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Marvel Universe
by yo go re

Though Hasbro's 4"-scaled Marvel Universe line started out strongly, with new shipments coming out regularly and even hard-to-find figures becoming plentiful eventually. Recently, though, that's stopped. The second year of figures must have been under-ordered, because finding the things is a pain. I still check the stores every time I go out, hoping to finally find Jean Grey and X-Force Warpath, but there's no sign of them. That's why, instead of waiting for a sale, I jumped on Thor as soon as he hit the pegs.

When Thor returned from the darkness of Ragnarok, he found a world far different from the one he'd left behind. He therefore resolved to concern himself more with Asgaard and its people than with the problems of humanity. Even so, the closeness he felt with the mortals of Earth led him to bring him kingdom to the mortal realm so that his fellow gods might learn what it was like to live among them.

Thor has long been one of the "big guns" of the Marvel universe. Over at DC, the "Big Three" are Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman, but for the average citizen of Marvel-world, it's Captain America, Iron Man and Thor. However, around the time the Avengers were being Disassembled, the character's popularity had fallen, and so he was written off. Like the bio says, Ragnarok happened and Thor and the rest of the Asgaardians were taken off the board for about three years. And when he came back, he came back big.

The god of thunder returned in 2007's Thor #1, written by J. Michael Strazynski - the single most popular book that July. The art was by Olivier Coipel, who redesigned Thor's costume from the ghastly eyesores he'd been wearing in the'90s (and heck, the early '00s, as well). Considering that Thor's original costume was designed by Jack Kirby and for 30 years the biggest change he'd undergone was growing a beard, it's tough to come up with something that can stand up to that, but this really does. It ties in with the old suit, thanks to the blue tunic and the metal discs on the chest. Covering the arms (a first for a long-term Thor costume) and legs in what is probably meant to be chainmail makes sense for a warrior, but it's not overly baroque. He's still wearing his giant cape, but it's actually clasped by the discs, giving them purpose and it an anchor point.

Coipel redesigned the helmet, as well. The trademark wings are present, of course, but the line of the helmet slopes down slightly, making Thor look permanently angry, and therefore a threat to his enemies. More importantly, it looks like a helmet, not a skullcap as some other designs have. The figure's face is wide and flat, matching Coipel's artwork, but it also serves to make him look non-human (as a literal god should).

Thor is one of the biggest figures in the line (other than the Giant Battles sets, of course), standing 4¾" tall to the top of his wings - that puts him on par with Red Hulk, meaning you can re-enact their fight and actually have it go the right way this time. He has a balljointed head, swivel/hinge shoulders, swivel biceps, hinged elbows, swivel wrists, balljointed torso, swivel waist, balljointed hips, swivel thighs, double-hinged knees and swivel/hinge ankles. The joints are sturdy enough to support him, but of course, be aware of how heavy his cape is when posing him.

The paint is good, although changes in comic styles mean that modern Thor isn't as vibrant as original Thor. The '60s design was all primary colors, red and blue and yellow; this one is rosewood and glaucous and chamoisee. His hair color and skintone are close, but distinct from one another, something that's always a question with dirty blonde hair. The lines of his armor are sculpted, but there's also a wash to bring out the detail. The same is true of the wrinkles on his shirt, and there's a light drybrushing on his boots. The stock photography suggests a silver paint app is missing from the cape clasps: on the final figre, they're the same color as the rest of the cape.

Thor comes with his hammer, of course. Comic fans know that it's called Mjolnir, and is made from the enchanted Uru metal, right? Wrong. Yes, the hammer's called Mjolnir, but "uru" doesn't come from mythology: Larry Lieber, the guy writing the stories, made it up because he didn't bother to check whether the thing had a name or not. Roy Thomas decied to keep the name, though, because it was a nice short alternative to writing out M-j-o-l-n-i-r when space was tight in a word balloon. He's also got a black display stand with his name and series number - 012 - on it. The numbering of the figures has been reset, for some reason.

The second year of Marvel Universe toys has slightly redesigned packaging. The shape is the same, but rather than a SHIELD logo, it's the HAMMER logo. Great timing, considering that the entire existence of HAMMER is done now. That story's over. [And we never found out what "H.A.M.M.E.R." stood for, either! --ed.] Additionally, the great Frank Cho artwork that graced all the cards before has been dropped, replaced by Mike Deodato Jr. Yeah, no. The guy's a good artist, great for certain things, but he's not "packaging design" good. It's like when Jim Calafiore follows... well, pretty much anybody on a comic that used to be good. Thor's got the paper accessories, of course, but apparently Hasbro's shut down the Fury Files website. You know, that's the downside of online content: it's a great bonus, but eventually the company takes it down and then you've got link rot. Bad show, Hasbro.

JMS took a failing character and turned him into one of the highest sellers the company had: in 2004, Thor couldn't even support his own book; in 2010, he was the centerpiece of a companywide crossover. The new design is strong, strong enough that the upcoming live-action movie lifted it almost directly for their costume (much like Iron Man did with the Extremis armor). This figure is a very nice representation of Oliver Coipel's artwork, and is well made. Fan of Thor or the Avengers? Want a movie toy way before the movie comes out? This is the toy for you.

-- 05/16/10

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