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By Thomas Wheeler

The newest assortment of MARVEL LEGENDS figures has started to arrive. I tend to be rather selective about this particular line from Toy Biz, but I did decide to pick up at least two of them -- The Beast and Gambit!

The Beast is Henry "Hank" McCoy, a mutant who possessed an ape-like physique and acrobatic skill and dexterity on a level close to that of Spider-Man. Although initially fairly human-looking, subsequent experiments on his own physiology turned him blue and furry.

More recent developments within the comic book have also made him more feline than simian in appearance. Fortunately, this figure is of the more traditional, "simian" version of The Beast.

The Beast as a character was one of the founding members of the X-Men. He's probably one of the more experienced characters in the wider super-hero world, having served with both the Avengers and the Defenders. During his stint with the Avengers, he was generally known as a wisecracking lothario. Once he returned to the X-Men, he regained a more serious demeanor, and his substantial scientific background came more into play. Some elements of his Avengers personality remained. When his best friend from those days, Wonder Man, returned from having the ionic energy that comprised his being literally dispersed almost beyond recovery, The Beast wasted little time in putting in a brief appearance in the Avengers' title to catch up.

As for the figure, it's actually quite good, but not without a few problems. The articulation is substantial, advertised on the package as 36 points of articulation. This includes the head, mouth, neck, shoulders, upper swivel arm, elbows, lower swivel arm, wrist, index fingers, remaining three fingers as a group (on each hand), thumbs, waist, legs, upper swivel legs, double-jointed knees, lower swivel leg, ankles, and toe groups.

The one problem with doing that much articulation is that it's very hard to make it all look good, especially on a figure with a fairly bulky and muscular physique, who's covered by blue (sculpted) fur. For the most part, it works if you have the figure standing in a relatively neutral position. But any extreme pose results in the Beast figure looking a bit like an action figure jigsaw puzzle that wasn't put together quite properly.

From a visual standpoint, I have only a few complaints. The head is a bit too large and the neck, rather glaringly not having sculpted fur, is too long. Also, I don't see why they had to put orange discoloration splatters on his teeth. The Beast is an individual of super-genius intellect. Whatever his appearance, I would suspect he brushes his teeth on a regular basis. Fortunately, this is an easily corrected glitch.

This is not the first Beast figure that Toy Biz has produced. That one dated way back to the 90's, and was part of the classic X-Men line. There was also a 10" "Marvel Universe" version of that figure which I still have on display. And although seemingly simplistic compared to this latest edition, I think the head sculpt on that one was a little more agreeable, as were the overall proportions.

But these are fairly minor complaints. Overall, The Beast is a very good addition to the Marvel Legends line, and I can't really knock one of my favorite characters too hard, and at least they gave him his traditional look before the Marvel powers-that-be started trashing all of their characters in the pages of their own books.

Next we turn to GAMBIT. Remy LeBeau was a member of the Thieves' Guild in the bayou region of Louisiana. He is also a mutant, with the ability to "charge" any object with kinetic energy from his hands, resulting in a rather explosive outcome. His favorite objects to use for this are playing cards, with he is able to charge and throw with astounding skill. He is also a remarkable acrobat, and a formidable combatant with a long metal staff.

He was a longtime member of the X-Men (and since I've stopped following the comics I honestly don't know what his present status is, although he did leave the team and apparently lost his powers in a storyline in X-Treme X-Men). But as with the Beast, this is a somewhat earlier version of Gambit, before all of the conceptual overhaul that took place in the books.

Given his questionable background, his cocky attitude, and his refusal to answer any substantial personal questions about himself and a tendency to not take things very seriously, Gambit was a difficult person to get to know and trust. However, he proved himself repeatedly as a valuable member of the X-Men. He also endeavored to have a relationship with fellow team member Rogue, but between his quirky personality and her inability to physically touch another person without absorbing their powers and memories and rendering them nearly comatose, this was not especially easy.

The Marvel Legends GAMBIT figure is excellent. The facial likeness is superb, with a cocky sort of half-grin, although I do wish they could find a better way of simulating a day-or-so unshaven face without smearing gray paint across it like he fell into a grease trap. If Toy Biz can't do better than this, perhaps they shouldn't bother.

Gambit's costume is superbly detailed and has a nice metallic sheen to it. The accuracy is excellent. And, of course, Gambit is wearing his traditional long brown coat. This is made of fabric, and is quite good, a few frayed ends here and there in the lining notwithstanding, which can easily be dealt with a careful few snips with a good pair of scissors. Honestly, cloth outfits on figures in this size range are not easy, so I really can't complain about it, and everything is properly sewn and seamed, and the fit is excellent.

Articulation is superb, including the head, neck, arms (a rather odd construction at the shoulders if you remove the coat), upper arm swivel, double-jointed elbows, lower arm swivel, wrist, finger groups, mid-torso, waist, legs, upper leg swivel, double-jointed knees, lower leg swivel, double-jointed ankles, and front-feet at the toe area. I'd hate to work in the assembly plant for these things.

Gambit comes with a base which looks like a ruined Sentinel part, and has two accessories, his long metal staff, and an "energy" accessory that is a translucent pink plastic projection with four playing cards -- all Aces -- worked into it.

As with the Beast, this is not the first Gambit figure, of course. There have been several, including an early version of this same figure from the 90's, and an Age of Apocalypse version that was, if I recall, only available in a special boxed set a number of years ago, which also included an Age of Apocalypse Rogue. There was also a FAMOUS COVERS version of Gambit, which was generally excellent, except for a facial expression that made poor Remy look like he'd been sucking a lemon. I still miss the Famous Covers 9" cloth-costumed figures, but I do have to say that the Marvel Legends Gambit has a much more accurate facial expression for the character.

One last comment -- there are character statistics on the back of the package cards for these characters. If Gambit is supposed to be 6'1", and indeed in the comics and the original animated series he has been portrayed as being rather tall, and if Beast is supposed to be 5'11", which sounds a little short to me, then why is the Gambit figure about 6-1/4" in height, and Beast is more like 6-3/4", and looks noticably larger, admittedly due to his greater bulk, overall? I'm prepared to accept a certain amount of artistic license on these toys, but if they're going to do that, then maybe Toy Biz shouldn't be running characters stats on the back.

The remainder of this assortment of Marvel Legends figures includes THE PUNISHER, which Toy Biz did a superb job with but I don't consider a priority; and ELEKTRA, a character I'm not into, but my jaw still dropped when I read on the package that the superbly-designed figure has 40-count-em-FORTY points of articulation. I've only ever seen a couple of Gundams, several very complex Transformers, and that FX-7 Medical Droid from Star Wars get to that level!

The Marvel Legends Series V assortment, planned for release early 2004, was also recently announced, and includes BLADE 2 (yawn), SABRETOOTH (might be interesting), COLOSSUS (a must-have if they do it right), MR. FANTASTIC (based on the Byrne era and will come with an extra pair of arms, one stretched into a shape and the other wire flexible -- could be cool), NICK FURY (might be cool), SILVER SURFER with an articulated figure of -- ready for this? -- HOWARD THE DUCK (this might be a must-have just for the sheer weirdness of it), and as the chase figure, and boy, is this aspect of it ticking off collectors, RED SKULL in his double-breasted military uniform. Chase figures, I have always reasoned, are called thus because they are absurdly short-packed and you have to be very lucky and very diligent to chase them down, and this one has a lot of people wishing for the good old days when a chase figure was just a repaint that you could take or leave instead of something really interesting.

Meanwhile, Series IV is out, and they all look pretty cool, really, depending on your interests, and I'm glad that I acquired THE BEAST and GAMBIT!