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Frankenstein playsets

McFarlane's Monsters
by yo go re

Hey look, we're breaking one of our rules today, by reviewing two toys at once.

Back in 1997, I was just a poor college student, with no money and less display space. So after getting the Monsters Werewolf playset, I figured I was done with the series. None of the other sets - Hunchback, Dracula, Frankenstein - really appealed to me. But hey, that's why pencils have erasers!

Frankenstein stands 4½" tall, and before you write in to complain, remember that we've already proven (twice) that calling the monster "Frankenstein" isn't wrong. Save it for book club, Oprah. He's wearing dark blue pants with a black belt and a hole ripped in one knee. The pants fit him surprisingly well, considering his... unusual physiology. In a nod to the classic Boris Karloff version, he's wearing big, square boots with ridiculously thick soles.

The figure was sculpted by Four Horseman Eric Treadaway, and he created a brilliantly appropriate version. Since this is just a toy, not a design for a movie, it doesn't need to accommodate the proportions of a real human being. He's lumpy and twisted, with deep lines showing where the different sections of his body have been stitched (or stapled) together. The effect is most pronounced on his massive right arm, where the bluish-green skintone is broken up by patches of pink, clearly harvested from a different, fresher source.

Suiting Frankenstein's piecemeal nature, his limbs pull apart similar to Steve the Victim's: his scrawny left forearm, right arm, and his head can all be pulled away from the torso, thanks to the bone-shaped pegs that hold them in place. He set includes a second, alternate head for him, which is more skeletal and shares the "half pink" style seen on the arm. The top of the head has been cut away, and his brain can be removed as well. It's a pretty awesome presentation, and we're only a third of the way through.

The Monsters playsets each offered two figures, and the second one in this set is less of a victim and more of a tormentor. No, it's not the mad scientist, it's his assistant - Igor! There was no Igor in Mary Shelley's book (technically there was no Igor in the Universal movie, either: there was a "Fritz," inherited from the 1832 play, but he filled the same role; the henchman wasn't named "Ygor" until Son of Frankenstein), but he's an important part of the mythology now.

Although "The Igor" is a loyal toady to his master and not one to stand up to The Hero in a fight, he's perfectly fine with abusing the monster. If your parents catch you abusing the monster, remember to lock the door next time. He's a short little guy, measuring only about 3⅜" tall to the hump on his back. He's wearing black gloves and boots, which stand out against his white, blood-splattered lab coat. His skin is the same color as the monster's - is he another of the scientist's creations? Tell your own story!

Igor has swivel joints at the neck, waist, shoulders, gloves, and boots. One of his forearm joints clearly broke at some point, because it was glued in place when I pulled this set out (that's going to be a bit of a theme in a minute, so keep it in mind). He comes with four accessories: a hammer, a knife, a saw, and a pair of tongs. The blades can be hung from his belt thanks to the two large pegs on the front, and both hands are open to hold things.

The diorama in this set is a small section of castle laboratory - there's a stone wall on one side, and thick wooden planks for the floor. There's a grate on the floor for fluids to drain through, a few scraps of bone, some loose papers and even a rat. A short bookcase plugs in at the back, though its pegs had also snapped off, because it, too, was glued at some point in the past. In addition to the accessories mentioned before, there's a silver Erlenmeyer flask that can sit wherever you like.

The centerpiece of the set, though, is the wooden operating table. It tilts and rotates, so every part of the body is accessible, and there's a small step at the base so even short characters can reach. There are two black rubber straps that hold Frankenstein in place - but they've dried out and cracked when I tried to put the figure in them, so they had to be glued, too. Finally, there's a large mechanical arm that plugs into the support for the table, and can clamp over the figure's head; it's supposed to have swivel joints in it, but since it's been assembled, immobile, for the better part of a decade, what do you think happened when I tried to move it? Yeah, it's been glued now, too.

Although the Frankenstein playset was part of Series 1, McFarlane Toys covered the same ground again in Series 2, with the Dr. Frankenstein playset. Yes, those two little letters - Dee Arr - make a difference.

Rather than coming with the understudy, this set's got the headliner: the good Herr Doktor Henry Victor Menegaux Frederick Beaufort Peabody Tildca Bisquiteen Trisket Steviebuns Bottrittrundle Frankenstein. Okay, I admit I don't know what his first name is. The packaging just calls him Dr. Frankenstein. It was Victor in the book, Henry in the movie, Frederick in Young Frankenstein... but that one probably doesn't count. Anyway, who's to say if this is the historic Frankenstein or some more modern descendant?

He certainly looks modern, what with the giant mechanical hand. Or maybe that's a glove. It's certainly large enough that a normal arm could fit inside. He's otherwise dressed similar to Igor, with a bloody white coat, black boots and a black glove. A black hose runs from his mecha-hand to the side of his techno-goggles. He has swivel joints at the neck, shoulders, gloves, waist and boots - and amazingly, none of them are stuck or broken! Hooray! The curse is over!

The figure's head definitely suggests he's a modern-day Frankenstein, not an old one. Sure, the long brown goatee might be authentically old-school, but the long hair pulled back into a ponytail, while the sides of the head are cut short, is a very '90s style. Frank's face (though not that haircut, as far as we know) is based on Eric Treadaway!

Like Igor, the not-so-good doctor comes with an assortment of medical tools, and many of themcan be hung from his belt: a meat cleaver, a pair of pincers, and a large handsaw. There's also a test tube and a syringe that can fit in his hand, but not hang from his belt. His left hand is shaped specifically for the needle: his first two fingers are split around the handle, though they should really be on the other side of the stopper.

So that's the civilian half of the set - the monster is another of Frankenstein's creations, this one much weirder than the one from Series 1. He's more deformed and asymmetrical, and assembled from more different corpse-pieces. For instance, he has two heads, as well as the partial torsos and two different spines to go with them. His ribs stick out on the right, and there's a mechanical device at the waist from which tubes emerge, then run into ports on the monster's heads.

The left arm is thick and muscular, but only has two fingers and a thumb; the right arm is skinny, but the hand has been assembled from so many random parts that it has six fingers plus a thumb. Mummy-like wraps cover the lower body, and his left shin is naked bone. The tibia is broken - not the toy, it's actually sculpted that way. He's down to three toes on that foot, too. The monster has a swivel waist, swivel shoulders and swivel necks. He also joins the ranks of figures that have removable guts.

Like in the Series 1 set, the diorama here is part of Frankenstein's Castle. This one is larger and more complete, with the same sort of wooden floor, stones along the left side and back wall, plus shelves and a swiveling desk on the left. Two silver bottles and a small pitcher can be stored on the shelves - there are notches in the shelf to make room for the bottle necks.

The rear wall of the set has a metal operating table, with a gutter on the front so the blood can be washed away - it even empties right above a drain in the floor! Two slots on the wall allow the table to be raised to whatever height you like, and a clear blue arc of electricity jumps between the two diodes. And then there are four thick pillars that plug into the underside of the base.

What does that accomplish? The awesome feature that got me to spend money on both sets. With the pilars in place, the front of the Series 2 set will fit right over the bookcase on the Series 1 set, making for one double-sized, split-level playset! So awesome!

Back when there was still a Spawn Message Board, we used to beg McFarlane to do more pieces this this, expanding the dioramas of some of the previous releases. It never happened, obviously - and in fact, the playsets stopped entirely after Series 2, leaving us with stuff like this. Both Frankenstein playsets are good, but together they're even better.

-- 10/22/13

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