Freshly returned from three weeks of travel I had quite a stellar find at Toys Я Us. Once more as the only major retailer to carry Minimates it proved to be a major hauling ground for one of my most beloved lines (or styles... formats? Not sure exactly how best to describe Minimates)! As has been well documented I loathe excessive sculptural detail on Minimates which is essentially the aesthetic basis for the Pirate Raiders line so in lieu of constant and repetitve ranting (or at least to lessen it) allow me to do my best to get it all out of the way with one big I HATE HOW DETAILED THE SCULPTS ARE FOR THESE MINIMATES!!!!
DST - Calico Jack's Pirate Raiders: Calico Jack & Tom Brown
Ugh, what a lame name... "Calico Jack"... Its excusable only in that he was a real person, as yo recently pointed out, and was indeed the beau of famous Anne Bonney (so we can expect to see her in Series 2, unless the Femme Fatales one is meant to cover her inclusion). Of course a painfully obvious reason for centering it around Calico Jack is to blatantly cash in on Pirates of the Caribbean. Normally I'm okay with "allusions" to other franchises, but the designs here arent that great or interesting and the parallels are too blatant. At any rate, (excepting the horridly excessive sculptural detail) these are conceptually great examples of what Minimates could and should be - figures with at least one accessory per and alternate costumes or looks. Every single figure in this line has a removable torso piece or coat revealing a simple paint deco on the torso for a bit more casual look. Jack gets a loosened v-neck on his maroon shirt while Tom Brown gets nothing, which is insanely aggravating since he has the torso I'd most like to remove! His big giant pauldron looks kinda neat but it overhangs so much it severely restricts his right arm's movement, which is awesome for a harpooner such as he. It may shock you to know I'm not thrilled by Jack's look - the maroon is just an obvious "it's not Jack Sparrow's blue" and the Sparrow-esque tusseled hair over the bandana conspires with the rest of the outfit so make him look like little more than a romance novel cover. He doesn't stand out amongst these figures at all (the supernatural villain even wears a marroon coat too). A patchwork coat could have been more visually interesting/unique and played to the Calico moniker better.
DST - Calico Jack's Pirate Raiders: Charles Vane & "Old Dad the Cooper"
Much as Calico Jack clearly isn't Jack Sparrow, Charles Vanes obviously isn't Davy Jones. *sigh* Vanes is the most interesting or visually appealing of the captains, but there's still something too silly about him to really click. For all of the (unnecessary) sculptural detail on these figures they all skew pretty "fantastic" (in the "from a fantasy realm" sense). At least the coat is removable for an alternate costume below. Vanes possesses another Minimate-pet-peeve of mine: a unqiuely sculpted head. Thats right, it's all one solid piece, so hopefully you love that hat. At least "Old Dad" has a head cover, the whole thing slides off a standard Minimate head (like the recent Red Skull from Captain America) to reveal a skull. It's pretty neat looking with a sense of menace to it. However it's styling is very simplistic, like a Minimate should be, and clashes terribly with the hyper detailed torso, be it the sculpted bandolier cover or the muscly deco underneath. Its completely beyond me why there's no allusion to skeletal form on the chest deco or to zombie/flesh/unlife on the skull. It succeeds only to had a figure whose head is devoid of flesh. ...great. "Old Dad" also comes with a uniquely sculpted lower left leg, which is a peg leg using a spear for the peg. Kinda neat but the spear is about half a centimeter longer the right leg so the left one must also be bent. He still stands relatively well, though. It does bring to mind the Marvel Zombies Black Panther figure - it would sure be cool to see them bring back that crutch-arm for one of Vanes' henchmen.
DST - Calico Jack's Pirate Raiders: Jonathon Barnet & Nukpana
Hello not-Admiral-Norrington. Like Jack is too obviously a heartthrob, Barnet is too obviously a goodie-goodie hero. All the Captains wear their personalities on their sleeves in this line. I lament the total lack of subtlety. Under Barnett's ridiculous frock is a very simple naval shirt. It's nice but since none of the figures come with alternate hair pieces, hands or feet, he looks even more ridiculous without the coat. I suppose, though, we have acrued more than enough alternate pieces through out the other lines so maybe the idea is that they are encouraging us/kids to mix-and-mingle pieces across all the brands. Or maybe I just gave them a good cover. Nukpana is a pretty cool figure and a standout in the line as having no gawdy sculptural pieces, just a new loincoth piece. His alternate look comes from interchangeable right arms pieces since he is handless.
