REVIEW: EMCE TOYS STAR TREK RETRO-MEGO-STYLE LT. SULU
When the Mego Corporation had the license to do action figures of the Classic Star Trek crew and assorted aliens -- along with having the license to do action figures of just about everything else in pop culture creation at the time -- they did a very effective job of bringing to plastic life most of the command crew of the starship Enterprise, as well as an interesting host of assorted aliens.
One thing always griped me about Mego's Star Trek collection. And I'm sure I'm not the only one, as I don't even have any idea why it happened, but it did. Mego's Star Trek line, the Enterprise crew portion, consisted of Captain Kirk, Mr. Spock, Dr. McCoy, Mr. Scott, and Lt. Uhura. All well and good. But -- notice a couple of names missing?
Right -- Lt. Sulu and Ensign Chekov. For whatever reason, Mego never made figures of these two characters. It wouldn't be until the 1990's, when Playmates Toys produced the Classic Star Trek Bridge boxed set of seven figures, that we would see action figures of Sulu and Chekov. And they weren't exactly compatible with the Megos. Neither were Playmates' 9", cloth-costumed figures, which were nevertheless impressive, and enjoyed a healthy run that not only gave us Sulu and Chekov, but most of the prominent characters from Next Generation, Deep Space Nine, and Voyager -- although this time around, Quark, Neelix, and B'Elanna Torres got stiffed. But I digress.
Whatever later figures were offered by other companies, there was always just something -- aggravating -- about the fact that the first real turn in the action figure world for Star Trek, for the Classic Star Trek, which at the time they first came out was the ONLY Star Trek -- wasn't quite a complete turn. I even tried to customize a Lt. Sulu and Ensign Chekov -- with -- mixed and decidedly less than impressive results.
Don't get me wrong. Those Mego figures were cool. I was extremely pleased to have them. I'd already been collecting Mego's Worlds Greatest Super-Heroes, the only time when action figures for Marvel and DC came out of the same company at the same time, and I'd been picking up their Planet of the Apes figures, as well. So when it was revealed that Mego was going to be doing Star Trek -- hey, I was all too happy to welcome Kirk and company into my collection, even if the company wasn't quite complete.
But it was still just a little bit at the back of my mind...
And one has to suspect that it was at the back of the mind of the people who started up EmCe Toys in order to produce the Mego-style Retro Star Trek figures for the specialty market, complete with Mego founder Marty Abrams' blessing.
This remarkable line has proven immensely popular with longtime Star Trek fans who remember the original toys -- and probably wish, as I do, that they'd taken better care of them in their younger years. The figures are very accurate remakes of the originals, I believe with somewhat sturdier bodies, and with heads based entirely on the original sculpts. Even the packaging is based very precisely on the original design and even the original artwork!
I'll admit, I focused on the Aliens. I was especially pleased when two especially scarce Aliens from the original line, the Romulan and the Andorian, were brought back. Nothing against the Enterprise crew, but I wanted the Aliens. Still, in the back of my mind, I wondered -- if the line lasts long enough, might they do more than just remakes? EmCe Toys had gone so far as to produce a limited edition exclusive of Khan, from his original appearance in the episode "Space Seed". That had never been part of Mego's lineup!
Maybe -- just maybe -- might Sulu and Chekov get a break this time?
The answer, happily, is -- YES! Lt. Sulu has been released in an assortment with a truly superb Gorn -- thankfully heavily reworked from the disastrous original (see separate review), and Ensign Chekov will be in a subsequent assortment packed with the alien Cheron. Where the line goes beyond that I cannot say. Nurse Chapel? Yeoman Rand? How about a Mirror Universe Kirk and Spock? Heck, let's go into Next Gen, DS9, and the rest.
While it may well mean that I'll feel obliged to try to work my way back now and find the rest of the Enterprise crew remakes, I decided to get Lt. Sulu. I mean, I wanted Sulu and Chekov from Mego 35 years ago. I'm going to deprive myself NOW!?
A word about the packaging. EmCe Toys has very carefully taken the original backdrop, the Enterprise flying past a planet on a field of stars, the Star Trek logo developed by Mego, which is close if not exactly like the official Star Trek logo, and even added the circles of artwork, paintings of the individual characters who are available as figures. It's really as superb a reproduction as the figures.
