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King Features
by yo go re

So you're telling me this character's entire defining trait is that he refuses to say "thank you" en français?

You know how there's that thing where Batman's "classic" villains are considered such mainly because they appeared on the Adam West TV show, but the reason they appeared on the Adam West TV show is mainly because they happened to appear in the comics right when the producers were looking for content? The same thing is true for Ming the Merciless, here: although he's nearly synonymous with Flash Gordon today, he's far from the only villain (and Planet Mongo far from the only setting) Flash dealt with in his early days. It's just that when it came time to make the original movie serial, there had just been a big Mongo storyline, so that's what the filmmakers adapted.

(And lest you think this kind of publicity only happened in the olden days, remember that nobody had thought about Obadiah Stane since his death in 1985 until Iron Man opened in 2007, and then suddenly there was a previously unmentioned son making Tony Stark's life hell in 2008.)

Ming was created in 1934, and is pretty obviously a Fu-Manchu-type "yellow peril" villain - not only was he bald, with pointy facial hair and arching eyebrows, but he's named after one of China's most well-known ruling dynasties, his home planet of Mongo sounds an awful lot like "Mongol" as well. This version, based on the old Mattel toy, retains the bifurcated beard and the imperious attitude, but hides his bald head beneath a blue skullcap with a fin over the top. Because sci-fi.

NECA's other Ming was based on the '80s Defenders of the Earth cartoon, which gave him weird robes and green skin - presumably to make him less overtly "Evil Asian," because the generation that brought us "I can't be racist, I have a black friend!" also brought us "this man can't be an ethnic stereotype, he has a non-human skin color!" The Mattel figure that inspired this one was much more understated, dressing Ming in a tan uniform with dark blue boots, orange gloves, and orange details on the collar and shoulders. The rope connecting two small golden discs on his chest gives him a vaguely military feel, without straight-up dressing him like a dictator. It is kind of weird, though, that his face is pretty much the same color as his clothes.

Speaking of paint oddities, my toy has a mistake! We know people love keeping track of these things, so add this one to the spreadsheet: Ming's missing an eyebrow! His left eyebrow is right there, as black as night, but his right had its app skipped. Credit to Djordje Djokovic's sculpt for still suggesting a brow so hard that I didn't even notice until after I'd opened the figure.

Ming's articulation is normal for these King Features figures, and all the joints worked just fine straight out of the tray. He has hinged toes, swivel/hinge ankles, swivel boots, double-hinge knees, swivel thighs, balljointed hips, swivel waist, hinged chest, swivel/​hinge wrists, double-hinge elbows, swivel biceps, swivel/hinge shoulders, and a balljointed head. The figure includes both open and closed right hands, so he can hold the included silver space pistol if you want.

The packaging for these two figures is like Hasbro's Marvel Legends Retro Collection: a giant blister card designed to homage the ancient toy cards. In fact, they even use the same "glue the blister inside a folded-over card instead of to the front of a single sheet" trick to help prevent damage. And make them incredibly hard to open. These toys are based on Mattel's line from 1979 - a line Mattel only made because everyone was trying to copy Kenner's success with Star Wars. (And because the world is small and insular, the only reason George Lucas made Star Wars in the first place was that he couldn't get the Flash Gordon rights from Dino DeLaurentis.) The front of the card uses the same graphics as the 1979 action figures, but have a much nicer back: four decades ago, it was just blank white with art of the other figures, but now we at least get a neat photo of the toys on some sort of alien terrain.

If I had known Flash and Ming were going to be available at Target, I definitely wouldn't have bought them from NECA's site - not because they're not cool, but because I hate paying shipping for things I should be able to get myself. Every dollar that goes into a shipping box is one less dollar to spend on important things! The "Classic Toy Appearance" Ming isn't as iconic as Flash was, but at least his skin isn't mint green any more.

-- 12/26/21

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