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by Monkey Boy

For such an iconic comic character, Venom has had some trouble in the action figure department. Most modern (meaning Spider-Man Classics and beyond) Venom figures seem to be lacking a certain... something. He seems like an easy enough character to nail down... big bulky black costume Spider-Man body, scary face with big mouth full of teeth, wagging tongue optional... and yet you still end up with duck-face Venom, or Rubber-face Venom, or Sabretooth-elbows Venom. So maybe it shouldn't come as a surprise that one of the best - if not the best - Venom figures isn't really the "Venom" most fans know and love (or hate).

Mac Gargan isn't the first psycho to meld with the Venom symbiote, but he's certainly the most dangerous by far. Originally a regular guy hired by J. Jonah Jameson to take down Spider-Man, his sanity was damaged by the experiment that gave him his powers. It was destroyed entirely by his bond with the symbiote. Now, with full knowledge of the web-slinger's secret identity, he becomes the most dangerous foe Spider-Man has ever faced!

That's the bio on the package, and I gotta say it's a little hyperbolic. To call Mac Gargan the most dangerous psycho "by far" to meld with the Venom symbiote cheapens the years and years Eddie Brock successfully terrorized Spider-Man. Gargan may be the currently active Venom, but Brock is the man most people identify with the symbiote.

Also, I'm not sure Gargan ever had "powers" of his own... the "experiment" mentioned in the bio is a reference to Mac's previous identity as the Scorpion, but as far as I know it's the suit that had all the power, not Gargan himself. Just before he assumes the mantle of Venom, he seems a pretty unremarkable fellow. Spider-Man even fails to recognize Mac when the latter reveals himself - by name!! - as the "mastermind" who discovered Spidey's secret identity and plotted to destroy his life. Of course, he wasn't the true mastermind, but the point is, he was unmemorable enough that without his suit, Spidey couldn't even remember who he was.

That all changed when the symbiote found him. Eddie Brock, stricken with cancer and remorseful of his years of villainy, decided to do the honorable thing and kill himself and the symbiote... just kidding, he auctioned Venom off to he highest bidder (for charity of course)! The winner was a mob boss who wanted his pansy son to be more intimidating, and so the symbiote was bonded to young Angelo. The symbiote later decided that Angelo lacked the cojones to really carry the mantle of Venom, and so it left him... at quite an unfortunate moment (he was in between buildings at the time). Soon the symbiote, who was in need of a host, found Gargan, who was without a suit, and it was a match worthy of eHarmony. Mac's Venom has been bouncing around here and there, but damned if I've read any of the comics. Hasbro has released a figure of him in their Spider-Man line, however, and I'm all over that.

Visually, Mac's Venom is similar to Brock's Venom, with a few key differences. Mac has sunken eyes that peek out from the white Spider-Man style "lenses" on his face, as opposed to Brock's costume, which had the lenses but lacked the actual eyes. And because Mac isn't very imaginative and likes to fall back on his old tricks, he's got a big honkin' Scorpion tail stickin' out of his back.

The sculpt of the figure really represents this all well, with big, bulky, veiny, oversized musculature and a scorpion tail detailed enough to have been ripped off of some nature toy... or something. It really is a marvel, all ridges and pebbly texture; Venorpion's scorpion tail is modeled after an actual scorpion, not the segmented tube that made up the rear of the original Scorpion costume. His head is also very nice, with his sunken eyes and a big toothy grin. It almost looks like he has an articulated jaw, but alas he does not.

His paint is mostly black and white, with a very dark, subtle blue airbrushing in some spots. It only seems apparent under certain lighting conditions, and while it seems a bit unnecessary, we'll take it over an overly noticeable bright blue airbrushing any day of the week. He's got pink gums, red eyes, and a pink tongue with a red wash. Or is it a red tongue with a pink wash? The white of his spider emblem is done fairly well, but the edges aren't totally crisp and there's some paint scraping off already.

He's plenty articulated, but he's missing a few joints that most people take for granted in today's toy world. He's got a balljointed neck, balljointed shoulders, hinged elbows, balljointed wrists, a balljointed torso (though the back and forth motion is very loose, especially with the tail on), a peg waist, balljointed hips, double-hinged knees, and hinged ankles. You might notice that he lacks peg bicep and thigh joints.

I can forgive this, however, because he also has five balljoints in his scorpion tail. Uh, those are ToyBiz-style swivel-hinge balljoints, not Hasbro-style ball-and-socket balljoints. You can pose the tail in a lot of ways, and it really adds a lot of play value to the figure. The tail can drag behind him like a crocodile, or be poised over his shoulders, ready to strike. It may look like it would affect the figure's balance, but even with the tail he stands quite well. He can also hang quite handily by the hooked stinger, if you can find something sturdy enough to hook it around. And if you don't like it? You can pop it out of his back safely with just a bit of force. It's packaged next to him in the package, and fits into a precisely shaped hole in his back. One downside? Removing it does leave a big square hole in the middle of his spider emblem.

Other than the removable tail, Gargan-Venom has no accessories, but he's a big guy so I can cut him some slack. Better than having some useless blob of goo that clips onto his wrist and launches a tiny Venom head. He's also got no action feature, and thank Jeebus for that. Venom is just a solid, well-sculpted, well-articulated figure with a lot of play value. It really makes me wish I could be a child again, because they just didn't make 'em like this when I was a young'un. I could see a kid playing with this for hours, despite the fact that it doesn't have a spring-loaded doodad or a button on his back that makes him do something useless. Gargan may not be the most iconic Venom, but this is quite possibly the best version of the symbiote ever made. This is one of those figures that should make even the naysayers respect Hasbro's handling of the Marvel license. Maybe the lack of bicep and thigh pegs will be a deal breaker for some ToyBiz purists who need every toe and finger to be articulated, but you have to hand it to Hasbro: they did this one right.

-- 02/23/09

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