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Dark Avengers

by yo go re

In the wake of Secret Invasion, Norman Osborn was promoted from the Thunderbolts to lead his own team of Avengers. Two SDCC-exclusive sets of Minimates delivered his entire team this year, showing an unusual sense of timeliness. Just for the hell of it, we're going to review them both at once! But first, some backstory.

The gimmick of Dark Avengers is that it's all villains disguising themselves as heroes - yes, just like the original Thunderbolts series, back in the '90s. Only difference is that this time they're disguising themselves as established heroes, not new ones. Of course, when the book was announced, no one knew that, so we see these promotional images that seem to show Iron Man, Ms. Marvel, Wolverine, Spider-Man and Hawkeye in throwback costumes, with zero hint that anything more sinister was going on. Thus, when the book came out, big surprise all around. And now toys!

Formerly known as the Scorpion, Mac Gargan and the Venom symbiote were given an experimental drug by Norman Osborn which altered the villain's appearance to match that of Spider-Man. Now loved by millions, will the former villain change his ways?

Uh, just guessing here, but probably not. Eddie Brock may have been a jerk before picking up the Venom suit (or the "Black Bloom," as it's apparently known in the future), but Scorpion was already a psychotic murderer. Why would he go soft now? Now's when things are getting good!

So "Spider-Man's" black costume is detailed with grey paint in order to show some muscle. This is a far cry from the original Venom Minimate, which got nothing but the white spider on the chest and back. This one's got that, as well, since the chemical whatsit Osborn gave him also took away the wild legs that set Venorpion apart. Mac's mask is removable, revealing his bald head. And just like every time he "unmasks" in the comics, tendrils of symbiote are still wiggling around the lower edge. Creepy!

The long-lost son of Wolverine, Daken inherited his father's bone claws, heightened senses and healing factor as well as a combative and abrasive demeanor. Will this new Wolverine survive the revelation that he is not who he appears to be?

If you haven't been reading the Wolverine comics, let's catch you up: the idea of Wolverine's long-lost son is every bit as stupid as it sounds. It's ridiculous, it's soap opera-y, and it's absurd even by X-Men standards. Daken has two claws on the back of each hand, and one on the underside! Daken has a tattoo running up his left arm for no reason! Daken has a mohawk! Daken is tied in with Jeph Loeb's ass-tacular "Evolution" storyline. Daken may disprove the claim that there are no bad characters, just bad writers! Daken! Catch the wave!

(Seriously, Daken may be to the '00s what Gambit was to the '90s - the shining, distilled example of everything that comics are doing wrong right now.)

The only reason Dokken Daken was asked to join the Avengers was to piss off daddy - so, basically, the same reason college girls date older men. He's wearing Logan's brown costume, and even gets the new boot-fronts introduced on the "First Appearance" Wolverine. Since his claws are displaced, the hands are new molds, though the set includes extra non-clawed hands, too. His arm tattoo is painted on, sort of, and just in case you want to take off his mask, there's a black mohawk to replace it with. Imagine that design meeting:

"Hey, Wolverine has the most distinctive haircut in all fiction. How can we set his son apart?"

"We'll reverse it! Instead of being high on the sides and having a lot of facial hair, Junior will be clean-shaven and have a mohawk!"

"Bully! Pass the cocaine plate, won't you?"

Dear Daken: we hate you, and everyone involved in your creation. Sincerely, Good Taste.

The Kree soldier Noh-Varr was imprisoned in the super-secure prison known as the Cube before eventually claiming it as the capital of the new Kree Empire. After joining the fight against the Skrulls he was offered a new beginning with the Dark Avengers.

Marvel Boy was Grant Morrison's first creation for Marvel Comics, and possibly the last decent comic work he did. The book came out in 2000, when Marvel's editors were still the harshest in the business, so they kept the reins tight on Morrison, and made him actually tell a story instead of just referencing ideas. Now he's too famous for things like plot or characterization, so it's probably a good thing he was never allowed to do Marvel Boy 2.