So -- where did they get such excellent artwork of Sulu, Chekov, and for that matter, the improved Gorn? This will show how dedicated the people at EmCe Toys are -- they found the original Mego artist, one Harold Schull, and commissioned new illustrations from him! Now -- THAT'S impressive to me. The back of the card gives credit to Schull, and also mentions that Sulu is one of a couple of "First new Star Trek 'MEGO's!"
It's worth mentioning that earlier in 2009, Marty Abrams finally regained ownership of the "Mego" name. It had, according to a fascinating article in ToyFare #143, passed through several companies, all of which had gone bankrupt in succession, and Abrams was finally able to reacquire it.
So, a little background on the character. Unlike the subsequent Star Treks, which were more "ensemble shows" and tried to give reasonable time to all of the major players, the Original Star Trek was very significantly the Kirk-Spock-McCoy show, and frankly, the other characters hoped that they might get to say something more than "Hailing frequencies open" or "Warp factor -- " whatever -- every once in a while. Generally they got a bit of a break here and there, but there was no question who the stars of the show were.
Lt. Sulu had an interesting start. He actually appeared in the show's second pilot, "Where No Man has Gone Before", wearing a blue science-division shirt, and representing the astrophysics department. In the same episode, Spock is wearing a command gold shirt. By the time the series got rolling, in "The Corbomite Maneuver", Sulu was sitting at the helm, wearing his familiar gold shirt, and Spock was in science blue.
And the Starfleet Quartermaster in charge of uniforms was taking a long vacation somewhere, I'm sure.
Sulu's hobbies included botany and fencing, the latter of which got him into a bit of trouble in at least one episode.
Sulu was part of the Animated Series, even though Chekov wasn't. Interestingly enough, even Sulu and Uhura almost didn't make the cut, until Leonard Nimoy told Filmation that he wouldn't do the show unless their characters were included, and voiced by the proper actors. Nice of him to do that.
Sulu fared well enough in the movies, included one scene in "Star Trek IV" where the esteemed helmsman of the Enterprise has to try to learn how to fly a 20th century helicopter. One scene that was dropped from the movie would have had Sulu encountering a young boy who would have turned out to have been his own great-great-great-grandfather.
Despite disobeying Starfleet orders right along with Kirk and the rest of the crew to save Spock, and then the entire planet Earth, in Star Treks III and IV, Sulu's career continued to prosper, and by Star Trek VI, he was Captain of the Excelsior. Although his part wasn't that extensive, it was memorable.
Sulu would also turn up in an episode of Star Trek Voyager, in an eerie "Flashback" sequence (the name of the episode, for that matter) which took place around the same time as Star Trek VI, and revealed that Voyager's resident Vulcan, Tuvok, was part of the Excelsior crew at the time.
Sulu's first name is Hikaru, although it was never mentioned in the original series or the animated series, and indeed didn't get mentioned officially until Star Trek VI. According to the Star Trek Encyclopedia, Gene Roddenberry "authorized" the name in 1979. I believe it was initially created somewhere in fandom, but I really am not certain of this point. There just apparently wasn't much opportunity to use it until the sixth movie.
Somewhere along the way, Captain Sulu had a daughter, Demora, who was helming the Enterprise-B for Star Trek: Generations, the seventh movie.
So -- how's the figure? Really very impressive. It's one thing to take an existing headsculpt, even one from 35 years ago, and reproduce it pretty much "as it" for a retro line like this. It's something else entirely to come up with an entirely new headsculpt, that has to match the sculpting style of the originals, and still be as reasonable a likeness of the actual live-action character as those other headsculpts were.
Not a job I'd want, even if I were a practiced sculptor -- which I'm not.
To this end, EmCe Toys has succeeded abundantly well. The headsculpt looks like Sulu, as much as the other headsculpts look like their respective characters, which is considerably so, within the limitations of the time period as far as what was expected from a headsculpt and the necessities of manufacturing are concerned.
Are there more detailed, perhaps more accurate Sulu figures out there? Likely so. Playmates produced a number of them in the 1990's. Conversely, does this figure look like Sulu? Yes, absolutely. More to the point, if you wanted to and had the ability, could you travel back in time with this new "retro" Sulu figure, slip it into a display of actual Mego Star Trek figures, and have it blend right in? Yes -- and that's the whole point. This figure looks like what a Mego Sulu figure would've looked like 35 years ago if Mego had gotten around to making Sulu themselves.
