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The Phantom

The Original Superheroes
by yo go re

"Maybe they'll do a comic version in the future, with a darker purple, plus the blue-and-black-striped trunks, rather than solid purple?"

Well, I guess we asked for this...

The myth of "The Ghost Who Walks" began in 1536, when the father of British sailor Christopher Walker was killed during a pirate attack. Swearing an oath on the skull of his father's murderer to fight evil, Christopher became The Phantom, a legacy that would continue for centuries, passing from father to son. Kit Walker, the 21st Phantom, lives in Skull Cave with his wife Diana Palmer, two loyal animal companions - wolf Devil and horse Hero - and Guran, his best friend since boyhood.

Say what you will about King Features, the content distribution syndicate best known for its newspaper comics, but they're really making a push to market their superhero-ish characters. Both NECA and Boss Fight Studio have the King Features license for different scales and styles, and NECA has just started their third distinct subline for the brand: first there were the Defenders of the Earth figures, based on the old cartoon; then the "Classic Toy Appearance" exclusives; and now The Original Superheroes, which goes back to the archetypal strips where these characters first appeared. (And if that weren't enough, there's soon going to be a two-pack inspired by the Flash Gordon movie, meaning a fourth style of figures available.)

One advantage all these little sub-brands provide is the opportunity to reuse molds. So this figure is fundamentally identical to the one we reviewed last year, with the Djordje Djokovic "superhero" sculpt that makes him look so powerful and exaggerated. His sleeves are molded with elastic cuffs, like he's wearing a very tight sweatshirt, and his hands have his famous rings molded on the middle finger of each hand. The only sculptural difference? This time his belt has holsters hanging from the sides, because the cartoon wasn't as violent as the comicstrip.

According to the packaging, this figure is largely based on the Phantom interpretation by the legendary comics artist Sy Barry. What does that mean for us? Not much, really, since there wasn't a huge difference in the way Phantom's ever been drawn, and this is the existing head mold anyway, so for it to be artist-specific, it would have had to be before now, too.

Phantom's costume is iconic, a solid purple bodysuit with a black mask. The animated figure was a slightly disappointing shade, lighter than you'd expect, but this version is nice and dark, with even darker shadows airbrushed on. His trunks are bright blue with wide, diagonal, black stripes, a feature the cartoon didn't share. The box proclaims the figure has glow-in-the-dark eyes, and it's a good thing it does: they take ages to charge, so I might never have noticed otehrwise. The skull symbol on his belt lights up, too, but the box leaves that one to be a secret.

There have been no changes to the articulation. the Phantom still has hinged toes and torso; double-hinged elbows and knees; swivel/hinged ankles, hips, wrists, and shoulders; swivel boots, thighs, waist, and biceps; and a barbell-jointed head. Every single joint moved smoothly straight out of the package: nothing stiff, nothing stuck, and nothing broken. It's really the best NECA figure I've gotten in a while! There isn't even paint scraping off the hand or foot joints. The prototype photos showed the hands, at least having purple plastic for the pegs that go into the arms, but on the final product them seem to be pink.

The figure includes his big pistols, with removable muzzle flashes and hands that have the trigger fingers extended so he can fire the guns. There's a whip with a bendable wire lash and the right hand to hold that, and another right hand that's open wide enough to cradle the Oath Skull, upon which each new Phantom swears to destroy greed, cruelty, and injustice in all its forms. NECA has no shortage of skulls from previous lines, but this is a new mold with a hinged jaw, missing teeth, and a big fatal wound on the top. It's really nice looking, and a cool inclusion. There's even a hole underneath so you could swap it onto a different body if you felt like it.

The Original Superheroes packaging is super stylish. The outer box fades from red to orange as you move down, and the insert behind the figure is light blue for contrast. Since this figure marks the Phantom's 85th anniversary (or would have, if it made it out last year), the box is designed to look aged, with white "shelf wear" printed alon the corners of the box. We've seen similar things with Star Wars toys. There's a dramatic portrait of the Phantom painted in the lower left corner, and fancy photos of the figures in complex diorama scenes on the back. All that was done by Djokovic as well, because he just wasn't doing enough already, I guess? Did he also pack all the toys himself and drive them to the stores?

The first time I saw any figures from this Original Superheroes line, it was Flash and Ming, with no Phantom to be seen - the same thing that happened with the Defenders of the Earth, because Phantom is popular, I guess. Weirdly, despite being available for the first time, those two already had Walmart clearance stickers on them; a different store still had them all at full price when I finally found Phantom. I don't mind too much, because this is a step up from the previous Phantom toy. But you know, hopefully some day NECA actually gets around to releasing those Mandrake the Magician and Lothar figures they've been showing off.

-- 02/20/22

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