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Van Helsing

Universal Monsters Select
by yo go re

Having reached the bottom of the Universal Monsters barrel, Diamond Select Toys has now begun making up their own characters.

The world is full of monsters that lurk in the darkness. They prey on the good and decent, and they grow stronger on our flesh and blood. Someone must stand up to them. Someone must protect the night against the creatures who stalk it. Dr. Abraham Van Helsing was a scholar, a student of man, science and nature, until the day his family was taken from him, and he was set down a different path. Putting his knowledge of biology, history and theology to use, he deduced what had committed the crime, and how to destroy it. Since then he has roamed the world, seeking out evil and eradicating it, so that other [sic] might enjoy the life he once had.

This toy follows the path set by a lot of Dracula adaptations that have come before, by making Abe an accomplished monster-hunter; if you read the novel, he's anything but. Dr. Seward sought Van Helsing's help only because he knew more about obscure diseases than anyone in the world, and even when he did show up, Lucy died because it took him months to diagnose her! The only person who had any kind of previous experience was the cowboy Quincey Morris - where's his terrible Stephen Sommers action movie?

Since this figure isn't based on any real movie appearance, sculptor Jean St.Jean was free to give Van Helsing any face he wanted. The book actually provides a physical description for Abie Van H, unlike most of the characters. You know what the toy really looks like, though? Ron Perlman. Jean St.Jean could do anything in the world, and he did Ron Perlman with a long scar over his blank right eye, and a grey Jason Wyndgarde Mastermind mustache. We approve!

DST's Van Helsing obviously represents the character well after the events of Dracula, when he's become the monster hunter pop culture has taught us to expect. He's wearing tall leather boots that would nearly reach his hips if they weren't folded over below the knee, pale blue jeans that are sturdier than typical Victorian era trousers, heavy duty leather gloves, and a dueling jacket with a quilted pattern between the chest and neck. Over it all he's wearing a wide utility belt and a bandolier of wooden stakes, which is really the weakest part of the design.

There are five stakes, and they're each so large that the top one butts up against his chin; either the stakes should have been removable, or they should have stopped at four. Plus, the stakes are molded as a separate piece that's glued into the chest, and it's very straight rather than being shaped to the chest, so it seems to hover. It's only really evident from the side, thankfully, so it shouldn't bother you too much.

Other than that, though, the accessories are very nice. Van Helsing is armed with a dragon pistol that holsters on his waist, and a blunderbuss, axe, and vaguely industrial scimitar that can all store on his back, in the special leather device that looks like he went to a saddler and had it specifically commissioned to hold all his gear. The sculpt on that is just as good as on the rest of the figure, and it's almost worth displaying him backwards so you can see it. Maybe put a mirror behind him.

The figure is a daunting 7⅞" tall, which seems excessive. We're used to the other various Diamond Select Select lines (eg, Marvel, Star Trek, Sin City), which are all in a 7" scale, so while 8" tall may have worked for the monsters, it feels like it's too much for a plain human described in the book as "a man of medium height." He has a balljointed head, swivel/hinge shoulders, swivel biceps, swivel/hinge elbows, swivel gloves, swivel waist, H-hips, swivel thighs, hinged knees, swivel boots, and swivel/hinge ankles. The legs almost look too straight, somehow, so it's a good thing you can pose them however you like.

If you buy Van Helsing at Toys Я Us, then that's all you get: a nicely sculpted toy with good articulation and a bunch of accessories. If you order him through your local comicshop, though, you get a little more. Like the Gill-man, Van Helsing gets an ornate display base.

His is a freshly turned section of graveyard with a Celtic cross at one end and a woman clawing her way up out of her grave at the other. Judging by the HARKER headstone, we have to assume this is meant to be the former Mina Murray, and that gives us even more information. Remember, the reason Van Helsing and his coterie were so jazzed to kill Dracula was that he had been feeding on Mina, and she would turn into a vampire when she died unless they got Drac first. So between Van Helsing's wound and the fact that Ms. Harker is nosferatu [she's Italian? --ed.], it seems this figure comes from an alternate reality where the group's attack on Dracula failed!

The base is irregularly shaped, about 6⅜" by 4¼", and 4" tall. Mina plugs in at the ribcage. I was expecting perhaps a balljoint there, but no - it's a solid connection. She does have a balljointed neck (limited by her hair) and swivels at the shoulders, so you can get a few different poses from her. The sculpt is definitely calculated to show that she's a corpse, but the paint is rather thick and gloppy. Her dress is blue, but turns brown immediately where it joins the base. Sure, she's crawling out of the dirt, but there should still be some more color below the join.

Naturally, the base has two pegs for Van Helsing's feet: one in the bright brown dirt, and the other on the cold gray rock. He sure looks dynamic with one leg raised slightly! The headstone and the cross both fit into shallow slots in the dirt.

Most adaptations of Dracula portray Van Helsing as German, despite the fact that he's in Amsterdam when Dr. Seward sends for him, and he's got a freaking Dutch name ("Van Helsing" means "of the Hälsingland," a historical province on Sweden's central coast, but if you think those people didn't get around, just remember that Helsinki, Finland, is named after the same area)! So it's not like there isn't a rich history of people changing what Abraham Van Helsing is all about; this toy is just part of a long tradition, and even with all the deviations, he's a cool offering.

-- 10/08/14

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