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Bionic Commando: Nathan "Rad" Spencer

Player Select
by yo go re

I kind of miss the old days, when NECA had an online presence and kept its fans up-to-date on what toys were coming when. On the other hand, when they did that, you were much less likely to walk into a store and be pleasantly surprised that something you'd been waiting for had finally been released.

Once a decorated soldier and hero of the FSA, Nathan "Rad" Spencer was wrongly accused of treason and sentenced to death. Now temporarily reinstated after the destruction of Ascension City, Spencer must reunite with his Bionic Arm to swing back into action, and go behind-the-lines to fight for the people who hate him.

Now, I've never played Bionic Commando - not the original, not any of the remakes, not the new next-gen version (because it's not out yet, duh), nothing. I know the original was a platformer that was unique in that there was no "jump" function, and that the game had you fighting Nazis (called "Nazz" in the instruction manual - maybe that's the proper plural form?) and at the end, Hitler's face exploded. Except in the US version, where he was called "Master D," and was slightly redrawn. But none of that had any impact at all on my decision to buy this figure.

Rad is a futuristic soldier, and he looks the part. He's wearing a simple green tank top with some kind of white logo on the chest, camouflage pants, and boots that look like he shoe-jacked Master Chief. Hey, what do you want? It's the future. He must have hurt his hand somehow, because it's been hastily bandaged. He has a tactical pants-retaining system (a belt and suspenders), but it's only partially operational: the suspenders don't go up over his shoulders, but instead hang down from his waist. The only bare skin we see is his right arm, face and neck, but the arm seems to have a different texture from the rest; it's fairly smooth, while his chest is rough. Oh, and if you raise his arm? Fully sculpted and painted armpit hair.

I got a good figure, but you'll really need to check the Bionic Commando's paint before you buy one: the twin collars on the shirt can get rather sloppy, and he has a bit of "stubble" wash on his chin that really varies from figure to figure. There's a black FSA insignia tattooed on his right shoulder (and a blue one painted on his left), and the lines are clean and crisp. His bandage is slightly dirty, suggesting it wasn't recently applied. The camo on his pants is understated, so it doesn't look like a toy's paint apps. Rad's skin is tanned, with well-done patches of darker paint creating shadows and tone.

One of the coolest parts of Jason Frailey's detailed sculpt is the head. Normally when we say that, we really just mean the face, but this time, it's the head; yes, his face is good, and so detailed you have to wonder if GRIN, the game's developers, based Rad's appearance on his voice actor, former Faith No More singer Mike Patton. It really is superb work - it's just that the hair deserves a mention, too.

See, Rad's gone with a very manageable 'do: when you're out running around and saving the world, you don't have time to worry about your fashionable faux-hawk, so he's gone with down and dirty dreads. Now, usually that would be an insanely tough thing to sculpt, but Frailey is a clever artist, and found a way to do it that looks great: during the sculpting process, the "hair" was actual rope; he heated the Castilene (the wax/clay mixture sculptors work with) and poured it slowly onto the ropes until the material covered them fully, but the texture still showed through. It hardens, gets transferred down from the two-up to the 7" scale, and Bob's your uncle, we've got dreadlocks! Pro.

In the game, the Bionic Arm is an artificial limb composed of lightweight and durable graphite composite materials, and powered by a replaceable hydrogen micro-fuel cell. It's actually wired into the user's nervous system, so it responds to thought and impulses just like a real limb would. On the toy, the arm is fully sculpted, an impressive assemblage of unusual pieces over a central core of thick hoses. You can really tell this thing was sculpted from the inside out. One of the hoses plugs into the figure's spine, whiel another runs to a balljointed plug in his chest. There does seem to be a missed paint app on the arm - some hoses left silver instead of painted brown like the rest - but it's hard to spot, and besides, there's a cute little easter egg painted on his elbow: the serial number is 1987, the same year the original Bionic Commando hit arcades.

Rad comes with one accessory, a gun. But this isn't just any gun, it's the personal defense weapon of choice for close quarters FSA military vehicle and aircraft crews! The SteinMech 4.62mm "Tungsten" semi-automatic pistol! How exciting is that! Okay, so it's a futuristic handgun of made-up design, but it fits with the aesthetic of the Rad Spencer's world, and the figure holds it perfectly. That's really all you can ask, right? Well, of course, you can ask for more, but that doesn't mean you'll get it.

Except with NECA, who actually does give us more. The original Bionic Commando gimmick was that he shot his hand off to use as a grappling hook, right? Well, this toy can do that. The hand detaches and unspools a 10½" line, for real Bionic action. I'm not sure I'd try to hang Rad from the hand for any length of time, but it still looks cool. You can rewind the string by using the thumb as a lever, and there's a notch in the wrist to make sure you get the hand reattached in the proper place.

The packaging proclaims that the figure has 32 points of articulation, and that's no lie. Let's count them off! Swivel/hinge ankles, hinged knees (in an odd place: beneath the apparent knee), swivel thighs, post-balljoint hips, swivel waist, swivel wrist, angled swivel elbow, swivel/hinge shoulder, and balljointed head. What's that, you say? That's only 18 points of articulation? Well, that's becaue he haven't even counted anything in the mechanical arm yet. Like the hinge/swivel shoulder, hinged elbow with a swivel just below it (though the swivel is limited by the shape of the lower arm). So where are we now? That's another four joints, so we're up to 22. Still 10 short, huh? Well, that presents a bit of a problem. How are we supposed to get to the supposed total of 32 when we still have to contend with fifteen individual finger joints! We're five joints high! [just like 4/20 at Snoop Dogg's house! --ed.] Maybe they were counting the ankles and shoulders as one each, and ignoring the bionic forearm swivel.

For the most part, NECA's done a really nice job with their Player Select toys, both the solo releases and the dedicated line. There's a good variety of licenses, and the company does its best to make sure we're getting more than just tiny plastic statues: the core failing of McFarlane Toys' low-selling videogame figures (prior to Halo, of course). Rad Spencer is another fine addition, even if you don't know or care who he is. He's well-designed, insanely playable and just all-around cool. And since this is one of the figures NECA got into Toys Я Us stores, he's easy to find and surprisingly affordable.

-- 02/04/09

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