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Stealth Beast

by yo go re

When he was created, the X-Men's Beast was a pretty useless character. He filled the nascent team's need for a strong guy, but that was about it. You couldn't even really tell the guy was a mutant - like Toad, the few quirks in his appearance could be chalked up to bad art rather than intentional design. That might be why, out of the original X-Men, Beast has gone through the most changes.

And really, that's no small feat. Angel's become Archangel, Iceman went through his "extreme" phase and Marvel Girl became a fiery engine of planetary destruction, but Beast? Beast is the hardcore champion of constant tweaking. Because writers and artists need to find something that actually works for him.

Hank McCoy possesses superhuman agility, strength, speed, endurance and dexterity. As an X-Man, the blue-furred Beast has dedicated the totality of his physical gifts and scientific genius to the creation of a better world for man and mutant!

Like we said, Beast was originally just a plain-looking, well-spoken guy. His mutant power may as well have been to use big words. Years later, while working on a serum with the potential to activate mutations, he drank the formula to prevent it from being stolen and finally got a distinctive look when he grew fangs and gray fur sprouted all over his body. Because printing technology really hadn't come that far from the days when the Hulk had to be turned green to keep from being a muddy mess on the page, Beast turned blue soon after. He then reverted to human, became dumb, got his fur back, regained his intelligence... it goes on.

His newest incarnation came from Grant Morrison's run on New X-Men. Grant introduced the concept of "secondary mutations," a plot contrivance that let him use the characters he wanted but give them new powers that would suit his story. Because, you know, if you're famous, you're allowed to change the rules of the game when you know you can't win. In any case, Beast's secondary mutation turned him from an ape-like form into one that looked more like a great cat. On the plus side, this did play to the strengths of artist Frank Quitely, who can't draw a human face to save his life.

In comic terms, the feline Beast is still a new development, so getting a figure of him this fast is impressive. Yes, ToyBiz has already started releasing figures based on the recent House of M storyline, but look at Mattel, who are still putting out figures of Supergirl in a costume she ditched years ago.

The sculpt is nice, particularly the head. No longer does Beast look like a blue Wolverine with an underbite - but to be honest, this isn't Frank Quitely's Beast, either. Frank drew him to look like, well, Beast; as in "Disney's Beauty and the ~." When he showed up in Joss Whedon's Astonishing X-Men, however, John Cassaday gave him a slight redesign, so he now looks like a blue version of Garfield, and that's what this figure represents. He's got the little cat ears poking out through his hair, and his muzzle looks like it should have stiff whiskers poking out.

One thing that Beast really hasn't had over the years is a decent costume. He's covered in blue fur, for crying out loud! If he combs himself right, he shouldn't even have to wear pants! Does Chewbacca wear boxers? No! Yet every freaking artist seems to want to cover Beast up from head to toe. Quitely put him in a full leather suit with a bulky coat, and Cassady gave him some... thing. Really, this figure's costume is better than anything Cat-Head Beast has worn in the comics. Yes, it covers most of his body, but the design is good.

The costume looks most like the outfit Beast wore with the (sigh) X-Treme X-Men team. It's a short-sleeved black bodysuit with just a few spots of bright green highlights. Stealth Beast looks positively stealthy! He's wearing fingerless gloves that reach to his forearms and has some remarkably huge metal shin guards. Like a '90s costume, there are straps and pouches everywhere. Really, while some of the X-Men Classics designs are stupid ["some?" --ed.], Stealth Beast is looking very good. There's a very heavy black wash on Beast's blue fur, so you might have to compare a few paint jobs before you find one you like.

Articulation is at a suitable level for a gymnastic character like old Hank, here. He's got toes, ankles, knees, hips, waist, torso, shoulders, elbows, forearms, wrists, fingers and head. The balljoint that serves as his neck is really nice, since it lets you pose him like an inquisitive cat, and really, what more could you want? The hands aren't quite right, since he's sculpted with four fingers and a thumb on each - as part of his "devolution," Hank now has paws that comprise three fingers and a... I don't know, dew claw? Thumb nubbin? Something. But not real hands.

Stealth Beast has a few accessories, most of which add all of nothing to the figure. He's got a gun, a length of rope and a grapping hook launcher. Nope, the rope looks really cool looped around his chest, and ToyBiz could have just sculpted it on, so bonus points for making it a separate piece. Hank doesn't seem like the gun type, but it fits in the holster at his back and you can pretend it's some ridiculously advanced hypodermic injector. But come on, a grappling hook launcher?

This is Beast! He could climb sheer walls with his bare feet even before he got all furry and wild. What possible use would he have for a grappling hook? Heck, it's not even designed for him. Look at the little cap that keeps the grapple attached to the gun: it's got Spider-Man eyes on it! And, even more than Beast, why would Spider-Man need a grappling hook? Gah! Throw this one in the Forgotten Accessories Bin and be done with it.

There's a variant of Stealth Beast available, with his normal head. Originally the old-style head was supposed to be the standard version, with the cat face harder to find; but, just like with X-23, the two got switched before they came out. Thankfully, that means you'll have an easier time finding the modern Beast - there are still places where you can find the ML4 Beast on the shelves, so who needs a retread? Get yourself a big blue kitty and you're one step closer to assembling a pseudo-Astonishing X-Men team.

-- 05/25/06

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