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The Invaders

Marvel Universe
by yo go re

In 2008, one of the SDCC exclusives was a set of The Invaders. Well, you know what they say, history repeats itself.

It was Winston Churchill who suggested to Captain America that he form his fellow heroes into a super powered squad committed to frontline action against the Axis powers that were overrunning Europe. A natural leader, Cap took the idea seriously and molded his teammates into a force unequaled by any otehr on the continent. Wherever the Axis or their minions lurked, the Invaders were there to squelch their malevolent plans.

Considering how toys have to avoid mentioning Nazis (that's right, Hasbro, Indiana Jones fought "German Soldiers" - that's not the same thing at all), it's pretty impressive that the card-back bio here actually refers to the Axis. Isn't that dangerously close to hinting at Nazis? Now, of course, putting the word "Nazi" on a kids' toy would lead to some awkward conversations ("daddy, daddy, what's a 'NAW-zee?'"), but an SDCC exclusive is pretty far from being for kids. So in that case, calling them the Axis is probably a good compromise.

Though we've already had an Ultimate Captain America, this figure (#SD1) is the first time we've gotten a "classic" Cap - you know, with the head-wings, pirate boots and plain blue legs. The figure is still wearing the brown utility belt, but that's a minor detail in the grand scheme of things. His chain mail is a sculpted texture, leaving the neck and underarms smooth. The star on his chest is a raised element, and surprisingly, so are the red stripes on his stomach!

Captain America stands 4¼ tall, and moves at the head, shoulders, biceps, elbows, gloves, torso, hips, knees, boots and ankles. The head is a new sculpt, of course, since Ultimate Cap never had to suffer the indignity of tiny wings on the sides of his head. Seriously, what's up with those? You can almost defend the A on his forehead (though that would make a perfect target for a sniper), but wings? What was Joe Simon thinking?

Cap has his mighty shield, of course, which has a clasp for his wrist and elastic bands so you can slip it onto his shoulders. To help sell this as the "old" version of Captain America, his "white" paint actually isn't: it's more of an eggshell or ecru, the pale cream color that old newsprint fades into. He's aged! That's a small touch, but it will set him apart nicely from all the other Captains America. Since SHIELD was still about thirty years away from being founded, these figures' paper accessories aren't SHIELD memos and ID cards, but rather ones issued by the War Department. Clever!

The half-human king of Atlantis has often preferred to isolate himself and his kingdom from the petty affairs of the surface dwellers. He recognizes, however, that events can occur on the surface that are simply too significant to simply ignore. He joins the Invaders not to defend Europe, but to ensure that the horror being wrought on the surface by the Axis never comes to his beloved home under the sea.

The whole "I'm only joining you to stop the Nazis from doing bad things to my kingdom next" thing really isn't logical. Obviously they were going to paint Namor as a hero, because even though he hates the surface world, he's still their character and a headliner in his own book, so he was never going to join America's enemy. However, although the Nazis were committing attrocities, Namor had no evidence the Allies wouldn't turn on him, too. Did they just conveniently not mention the Japanese internment camps in the American southwest? No, it's not the same situation, but as an outsider, would Namor really see a difference? From his point of view, FDR would be just as likely to order troops to march (swim?) on Atlantis as Tojo would.

Namor shares his body with Marvel Universe figure #018 - that's black-suited Spidey, for those out there who don't have these things memorized (that would be "everyone," by the way). Since he's still hard to find, as of this writing, Namor's body may as well be new. It's very skinny, which suits a swimmer, and he stands 4¼" - that seems too tall. His feet are new, since Spider-Man obviously didn't have wings on his ankles. The trunks are just painted on, with a few spots of scales for detailing.

The figure's head is very odd-looking, in order to capture the look of creator Bill Everett's artwork. He has the pointed ears and the extreme hairline, but the overall proportions seem skewed. Maybe it's just the paint - there's a brown wash over the whole figure that's extremely heavy, the sort of unprofessional work you'd expect from Mattel, not Hasbro. He has blue stripes in his hair, meant to represent highlights, and his eyebrows are just ridiculous.

The Sub-Mariner has two accessories: a fancy trident, and a shell horn. Every Namor toy comes with one of these ridiculous forks, it seems, but at least this one is a little less pompous than usual. And while the shell horn is a staple of underwater fiction (and has a nicely detailed sculpt) it just wouldn't work - a shell works on the surface because it amplifies the vibrations in the air, but under water, the effect wouldn't function the same way. Already filled with water, there would be no amplification. Namor's included memo is one instructing the soldiers to stop complaining about him being only half-human.

When he was first built, not even his creator suspeced how complex the android that would later become the original Human Torch was. Human in every way that counts, Jim Hammond swore to protect humanity, and willingly enlisted in the battle against the Axis. His flame powers and ability to fly provided the Invaders with the air cover they needed as he soared overhead, melting enemy tanks and artillery into slang.

