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Marvel Legends Face-Off
by yo go re

The general rule, when creating a nemesis for your comicbook superhero, is to work with opposites. That's why Spider-Man and Superman, who both wear red and blue, fight foes who wear green and purple. By that logic, the big green Hulk should be fighting someone who's red from head to toe, right? Well, in his case the opposition is more character driven than chromatic.

It's pretty clever, actually. Bruce Banner, nuclear scientist, gets dosed with gammma radiation and becomes the dumb, angry Hulk. Sam Sterns, high-school dropout janitor, gets dosed with gamma radiation and becomes the ultra-intelligent Leader. Unpredictable stuff, that radiation.

Never has Gamma radiation changed two people so drastically... or so differently! Caught in its blast, one man was imbued with brawn while another was given increased brain capacity. But it is the misunderstood hero - the monstrous Hulk - who must match his strength against the super-intelligence of the villainous Leader and his intricate plots. Never before has such a green-skinned grudge grown to such gigantic proportions, and as each of the Leader's plans are foiled, the world will never know the debt they owe to the jade giant known as the Hulk!

ToyBiz has turned out a lot of Hulks since Marvel Legends 1, and some of them have been really quite good. We've gotten an excellent Smart Hulk, a completely comic-accurate Maestro, and even a big, blocky Gray Hulk based on his origin story. But what we've been lacking is a great rendition of the classic. The movie versions were too small, the ML1 Hulk didn't quite measure up and Gamma Punch Hulk just helped to prove that Art Adams' awesome artwork is hard to translate to three dimensions. But now they've nailed it - a nearly perfect rampaging green Hulk.

To begin with, this figure is huge. Unspeakably large. He's even hunched over inside the packaging, that's how incredibly massive he is. Standing up straight, he's 8⅛" tall, making him the largest Legend that didn't have to be assembled after purchase [second largest - Sasquatch still wins if you stand him wrong --ed.]. Compare that to some other biggies, like Juggernaut (8"), Rhino (7¾"), Colossus (7 1/2"), Man-Thing (7⅝") or Sabretooth (7"). He's a hugey!

The sculpt is really good, and it's highlighted by the fact that the green guy's actually proportional - he's not overly skinny from front to back like so many big figures are. He's a little thin, yes, but only about a quarter of an inch; nothing too distracting. He's huge and muscular, and his skin texture is nicely varied. His purple pants are strained, and while his feet are a bit too big, they provide a nice stable base for this monster.

The Face-Off two-packs all have a variant, shipped in equal numbers, that offers slight changes to both hero and villain. The difference between the two Hulks is all in the face. The "normal" Hulk is relatively calm, gritting his teeth in frustration. The variant is slightly angrier, with his mouth open to shout something - it's not a raging bellow, but it's a clear change. This Hulk seems to be based on the artwork of classic artist Sal Buscema, one of the guys most associated with Hulk over the years. A little hint of painter Joe Jusko in there, too.

Paint is simple, but the green and purple chosen are both nice shades. There's a slight wash on the figure, darkest near the face, but his hair is dark and all his facial features are painted perfectly. Both these Hulks have a spot of green on the butt, but it's nothing to worry about. Hulk is articulated at the toes, ankles (two joints, a weird construction), knees, hips, waist, fingers, wrists (two joints again), elbows, biceps, shoulders and neck. There's no sort of torso joint, but this is such a completely massive beast of a figure that it would probably get in the way. The knees and elbows are single joints, but again, it works for what we have.

Leader is a little guy, comparatively, hovering around the 7" mark (give or take a quarter inch [depending on which head you're talking about]). He's articulated at the ankles, shins, knees, hips, waist, fingers, wrists, forearms, elbows, shoulders and neck. He seems to have been designed for a chest hinge, as evidenced by the horizontal line cutting across the black stripe in the back of his costume and the general shape of his ribcage, but the final figure doesn't have one. Are we imagining things? Maybe. It's not like the figure is any weaker for lacking it.

The Leader is wearing a black and orange uniform that's generic enough that you can expect to see it as the basis for any number of "generic goon" customs - Hydra and AIM, for instance, would be really easy to swing from this. The paint is good, for the most part, but the area around his waist just seems particularly sloppy. Keep an eye on that, when you buy. Another recurring problem is drops of green on the black gauntlets, but that's easy to spot right away. The gold panels on his forearms and shins seem to be quite crisp, however. Considering that his only other longstanding costume in the comics was a mauve smock, this is a good choice.

Like Hulk, the Leader variant is a head change. Of course, his is much more obvious. See, when he first appeared, Leader's deformity was just that he had a really tall head, like stovepipe hats were invented just for him. He had more than a forehead, he had a five-, six- or seven-head. But eventually the Ditko Leader radiation he'd absorbed started to fade, and he was McFarlane Leader a regular old bonehead again. Eventually, in a complicated series of events, he found a way to drain Hulk's gamma energy to restore himself. However, this time he reacted differently to the process, and his head grew into a large, over-developed brain. Kinda like This Island Earth's Metaluna Mutant. The change took place in Incredible Hulk #332. The whole structure of the face is changed, not just the stuff above the ears. The two have different chins, different expressions and even different moustaches, all in an effort to be comic-accurate. Can't beat that.

Like all Marvel Legends, the Hulk/Leader Face-Off set comes with a reprint comic; in this case, Incredible Hulk #115, which sees the Leader actually enlist the help of the military to defeat the Hulk - and he wins. There's no indication that he's got an ulterior motive, so it really seems like he's gone straight, but come on, he's a comicbook villain: you know better than that. Only problem is that the story features the old tallhead Leader and not the new brainy Leader, though it's the modern version that's the "standard" figure in this pair. There wasn't anything recent that would have worked?

The set also includes a diorama display scene, which is really just a cardboard backdrop that fits into a slot on a vaguely technological base. The base has a few blast holes and scorch marks sculpted in, fight! and spots for two Doop stands, which now feature ratcheted joints for a stronger hold. The backdrop for this set shows a cute little desert scene, since Hulk always liked hanging out in the southwest. There's an advanced military base in the background, the SHIELD Helicarrier is launching a jet in the sky above and several weapons-firing Mandroids are advancing toward the viewer. All things considered, the diorama is better than nothing, but we were already getting two all-new figures in this set - "nothing" would have worked just fine. So consider this an extra, and pitch it out if you don't like it.

With the end in sight, ToyBiz has really kicked things into high gear to get the most figures possible into the hands of fans. Admit it, we've had a lot of Hulks, but did you ever expect a figure of the Leader, let alone both the classic and modern versions of him? Another time, they might have tossed a re-used Hulk in there with him, but the fact that they went above and beyond and gave us what might be the best Hulk figure ever shows impressive dedication to the fans.

-- 06/14/06

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