DEFENDERS OF EARTH (NECA)
NOTE: This review was written before June 6th.
“Lord of the jungle, the hero who stalks, the beast call him brother, the ghost who walks! The Phantom is the possessor of the strongest and most unique powers on Earth. He draws upon the ancient secrets and supernatural strengths of his roots in the Deep Woods. The Phantom’s ‘flashes’ of raw animal power are invaluable in the Defenders’ conquest of evil Ming and his ruthless robot army.”
First appearing in 1936, Lee Falk’s The Phantom is a costumed hero that actually predates Superman and the introduction of the super hero proper in 1938, which is something of a surprise to a lot of people. The Phantom was a pulp hero, but something of a transitional one, as he helped to move the whole genre more into the direction that Superman would take things two years later. Definitely a prominent role in the history of modern storytelling, right? It’s a shame he’s never been able to find his footing with modern audiences. The character got a less than stellarly received film starring Billy Zane in 1996, as well as some movie serials in the ’40s. Most relevantly for the purposes of this review, however, was his appearance alongside other King Features properties in 1986’s Defenders of the Earth, a 65-episode cartoon, which serves as the basis for NECA’s new line of figures. I’m kicking things off with the Ghost Who Walks today!
THE FIGURE ITSELF
The Phantom is figure 01 in the first series of NECA’s Defenders of the Earth line. He’s based on his design from the Defenders of the Earth cartoon, albeit through the lens of something slightly more typical for a modern NECA figure, rather than something purely cartoon accurate. For the cartoon, Phantom’s appearance was fairly close to his original design, just minus the striped shorts he tended to have previously. The figure stands a little over 7 inches tall and he has 33 points of articulation. He’s quite posable for a NECA release, even one of the more recent ones. The joints are definitely on the stiffer side, but it means he has an easier time holding a pose. Structurally, Phantom is making use of the core body from NECA’s earlier DC figures from their AvP comic packs. Of course, given how hard to get those were, these might as well be all-new molds. It’s a rather bulked up, and kind of an almost ridiculous, body, definitely not the more realistic proportions we see from NECA. It works well enough for the Phantom, though, especially given his more basic design. He’s been given an all-new head sculpt, which does quite a nice job of capturing his cowled and domino-masked appearance. He also gets a new waist piece with his distinctive skull-buckled belt, and a new set of forearms sporting some detailing on the wrists of his sleeves. It’s a small touch, but a very nice one. In terms of paint, Phantom is really good…in theory. In practice, he’s mostly good, but there are some rather notable issues in terms of production. On the positive side, there’s some really great work on the face, with subtle work on his stubble. There’s also some nicely handled shading on the body suit, keeping it from being too much of the same color for one large stretch. Unfortunately, there are two issues that plague pretty much the whole production run. Firstly, for some reason, his two boots are a differing finish; the left is glossy, and the right is matte. Secondly, they opted to mold the wrist and ankle joints in purple, and paint them to match the hands and feet. Unfortunately, the paint shears off after the first posing, leaving them rather obviously a different color. In terms of accessories, the Phantom is packed with three alternate right hands (standard fist, trigger grip, and fist with a hole for the ring effect), a laser gun (the show replaced his more usual real world firearms with one of these), three different energy effects (two for the gun, and one for his ring hand), and Zuffy, the small little alien that accompanied the Defenders’ children. Zuffy gets hit pretty hard by the QC issues as well, with incredibly sloppy paint on the face, and a rather obvious and major crack in the mold on the right side of his chin. I didn’t buy it for Zuffy, but that’s still really annoying.
THE ME HALF OF THE EQUATION
In terms of pulp heroes, my experience with the Phantom is rather minor. I largely knew him from him getting a Captain Action costume, and a little bit from having seen the movie on TV as a kid. So, I don’t have a huge attachment to him. That said, I do really like the design, and there’s no denying that he’s a prominent character, worthy of some cool toy treatment. When NECA unveiled these figures, I was certainly interested, so I snagged the whole first set. Phantom himself is okay, but he’s held back by those rather frustrating QC issues. I hope NECA can get those sorted out on future releases. Still, even with those issues, he’s the best Phantom figure out there.