email thomas

 

FLASHBACK REVIEW: TOY BIZ'S MARVEL FAMOUS COVERS
By Thomas Wheeler

Before there was Marvel Legends, arguably "the" standard for Marvel superheroes today, there was the FAMOUS COVERS line. It ran in the late 1990's, and although I was able to individually review a handful of the last entries when I first started writing for MasterCollector, I'd like to do a FlashBack review of the entire line. Sometimes, I still miss it.

The purpose of the FAMOUS COVERS line was to recreate, and perhaps, in the minds of some, improve upon the days of MEGO, the cloth-costumed super-heroes of the 1970's. Toy Biz set out to create a series of 9 inch (although they were advertised as 8-inch to keep the connection with Mego) action figures of modern day Marvel characters, and make them at least as cool as the Megos. To what degree they succeeded I will leave to you to discuss. The end result was still an immensely cool line of action figures. I'm going to provide a brief review of each one individually:

SPIDER-MAN - Of course he had to be in the first assortment. The figure was excellent, but not without a few problems. The gloves lacked fingers, and the velcro that ran all the way up the back of the head for the mask made the figure look ridiculous in profile. However, the uniform was a decent likeness, and if you wanted to unmask him, a very effective likeness of Peter Parker was underneath.

STORM - A very cool version of Storm in her original uniform. This was truly an excellent figure, arguably one of the best in the entire line, and certainly the best in the first assortment. The only problem with the figure is that her headpiece doesn't want to stay put very well.

WOLVERINE - Another logical choice for the first assortment. A superb version of the popular mutant, although designing the mask to be removable -- which is understandable since Wolverine's unmasked face is just as well-known as his masked -- made the mask/hood a little bulky.

GREEN GOBLIN - Cool enough, but the character has such an extreme design, especially that mask, that it's not always easy to capture it well in a sculpt. This one is a bit much, in my opinion. I also wasn't happy that they GLUED a pumpkin bomb to his glove.

Still, this first assortment was a resounding success, and Famous Covers took off from there. Let's consider the rest of the line, now.

AUNT MAY - This was actually a mail-order figure. And boooyyyy, was it ugly. If they'd used the head sculpt that was shown for the prototype on the offer, it would've been fine. But they resculpted it, tried to paint in the wrinkle lines, which only made her look like she hadn't washed off her make-up in about twenty years, and she had these gnarly hands with long fingers that made Wolverine's claws look like toothpicks. I finally sold mine on eBay. She kept scaring the others.

THE INCREDIBLE HULK - A special wide body had to be developed for the figure, but overall, it's excellent. The only real problems are a slightly odd head sculpt and a too-narrow stomach region. But for the most part, it's an excellent Hulk figure. The hand sculpting is especially impressive.

CAPTAIN AMERICA - An excellent version of our most patriotic super-hero, really. I'm very pleased with it. But two things need to be pointed out. I don't think the star on the uniform needed to be THAT big, and Cap started an unfortunate tradition of sculpting an awful lot of these figures with their mouths hanging open. Was this really necessary? Because it's not very attractive.

THOR - One of Marvel's longtime characters, this modern incarnation of the Norse thunder god came into the line fairly early on. Good likeness, although the hair is a little bright, and the cape,. while impressive, would later pale compared to the acreage of cape given to Magneto and the Vision. And really, if anybody deserves a regal cape, it's Thor.

DARK PHOENIX - The evil version of Jean Grey's cosmic persona. A decent figure, but I always thought the hair was a little strange, and the gold trim a little too dark. Still, she was one of the most popular figures in the line at the time of her release.

FALCON - How is it this guy, whose only claim to fame is being Captain America's sidekick for a while, gets all the breaks? He had a Mego figure. He even had a Secret Wars figure, for pity's name. He gets a Famous Covers figure? Still, it's a decent figure, and unlike a lot of the figures in this line, his mouth is shut. It's actually one of the best face sculpts.

DOCTOR DOOM - If there was one injustice in the Mego line (well, actually, there were quite a few), it's that one of the most notable Marvel villains never got a figure. Fortunately, Famous Covers rectified this. The likeness is excellent, but the figure has these rubbery armor pieces that really do tend to hinder some of the articulation.

DAREDEVIL - Cool figure, but another open screaming mouth, and the "DD" logo actually has the D's reversed from their usual positions relative to each other.

HAWKEYE - A cool figure of a popular character, but another one with his mouth hanging open, and he's not in his most recognized uniform.

IRON MAN - One of the more impressive figures in the line, The figure actually has hard plastic armor for his (removable) helmet, chest piece, gloves, and boots, with a yellow fabric "undergarment" representing the rest of the armor. According to one report, the original plan was to just paint the figure's arms and legs gold, but enough people complained that this would sort of make him look like he was running around without his pants, at least compared to the other figures, that Toy Biz altered the figure -- thank God.

BLACK WIDOW - An odd choice, but a popular one. This figure of the ex- Russian super-spy and former Avenger was very popular when she first came out.

MISTER SINISTER - Another odd choice, but a nicely done figure. The leather-like uniform and that freakish cape can't have been easy to pull off.

