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Creature From the Black Lagoon

Universal Monsters Select
by Monkey Boy

I have a "thing" for the Creature. Not like, a romantic attraction... but put it this way: he's not just my favorite Universal Monster, he's the only Universal Monster I care about. At all. I could give a flip about Frankenstein('s Monster), I don't care about the Wolf Man (sorry yo), even Dracula bores me. But the Creature... so iconic. So creepy. So classic. I just love him.

Diamond Select has already covered the Creature in their Universal Select line, but that figure came out juuuuust before they really started stepping up their figures in just about every way, and despite the deluxe version having a very cool Kay Lawrence figurine to terrorize (and fall in love with?), it fell short in a lot of ways. Apparently Diamond felt the same, because they've finally gotten around to revisiting him. After showing off this figure at many an event, he's finally making his way to store shelves. But is he worth a redo? Well, Diamond was nice enough to send along a sample for us to review, so let's find out!

In 1954's Creature from the Black Lagoon, the fossil of a webbed hand is discovered during a geological dig in the Amazon. But when an archaeological expedition is mounted, the team arrives to find the geologists slaughtered by some unknown beast. The archaeologists press on, but are unable to find the rest of the skeleton, and their search is extended to the nearby Black Lagoon. To their fascination and dismay, they soon learn that the killer is not a wild animal, but in fact a living specimen of their quarry, a real-life aquatic man, with scales, gills and claws. And while the creature is naturally curious, particularly about the expedition's sole female member, it is also deadly when provoked.

Whew! Yes, all that text is from the back of the (very large) package. Like most of Diamond's releases, this guy is available in a deluxe edition (available in specialty stores) and a stripped-down Toys Я Us version. The former features an elaborate display base, so the packaging has to be large enough to accommodate it. And never let it be said that they skimp on the bio text... although I would argue about the Creature not being a "wild animal."

In any event, the Gill-man (as he is informally known) is sculpted by DST's main man, Jean St.Jean, and it's always nice when the packaging gives the sculptor his or her due. St.Jean is no stranger to the Creature, and I actually have a 12" Creature figure from way back in 1999 that is, from what I've been told, the first figure St.Jean ever sculpted. While that figure certainly isn't bad, it's astonishing to see how far Jean St.Jean has come.

You may recall from back in our review of Diamond's Uncle Gilbert figure we speculated some parts might be appropriated for this release, with the most likely suspects being the head, hands and feet. I'm quite pleased to report that isn't the case at all, and I really couldn't be happier to eat crow on this, because the figure is 100% new and he looks wonderful.

All the previously mentioned bodyparts are much sharper and more detailed than Gilbert's, and the rest of his sculpt is equally intricate. Save for his lobstered stomach and relatively smooth lower legs, he's covered in tiny scales, and the texture is very well done. His head is much more on-model than Uncle Gilbert's, and he's much, much better-proportioned than Diamond's original anemic Gill-man.

The paint on this figure is also a huge improvement over both previous DST attempts at the character (for the sake of convenience including Gilbert). Though the film was black and white, the promotional materials always gave him a yellow-greenish hue, and this figure nails it. The original figure was oddly sparkly, and Uncle Gilby was a flat dark green, but this figure is just the right tone of drab green, with a darker olive shade to bring out the many details.

His eyes are yellow-rimmed with black centers, and his lips are an almost purplish red. The details are clean and sharp. The head seems oddly glossier than the rest of the figure, and the hands are a noticeably darker shade, but other than those bits of inconsistency, the work is solid.

While the sculpt and paint are leaps and bounds ahead of the last attempt, it's the articulation that makes it almost a joke to compare the two. This is the most articulated Creature figure I've ever seen, and I've seen a lot. His neck, shoulders, elbows and wrists are peg-and-hinge joints, and he even has an extra, redundant bicep peg joint. Thankfully, like most of the joints, it's integrated very nicely into the sculpt and almost unnoticeable.

His chest and waist are both balljoints, though along with the neck they don't move back very much due to the continuous sculpt of the fin that runs down his spine. His hips are a Mattel style peg-and-hinge, and he also gets thigh pegs, hinged knees, and hinged ankles with rocker action. It's more than enough joints to have him pose in all kinds of ways, including hulking menacingly over his prey, or swimming through the Amazon.

As for accessories, the deluxe release gets a large base that would not look out of place in your typical freshwater aquarium. It's a river bottom strewn with some bones (including a skull) and some various aquatic plants, with a large rock jutting out of the back. A wispy transparent plant reaches out from the rock, with three fish sculpted into the fronds. Fun fact: the fish are discus (Symphysodon), cichlids native to the Amazon River. Geographically accurate!

The base has two pegs for the (fully sculpted) bottom of his feet to plug into. The skull and plants get in the way a bit, but he can fit on it pretty well. You can also kinda balance him into a swimming position on the rock, though I'm not sure that's entirely intentional (but I like to hope it was).

I own quite a few Creature from the Black Lagoon toys, and this one is far and away my favorite. He almost makes my other Creature figures irrelevant. His sculpt is excellent, his paint is great, and he can move. If you only desire one Gill-man figure for your collection (although I can't imagine why anyone would) this is, easily, the one you should own.

-- 10/01/14

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