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Monsters Series 2

by yo go re

The first series of Mezco's Monster Mez-Itz, based (loosely) on the famous Universal Monsters, was one of the last original properties to make it into real stores. When the economy took a downturn, retailers had trouble moving properties that had a current movie or tv show tie-in, let alone a line of toys with made-up characters and no kind of advertising.

That slump really hit Mezco, which has always been one of the best companies when it came to in-house properties. For every Hellboy, they had two lines like Tikimon or Gangsters, Inc. And sure, the Living Dead Dolls have been absolutely huge for them (and probably kept the company afloat), but even then it's stuff like Family Guy and South Park that was actually on the shelves in stores.

Still, Monsters Series 1 must have been at least marginally successful, because Mezco planned and executed a Series 2, though they were much harder to find.

That scarcity may have been because the monsters were much less recognizable this time around. The first four - werewolf, Frankenstein, vampire and mummy - are deeply ingrained in the cultural consciouness. Anything after that set is going to take a step down. But that's not to say these are cheap replacement monsters; far from it. Just because they're less iconic, it doesn't mean they don't still have a firm place in our culture.

Claude Clearwaters The concept of an Invisible Man came from H.G.Wells in 1897 - well, the modern Invisible Man. People have imagined ghosts and spirit-walking since the dawn of time, but a chemically induced transparency? That's all Herbert George, baby. His story was about a scientist named Griffin, who discovered a way to stop his body from reflecting or absorbing light. Of course, once he pulled his big fade, he found it difficult to turn himself back to normal, and slowly went insane. He started stealing to fund his research, and when that got him in trouble, he turned to murder. The Invisible Man idea has been adapated to movies and tv several times - the last one was the truly excellent (but swiftly cancelled) I-Man on SciFi Channel a few years ago.

Mezco's invisible Mez-It goes by the name Claude Clearwaters, thermal imaging a nod to the 1933 film starring Claude Rains. He's dressed in the classic costume: big hat, bandages, goggles and a scarf. It's finished off with a long black trenchcoat. In a truly awesome move, you can remove the disguise to reveal... nothing! Okay, not nothing, but a 100% transparent Mez-It body, complete with replaceable arms and a little grinning head that actually hides beneath those bandages. The only thing missing? Some snarky people claim that an invisible person wouldn't be able to see, since their retinas would be just as transparent as the rest of them. Wells out-thought them, saying that "colored part of the back of his eyes" were visible, though "fainter than mist." Suck on that, detractors!

One staple of horror that often gets overlooked is the creepy butler. Not the assistant - that's different. Igor and Lurch have different roles to play, you know? An assistant is barely even a lackey; a butler is a position of prestige. Depending on the era, the butler may have been the general head of the household or just in charge of the diningroom, wine cellar Boris Creepola and pantry - the word comes from the French bouteillier, and shares a Latin root with "bottle." Originally little more than a glorified wine steward, the position grew to what it is today. Unlike the butlers seen in popular culture - clever, sass-talking servants who constantly outwit their employers - real butlers are supposed to be unobtrusive and discreet. If you notice the butler, he's done something wrong. Creepy butlers, though? It's their job to be creepy.

Boris Creepola fits his name well. His skin is a pale blue, suggesting that he's something more (or less) than a plain human servant. His puggish nose is pressed back above his crooked mouth, and he seems to have a cleft palate or something. He's only got two yellowing teeth, and his eyes are half-closed, revealing purple lids. His hair is slicked back, but that line running back with it looks more like a scar than a part. There's a "belt" piece between his torso and legs that provides his coat with tattered tails. His lapels, shirt and tie are a separate piece glued onto his chest.

The guy the creepy butler serves is often another fine stock character, the mad scientist. Though he may seem like a fairly recent addition to the realm of fiction, the mad scientist is anything but. He's just Dr. Mezitstein the modern equivalent of a tribal shaman, the guy who lived in a cave (castle) by himself and could see the future (perform experiments) and conjure beasts (create monsters). But as sedentary society replaced nomadic, science replaced magic and witch doctors turned into reclusive scientists. Their goals have changed over the years, as have their methods, keeping pace with the technology and fears of modern society. Genetic engineering replaced radiation, which replaced electricity.

This is Dr. Mezitstein, a mad scientist who completely fits the stereotype. He's got the bloody lab coat, the black rubber gloves and the wild, unkempt hair. He's cross-eyed and has crazy circles around his pupils. He's also got a big wicked grin, though you might not notice it - your eyes are probably going to be drawn north to the huge glass dome covering his exposed brain. It is distinctive. The jar is removable, so you can poke at his (inexplicably pink) gray matter. And if you're into the Attack of the Living Dead zombies, Dr. Mezitstein gets a mention in the official unofficial story, as one of the two scientists who released the Armageddon Epidemic. Tie-in!

And speaking of the After Life, the final figure in this series is Grim Grimly, the personification of death. Can't say he's the Grim Reaper, Grim Grimly since he doesn't have a scythe. Starting in the Middle Ages, Death was portrayed as a decaying human, and that eventually progressed to the more familiar skeleton. In the Germanic tradition, Death is a male figure; in Latin culture, female. Not that you can really tell under all those robes. And with no skin.

Grim Grimly (who is going totally mental, I must say) definitely matches Death's typical depiction. We get the black robes with just a bit of white bone showing through. He uses the "claw" hands in an effort to duplicate the look of bony fingers, and a bit of white is visible on his chest. The head is a yellow-eyed skull, with a slightly darker wash on his teeth to make them stand out. His hood is a sculpted part of his head while his robe, a floating piece, comes down just low enough to not touch the ground, making him look like he's floating.

The 3" Mez-It body, slightly egg-shaped and not as stark as AA's Minimates, moves at the hips, waist, shoulders, wrists and neck. There's a pretty major problem that's been cropping up on a lot of Mez-Itz recently, and this set is not immune: broken shoulders. Castle Mezitstein A number of the figures have cracks on their arms, where the balljoint shoulder plugs in. I first noticed it on Robocop's Officer Lewis, and it's here on Grim Grimly and Claude Clearwaters. Is there something different about the black plastic these figures have in common that makes it more prone to breakage? Mezco needs to get on this.

The great heartbreak of this series is that Mezco had larger plans for the line. When they were unveiled at Toy Fair 2004, there was an entire castle playset with multiple levels of play features, special areas for all the Mez-Itz Monsters, and several exclusive Monsters: a Quasimodo type and a guy in an orange jumpsuit and protective mask (think Hannibal Lecter). But because of the contraction the toy industry went through back then, no one picked it up. It was surprising enough that Series 2 made it into production. These monsters may not be quite as iconic as the four in Series 1, but they're still worth buying, if you can track a set down.

-- 10/22/06

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