DST - Calico Jack's Pirate Raiders: Robert Deal & Nicholas Vanhoorn
Fake Barbossa comes with, oh, what's this? A maroon coat too? What fun. Lots of detail plenty of accessories - whatever. Vanhoorn is possibly the best figure in the line in that he is essentially the much-anticipated official Minimate zombie. A nice touch is that he and Vane use the same skin tone, so you can mix and match bodyparts that way. Look, here's the thing with sculptural detail on Minimates. Yes we all love sculpts to be more detailed than not, and yes we like things to be as accurate as possible to their source material (17th and 18th century piracy, though with a substantial Fantastical slant) but that stuff gets right in the way of the core Minimate format! The purpose of these figures from the outset was variation through paint and minimal additional pieces. While things shift and evolve, DST has just gone too far to the sculptural end on some of these guys, virtually castrating what made the format cool to begin with. Sure these guys had frilly coats and lots of adornment in real life, but you know what? They had noses and fingers too. If I wanted cartoonishly sculpted pirates I would collect those silly cutrate sets with the oversized sharks and octopii. I come to collect and will support endlessly the Minimate format because I do love the concept and when they're good they can be great but each extra slice of a knife, trace of a pin, or manipulation of clay moves Minimates further and further away from what they are. Don't believe me? Just look at the X-Men First Class 'mates.
DST - X-Men First Class: Emma Frost & Havok
This is probably the least exciting of the sets, mainly just because Emma isnt wearing her main costume from the film and there is something boring about the white jumpsuit look, maybe because the bulk of the figures are en-jumpsuited. Havok looks pretty cool with his chest-disc and overall high detail of the paint apps. X-Men: First Class famously went into production so fast that no merchandiser had time to develop product in order to get it out fast enough. Oh 20th Century Fox... if there isn't time to even develop toys for the fourth film in a franchise that probably means you haven't given the movie enough time to develop into being as good as could it be. But who cares about logic when you're making films to cash-in on the success of others (i.e. X-Men was rushed into production to ride the Thor/Cap tide). Fortunately though this turned out pretty well for us Minimate-purists as had DST time. I'm sure they whould have done unique sculpts for each of the torsos but Havok is proof that paint is best!
DST - X-Men First Class: Azazel & Beast
This is the "fancy" set of the line, i.e. the most colorful and elaborate. Beast reuses the hair, hands and feet from the cool '90s comics version along with the new bulked up torso, recently used for the Destroyer in the Thor series. Again, may case in favor of paint-over-sculpt is made excellently by this figure. The paint on the torso piece is so good it actually looks like a uniquely sculpted torso. Stellar work DST! Azazel pulls a lot of unique pieces from the new "Excalibur" Nightcrawler figure. The hair is really odd in that its sculpt is much smoother than the current Minimate aesthetic. Its harkens back to the Battlestar Galactica days, which is kind of the "golden era" of Minimates for me. However, the hair just looks bad next to the comparably hyper detailing of the rest of the line's hair. I'm not crazy about the faces of either of these figures, the "blue" Beast makeup in the film just looks tacky and cheap too me and the Azazel face here has no real sense of actor Jason Flemyng to it. The set also comes with 50% of the series' accessories - a Bamf! effect for Azazel. This is a great set and a logical pairing but by putting two of the three "freaks" together, also the two figures with the most non-standard parts, it really makes other sets like Emma & Havok feel like a ripoff.
DST - X-Men First Class: Shaw & Xavier
Kevin Bacon, man... who knew he'd be so awesome as a comicbook villain! I do wish he could have gotten to a more Mr. Sinister-y look in the film (it's really conspicuous considering how much else they forced into to the film) but performance is always more important than costume and the Bacon brought it home! Its too bad they couldn't have gone with his dark blue leisure suit from the back half of the film but what are you going to do? It likewise would have been cool to get some paint on the torso under the jacket piece for an alternate look. Xavier is, like the X-Men before him, another great execution of paint on a standard body. The face and hair make him look more like Marty McFly to me than James McAvoy, but I guess that's the gamble with Minimates. A blast effect or something for Shaw would also have been nice, like the Emma & Havok set there's just something kind of lifeless about this pack.
