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Lightning Gremlin

by yo go re

People wondered how we could review a figure that doesn't move. How? Hell, we've been doing that for years!

click to embiggen

The coolest thing about Gremlins 2 was all the new, crazy variations of the titular monsters. Take your standard boogen, give him an untested laboratory potion, and go nuts! That right there is a recipe for awesomeness.

When the Lightning Gremlin was first revealed a year ago at SDCC 2011, the general consensus was "how?" While all the other figures were, you know, "figures," the Lightning Gremlin appeared to be nothing more than an immobile series of shaped plastic plates layered over one another - there's no way that would be worth the same amount of money as a fully sculpted, fully articulated figure, even if the Gremlins' bodies could be reused and this one couldn't.

Well, after a year of waiting, we had our answer. NECA got TЯU to carry the Lightning Gremlin as an exclusive, so no, it's not being sold as a pack-in with another character (one of the popular guesses for how it would see release). Neither does it come with an ornate display base, in the form of a lab table or a lamp. It's just the Lightning Gremlin, by itself, in a clamshell (albeit a clamshell that's only about an inch thick, and so looks very odd when you first see it on the shelf). The trick is that instead of selling him for the same price as the other Gremlins, he sells for the lower Mogwai price. Seems like a fair compromise.

In the film, the Lightning Gremlin was created through traditional animation, rather than as a prop, so that presents a rather unique challenge for anyone looking to make a physical object that represents him. He was sculpted/fabricated by Thomas Gwyn, who came up with a clever solution: as mentioned above, the sculpt suggests multiple flat layers that overlap one another, but the angles are offset slightly, which fools the eye into thinking that he's vibrating or wiggling. It's a single solid chunk of plastic, but it appears to be in motion. Sound familiar?

It is just an appearance, though: Lightning Gremlin has no articulation whatsoever. He's got one pose and he's sticking to it. His mouth is wide open in a sinister laugh, and his triangular eyes point down in the center. His arms bend at the "elbow," and he's holding his hands palm up. He doesn't have any legs, just a stylized lightning bolt tail.

Rustin maintains that the prototype figure was actually fabricated from multiple panes of plastic that were assembled into the final piece, but looking at the SDCC '11 images, I think it was always a single lump of plastic. Sure, Gwyn almost certainly designed the toy by using different pieces, but there's no reason to believe the plan for the final figure was ever anything other than a single mold. There are three small holes on the back of the figure: one on each hand, and one on his "tail." They're not injection points, so we're not sure what they're about.

The packaging credits the paint to Jon Wardell and Geoffrey Trapp, but... what paint? Lightning Gremlin is cast in translucent blue plastic, and that's all there is for colors. The prototype had a cloudy light blue cast to it, but the final product is just electric blue. And honestly, that's a better choice: while the proto tried to duplicate the colors used for the animation in the film, this one allows the ambient light in your room to reflect through the body, catching edges and making him glow in unique ways.

Since the figure can't hover in mid-air, and he can't stand on the single point of his tail, he includes a base. It's a two-piece burst effect that snaps together and features slots that fit the bends of his tail perfectly. It's already assembled and in place when you take the figure out of the tray, so there shouldn't be any confusion about how to use it. Maybe it would be cool if there were a wall-mount bracket on the back, so he could seem to "fly" in your display, but it's not necessary.

If we have one complaint about the Lightning Gremlin (other than the lack of articulation, which we were fully aware of going into things, and the price, which can be chalked up to the usual "exclusive" tax), it would be the size. This nameless Gremlin may have been converted to pure electricity, but he was still the same general size as the others - the prototype followed suit, as you can see in that picture we keep linking to. The final production version, however? He's 7" tall, an inch taller than the rest of his friends - and if you judge him by the size of his head, he's about 30-40% larger than he should be. If they'd reduced his size, would we have been able to get the toy for $8 instead of $12? Or is he supposed to be in scale with the Mogwais instead of Gremlins? Maybe that's it.

We think of electricity as moving very fast. Lightning strikes can happen at up to 62 miles per second, for instance, but the electricity that allows you to read this right now moves through the wires at only .03 mph - literally the same speed that a snail crawls. How's that possible, if the lights come on as soon as you hit the switch? Consider a hose filled with marbles: if you push a new marble into one end, another comes out the other end immediately, but all the individual marbles would have moved very slowly. The individual electrons move along the wire slowly, but the wavefront moves very fast. Science!

And on that note, we'd wager that Lightning Gremlin is going to be a slow mover, as far as exclusives go: he's immobile and expensive, and that's sure to turn some people off. But the sculpt is really inventive and the overall execution is very nice. It's made for display, not for play, but I'm still glad to have him. I really hope that NECA gets to make all the crazy mutant Gremlins from Gremlins 2, and things would feel empty without Lightning. Maybe wait for one of those 20% Off coupons Toys Я Us sends out every so often, and don't expect any surprises once you open him, but this is a delightful oddity.

-- 07/14/12

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