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Popeye & Bluto

The One:12 Collective
by yo go re

Well blow me down!

Popeye is the Wolverine of the '30s - and no, not just because he's short and tough. Cartoonist EC Segar started his third comic strip, Thimble Theatre, in 1919. Originally a gag-a-day strip, it eventually morphed into more of a comedy-adventure serial; in 1929, main character Harold Hamgravy needed to get to get to a gangster's private casino island, so he and his girlfriend's brother, Castor Oyl, went down to the docks to hire a boat. Spying a man in a nautical outfit with an anchor tattooed on his arm, Castor asked if he was a sailor, to which the guy snarkily replaied "'Ja think I'm a cowboy?" Popeye the Sailor proved so popular with readers that it wasn't long before Ham Gravy was written out of the strip and Castor had taken on a minor role, leaving Popeye and Olive Oyl as the main characters.

Mezco first made Popeye toys in 2001, back in the days when Market Six stores roamed the earth and anything could get a toy. (They actually got three series out, which isn't bad for a property of this caliber.) Apparently Mezco enjoyed the work, because they returned to Popeye for the One:12 Collective line.

Rather than an animated look, Popeye has been untooned for this toy. He's still got the weird proportions, with the humongous chin and the squinty eye and the bulbous nose, but it's all been done in a realistic manner. You know, like those artists who take simple cartoon characters and do ultra-detailed portraits of them? That. His face is detailed with all the cracks and wrinkles you'd expect to see from a salty old seaman like Popeye. All the figures have come with the same two head sculpts, one calm and one angry. They look almost identical unless you've got them right next to each other. This set includes a new third head, with a face that seems happier, content, even pleased with himself. It's also got a battle-damaged paintscheme, giving him cuts and abrasions and a bruised black eye. Somebody's been fighting! All three heads have a hole in the left side of the mouth where you can plug in his corn cob pipe - either with or without smoke coming out of it. (The set includes three of each, in case you lose some.)

Although Popeye's design has remained fairly consistent over the years, he has changed a few times - mostly in the colors of his clothes. His most common look was blue pants and a black shirt with a red collar, but he also often wore all-white (the standard US Naval attire, which he stuck with until the '70s). This toy sees him in white pants and a blue shirt with a white collar, which isn't really something he wore before - it's a reference to his old black-and-white design, which goes all the way back to his first appearance in a 1933 Betty Boop cartoon! The shirt and pants are softgoods, as is One:12's wont, while his big brown shoes are sculpted. He's also got his captain's hat and a regular sailor's hat, both of which are held to any of the three heads via magnets.

The figure's proportions retain their cartoony basics - this isn't a human Robin Williams Popeye, by any means. Most blatantly, he's got forearms that are larger than his thighs, and fists to match. The clothes aren't removable, per se, though you can roll the pantlegs up to see his calf muscles (and lack of socks), or lift the shirt to see his abs. A lot of work went into designing a new body you're unlikely to ever see. His neck is long and thin, to support that wild head. All the exposed skin has a subtle texture and paint to make it look as realistic as possible.

Popeye's got great articulation under those clothes. The figure has balljointed ankles, swivel boots, double-hinged knees, swivel thighs, swivel/hinge hips, balljointed waist and chest, swivel/hinge hands, swivel wrists, swivel/hinge elbows, swivel/hinge shoulders, and balljoints at the top and bottom of the neck. A few of the joints were slightly stiff, but nothing that required any special work to get moving. The softgoods clothes can limit things a little, but then, your clothes can limit your joints, too.

And really, we're not even done talking about his clothes, because the accessories here include even more! For those times when it's cold out, he has a heavy black peacoat with a matching watch cap beanie; and when a storm blows in, he can don his yellow rain slicker, with its own paired rain cap. He's ready for anything the sea may throw his way! He even has his own duffle bag, where he can keep the clothes he's not wearing at any given time.

