email thomas

CUSTOM REVIEW: X-MEN AGE OF APOCALYPSE DARK BEAST
By Thomas Wheeler

Ten years ago, Marvel created one of the most fascinating stories to come
out of the X-Men's universe since "The Phoenix Saga". It purported to
tell what would have happened to the world had Professor Charles Xavier
never formed the X-Men.

In the storyline, Xavier's insane son, David Haller, traveled back in
time to kill the man he believed to be most responsible for the woes of
the mutant community in the modern day -- Erik Magnus Lensherr, the man
who would become Magneto. In the past, however, Magnus and Xavier were
close friends, and when David tried to kill Magnus, Xavier stepped in the
way, and died in his place.

Haller ceased to exist as a result of the paradox of Xavier dying before
Haller could be born, and the timeline was from that point on twisted.
The only one who had any idea that things were not as they were supposed
to be was Bishop, himself a time traveler from the far future, who had
been sent back in time by Haller earlier. But his memories of how things
should be were dim.

So began the Age of Apocalypse. Without Xavier, the near-immortal mutant
Apocalypse was able to conquer North America, turning ordinary humans
into slaves and worse, subscribing to a Darwinist theory of "survival of
the fittest", which to him meant only the top of the line mutants that
were loyal to him. The world became a nightmare.

Magnus, under the name Magneto, formed a ragtag band of mutants, calling
them X-Men after his late friend, and strived to overthrow Apocalypse. In
this skewed reality, heroes became villains, some villains became heroes,
and familiar faces weren't nearly so familiar.

Certainly this was the case with Henry McCoy, best known to us as The
Beast. A mutant of considerable strength and even greater agility,
McCoy's strongest attribute was actually his keen mind. Despite being
blue and furry as a result of further mutation from experiments he had
performed on himself, in the reality that we best knew, he was still an
esteemed scientist, former Avenger, and current member of the X-Men, with
an insatiable curiosity and a determination to solve the scientific
problems of the world around him.

But in the Age of Apocalypse, Henry McCoy was something else altogether.
Physically, he was almost recognizable. He was still broad-bodied, and
furry. But it was a dark grey fur, and -- depending somewhat on artistic
interpretation, he had spikes growing out of his shoulders. His hair was
longer and braided, and instead of the blue trunks with the X-belt that
the Beast we knew wore, this one wore dark blue, ridged, metallic
trousers, that signified a certain allegiance, not so much to Apocalypse,
but to another villain in any reality -- Sinister.

And this Beast was no hero. He was a ruthless geneticist who saw humans
and even most mutants as little more than fodder for his sadistic
experiments. Devoid of any sort of compassion, he readily experimented on
various subjects with a blind eye to their pain and suffering.

At the end of the Age of Apocalypse, he managed to make his way to our
reality, temporarily altering his appearance and taking the place of the
"real" Henry McCoy, later working alongside Onslaught, and most recently,
having regained his original appearance, turning up on the ruined island
of Genosha in the pages of "Excalibur".

Not all of my custom figures are based on G.I.Joes, although admittedly
the ability to disassemble them does make them especially ripe for
customization. But sometimes I'll work outside that field.

Toy Biz designed their first Beast figure in 1994, several years after
first introducing X-Men figures. Personally, I always wondered what took
them so long. Certainly the character was prominent and popular enough.
Although certainly no Marvel Legends figure, for what was being produced
at the time, The Beast was a well-designed, nicely sculpted figure. It
had a fairly silly action feature -- spring-loaded knees and ankles that
supposedly let him turn flips. This worked about as well as it sounds
like it would.

Toy Biz DID do a figure of the Age of Apocalypse Beast, whose name was
changed to "Dark Beast" once he entered our reality. But this horrific,
massive furball was a frankly overly-done piece of work that didn't look
that impressive. It certainly didn't look like someone with a high
intellect, and certainly wasn't anyone that could have possibly taken the
place of the "real" McCoy. (Okay, get your groans out now, you had to
expect I was going to say that at some point...)

So, finding both the storyline and the character interesting -- I decided
to make my own. I bought a second Beast figure and set to work.

The main differences between the two were color, hair length, clothing,
and those shoulder spikes. I knew I wanted to include the shoulder
spikes. While certain artists during the Age of Apocalypse series had
drawn the character somewhat differently, when the Dark Beast came to our
reality and decided to switch places with "our" Beast, he made a point of
removing the spikes. That was enough evidence right there to tell me that
it wasn't just particularly long fur or something. These were an extra
attribute that needed to be included.

I knew how I wanted to go about it, but I decided to work on the hair
first. The Dark Beast had a hairstyle somewhat similar to the "real"
Beast, in that it was upswept at the sides, but apart from that, it was
far longer, had braids in the front, and there was even evidence of a beard.

There was only so far I could go with the hair length, because of a
switch on the back of the figure that supposedly aided the "jumping"
function. But there was still enough space to lengthen the hair with
model kit putty. It would cost the figure the ability to turn his head,
but I was making this figure for display purposes, anyway, so that wasn't
a factor. I lengthened the hair in the back, using a toothpick and X-Acto
knife to sculpt the "hair" into the putty, and merging it with the "hair"
on the figure's head. I brought some of the putty forward to lengthen the
hair in the front, and make two "braids", and then placed a little bit on
the chin to give evidence of a beard.

Now it was time to do the shoulder spikes. I couldn't really make these
out of putty. They would be too narrow and fragile. So I had another
solution -- toothpicks! Granted, these sharp spikes pretty well blew any
of the safety regulations on the toy, but again, that wasn't really a
concern for me. Holes were carefully drilled on the upper body and
shoulders, and I glued toothpick ends into the holes. I might've gotten a
little excessive with them, but I think the effect works.

Virtually the easiest part of the project was painting the figure. Dark
Beast was dark grey, and Tamiya made an excellent flat dark gret acrylic
paint. I just used it right out of the jar. The articulation points
weren't too difficult to get around. I did want the figure to still be
able to move somewhat.

I painted the eyes their original yellow, and the two protruding fangs
white. Really, I wanted this figure to look as much like the original
Beast as possible, within the character's own appearance. I wanted
someone that could plausibly take the place of the other. I mixed
together a semi-metallic blue for the trousers, painted the belt black,
the buckle silver (can't have that "X" there!), and then did the "ridges"
on the trousers with a Sharpie marker. As a little finishing touch, I
painted a couple of "clasps" on his braids copper.

And, at the end, I had a Dark Beast that I believe was certainly more
plausible, and frankly more accurate, than the one Toy Biz designed --
not to malign their efforts. Their objectives were somewhat different
than mine, as their figure was part of some "Monsters" assortment they
released at the time. My objective was to create a Dark Beast that looked
like he could swap places with the real Beast, and in that, I think I
succeeded.

The Age of Apocalypse, which I regard as easily the best "alternate
reality" storyline ever concocted, recently celebrated its tenth
anniversary, with a six-part mini-series revisiting that world. The mini-
series was greeted with mixed reviews, and I can understand why. The
world after the Age of Apocalypse recovered just a little too fast for my
tastes, and the end result was a storyline that was honestly just a
little dull. But the Dark Beast wasn't part of it. He left that world at
the end of the original story, and has been part of the "actual" Marvel
reality ever since. And is no doubt planning some sort of mayhem in the
pages of "Excalibur". Meanwhile, he's also part of my customized toy
collection. I hope you have enjoyed this review.