You know how Superman was DC's first superhero, but since DC has gone to great pains to keep him current, the average citizen living in the DC Universe doesn't think of him that way - he only started operating 10 years ago, while guys like the Justice Society have been around since WWII. The "first" DC hero is a guy called the Crimson Avenger. It's confusing. Anyway, Marvel doesn't have that problem: the first hero they published was the Human Torch; the first hero in the universe was the Human Torch.

The Human Torch (#SD3) uses a very simple body, a repaint of the Silver Surfer (#003 in the Marvel Universe lineup) - which was also used for the Johnny Storm figure, so that makes sense. Since art wasn't very sophisticated in Hammond's day, he was usually drawn as a red human with a halo of flame and a bunch of small black lines drawn on him to no logical end. This figure duplicates that, with black paint more or less matching up with his major muscles - at least, on the front. His backside is completely bare.

The head is a new mold, since another feature of the old Human Torch was that he was drawn without a face. Can't very well use Johnny Storm for that, can ya, Hasbro!? He has a hint of indentations where eyes would be, a bump for the nose, etc. Like he's wearing a full-head mask without any eye-holes. He has sculpted flames rising off his scalp, which bring him to 4½" tall.

Articulation is plentiful, with a balljointed head, swivel/hinge shoulders, swivel biceps, hinge elbows, swivel forearms, swivel/hinge torso, balljointed hips, double-hinge knees and hinged ankles. The Torch gets one accessory, a new fireball effect that fits onto his arm. His War Deptarment memo is about his final field test, and what the military plans to do if he ever goes rogue. And apparently even back then, nobody could tell the difference between it's and its.

The Red Skull was a living symbol of the terror and intimidation that ruled in the early years of the Second World War. His effectiveness as an agent and potentcy as a propagandist spurred the creation of Captain America, who grew to be the Red Skull's most formidable adversary. Throughout the war and beyond, the Red Skull rose again and again to threaten the lives of the Invaders, and of freedom-loving people around the world.

The Red Skull was around before Captain America? Who knew. Well, presumably a lot of people knew, because it's been an established fact for ages. And beyond that, Red Skull even showed up in Captain America Comics #1! [That was a different Red Skull, but it turned out he was working for the real guy. --ed.] Whatever. Hitler himself trained and equipped the Red Skull, so that he could embody the terror of the Nazi Party while Hitler remained the (semi-)benevolent face of the German government. It's like how Artemis is the friendly spokesgirl for OAFE, while Shocka is out committing contract killings to pay the bills. Division of labor!

Dressed in a fancy Nazi uniform, Nazi Red Skull is a Nazi repaint of the Nazi Col. Vogel Nazi from the Indiana Jones toyline, where he was a Nazi. Of course, since only about two people ever found Col. Vogel, the body might as well be new. It's a very nice piece, with a field jacket over jodhpurs, heavy detailing on the ornamentation and even a working holster on the hip. He's wearing a green armband, with a gold and black Hydra logo. Heil Hail Hydra! The only down side? Not much articulation. Vogel got shortchanged, and now Red Skull does too, with a balljointed head, swivel/hinge shoulders and elbows, swivel waist, swivel hips and swivel/hinge knees. No wrists, no ankles... rather strange.

The head is a totally new piece, of course. It looks really nice, and is definitely more than just a red skull: there are heavy brows, distinct cheeks and lips - something you absolutely don't see on a skull - and his blue eyes flash wildly. Reddy's look is due to his Dust of Death, a chemical that shrivels the flesh and gives it a bright red color, so it's not like his head is just supposed to be anatomically correct bone or anything.

Skull retains two of Vogel's accessories: he doesn't have the hat any more, but that's just a minor loss. He's still got the quintessential German Luger pistol, which fits perfectly into the holster, and a snazzy baton, favorite of hardass military types everywhere. It'd be perfect for Sgt. Slaughter, for instance. It's black, with a gold tip. His ID card is from Hydra, and his memo is a transcript from Bucky about a secret base. Red Skull is figure #SD4, and none of the Invaders come with codes for the Fury Files website.

The Invaders set comes in a large box marked "Classified," with a background celebrating Marvel's 70th birthday. The figures inside are individually carded, and rest in red trays with artwork of the characters. The card art, incidentally, is the first Marvel Universe stuff not drawn by Frank Cho - instead, it's done by Marvel's head honcho, Joe Quesada. I know we give Joey Q crap about the stink-fest that was "One More Day," but the packages are a good reminder of why he became such a popular artist in the first place. For more on his process, you can check out Quesada's two-part article here and here. We won't subject you to all the details here, but it's a cool insight. The box is held shut by a removable magnet.

There will be other Captains America. There will be other Namors. In a pinch, you can use Johnny Storm to stand in for Jim Hammond. But this is probably the only time there will be a Marvel Universe Red Skull, so if you want him, get the set. Hasbro did a great job with this four-pack, and getting it all together will probably be cheaper than paying a scalper for a single piece.

-- 08/10/09

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