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Creature From the Black Lagoon

Universal Monsters Select
by Rustin Parr

I can't really say when I first became aware of The Creature From the Black Lagoon, but whenever it was, the Gill-man became an immediate favorite. A combination of the fantastic design, amazing costume and eternal terror of an unseen aquatic horror lurking in the depths has rendered this guy a popular one amongst fans and collectors since his birth in 1954. Likewise, his merchandise has always been a big seller so when Diamond Select announced at Toy Fair 2010 that they had acquired the Universal Movie Monster license it came as no surprise that they were leading off with the Creature, who essentially fills the anchor position in Series 1.

DST is becoming increasingly open to trying new things and so they did here. Utilizing their strong relationship with Toys Я Us, they orchestrated two different but similar lines of UMM figures. The Direct Market is getting "Select" versions of the Creature and the Mummy with elaborate bases at a $22 pricepoint, while TRU is carrying essentially the same figure, plus the Wolf Man, with deco changes and different, smaller bases for $13. This version of the Creature is exclusive to Toys Я Us and as such he comes with a "small" base and a darker paint scheme than the Direct Market version.

The sculpt is pretty solid, but not astounding. It's definitely the Creature (that what is rendered of the Black Lagoon) and has the appropriate details, gills, webbed digits, skin "plates" and fins. The scales are presented as large bumps over the plates, much like on the actual suit, but they are exaggerated here (probably due to scale) and look more like measles than scales. He also sports the non-detailed calves of the actual suit, a detail generally glossed over or ignored by merchandisers. So while this is accurate to the source material, it looks inaccurate. I sit and I look, and I search images and I can see that this is a pretty accurate sculpt, but there is simply something underwhelming about it. The head seems a little too narrow, and overall the detailing just seems too soft, too simplified for what we've come to expect in the market today.

As mentioned, this figure comes in a darker paint scheme than the Select version and indeed it is a very nice tonality overall. The figure is cast in a very dark green plastic, then has liberal brushes of green over the bulk of the body, with a very light, cream-ish green on the torso, fins, gills and chin. Over all of that, particularly the light green, is a darker shade for accenting. The finger and toenails are dark grey, inaccurate to the film but aesthetically nice. The darker hues really work well and help make up for the less-than-impressive sculpt. However, the light green is so light it almost undoes the overall aesthetic. The torso in particular has such light shading that it's basically just a big, bright eyesore.

Other than the paint, what makes this a TRU exclusive is the base - and it's a stinker. It's a dark brown mess of dirt with a couple dark green leaves sticking up and a separate log. What? Yeah, a log. The Select edition recreates an iconic still photo of the creature and Kay in the cave, so dry land is already covered in that base. Why not do something more interesting, more watery? Taller reeds or preferably even just translucent blue water effect; how cool would it be to have a Gill-man figure set up in a swimming pose? Well, rather than something interesting or cool like that we just get more of the same, a dirt base that makes just as much sense for Wolf Man as it does for our watery friend. Part of the issue, though, with doing a water/swimming base, though, is the articulation.

The Creature has a whopping eight points of articulation - swivel ankles, swivel wrists, hinged elbows, and ball-and-socket shoulders. Not even neck articulation. The balljointed shoulders are awesome, though, and finally allow for a lot of great Creature poses. The construction of them is also great - their joints are very well hidden and the range of motion suffers not in the least. Unfortunately, the elbows (at least on mine) are pretty weak joints and don't always hold position very well. I can accept no waist, hip or knee articulation but not having balljointed feet or head keeps this guy from really standing apart. Speaking of which, he's sculpted in sort of "taking a step" pose, and maybe it's just my figure, but neither foot is ever flat on the floor. Nor do both feet reach the two (large) pegs on the base, further rendering the base pointless. But as I mentioned, one of DST's big hurdles with picking up the UMM action figure rights is having to follow all of the UMM product in the past - particularly Sideshow Toys' amazing UMM figure line that put that company on the map. And sadly, DST simply does not fully emerge from that shadow.

The DST figure is definitely more proportionally accurate but Sideshow's has better detailing and articulation. The Sideshow one even incorporates water into the base. But the shoulder and arm articulation really make DST more fun to pose. Having the two figures here side by side, I have to say it's easily a draw between them, which is almost a loss for DST simply because Sideshow's figure is a shocking 11 years old! In over a decade of industry advancement if all DST can offer is a tie, then one simply can't help but wonder, "what's the point?"

I am, by nature, a fiercely loyal person, and while I frequently disagree with choices made at DST, there is no company out there today I am more dedicated to as a consumer. Primarily my love for them results from Minimates, but they also manage to get licenses that I am very passionate about, so while I want you to buy this figure to support DST, Universal Monsters and TRU I can't really recommend it. If you don't have the Sideshow one but want a Creature figure I recommend getting the Select version: sure it's more pricey, but it includes a whole separate character/figure that no one's ever made before!

-- 10/21/10

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