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Movie Masters Superman vs. Zod

Man of Steel
by yo go re

All my previous Man of Steel figure purchases were made before seeing the movie - the purchases were made on the basis of the figures alone, not the way they were portrayed in the film. I had no plans to get "plainclothes" Zod (because the armored one was cooler) or Superman himself (because he's plentiful enough to go on clearance, eventually). Conveniently, this SDCC exclusive offers the chance to get both at once!

Imprisoned in the phantom zone, General Zod, a warrior born from generations before him, escaped when Krypton was destroyed. He led a small band of surviving Kryptonians in search of a new home and in the process discovered a planet called Earth and a man once known as Kal-El.

Let's be honest: if not for Kevin Smith deciding that Terrence Stamp's "son of Jor-El, kneel before Zod" line deserved to be a meme, it never would have happened. When it was quoted in Mallrats, that was the first time anybody had even thought about it in 15 years - and the character who originally delivered the line wasn't any more important, either. Man of Steel managed to give Zod a believable motivation beyond simple, stupid revenge, a motivation that was understandable and sympathetic, even though he was the villain of the film. It's a more complex character than he's ever been in the comics, where he was just a typical, tooth-gnashing bad guy.

Zod is wearing a typical textured Kryptonian suit. Judging by the fact that both he and Jor-El were wearing suits like this beneath their armor, you get the feeling this is what Kryptonian underwear looks like. Perverts. The majority of the sculpt is the same as Superman's, which seems a bit lazy, but Mattel made changes where it counts: the symbol on his chest represents the House of Zod, not the House of El. His right hand is a fist, while his left is open to clutch something. Since this is a reused body, the neck looks slightly too long.

Sadly, the figure's head is the same seen on Armored Zod - make no mistake, that's accurate to the movie, it's just that the mass-market version of this figure has the beardless face, making it look different from the one I already owned. But to be fair, that armored figure is hard to find, so this is probably most folks' chance to see this head. It still looks too tall, though: for a better Michael Shannon likeness, it should be "squished" vertically a bit.

Zod has typically insufficient Movie Masters articulation: hinged ankles, single-hinged knees (because this is 1997, apparently), swivel thighs, H-hips, a swivel waist, swivel wrists, single-hinge elbows (see derisive comment about the knees, above), swivel biceps, swivel/hinge shoulders, and a poorly balljointed head. There's no chest joint, because who would ever want to put a character like General Zod into a pose that required him to move his torso even slightly to the front or back?

Kal-El was originally born on Krypton, but his parents knew the only chance their child had to survive was to find him a new home - the planet Earth. Here, he was found and raised by the Kent family, growing up on a farm in Smallville as their son Clark Kent. Although his body slowly developed extraordinary powers, Clark didn't realize his full potential until he uncovered some links to his birth planet.

The characterization of Clark Kent in Man of Steel really rubbed some people the wrong way. They were apparently expecting the goofy Boy Scout who never falters and can do no wrong, the two-dimensional walking smile who's allergic to magic rocks. Unfortunately, they were instead made to suffer through a story about a real, interesting character. The poor babies. Part of an origin story is not knowing how people are going to react to you. The tragedy of the story is that Clark's so afraid of being made into an outcast, he's turned himself into one; that's a Marvel-style internal weakness, not a DC-style external one, which threw people off. Compare that to the end of the movie, when he's shown his powers, and people have demonstrated their trust in him; he still has an edge, but he's much lighter. Man of Steel was not a Superman movie, it was a Kal-El movie, and there's a difference.

While the normal Superman release has a boring, expressionless look on his face, this one has a look of barely contained rage. What's this? A Superman who has and expresses emotions? This goes against everything Superman has stood for for 75 years!!! I'm going to go on the internet and write a poorly worded rant to show everyone the extent of my nerd-rage!

The face and tousled hair aren't the only things that make this figure different from the mass release. When you push the button on his back, a bulb inside his head lights up to simulate his heat vision. This type of thing has been tried on action figures before, but it's never worked this well. When the light is off, the face looks completely normal. The eyes are white, the pupils and irises are painted, all that. There's absolutely no clue that he's about to be filled with the fires of hell. When you press the button, the light pulses twice and then fades out. The whites of his eyes turn red, and the glow can be seen around his temples and the tendons in his neck. It looks powerful!

Because of the electronics, Superman's head is just a swivel joint, not a balljoint. That's disappointing, but not unexpected. Other than that, he moves in all the same places as Zod, and is just as highly detailed. Which makes sense, since it's basically the same sculpt. The dark colors are very striking, and the silver detailing around his waist help break up the giant field of blue. His cape is cloth and has a poseable wire lining down the sides, allowing you to make it flap however you wish.

Mattel always goes overboard with their exclusive packaging. Last year's Bruce Wayne was more about the box than the toy inside it, but this set reels things back in. The front of the outer box looks like Superman's chest, and there are images of Superman and Zod on the sides. The display inside is what's really cool, though.

When the two Kryptonian's [sic] meet, Kal-El must choose between his newly-discovered heritage and his adopted planet. This clash in Metropolis tests the strength and courage of both General Zod and Kal-El, making them use every power in their arsenal in a final battle for Earth.

(Yes, it really says "Kryptonian's," with an apostrophe. If that doesn't make your skin crawl, it's time for some remedial education. Of course, literate people have been railing against the so-called "grocers' apostrophe" since the 18th century, and we're still stuck with it. Even the Oxford Companion to the English Language admits that "there was never a golden age in which the rules for the use of the possessive apostrophe in English were clear-cut and known, understood, and followed by most educated people." So we don't actually expect the fight to be over any time soon. Doesn't mean we won't keep fighting it.)

Back on topic, the interior packaging is a diorama depicting the middle of Superman and Zod's fight through the city. The box is bent, making it look damaged, and the interior shows an abandoned office space - ceiling tiles, flourescent lights, charts, graphs, TPS reports, a water cooler... all that. Officey things. There are big steel girders visible in the walls, and a loose one that Zod can hold. The backdrop is an aerial view of Metropolis (well, of some city standing in for Metropolis, at least), printed hazily on plastic to allow light to shine through.

A display base is included, 7½" wide and sculpted with another steel girder, a broken chimney, and a crater in the center. There's a channel in the back that appears designed to accommodate a cardboard backdrop, but none is included. Beneath the tray, you'll find a clear flight stand for one of the figures: one end goes around their waist, and the other clips into the rubble.

You may want to leave that where it is, though, and just use the packaging for display. The plastic tray holds Superman and Zod in a nice fighting pose, with Supes hovering and Zod swinging the beam. Plus, there's even an action feature here! The whole thing is powered by Superman: a cord plugs into his back, using his internal batteries to run the rest. Press a button on the base, and his eyes light up, there's a stock sound effect of a laser blast, and then a light beneath the girder turns on, making it look like he's melting the steel with his heat vision. Nice! Plus, it's easy to get the figures in and out of the tray, so there's no downside to leaving them in there.

One of the most foolish complaints about Man of Steel was that Superman let "millions" of people die, a bit of pure hyperbole that can easily be shot down with even a little bit of basic math. The movie was great - the best Superman's been portrayed in years - and though this set could have been better, it's a good commemoration of the film (even if it was kind of ridiculous that Mattel embargoed images of it until two weeks after they started selling it).

-- 08/14/13

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