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Martian Commander

Mars Attacks
by Poe Ghostal

My fondness for Mars Attacks is a bit random. I never owned any of the cards as a kid, and my interest in the franchise came about solely due to the hype around Tim Burton's film - which, it turned out, I hated. I'm not going to get into whether it's actually a bad film or not - for all I know it's got some sort of cult following now - but when I saw it, I strongly disliked the goofy, humor-based approach Burton took. From the cards and comics I got the impression Mars Attacks was all about over-the-top gore, black humor (not just dark, but black like a charred heart in a smoldering fire), sadism, and military-style action.

Burton's film had goofy gore, dark but not black humor, and silly action. He made a film that was a homage to the science fiction B-movies of the 1950s. But the 1962 Mars Attacks card set was all about taking the the cliches of those films - aliens shooting ray guns at humans, giant insects, attempted interspecies rape - to a realistic extreme that is merely suggested in the films themselves. I did enjoy the comics that Topps put out at the time, however, particularly the ones drawn by Walking Dead artist Charlie Adlard. IDW, the current holder of the Mars Attacks license, is collecting those comics now under the title Mars Attacks Classics.

Admittedly, Mars Attacks is a weird pop culture property. It's based on some trading cards from the 1960s, yet it's had a movie, toys, and many comics. The only less likely result of a popular trading card set is this crime against humanity.

Planning to conquer the Earth, Mars sends flying saucers through space carrying deadly weapons. Burning the cities, the Martians destroy much of Earth's population. The enemy then enlarges insects to over 500 times their normal size and releases them on the helpless planet. People go into hiding, knowing that death is the consequence if they are discovered by the creatures. Despite its losses, Earth launches a counterattack that shatters the Martians on their home planet, Mars.

Mars Attacks is currently the subject of an IDW comic, as well as the focus of IDW's third major intracompany crossover - which I think is pretty cool. I mean, Mars Attacks Popeye? I only wish Toho would let IDW make Godzilla a part of these crossovers, because Mars Attacks Godzilla would be epic.

But I digress. At the time the movie came out, Trendmasters put out two toy series, one based on the movie, and one based somewhat on the trading cards (though the sculpts took some artistic license and made the Martians look a bit meaner and more modern). I ignored the movie line but really liked the card-based one, though both lines offered a lot of great toys, and may represent Trendmasters' best work. But we've never had a figure based on the actual card art - until now. The movie actually hewed fairly close to the cards' look, but you can see some slight differences here. The sculpt is based directly off the Wally Wood, Bob Powell and Norman Saunders card art.

We usually don't care about packaging, but this one is really appealing. Mezco put some real thought into the graphics, colors and presentation, rather than just slapping some clip art or a photo of the figure in a clamshell. The bubble-on-rectangular-blister gives it what is sadly becoming a "retro" feel.

The figure stands almost exactly 6" tall at the top of the helmet. The Martians' height seems to vary on the cards, but they were fairly short in the movie, so this figure is arguably in a proper 1:12 scale. Most of the sculpt is clean and spare, matching the style of the Martians' depiction on the cards. It's almost a slightly cartoonish look. But the head is very well-detailed, as are the claw-like fingers.

The torso is molded in green - that's the only thing we're sure about. It seems like the arms and legs are molded in green as well, and the forearms and boots are molded in yellow, but we can't be sure. There's a chance the arms are actually molded in gray and then painted over, as there's some gray smudges at the shoulder balljoints. However, there's honestly no way to be sure whether that's the result of green rubbing off the shoulders, or the gray paint from the breathing device rubbing onto them.

The green plastic of the torso and the matte aspect of the paint work gives the figure a somewhat toyish feel, though it works for the intentional "retro future" vibe of the property. There's a very minimal wash on the boots and forearms. It's applied a bit haphazardly, but does add just the right touch of realism to the figure. The best paint work is on the head, however: there's an excellent wash on the brain, bringing out every single fold, and the eyes are perfect.

The main reason none of us bought Earthworm Jim (after the fact that he has yet to appear in any stores) was because of his lack of leg articulation. The Martian Commander gets leg articulation, but he still ended up just a tad disappointing overall. He has a swivel head (it swivels with the helmet as one piece - the helmet is not removable, by the way), swivel/hinge shoulders, hinged elbows, swivel forearms, swivel/hinge hips, hinged knees, and swivels at the top of the boots.

It's a lot of articulation for Mezco these days and definitely appreciated, but this figure would really have benefited from four extra points that would have been very easy to do: swivels just under the shoulders and swivels at the tops of the thighs. The design of the suit has perfect locations for these joints, and they'd add a ton of posing options. Since swivels are so easy to customize, I'm considering adding them myself. It's not a deal-breaker, but given that the Martian comes with a rifle that requires two hands it would have been a nice and relatively cheap touch. But perhaps Mezco was redlining the costs already on this figure.

The Martian Commander comes with a blaster, a rifle, and a "ray stick." The rifle and blaster definitely appear to be based on various card art, and while I couldn't find one with the "ray stick" I'm sure it's there somewhere. The weapons are all fabricated very well; the only caveat is be careful when putting the guns in his hands, as the triggers are a bit fragile.

Mezco has rarely had QC problems, and that's true here as well. There is a stray paint mark on one of the tanks on the back, but the figure itself seems solid and durable. A kid might tear one of the tubes to the tank with rough play, but a kid who wants a Mars Attacks toy is probably the kind of kid who's going to be fastidious anyway.

While the articulation isn't everything I wanted it to be, this is still a great action figure from a cool license. Sometimes we really like these one-off figure lines, and honestly, what else could you do? Burning corpses? The Martian Commander will run you between $15-$20, and obviously he's a better deal at the lower than the higher price. Still, for this level of sculpt and articulation, even $20 isn't far off from what you see on similar figures these days.

-- 11/10/12


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