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Marvel Universe
by yo go re

Some fans bemoaned the rebirth of Marvel Legends, blaming the return of high-quality 6" figures for the decline in quality in the 4" lines (see, for instance, the awful Iron Man 3 and Wolverine toys). Really, kids? Have you forgotten how "action feature-y" half the Wolverine Origins toys were? Have you forgotten that Marvel Universe exists?

Evildoers who encounter this legendary warrior take their places in the pages of history for an inglorious reason: getting their clocks cleaned by the fist of an immortal! The son of Zeus has found many an adventure in the world beyond Olympus. His strength - rivaled perhaps by none - has enabled him to win many victories as a vigilant protector of good and courageous member of the Avengers. He never shies away from battle, nor from a chance to enjoy the spoils a rousing victory brings.

I never would have thought it, but Hercules is an underrated Marvel character. He's a perfect example of why we say there's no such thing as a bad character, just bad writers: he was created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby in 1965, and promptly spent the next 40 years being the emergency back-up Thor. The highlight of his superheroic career was getting beaten into a coma by the Wrecking Crew. Then he got to do some awesome stuff during Civil War, took over Hulk's book after World War Hulk, got his own book(s) after that ended and was suddenly the centerpiece of a couple crossovers. All because the writing got good.

Unlike the Marvel Legends Hercules, which saw the distinguished demigod in his classic "leg straps and skirt" costume, this Marvel Universe version is in his '80s costume. It first debuted in Avengers #256, and the letter column in the back of the issue credits the design to John Byrne. Now, Byrne's a good designer, but come on: this is just He-Man. The costume was designed in 1985, He-Man had been in comics since 1982, Byrne turned Hercules into He-Man. Little trunks with a big belt, armbands, boots that come to the shins, and a harness that goes across the chest. It's He-Man! This isn't a bad costume, it's just... we can all tell it's He-Man.

There's no shame in Byrne copying pop culture for the Prince of Power: Jack Kirby did the same thing in '65. When Herc first appeared, he looked identical to Steve Reeves, the bodybuilder-turned-actor who had portrayed Hercules in several Italian films in the late '50s - even his haircut was the same! This Hercules doesn't look like Reeves, but he still looks like Hercules. Make sense?

The figure is an entirely new sculpt, because not even the biggest previous body (other than the behemoth one) was huge and muscular enough to properly capture Hercules' mighty frame. He's definitely the most "ripped" MU figure yet: he's got the biggest muscles, the largest limbs, and the widest frame. His belt and harness are separate pices (but not removable), while his bracers and sandals are sculpted on. Yes, those are sandals - you can see his ten little piggies poking out the front end, and his heels in the back. That's a nice Mediterranean touch, making it clear his origins aren't in the world of modern superheroes. The giant H belt buckle makes sense for a guy as full of himself as Herc, and the harness sereves several purposes: it's H-shaped, carrying that theme upward without directly duplicating it; it's green, meaning his trunks aren't the only spot of color on his body; from a design standpoint, it breaks up the expanse of his upper body; and finally, with its metal studs, it easily suggests strength and power.

Herc's articulation is great. He's got a balljointed head, hinged neck, swivel/hinge shoulders, swivel biceps, hinged elbows, and swivel/hinge wrists. His chest is either a balljoint or a swivel/hinge combo: it turns side-to-side and leans back-and-forth, but it doesn't seem to want to lean to the side at all. His hips are balljoints, and his thighs swivel. He gets double-hinged knees, and his ankles are the swivel/hinge sort that duplicate the range of motion of a rocker joint. Oh, and he has swivels in his shins where the sandal-boots end! The shoulders are a tad stiff when moving laterally, to the point that the arms have pulled off the pegs a few times - still, you'd rather they pull off than they break, right?

Marvel Universe toys no longer come with the "paper accessories" they used to, but Hercules isn't empty-handed. He carries the golden Adamantine club forged for him by Hephaestus. Made of the legendary material that Wolverine's adamantium was named after, Herc's cudgel has withstood direct blows from Mjolnir. It' so powerful, in fact, that he rarely uses it: he recognizes that it would be too much force for most of the enemies he faces here on Earth. Its design has changed many times over the years, but this is a pretty classic look, with a large head, short handle, and a thick brown strap hanging off the end. The figure can hold the club in either hand.

Hercules was announced at SDCC 2011, solicited in January 2013, and finally reached stores in May. Kind of a slow burn, there. But the figure is so good, the wait is worth it - and anyone who says Marvel Legends is killing the 4"ers doesn't know what they're talking about. This is a beautiful toy.

-- 07/01/13

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