Beyond the hats and the coats and the heads and the pipes, Popeye's accessories include your choice of seven hands: the fists he has in the packaging, a pair of posed hands, one hand that's pointing, and two that are shaped to hold other things. Things like his collapsible spyglass or the compass with the opening lid. Or, of course, a can of spinach. The set includes two: one closed, one open. There's an urban legend that claims the reason spinach is used as Popeye's power-up is due to 19th-century researchers mistakenly mis-placing the decimal point when reporting how much iron is in the stuff and increasing its potency by a power of 10, but that's not true: one, Popeye's only ever claimed to eat it for the Vitamin A, not the iron; and two, the story about the misplaced decimal originated in a 1981 article in the British Medical Journal, which would normally be fine, except the article where that "fact" appeared was light-hearted fun rather than rigid and scholarly - so repeating the idea basically amounts to those compilations of people not understanding that The Onion is satire.

This set includes something else none of the previous ones did, and that's Popeye's enemy Bluto. Bluto appeared in the comic strip, but there he wasn't anyone special, just a one-off goon with no particular staying power. But just as with the spinach, the cartoon latched onto something that was an incidental part of the comic and really blew it up (similar to the way the Batman TV show made a bunch of forgotten villains major parts of the Rogues Gallery).

If you perhaps think you know Bluto by the name "Brutus," you're not entirely wrong: when the cartoon license changed from Fleischer/​Paramount to King Features, King had forgotten that Bluto appeared in the comics first, so thought Paramount owned him. They therefore created Brutus as a stand-in, and treated them like they were basically the same person (though Bluto was a big tough guy, while Brutus was more of a big fat guy - think "lightbulb" vs. "pear"). The cartoon was still popular, so Brutus was put into the comics, and when the rights became clear, they just started calling him Bluto again. But then as fans aged up and became professionals who worked on the series, they wanted both versions around, and after a long series of odd back-and-forths, Bluto and Brutus became twin brothers.

Bluto isn't the main character, so he's not shown as versatile as Popeye - which is to say, this figure only has two heads, not three. The first is angry, with the brown knit down over the eyes and his leeps peeled back to reveal massive white teeth against his bushy black beard. The seond matches up with Popeye's "battle damaged" head, showing his mouth more closed and his right eye swollen shut with a bruise. Don't starts fights whats ya can't finich, Bluto! They're both a bit "Captain Haddock"y, but that's unavoidable in this style.

This figure is much larger than Popeye, a daunting 7¼" tall compared to Popeye's 5¾", and as proportionally wide as he should be. Since this is his first toy, he's wearing his classic colors: yellow work pants, a black collared shirt, and a long-sleeved while undershirt beneath that. He's got a blue cap of his own, again held on by magnets. Yes, they could have easily sculpted the hat onto the heads, since he doesn't have any alternates to worry about, but this way you can tilt it forward or back, have it twisted around to the side after a fight, or even blown away by the wind.

The deailing on the skin is just as good here as it was above, again with all the texture and colors needed to make it look real. Due to his bulk, his articulation is a little lessened: balljointed ankles, hinged knees, swivel thighs, either swivel/hinge or balljointed hips (we can't tell without being able to take the pants off, and the belt is a plastic piece, not something functional), a balljointed waist, swivel hands, swivel/hinge wrists, swivel/hinge elbows, swivel/hinge shoulders, and a double-balljointed neck. His joints were even stiffer than Popeye's, which may be an intentional choice to support the weight of all the plastic.

His skin is a darker shade of pink, suggesting he's been getting sun while Popeye's been indoors. You get your choice of three pairs of hands: fists, gripping, or holding. While the official solicitations implied he doesn't get any alternate clothes, the set includes a black leather coat that's clearly sized only for him. Or for Popeye to turn into a sleeping bag.

His three accessories are perfect for a boatswain like him: a real metal wrench, a gaff hook, and a metal kettlebell - so, you know, all things he'd try to attack Popeye with. Both Popeye and Bluto get the standard-issue One:12 Collective logo display bases and articulated posing arms, plus bags to store all the accessories if you don't want to keep the packaging.

It seems Mezco was right to believe there was a market out there for Popeye, because there were two One:12 Collective releases before this one, and though we tried to get both, they sold out totally. With the news that Boss Fight Studio now has the license, it seems the "Stormy Seas Ahead" set was Mezco's last hurrah (for now), but they went out on a really strong showing.

-- 03/17/21

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