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Marvel Universe
by yo go re

You know, usually, it's Mattel copying all of Hasbro's ideas. Superposeable 6" action figures? Pack-in comicbooks? Build-A-Figures? They're all things Mattel has tried, and they're all things Marvel Legends did before them. They've even got Superhero Squad-style figures coming out this year, and it probably won't be too long until we see second-rate Mighty Mugg knockoffs, either. And if you really want to take a step back, the 5" animated JLU figures are nothing more than a continuation of the Batman animated figures pioneered by (you guessed it) Kenner - now a Hasbro subsidiary. But there's one category in which Mattel is the actual leader, and that's a separate 3¾" line.

Clint Barton's reflexes and fighting skills were honed to perfection by an early life spent pulling seemingly impossible physical feats under the lights of the big top. He eventually grew bored with circus life, though, and went in search of bigger, better thrills. Eventually he found them by joining the Avengers. Since then, he's battled ninjas, aliens, and super-androids, as well as traveled from one end of the universe to the other, first as the marksman Hawkeye, and now as the swordsman supreme Ronin.

Now, when we say Mattel is the "leader," we just mean that they brought their toys out first - it's not a judgement of their inherent value. Which is good, because Mattel's Infinite Heroes are amazing disappointments in every imaginable way, and Hasbro's "Marvel Universe" line has blown them out of the water with its first releases.

Of course, if any company could be expected to hit the ground running on 3¾" toys, it's Hasbro. This is the company that brought us GI Joe, after all, and has been in charge of Star Wars since its reemergence in 1995. In fact, one of the reasons Indiana Jones won Worst of the Year in the ToYs was because we expected better from Hasbro. And with first the Wolverine Origins and now the Marvel Universe toys, Hasbro is delivering "better."

Ronin is a really sizeable figure - 4¼" tall, ½" bigger than the classic GI Joes and even looking down on the larger G3 Joes. His costume, designed by David Finch, is re-created well here, with both the wrinkles in the cloth and the lines of his armor sculpted nicely. His articulation is on par with the recent GI Joe toys, offering balljoints at the ankles, hips, torso, shoulders and head, double-hinged knees, a swivel waist, wrists and biceps, and hinged elbows. The only "real" balljoint in the bunch is his head (though the construction of his neck has him always looking down), so overall, this could just be another variant Snake-Eyes uniform, if you don't know who Ronin is.

The figure's accessories include a katana and nunchucks, but unlike his larger counterpart, neither of them is hard to get in or out of his hands. The chain on the nunchucks is just plastic, of course, so they stick straight up in the air. The Marvel Universe figures also come with a a secret SHIELD file in a manilla envelope: Ronin's is a memo from Carol Danvers about how Clint isn't the best choice to flip on Cap's Secret Avengers. There's also a code you can enter on Hasbro's website for another little story.

The Marvel Universe figures are sold in nice, simple packaging: it's blue and white, with a large Marvel logo near the top. All the art for the cards, rather than being taken from existing sources, is newly drawn by Frank Cho. That means it looks good. The guy's a great artist, so it's excellent to see his work gracing the shelves when you go to the toy store. Big pictures, right up there in the corner - love it!

The Ronin costume originally belonged to Echo, a supporting character from Daredevil, which means that either she's really blocky or Clint is suprisingly feminine, if they can both wear the same suit. Anyway, neither of those was the original intention: before New Avengers started, Bendis accidentally let it slip in an interview that Ronin was going to be Daredevil in disguise - remember this was back when Matt Murdock was fighting legal allegations that he was DD, so having him run around on the team in red tights wouldn't have been a smart move on Matt's part. Thus, he was going to make up the identity of Ronin and help the team out that way. But when Bendis let the secret out early, they had to scramble to find a replacement that everybody hadn't guessed already. That's why Ronin's identity wasn't revealed for about a year. Whether you want this figure to be Clint Barton or Maya Lopez, Ronin's a good example of how much fun this line is going to be.

-- 04/13/09

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