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Transforming Lamont Cranston

The Shadow
by yo go re

When I was growing up, my local library lent cassette tapes. There was lots of music I doubt anyone would actually want to listen to, but they also had some old-time radio shows, including The Shadow. And one year I actually got a box set of The Shadow tapes for Christmas. So why the heck didn't I ever buy the toys when The Shadow got turned into a movie?

Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men? The Shadow knows! Meet Lamont Cranston, billionaire playboy with mysterious mind control powers that allow him to transform into the Shadow, unseen defender of justice. Can the Shadow and his army of secret agents keep the streets safe from villains like Shiwan Khan and his evil henchmen? Only the Shadow knows!

When the publishers of Detective Story Magazine wanted to turn their stories into a radio series, they decided they needed a narrator, and came up with a mysterious, sinister host called the Shadow. While they hoped that Detective Story Hour would be a good way to advertise the magazine, it didn't quite work out that way: people went to newsstands and asked for "that Shadow magazine." Not about to miss capitalizing on public interest, the magazine's circulation manager hired an author to start writing novels about the Shadow at a rate of two per month. Then, in 1937, the Shadow got his own radio show, and became a full-fledged cultural icon.

The 1994 movie starred Alec Baldwin as Lamont Cranston, and proved that whatever casting director never cast him as Bruce Wayne should be fired. Since this figure is from Kenner, not McFarlane, the likeness is only so-so, but it's as good as you could expect from the era. Even today, you can recognize who it's supposed to be.

The Shadow's false identity of Lamont Cranston, wealthy young man about town, was one of the inspirations for billionaire playboy Bruce Wayne, so it's no surprise that this tuxedoed figure looks a lot like Gotham's favorite son. The sculpt was probably considered quite good when the toy was released, but it definitely shows its age. The jacket hugs his body like spandex (despite clearly being sculpted with a cummerbund and a vest beneath it), and the only wrinkles in the cloth are vague suggestions around the joints. The details in his wingtip shoes are soft, and his hands are almost comically blocky.

Lamont stands 5½" tall and moves only at the big five. It's not like there's any reason he couldn't have more joints: there are no action features in the arms or legs that would preculde them, and elbow and knee hinges were commonplace. Heck, swivel/hinge shoulders weren't even unheard of! This is like an upsized version of a 4" figure (which, considering Kenner was one year away from restarting Star Wars, that may not be too far from the truth).

This figure is called "Transforming Lamont Cranston," and that name wouldn't mean much if it didn't transform. To that end, he's got one of my favorite action features of the '90s: the collapsible head. Seriously, I unironically love that idea, and think it was one of the best innovations of the decade. It's a great way to handle "civilian" figures, because the mask doesn't need to be large enough to fit over their head, thus preserving the illusion of the toy's scale. Considering that the only other figures we can think of that used this "super-turtling" power are in Batman movie toys (also produced by Kenner), it's possible this was the first toy to do it.

To turn Lamont into the Shadow, the set includes gloves to cover his hands, and a piece that snaps over the chest. It's not much, but the transformation works. The head still turns, so we're not losing any articulation, and the eyes are light-piped through the top of his hat. Also, the tails of his tuxedo jacket are removable, so they don't interfere with the look of the figure.

What does interfere with the look of the figure is the actual design. The Shadow typically wore a black, crimson-lined cloak over a normal suit, and a big red scarf over his mouth. Instead of a scarf, this one has a... golden... gas mask? Uh, okay. And the gloves and chest piece is oddly technological, with harsh angles and blocky straps. A softer sculpt (and some red paint) would have done wonders for most of the problems, but why a gas mask? The inside of his cape is silver, but that we can forgive: there were four Shadow figures in the movie toyline, and they all had a different color cape lining. Better to change that than to put him in a day-glo orange suit, right Batman?

In addition to the costume elements, the Shadow has two accessories: his guns. They're not quite the customized .45 Win Mag LAR Grizzly pistols used in the film, but they're big and blocky and look perfectly threatening in his hands. Both guns are the same mold, so no need to worry about left or right. But who puts scopes on handguns?

Since this is a '90s movie figure, you can probably pick one up for less than the cost of the plastic used in its manufacture. There's a more "normal" Shadow available, but this is the only way you can get a Lamont Cranston figure.

So really, between this figure and Fix-It Felix Jr., I guess we're well on our way to the world's most unconventional continuation of 30 Rock. Quick, somebody send me Luiz the bulldog from Rio, Giselle the deer from Open Season, and then get Tina Fey into something that will be turned into toys. Wait, she was in Megamind and they never made a toy of her character? Then my only choice is to settle for Sarah Palin until something better comes along. Now I know how John McCain felt.

-- 02/03/13

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