DST - X-Men First Class: Magento & Mystique
This is the set I was most looking forward from the series, mainly because at C2E2 they showed Magneto would be coming with his Helment. It's the same helmet from the recent Toys Я Us series just repainted into movie colors. Its works and all, but feels like a cheat to me. I think they had enough time to have their sculptors in China suclpt out a new or retool an exciting helment in the much cooler, simpler style shown in the movie. Both figures are, again, greatly painted, with lines so awesomely clean consider how detailed and small they are. It would have been cool to get an alternate head for Mystique in human form, but it's just tricky to get that to work out considering the torso paint. This is the kind of set that bugs me because I'd love two Magnetos for helmet on and off looks, but I have no need of a second Mystique (just like the variant packs of yesteryear). I would have preferred they pack Mystique with Xavier and then Shaw with Magneto, giving Shaw some alternate deco under his coat. Those pairings make more sense considering the film, and would have happily allowed for upselling the latter set.
Hasbro - Marvel Universe: First Class Cyclops & Marvel Girl
Since they couldn't do figures for the movie they did figures for the comic, which is fantastic because I love those costumes! The figures are just kitbashes using some of the weaker Marvel Universe bodies [staright from the "Dark Phoneix" comic pack], so posing isn't too great (looking at you, Not-able-to-touch-your-visor Cyclops). Overall the paint is relatively clean considering the rest of the line, but this set is nothing special. Here's hoping for Beast and Angel figures in the same outfit!
Mattel - DC Universe Action League: Kilowog & Zilius Vox
Now this is a killer set - a perfect meeting of style and sculpt! Kilowog is the biggest (regular) figure Mattel has done yet in this format and he looks great. Sadly he has no neck articulation with all his fleshy pink portion being a seperate piece from the torso. A pretty smart move because it allows less chance for bad paint (though the flesh tone is painted!) and gives more flexibility for reuse of the parts - except that the black portions on the sides of the green are actually outlined in green, so who knows. Vox is equally unique and cool, a pleasant change from all other two-packs in this third series that already invokes a straight repaint and a straight rerelease. I don't rightly recognize him from the comics, but he looks great. Both upper face and lower jaw are separate pieces glued in place (I can see this easily becoming an Orange Lantern Glomulous), once more with the fleshtone painted. Man, just the simple application of fleshtone paint elevates the overall quality of these figures so much! the rest of the figure though is cast in red plastic and his left hand/glove has some pretty big black smudgery on it.
Mattel - DC Universe Action League: Saint Walker & Hal Jordan
Hal comes in his comic-accurate half green/half blue outfit from back when the first non-green ring jumped on him. Sadly this one comes with only a green ring - for shame! The paint is pretty solid considering the intricacy and hit-and-miss-ness these figure often suffer. He's a 100% the same sculpt as the Hal from Series 1, so... yay. To help mix things up, though, he actually includes an accessory, the translucent green energy...thing which can fit over just about any like-sized left hand. Saint Walker is our all-new figure for this set and he doesn't dissappoint. Well, I will complain that he, like many of these figures (but especially in this instance), has a weird pose that's too dynamic to allow for a lot of good alternate looks.
NECA - Resident Evil: HUNK
I've been wanting this guy for awhile and could never find him upon initial release, and it took so long for this third series of "classics" to come out I thought it just would never happen. I was wrong and here he is. The good news: cool looking character design, comes with four accessories (in addition to his gun he gets an opening briefcase, a cool little cannister with a green strand of somethingorother suspended within and a stand which he doesn't really need), and has one of the best balljointed necks I've seen in a long time. The bad news: the gun is too small, the briefcase he can't really hold which is too thin to hold anything, but most importantly - the articulation is way too limited. He gets a swivel waist, balljointed shoulders, swivel elbows, wrists and a balljointed head. Its a combindation of the odd, hunched pose and the horrible angled-swivel elbows that flat out ruin this figure. There's very little you can do with him. It really highlights how far NECA has come in "understanding" how important articulation is - thank god that they are actually getting better over time than the opposite (like many companies).