When Marvel Legends debuted, it was revolutionary: improved sculpts, improved articulation, all that. Of course, just a few years later, the figures look pretty rudimentary. Perhaps that's why ToyBiz seems so intent on remaking them: we're getting a new Hulk in series nine, and series eight featured updates of both Iron Man and Captain America.
In 1940, as America prepared for war, young and frail Steve Rogers volunteered for an experiment that transformed him into the ultimate physical specimen: Captain America. Enhanced by the Super-Soldier Serum, Captain America's agility, strength, endurance and reaction time were superior to those of an Olympic-level athlete. Cap also mastered a number of fighting forms, including American-style boxing and judo. These abilities, combined with his indestructible shield, made him one of the finest human combatants Earth had ever known. Steve Rogers battled the Nazis until a mishap placed him in suspended animation deep within the Himalayan Mountains. Decades later he was discovered by Tony Stark and S.H.I.E.L.D. and became a cornerstone of the Ultimates.
So as you can see, this isn't the "real" Captain America, but rather the "Ultimate" version, which is a good choice: not only does Ultimate Cap have a cooler costume, he's much more of a badass. Mainline Marvel Cap is an idealist, a living symbol trying to embody the best parts of America; Ultimate Marvel Cap is more of a meat-and-potatoes guy, just a regular working soldier in a fancy suit of clothes.
The Ultimate line is Marvel's attempt to tell the best stories they can: by stripping away 40 years of continuity and in-jokes, the creators can appeal to new readers. Rather than piss off all the long-time fans by just restarting the comics at zero, they created another universe in which to play.
Standing 6 1/2" tall, Ultimate Captain America is a much better figure than the ML1 Cap. He moves at the neck, shoulders, biceps, elbows, mid-gloves, wrists, fingers, stomach, waist, hips, thighs, knees, boots, ankles and toes. In addition to balljoints, his shoulders also have that back-and-forth sliding joint that a lot of Legends are getting now. He's got four individual fingers on each hand, so you can get some nice commanding poses out of him.
Captain America is very well scultped, putting the old version to shame. While that figure's chest and upper arms were painted to look like chain mail, this time every little scale is sculpted, which brings up an interesting question: whenever there's a discussion of Cap's costume, it's referred to as chain mail; why, then, is it repesented as overlapping scales instead of interlinking rings? I'm sure it's just a quirk of the art, but it's been that way for 60 years, now - you'd thnk someone would notice and either change what it's called or how it's drawn.
The Ultimate costume looks more like something someone would wear in battle than a plain costume. It's more detailed, with simple things like seams and pockets giving it a sense of reality. The stars on his chest and shoulders are sculped on. He doesn't have those silly little wings on his head any more, which is a big plus all by itself. Rather than the buccaneer boots and bright red gloves of the original, Ultimate Cap is wearing brown leather that looks cracked and worn after years of use. He's even got a bit of a utility belt.
Perhaps the subtlest change is the grey stripes added to the sides of the costume - they're not major, but they add a nice modern look to an old design. In WWII, Ultimate Captain America wore a field jacket, mask and helmet decorated with his standard colors - that design was already made into an action figure for the Marvel Select line by DST. We get the same shield with this figure that we got with the last one, though this time the fold-away clasp that clips on his wrist is brown instead of gray.
There is a variant Classic Captain America released in this series, as well. For ML8, ToyBiz has started providing different card inserts for their variant figures, with different biographical text:
In 1940, as America prepared for war, a frail young man volunteered for an experiment that transformed him into the ultimate physical specimen: the American Super-Soldier. Steve Rogers battled Nazis until a freak mishap placed him in suspended animation for decades. When he awakened, Rogers was truly a man out of time, though no less committed to fighting the evils of a perilous new era!
This isn't the WWII version of Ultimate Cap, as many people expected, but a more "mainline" attempt - though the brown boots and gloves are there (would it have been so hard to paint them red?), he's got the classic wings on his head, plus a few other sculptural embellishments on his mask. It's a simple change, but it caused a bit of a headache for collectors.
When ML8 first appeared, the two had one paint app switched: Classic Cap had the grey stripes, while Ultimate Cap was pure blue. Consequently, there are actually four variants of this figure available, since ToyBiz went back and fixed the mistake. Since the corrected versions started showing up before some places had even seen any ML8 figures, it seems that the error figures will be harder to find.
Ultimate Captain America's display base is a simple 4 1/4" circle with a golden eagle and a large A. There are a few bullet holes in the surface, and a hole for the clear plastic "jumping" stand that we've seen before with Deadpool and the Fantastic Four. It fits a hole in Cap's back, allowing for some creative posing. It's not bad, but Cap looks much cooler on Ultimate Thor's Giant Man base.
Instead of a comic, Cap comes with a poster book that features images of both the Ultimate and regular versions of the character. It's a very nice selection, with most of the Ultimate Cap shots drawn from Bryan Hitch's artwork, but I really would rather have gotten a story instead of pin-ups.
The Ultimates are the new version of the Avengers, though the name sounds a lot more condescending: "The Avengers" says "we're here to help"; "The Ultimates" says "we're better than you." When it comes to Captain America, at least, they're right - he is better than the classic version.
Who's your favorite Ultimate character? Tell us on our message board, the Loafing Lounge.