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By Thomas Wheeler

There are quite a few movies this year that are going to inspire substantial toy lines. Spider-Man 3, Fantastic Four 2, Transformers, Pirates of the Caribbean 3 -- in fact the toys for the third Pirates movie came out about the same time as the Spider-Man stuff, but you'd hardly know it. A shame, too. There's no reason both toy lines shouldn't enjoy a decent measure of success, and hopefully they will, as will their respective movies.

But clearly the Web-Slinger is getting the major hype in the toy stores right now. Action figures, costumes, figural room alarms, web shooters, sand shooters, Venom glop shooters (I'm surprised various furniture cleaning products haven't gotten in on the act given all of this assorted messy goop being offered...), stuffed toys, die-cast cars, and let's not forget Mr. Potato Head as Spider-Spud.

Among the more interesting items to come out is a series of figures, all Spider-Man villains, on packaging that ALMOST looks like the movie toys, but leaves off the "3". These are villains that have been designed to look as they might appear in the movies, HAD they appeared in the movies. Of the entire batch, only the Green Goblin and Doc Ock have. Of the newcomers, the most impressive was The Lizard, Rhino wasn't bad, Scorpion was fair, and Kraven the Hunter was, unfortunately, pretty dull. But I didn't figure anyone would want to read an extensive, in-depth review about Spider-Man villains that weren't even in the movie.

I finally decided on one particular figure, that was set apart from the others, and yet was also distinctive to the third movie. It was in fancier packaging, and I'm pretty sure it's a store exclusive. It's at least marked as a "Limited Edition" (yeah, it and it's 99,999 counterparts, I'm sure...), and it's Spider-Man in the BLACK costume, which appears for the first time in this new movie. This, I figured, would do nicely.

Some background for those who don't know. Spider-Man, in the comics, first got his black costume in 1982, while participating in the "Secret Wars", a 12-issue mini-series that propelled a large group of Marvel heroes and villains to another world, to battle each other over in a basic brawl of "good vs. evil", at the behest of a mysterious alien called the Beyonder.

Along the way, Spider-Man's standard red-and-blue costume got pretty well trashed. The heroes had set up camp in a futuristic building of some sort, and some of the others in need of costume repair had discovered a room with assorted machinery, including a clothes-maker. Uncertain of which one it was, however, Spider-Man activated a random device, and out plopped a black ball of goo. This quickly expanded to become his new black costume.

Not long after the heroes' return to Earth, however, Spider-Man discovered that his new outfit was in fact an alien symbiote, and not a particularly friendly one. Vulnerable to ultra-sonics, Spider-Man had the symbiote removed with the help of Reed Richards of the Fantastic Four. The symbiote was imprisoned, but soon escaped, and eventually merged with Eddie Brock, an individual who had no love for either Peter Parker or Spider-Man, and become the villain known as Venom.

Spider-Man has, on occasion, worn a standard cloth black costume since that time, most recently switching back to it in the aftermath of the Civil War storyline -- and no doubt to give a plug to the movie, I'm sure.

As I write this review, the movie isn't out yet. I was, however, fairly certain that the entire Secret Wars storyline would not be played out in order to get Spidey into his black costume in the movie. So how would it come into his possession? Was it even an alien symbiote?

It took a little research -- mostly looking into some of the novelizations of the movie that are already out -- including a kids' book -- but assuming this data is valid, and I suspect that it is, then the black costume is indeed an alien symbiote, but it crash-landed on Earth along with a meteorite. Like the comic book version, the symbiote can form a costume around Parker. The symbiote also has an effect on Parker himself, making him more arrogant and egotistical. He eventually abandons the symbiote when he realizes what it's doing to him, and as before, it falls into the possession of Eddie Brock, and combines with him to form Venom.

I don't think I'm giving away very many crucial plot points with that information, if you're reading this prior to the release of the movie. Anyone sufficiently familiar with the Spider-Man storyline as it pertains to the black costume would logically presume most of this, to say nothing of the trailers for the movie and the presence of a Venom action figure on the shelves.

Spider-Man's really up against some serious enemies in this movie. He has to tackle Venom, the Sandman, and even a new Goblin.

So, how's the figure? Extremely impressive, really. Keep in mind that the movie black costume differs in quite a few respects from its comic book counterpart. In the comics, the black costume was just smooth black, with only white Spider-Man eyes and a white spider insignia on the front and back. The movie costume is a lot more complex.

