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Leonardo as Creature from the Black Lagoon

Universal Monsters x Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
by yo go re

And with this figure, NECA has surpassed Playmates' TMNT Universal Monsters output: Playmates did two four-figure series, for a total of eight, and this is NECA's ninth. Considering six-month wait between Casey Jones and Donatello, and then the five month wait between Donatello and Raphael, we were certainly not expecting Leonardo to show up this fast!

It's a real creature feature
Wave your nerves goodbye!
Dive into pure terror!
See the slashing splashing sensation!
From the deepest depths of the sewer!
Packed to the gills with spears and fears!

We're running pretty low on unmade Universal Monsters. They've avoided doing Dracula so far, but other than that? Metaluna Mutant, either Jeckyll/Hyde or London After Midnight (since those would both be "creepy guy in top hat" and thus making both would be pointless)... you can't do the Hunchback of Notre Dame because it would be hard to come up with anything different enough from Leonardo's first figure, you can't do Son of Frankenstein because that would just be the Raphael with a furry vest, Werewolf of London wouldn't be distinct enough, a "Red Death" Phantom of the Opera might work but that's just Casey again, Smoking Robe Invisible Man would be a rehash, the Mole Man would be hard to recognize if you "Turtlized" its face in any way, The Fly isn't Universal... we're out of all the obvious ideas, so we're really looking forward to seeing what NECA comes up with next.

Like we said in the last review, "Leonardo as the Creature from the Black Lagoon" was one of the crossover figures Playmates made back in the '90s. In fact, in two years NECA has been doing these, this is only the second figure who's a direct update of one from back then (with the other being an unavoidable one). But our question remains: why him?

The past few figures have been really stellar creations, which is why it's so painful to say this one isn't. Maybe it's my biases showing (I don't love the Gill-man the way Monkey Boy and Rustin do) [then why are you the one hogging this review from us? --ed.], maybe it's just that it's following hot on the heels of some total winners (if I'd had to wait four more months for him to show up, I'd almost certainly be more appreciative/excited), but honestly? This isn't much.

The sculpt is beautiful - of course it is, Tony Cipriano did it. Every little inch of the body is pebbled with tiny scales that must have been a massive pain to sculpt so evenly, but this is more than just a Turtle body, because he's got the overlapping plates and extended fins you know from The Creech, and the big goofy lips. That's part of why this figure doesn't work as well as it could: if you turn a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle into a Frankenstein or a Mummy, it looks like a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle that's been turned into a Frankenstein or a Mummy; if you turn a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle into a Creature from the Black Lagoon, it just looks like... a minorly different Creature from the Black Lagoon. With some extra clothing on. Aquatic green guy is aquatic green guy is aquatic green guy. Even wearing a blue bandana and some pads on his joints, the "Turtle" half of the equation is weak.

The knee- and elbow-pads have a netting pattern on them, but you may not notice because they're so overshadowed by the actual fish net he's wearing instead of a belt. It even runs up over his shoulder the way his straps do! It's a sculpted piece, not softgoods, but that means it gets plenty of detail: the edges look like a different kind of rope than the woven netting, there are floats (or sinkers, depending on which side is supposed to be up) along the edge, and various fish hooks and bobbers stuck in it. It's a very well-made piece, and its grey manages to stand out from the green/yellow/brown of the body it's wrapped around. The toy also includes a small baggie with more line and hooks that can be wrapped onto the figure however you like, to make him even more encumbered. Or if you prefer, the fact that the net is PVC means that with some effort and determination, you might be able to work it off the figure entirely. I'm not going to try, but you certainly can.

The articulation is good enough that you can make him go swimming as you like, though it would be nice if the ties on his mask didn't keep the head from looking farther up. Oop, correction: the tie is a swivel, so you can move it out of the way; at taht point, the only thing keeping the head from moving back as far as it possibly could is the fin on the back of his neck. Leo has a barbell head, balljointed neck, swivel/hinge shoulders, double-swivel/hinge elbows, swivel/hinge wrists, balljointed hips, double-hinge knees with an additional swivel at the top, and swivel/hinge ankles. There's no sort of waist or chest joint, despite there being lines in the sculpt where one would fit perfectly. The pads on the elbows and knees are entirely separate from the body, just held in place physically instead of being glued or anything.

I was sold on Hunchback Leo because of all his fun accessories and the fact he could store them all in his shell. Creature from the Black Lagoon Leo really falls short in comparison: he's got three pairs of hands - wide, narrow, and holding - two katanas made from harpoons, a set of bone claws that clips onto his wrist, and a normal turtle. That's it? I suppose the net he wears could count, too, and the extra hooks, but it's still not much. The claw weapon is a nice reference to the fossilized Creature hand that started the movie's story, and making swords out of harpoons is at least thematic (even if having a piranha impaled on one must make it hard to fight).

Leonardo as Creature from the Black Lagoon is, by any measure, a good toy. It has a lovely sculpt, good articulation, accurate paint, and character-specific accessories. But it lacks the "spark" other designs have had. Videogame fanboys get pissy when their current fave gets a 7 out of 10 review, because they've been conditioned to believe anything below an 8.5 is a failing grade; this action figure's only quote/unquote "failing" is that it's a 7 in a line full of 8's and 9's. It'll be great in the full collection of them, but it won't be the star.

-- 05/02/24

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