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Cabin Control Nemo

20,000 Leagues Under the Sea
by yo go re

We've already talked about the metamorphosis of Aztech Toyz into Mezco, but today we're going to take a look at one of Mezco's first original releases, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, and specifically, its famous Captain Nemo.

The year is 1866. A great beast terrorizing sea vessels is actually an underwater ship of extraordinary power - the Nautilus, a futuristic machine of vast technology designed and captained by the mysterious Nemo, master of the seas, a visionary avenger who has severed all ties with civilized man and taken refuge beneath the ocean. Join Nemo and his crew as they continue on their fantastic journey into the depths of adventure.

Jules Verne is, along with H.G. Wells, the creator of modern science fiction, and 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea is his masterpiece. It even influenced the US Navy, which named the world's first nuclear-powered submarine the Nautilus.

Mezco's 20,000 Leagues line comprised only two figures, and was released in 2001. Instead of your normal blister card packaging, the toys were sold in wonderfully designed window boxes meant to mimic submarine construction. However, rather than a straight-sided rectangle, the box - measuring 13" wide, 14" tall and 5" deep - is a remarkably complex shape, with curving panels, angled lines, and clear views from four sides of the toy. It's a huge piece, and will absolutely dominate any display it's in, but it's truly beautiful and worth hanging onto.

Even by himself, Nemo is a good toy. Mezco could have put the figure on a card by himself and he still would have been a worthwhile buy. In the original novel, Verne gave no biographical info for Captain Nemo - he just had reason to hate the world, and at some point he'd lost his family. Verne had intended the character to be a Polish noble whose family had been murdered by Russians during the January Uprising, but his publisher, fearing the book might be banned in Russia, asked him to change it. Verne's answer was just to leave it vague, because even before Wolverine, people loved a character with a mysterious background.

In the sequel, The Mysterious Island, Nemo's origin was revealed. His true identity ("Nemo" being Latin for "no one," a play on Odysseus' scam on the cyclops Polyphemus) was Prince Dakkar, an Indian Sikh, and the reason for his hatred of the world was the brutal British suppression of the 1857 Indian uprising, which would have resonated strongly with the original Victorian audiences.

Nemo is wearing a blue jacket with a large golden octopus painted on the back. His headband, sash and cravat are a deep maroon, and he's wearing a white shirt with a raised N monogram on the collar. The pants are dingy, and there's fringe at the top of his boots. He also has a large metal glove on his left hand, which we'll get to in a bit.

Looking at this figure, it's obvious a lot of thought and care went into its design. Not only did they give his face a distinctly Indian structure, but if you look at the original Captain Nemo illustrations by Alphonse de Neuville, this figure looks like an older version of that same man - you can even see connections in the style of clothing. Alan Moore's League of Extraordinary Gentlemen had started in 1999, reminding modern audiences that Nemo wasn't originally a white guy - wonder if that influenced this toy?

Articulation is very good, especially for a small company just starting out. Nemo stands 6" tall, and moves at the neck, shoulders, biceps, elbows, wrists, waist, hips, thighs and knees. His "neutral" pose is quite extreme, but all the articulation means you can have him standing however you like. The legs are limited to a V-crotch, which is the only real disappointment here. Some of the joints stick, but not to the point of breaking. Even his earrings move! They're real metal loops running through the figure's ears, which allows them to swivel a bit.

Nemo's a good figure, but there's more to this set than just him. Like the Muppets, this set gives us a huge display diorama environment. Included here is the control room for the Nautilus. Measuring 13½" wide, 7¾" tall and nearly 6" deep, this is a superb piece. It's assembled from six pieces, and its trapezoidal shape means you can see the whole thing at once. Usually this would be a trick of perspective, but on a submarine? It may be a necessity of the shape of the craft.

The floor is a metal grating, and the walls are detailed with rivets, gears and other pieces of nautical equipment. The right wall is an ornate doorway, and there are three clear dome windows looking out on the ocean depths (cardboard behind the clear plastic provides the backdrops). Two of the portholes have fancy sculptural cephalopods wrapped around them for ambience.

A few pieces get added to the wall during assembly: a periscope, the ship's wheel and an intercom speaker. The wheel actually turns, though it is quite stiff at first. There's also an engine order telegraph - you know, the thing they always use in movies where the captain swings a handle, and it's reflected in the engine room? That thing. What's neat about this one is that while it plugs into the floor, there's no specific spot for it: the plug is sized to fit into the floor grates, so anywhere there's a gap, it'll fit tightly. What nice design!

The paintwork on the cabin is beyond reproach. It looks like tarnished metal, not painted plastic, with mottled colors, stains running down the walls, and uneven areas of age and rust. You flick your fingernail against this thing, and you expect it to clang, not thunk. Wonderful, wonderful work. It does look a bit sparse, though. Good thing we get a ton of cool accessories!

We'll start with the furniture. Nemo has a small desk and a chair to go with it. The chair legs are sculpted to look like fish, and the back is a giant seashell - the rear still has the shell patterns, while the front is padded for comfort. The figure can't sit in the chair, sadly, but it's still a nice set piece. There's a large bucket, almost like an umbrella stand, with a starfish pattern around the side. There's also a ladder that sort of straddles the line between fixture and accessory: it doesn't plug in anywhere, but all it does is lean up against the wall, right? Well, you can jam it into the flooring wherever you like, as long as you're careful, and it does look nice as another "free standing" element.

The room looks furnished, now, but not lived-in. To rectify that, we have a whole assortment of stylish clutter, beginning with five real paper maps rolled into tubes and stashed in the umbrella stand. They're held together by rubberbands, so roll those off and you can unfurl the charts. Most unexpected! Along the same naval lines, there's a spyglass and a sextant. Are they just decorative, or does he use them when the sub surfaces?

On a more personal note, Nemo has a goblet and a pipe, an a fancy jewelry box with a hinged lid and real string handles. The box is sculpted to look like soft leather, and is decorated with shells and a repeat of Nemo's distinctive "N." There's a scale model of the Nautilus on a display stand, and a globe with an octopus gripping it tightly. There are two books, with fully sculpted (not just painted or stickered) covers. The best part about those is that the front and back covers are different, so you're really getting four books, even if you can't use them, all at once.

Finally, we have an accessory that tells a story: it's a shark's jawbone, set on a small podium for display. Behind the jaw are the bones of a human hand - a left hand, explaining why Nemo wears a large mechanical glove. Obviously a shark bit off his hand, and he immediately killed it in revenge. Possibly using the included rapier or scimitar, both of which fit in scabbards you can sling over his shoulder. The smaller blade has a seashell pommel, while the heavier blade has a handguard designed to look like a seahorse.

Mezco's 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea figures retailed for about $25. Today no one would bat an eye at that price, but back then, it was astronomical. Judging by the sticker on the package, I waited until it was 25% off before buying it. And though I've had Nemo himself out to play with before, I'd never opened the playset parts until I sat down to write this review. Nine years and I'd never really played with it? Nuts! This is an absolutely beautiful set, and I'd say one of the best toys of the decade. Cabin Control Nemo shows up pretty cheaply on eBay, so you owe it to yourself to pick one up. The figure is good and the accessories are nice, but even if you just buy it for the diorama, it's still well worth it.

-- 02/25/10

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