Mego heads, and by definition of accurate reproductions, EmCe heads, are molded from a rather flexible plastic. These are not -- dare I say it -- hardheaded figures. I believe the process used by Mego was called "blow-molding", which allowed for a figure's head to be molded without the plastic seam lines that can, if poorly done, really ruin the look of a modern action figure. We're used to them these days, that little line that, if done correctly, generally runs behind the ears and fairly indistinguishably in the hair line. Megos didn't have these at all, and neither do EmCes.
I will say this -- the head seems a little more flexible than some of the early figures. The Klingon's head, who was one of the first, is pretty sturdy. Sulu's is more easily "flexed", and so, for that matter, is the Gorn. Now, original Mego heads were pretty easily flexed, too. They were also subject to a wide range of deterioration problems over the years. I'm hopeful we're not looking at a downplay of quality here on the part of EmCe. These figures, however much they may look like Megos, have generally struck me as sterner stuff to date. I'd hate to see that trend diminishing.
I do have some overall concerns in this regard. The skin tone, not only on the head, is a little off compared to other characters of similar coloration, such as the Romulan and the Klingon, and I'm not sure that this is a nod to Sulu's ethnicity. The figure feels distinctly lighter in weight overall than some of the earlier-released figures, again such as the Klingon, Andorian, and Romulan.
However, the overall likeness is excellent, and the hair and facial features are very well painted.
Let's discuss the uniform. Lt. Sulu is, of course, wearing a gold shirt, with a single lieutenant stripe around the cuffs and a black collar sewn around the top, with a metal snap in the back, black trousers with an elastic waistband, and his lower legs are molded in black and have molded-on boots. This is also in keeping with how Mego made these figures in the 1970's. With the trousers flaring over the boots, and the boots clearly being rather snug fits on the actors in the show, Mego chose to make a distinct set of lower legs in black plastic with molded-on boots. It works.
The uniform is well made, but, once again a mild quality concern, the fabric is definitely lighter in weight than the original Megos. It still looks good, and perhaps even holds color better. I checked my Klingon figure, whose sleeves and leggings use the same type of fabric and -- I'm just not sure. They seem to be lighter than I recall the originals being, but I'm not sure they're quite as light as Sulu's shirt and trousers. Since I don't have any of the other Enterprise crew figures at this time, from earlier assortments, I can't really say if this is a recent development.
Also, in my opinion, the shirt could stand to be a little bit longer than it is. Ultimately, these figures aren't really intended for the sort of playtime that the originals were. They're designed to be collectibles. Obviously, as with ANY action figure line, my main concern would be if there is a general lessening of quality. In this case, though, I don't really have enough previous figures to draw that conclusion, although I am concerned.
The articulation of the Sulu figure is excellent. Mego knew how to design a good, basic action figure, and EmCe has followed the pattern superbly well. I don't know if the interior assembly is the same (I sort of hope it's a bit sturdier than in the 1970's), but Sulu is fully poseable at the head, arms, elbows, wrists, waist, legs, and knees. The only thing I can even slightly gripe about is one hand seems a little loose, and one leg slightly so. But he doesn't feel like he's going to fall apart, and it's not like I didn't encounter this sort of thing in the days of Mego, either. Generally speaking, the articulation seems distinctly tighter than the originals, especially in the arms and legs, which is certainly appreciated.
Sulu comes fully outfitted with a phaser and communicator attached to a small black belt, and a tricorder on a strap. As with Mego, the equipment is molded in light blue.
So, what's my final word here? Star Trek is enjoying a resurgence in popularity. Personally, I don't think very much of this new movie and what it's done to established continuity. Bluntly stated, I want no part of it. I know what Star Trek is. And Star Trek is several series of the best television (and some earlier movies) that you're going to find. And it all started out with the series presently being represented in this retro Mego-style line being produced for Diamond Select by EmCe Toys.
And after 35 years, that Star Trek line finally includes Lt. Sulu! However, you're not going to find him at regulat retail stores. There are several online stores that carry these figures, and if you have a place like Suncoast Video, Sam Goody, or FYE in your area, you might be fortunate enough to find him, or some other cool Star Trek figures, there.
However you obtain him, though, the EMCE TOYS RETRO MEGO-STYLE LT. SULU figure definitely has my highest recommendation! I sincerely hope this line continues to -- live long and prosper!