Marvel Boy is from an alternate reality, and for a time, it seemed as though his book had been the first appearance of the Ultimate universe - the world was similar to the normal Marvel Universe, but with changes not seen or referenced anywhere else. He has an array of wild and fantastic powers, which he basically used to declare war on humanity. Yay!

This is the only Noh-Varr figure there's ever been, and he's looking good. He's wearing his green, while and gold costume, and has a fancy gold belt. Judging by the promo photos, he should have white and gold stripes on his feet, but those didn't make the cut. The tousled white hair seems to be a new piece, and it suits the character perfectly. He's not wearing the Nega-Bands he received at the end of Civil War, but he's also not in the bike shorts seen in his original limited series.

Patterned after the costumes of Captain America and Iron Man, the Iron Patriot serves as the leader of both the Avengers and H.A.M.M.E.R. With Norman Osborn inside the armor it is only a matter of time before something goes wrong...

It's really no surprise that Norman Osborn can easily replace Tony Stark. After all, this is a guy who got all hopped up on serum and managed to design a skintight suit that still contained advanced electronics, a variety of insane bombs and weapons all designed to look like pumpkins, and a jet-powered sled that could not only support the weight of multiple full-grown adults, but could also be steered with his feet. The guy's evil, but he's still a genius.

The Iron Patriot armor is based on Iron Man's current "Extremis" armor, which, since it's all but indistinguishable from the movie armor, means this Minimate shares some pieces with those figures. Namely, the gloves - the boots are new, but will be used on the real Extremis Armor Minimate, due in Series 31. His chest, meanwhile, looks like football pads, so at last we're one step closer to a Minimate Superpro.

Take off the figure's helmet (another new piece), and Norman is there, smirking at you. Thankfully, Minimates can't duplicate Dark Avengers artist Mike Deodato Jr.'s "hey look, I'm just going to draw Tommy Lee Jones and call it a day" version of Norman Osborn, so while he definitely looks like he's on the far side of being middle-aged, he's not over-rendered. You can plug in his distinctive cornrow hair, as well.

So those are the four figures in Box Set #1. On to Set #2!

The awesome power of the Sentry can stop virtually any opponent, however Robert Reynolds' own inner demons remain his most challenging obstacle. Will Norman Osborn's efforts to free the Sentry of the dangerous Void within succeed?

Sentry had two Minimates before, both in 2007's Series 12, based on the New Avengers. There was the short-haired, clean-cut version, as well as a variant with long hair, a bit of a beard, and a torn and stained costume. This one sort of splits the difference, giving us long hair, but still a clean look. Hate to break it to ya, Bob, but long hair's not fashionable any more.

This is far from a re-release of the previous Sentry Minimate. The paint detailing used to create his muscles is completely different, much more intricate and complex than before, and generally, every bit of him has gotten an upgrade. The face is actually less detailed, but the hair is a new piece, with a detailed sculpt (the previous figure's long hair was re-used from Ultimate Sabertooth, one of the first Marvel Minimates ever made).

There used to be a contractual stipulation that any pieces designed for the DC Minimates were completely prohibited from being used on Marvel Minimates. However, since DC Direct managed to cock up their Minimates so badly that the line had to be cut off, apparently that limitation is gone. Why do we say that? Because the cape he's wearing was originally Superman's. It looks very nice, but it's back-heavy and makes him unable to stand up without tipping over.

One of only two Avengers to remain on the team after Norman Osborn's rise to power, Ares now uses his powers as the god of war to hunt down his former colleagues. Will his strength be enough though, or will Ares soon face a challenge even he cannot overcome?

This is the only figure in the set who has unequivocably never had a Minimate before. We already told you of the Sentry, and whatever you want to call the other two, we've had them. But Ares? He's either the new hotness or the hot newness, and he's all alone in that. Do you wonder if he ever gets lonely? Or is his murderous bloodlust enough to keep him warm at night? If you've read our Marvel Legends Ares review, you know how long this character has been around [since the days of ancient Greece? --ed.], but since this is an Avengers Minimate, he's wearing his current costume.