Essentially, it's an all-black version of Spider-Man's standard red-and- blue costume, which itself is a more complex version of Spider-Man's traditional costume. The comics show Spidey's usual duds to be pretty much straight forward fabric. The web-patterning is perhaps somehow printed on, but it's still just smooth fabric. The movie costume, while maintaining the basic design (which is more than some superhero movies can claim), made the webbing in the red areas a distinctly raised detail, and the blue portions of the costume had some sort of mesh patterning in them. It was still Spider-Man, but it was Spider-Man with a distinctly advanced outfit.

The black costume in the movie reflects all of this detailing -- the raised webbing, the mesh, the whole works. It is, effectively, an exact black duplicate of the red-and-blue costume. And of course this detailing must be reflected in the action figure.

Hasbro has done an excellent job producing this figure. The mesh detailing is very finely sculpted into the figure, as is the webbing pattern. The eyes and the spider insignia on the front and back and perfect. The painted detail is good. It is precisely on the money on the eyes and insignia, and as good as can be expected on the webbing. Honestly, I'm not certain it was even necessary to do this, but Hasbro did a decent job. I suspect that one of the hardest things in the world to paint on an action figure is Spider-Man's webbing, especially when it's raised, embossed like it is on the movie version of the character. Toy Biz for years has tried various methods on various Spideys, with various levels of success. I know sometimes I harp about sloppy paintwork, but in this instance, Hasbro did a good job, and I'm inclined to cut them a little more slack.

Articulation on the figure is smooth and decently tight. If there was one thing that always bugged me about Toy Biz, it was that you were never sure how the articulation was going to be. Tight? Loose? Stuck by paint? Showing a lot of excess "flash" not properly trimmed off? Joint pegs the wrong color, or poorly placed? I'm not saying that this happened a LOT, but it did happen -- more often than it should have. This Spider-Man's articulation is decently tight, meshes well in the joints with the figure's overall structure so it doesn't look like anything's barely hanging by a peg, and is neatly done.

The articulation is excellent, too, although there's a couple of spots where I might have liked to have seen a little bit more. Spider-Man is articulated at the head, shoulders, upper swivel arms, double-jointed elbows, wrists back-and-forth, mid-torso, legs, double-jointed knees including a swivel, and ankles. I might've liked to have seen rotating wrists and some waist articulation, but on the whole, this is quite good, and the knee articulation is an especially interesting design. I wish my own knees were that poseable...

About my only concern is with the proportions. The head and shoulders seem a little small, the legs a little too large, especially at the hips, but not too severely.

The figure's package advertises "Supermetal Finish", something that a few Spider-Man figures from the "Origins" line used, including Spider-Man 2099 and Iron Spider-Man. On them, it was pretty much a metallic finish, especially on Iron Spider-Man, which only made sense. On this Spider-Man, it's more of just a gloss finish, but it still looks pretty cool.

Spider-Man comes with a single accessory -- a big black web that has three suction cups in it. I tested it, and it will adhere to a smooth surface. Precisely how long it will stay put, especially if you hang the figure from it, I don't know. I'm not going to time the thing.

The figure is a little small compared to what we've been used to in recent years. He's 5-1/4" in height. That's down a bit from the 6" standard that Toy Biz established, but we're going to have to get used to it. Hasbro is introducing a 5" scale -- more or less, apparently, although this is a "Special Edition" figure, so maybe the rest of the Spider-Man figures are closer to 5" -- that will be implemented on all of their movie-based toys, so look for it in the Fantastic Four 2 line as well.

The size difference has caused some consternation among longtime collectors, who now see a line that won't be compatible with what has gone before. They have a point, but that doesn't mean that this Spider- Man figure isn't a cool toy in his own right.

In fact he is. This "Limited Edition" Spider-Man 3 figure is well-designed, well-crafted, well-articulated, well put-together, and even well-painted. And if he's any indicator of the overall workmanship that Hasbro is prepared to put into their Marvel-based figures, then I'd personally recommend just about any of the action figures from the overall Spider-Man 3 line, and hopefully this is the start of a truly superb run of Marvel heroes from Hasbro!

And don't forget to include this special Spider-Man 3 figure in your collection. He's certainly distinctive to the movie, and if, like me, you only really feel you want to bring ONE toy from the movie into your collection, this would be the one to have, although there's apparently also a Venom figure in this same "Limited Edition" style. Haven't seen him in the stores yet. But whatever the extent of your Spider-Man 3 collection, this one of Spider-Man in his black costume certainly has my definite recommendation!