MISTER FANTASTIC/INVISIBLE WOMAN - This Target Exclusive two-pack at least gave us half of the Fantastic Four. Technically, the head of Mr. Fantastic was a repainted Peter Parker, and the Invisible Woman was a redone Storm (!), but the uniforms were all new, and the set was most welcome. Reportedly, The Thing was scheduled for a Famous Covers figure when the plug was pulled on the line.

SPIDER-WOMAN/SPIDER-MAN - This two-pack featured the Julia Carpenter Spider-Woman, the one in the black uniform with the white trim, and came with a special edition Spider-Man in his black uniform, before it was driven away and teamed up with Eddie Brock to become Venom.

ELECTRO - This figure came in a two-pack with a slightly recolored standard Spider-Man The head was actually Thor's, but with no hair and the new mask, you wouldn't know it. The green, in my opinion, is a little too pale, but it's an interesting version of a Spider-Man villain that doesn't seem to turn up all that often these days.

CYCLOPS - One of the best known X-Men in one of his most popular uniform designs. This is one of the few figures that I actually think works with the "open-mouth" look, since Cyke is known for being a somewhat anguished soul at times.

MAGNETO - Amazing version of the master of magnetism. The helmet's a little small, but the facial likeness underneath makes you want to leave it off anyway. And with this figure and one other, Toy Biz gave their Famous Covers figures about an acre of cape that really looks impressive.

GAMBIT - Nice version of the popular mutant, but again I have to take issue with the facial expression. It's not an open mouth, but this normally jovial mutant has a look on his face like somebody just stuffed half a dozen lemons in his mouth.

ROGUE - Decent version of the popular member of the X-Men, but again, the head sculpt comes up short. There's really not enough hair, and that mouth with those almost cartoonish teeth...!

JEAN GREY - Essentially a recolored version of Dark Phoenix, but an excellent figure of what Jean Grey looked like at the time, uniform and all.

NIGHTCRAWLER - Superb version of one of my favorite characters, even if he's a little too light blue. At least he's in his traditional uniform, and he has a cool "bendie" tail. But the original intent was to give him his "pirate" uniform which he wore in a mini-series. Sometimes you have to wonder what they're thinking at Toy Biz. Fortunately, this was another bad idea, like painted legs on Iron Man, that got nipped in the bud due in part to timely fan outrage.

STORM II - Technically part of a Famous Covers based line that was part of the X-Men Movie series of toys, this Storm was in her silver-white uniform, which was made especially popular by the original animated series. An excellent version of Storm.

WOLVERINE II - Wolvie in his brown and gold uniform. Technically, the yellow is too light, but there's a lot of longtime fans that actually preferred Wolverine in this uniform, so it's not surprising that we got a figure of it.

SABRETOOTH - The only other figure to use the "Hulk" bodysculpt (there were actually several "male" body sculpts to use in this line), Sabretooth is a really excellent version of this dangerous mutant. One of the coolest figures in the line, right down to the fur collar. And he's somebody else that actually works with the open-mouthed sculpt.

THE VISION - Possibly the coolest figure in the entire collection, this version of the popular android hero is right on the money across the board, and he's got the same massive amount of cape as Magneto. A truly amazing figure!

SPIDER-GIRL - A Diamond Comics exclusive, as unfortunately the remaining Famous Covers figures would be. Spider-Girl is an interesting choice, and shows the popularity of the Spider Universe. Spider-Girl is Spider-Man's daughter in an alternate reality, and the figure is excellent. The hood was reworked from the Spider-Man figures, and underneath is a very good sculpt of May "Mayday" Parker!

CARNAGE - We get Carnage and not Venom? Oh, well. Carnage is still a cool, if weird, figure. The plastic tentacles glued onto the uniform are an interesting touch.

RED SKULL - About the only figure not to come dressed in tights, the Skull has a fantastic head sculpt, and a nicely done pseudo-military uniform.

SCARLET WITCH - A fantastic rendition of the popular Avenger, although to accommodate the head piece they had to make her hair sculpted, not rooted, and she's a bit top-heavy for it.

PSYLOCKE - Cool version of the popular mutant, with an interestingly done uniform with painted stripes on fabric stockings representing the straps of her outfit.

You can read more extensive reviews of some of these last figures if you scroll pretty much all the way down on my "Product Reviews" listing here on MasterCollector.

The FAMOUS COVERS line was scheduled to continue. Other characters that I have heard were in the works include DR. STRANGE, THE PUNISHER, BEAST, THE THING, TIGRA, and even MAN-THING. If you look at the names, you can see that Strange and Punisher would've been the next two to follow Red Skull and Carnage, who were the final releases, and that the other four were part of a sort of "monster" assortment that never got turned out.

Famous Covers was an excellent line that had an excellent run, but one which I still wish had lasted longer. I'm old enough to remember the Megos, and for the most part, Famous Covers was a worthy successor. I'm glad for the collection I have, minor gripes aside, and just wish that it had kept going. But I thank Toy Biz and Marvel for the duration it had.