Pretty much everything about this figure is new - the armor, the boots, the bracelet, the helmet - and you can take mostof it off. Beneath the armor he's got a Burt Reynolds-ish patch of chest hair, and if you want to remove his helmet, the set inludes the same short hair that came with Union Jack. You'll also get to see his godly stubble. Basically, Ares looks good either with or without his helmet, and that's rare.

Ares has three weapons, and can actually deal with all of them at once. He has an impressive dagger that sheathes on his thigh, and a peg on his back that can hold either the included axe or the sword - or hold both of them at once! The sword is actually taller than Ares is, which is damn intimidating. The axe isn't quite as huge, but it still looks like he'd be able to kill multiple enemies in one blow.

Now taking anti-psychotic medication and wearing Hawkeye's old costume, the supervillain known as Bullseye has a chance to make amends for his crimes - but will the devious marksman take the opportunity to change?

No, no he won't. That's not a spoiler for any particular story, it's just his personality. Few villains are as unambiguously malicious as Bullseye. He's not a conflicted leader or fiercely protective of his homeland, he's just a scenery-chewing, card-carrying villain who does it for no reason other than he can. That's pure, undiluted evil, right there. Say what you will about the Daredevil movie, but Collin Farrel's portrayal of Bullseye was (pardon the pun) dead-on.

There's been a Hawkeye Minimate before, and logically, this figure reuses some of those pieces, but not as many as you might think. The mask has been remolded, so there are no more eyeholes - a wise choice, since the face is painted a bit too low for the mask. You can almost see the eyes peeking out under the lower edge. Since Bullseye is bald, his head doesn't have the usual peg-hole in the top. Way to go, chrome-dome!

BullsHawk has a bow and arrow, of course. The arrow is new, with long fletching and a diamond-shaped head. He has one thick bracelet, and folded boots, and his skirt piece is the same that came with Hawkeye. He doesn't have Hawkeye's chest piece, however, instead using a waist-neck bracket to hold the quiver. All that, with the darker colors, make it clear that this isn't the same figure we had before. The set includes a black pistol, which doesn't seem to fit with any of the figures other than Bullseye.

The sudden loss of Carol Danvers combined with Moonstone's adoption of the Ms. Marvel name and costume means there's a new superhero in town - the all-new Ms. Marvel! Only time will tell if Dr. Karla Sofen can live up to the legacy...

When they're working on their Minimates, the folks at Art Asylum are privy to secrets of upcoming stories - that's how they manage to get thematic toys done so soon after the actual issues ship. They meet with the folks at Marvel, who lay out all the big "beats" for the year, and decide what's worth making. That also explains why the bio on the back of the box is a fairly accurate description of what's happening right now in Ms. Marvel. It's also interesting that while Set #1 reveals the undercover villains in parentheses next to their names, this set doesn't.

We already talked about the new Ms. Marvel when her Marvel Universe figures came out, but this is the first time there's been an official release of her. As mentioned above, Karla Sofen is wearing the '70s Ms. Marvel costume, the one with the red body and blue gloves, boots and panties. Her hair is a new piece (although not the same new piece shown in the box art), but it's already scraping some of the paint off her mask on one side. Whoops!

Another problem is the trademark Ms. Marvel scarf. It's a separate piece that fits onto the neck post, but having it there keeps her hair from resting properly against her back, thus forcing you to pose her head at an unnatural angle and generally throw off the look. Luckily, if you take the scarf off, no one will be any the wiser. She's not wearing it in the main picture of her two paragraphs up - could you tell until we told you? No. The toy works better without it.

It's barely even been half a year since Norman Osborn's Dark Avengers debuted, and we've already got toys of them. How's that for a fast turnaround! Both sets are really nice, with a wonderful assortment of new characters. Get them both, and show those goody-two-shoes heroes who the real power in the Marvel U is!

-- 08/17/09

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