's design lines, called Henshin Cyborg (although there are those that would argue that he's closer to Captain Action, especially since he has had a young sidekick named Shonen Cyborg). The Henshin Cyborg line eventually led to the development of MicroMan. So let's all try to get along, okay?

Hope you've enjoyed this combination Flashback/Custom review. Now I have to find a nice place to display PHOBOS!