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Swarm

Spider-Man: Spider-Force
by yo go re

In 1997, ToyBiz released a five-figure subline of their Spider-Man toys called "Spider-Force." It was one Spidey and four other insect-themed characters, none of whom had had toys before: Tarantula, Wasp, Beetle and Swarm.

Swarm is perhaps Spidey's most unique villain. Swarm, being a psychic entity, has no physical body to speak of. Rather, he is made up of thousands of bees mentally controlled to from a psychical being and a bizarre adversary. By commanding any number of bees to strike at his will and the added protection of his Bee Battle Armor, Swarm is a menace to all who dare cross his path.

I had vivid memories of Swarm from his one-episode appearance on Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends - or more accurately, I remembered the way the people under his command kept chanting "zzzwarm, zzzwarm, zzzwarm!" I never read a comic with him in it until 1996's Sensational Spider-Man #9-10, so I didn't know he was part of the Supervillain Shuffle, having been introduced to fight the Champions. I also didn't know he was a Nazi scientist, since the cartoon wasn't about to tell kids that, were they?

Swarm is just a semi-sentient colony of bees over a human skeleton, who inexplicably have decided to wear a hooded cape and big gloves. True to the era, the figure is rather pre-posed: his torso is twisted and he's leaning to the side. Every inch of him that's not his gloves or the soles of his feet has a lumpy, uneven texture - their way of showing that he's made of bees. You know how Black Panther had that sort of "nubbly" texture to him? It's like that, but with larger bumps. Obviously there was no way they could sculpt individual insects - not even McFarlane would have been able to do that at their peak [and they even tried! --ed.] - but this is a good way of showing it on a toy.

The figure is cast from translucent yellow plastic, though most of him is so thick that the light can barely get through. There are a few spots of paint to add detail - they look dark in person, but photograph very light. The paint is sort of a dark silver-violet, which is why a camera flash makes it so angry. His eyes and gums are bright red, and his teeth are clean white (since there's a skull inside his head, it's not weird that he'd have teeth). The purple chosen for his clothes is deep and vibrant, but since the cape is nealy floor-length, again, almost no light comes through the figure.

You can remove the cape easily, and if you're really willing to work at it, you can get his hood off as well. It's pretty hard, though: I did it once when I got him, once for this review, and I'm probably never going to do it again. Why does he wear clothes, anyway? It's not like he needs to bundle up for warmth: bees fend off attacking wasps by balling up on them and cooking them with body heat.

Since there's a human skeleton in the center of Swarm, he still needs to move like a man (as opposed to, say, Sandman). The figure has a swivel neck, swivel shoulders, hinged elbows, T-hips, hinged knees and hinged ankles. They could have easily put swivels at the top of his gloves, but that was still a fairly rare idea in the late '90s. Imagine how loud it would be to be anywhere near Swarm: all that constant buzzing would have to drive you crazy. It would also make it pretty easy for any heroes to track him down after a crime. "Which way did he go? Oh, in the direction of the 125 decibel humming sound? Okay."

All the Spider-Force figures came with "transforming insect armor" - add-on pieces to make them look even more buggy. Unfortunately, to put Swarm's armor on, you have to take his hood off, and that's not easy. He does end up looking pretty awesome, though: the armor includes a head/chestpiece, a bit for the back with wings, stingers on each hand and shinguards with additional legs sticking out the sides. He goes from looking like a bunch of bees in the shape of a man to a single mutant bug, and the only articulation that's lost is the neck.

What's really cool, however, is if you don't want Swarm to wear all that stuff, you can assemble the pieces of armor into a giant bee. A giant hollow bee, but a giant bee nonetheless. The wings are balljointed, and are 9½" wide at the most. You can swivel the legs a little bit, too. The yellow and black are nice and solid and the huge eyes are red, while the wings are a metallic irridescent green. You know that email forward that says according to physics bees' wings are too small to allow them to fly? It's bullcrap. Yes, their wings would be too small for flight... if they flew like an airplane, but they don't; they fly like a helicopter, and a moving airfoil generates more lift than a fixed airfoil, which is why helicoper blades are smaller than airplane wings.

Swarm is very much a late-'90s ToyBiz figure: more articulation than their competitors, a sculpt that is only a little below modern standards, and a bit of dynamic pre-posing. His accessories are fun whether you want him to use them or just leave them laying around - especially since both the comics and the cartoon have, at times, had his powers include the ability to increase bees to giant size. Giant bees! Swarm's never had any other figures, and he's obscure enough that he may never get one again. So if you want this... well, not really "classic," but definitely "memorable" Spidey villain, this is a great way to get him.

-- 02/06/12


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