Ghost Rider
Nick Cage/Ghost Rider, Caretaker and Scarecrow

Comic book movies are every where these days. But it was not that long ago that making a movie based on a comic book was pretty much taboo - the popular Hollywood opinion was that guys in tights just can't be done. Batman and Superman had success of course, but even those were considered aberrations. Every other superhero or comic book property languished in development Hell.

And then came a little movie called...Blade. You thought I was going to say X-men or Spider-man, didn't you? Those two certainly changed the minds of Hollywood in a big way, but without the initial success of the smaller production Blade, who knows if any of the other blockbusters would have ever made it to the silver screen. God knows, people had been trying for years to get Spider-man there, and we might never have gotten the great films of that series had it not been first for Blade's success, and then the first X-men movie.

The latest in the long line of comic book superheroes to get the big screen treatment is Ghost Rider. Played by Nicolas Cage, a huge comic book fan himself, the movie is being dismissed early by net nerds, with predictions of disaster. Only time will tell of course, and it's usually a good idea to wait til the film is actually out before deciding whether it's good or bad, but toy fans can see the new action figures right now.

Like the rest of the Marvel universe, these are being done by Hasbro. The line is similar in some ways to other movie lines, with a ton of Ghost Rider variants, but there are several supporting characters in the very first wave, unlike the recent Superman Returns and Batman Begins lines from Mattel. Tonight I'll be looking at three of the figures - the Nic Cage version of GR (called Chain Attack Ghost Rider), the Caretaker, and the Scarecrow. There's also a Flaming Fist GR, a Raging Gr, and a Fire Cannon GR, along with Vengeance and Blackheart.  You can find these at mass market retailers like Toys R Us, Target, and others for around $8 a pop.

Packaging - ***
Like most mass market product, these use bubble/cardback packages. The cardbacks are personalized for each character, with graphics and text specifically for them. They explain the 'action features', and give a nice look at several of the other figures in the wave, although not all of them. When it comes to making something visually appealing, it's hard to go wrong with flames, motorcycles and skeletons.

Sculpting - Caretaker ***1/2; Scarecrow ***; Cage GR **
If you're looking for tremendously accurate, unblemished sculpts that you can put on a shelf as a 'collectible', than you should really check out Sideshow's statue of GR, sculpted by the talented Ray Villafane (), or the 12" Medicom RAH (). But if you're looking for toys, and ones that look good and are fun at the same time, then you've come to the right place.

The sculpts here are actually quite good in this scale. The scale comes in at 6", pretty standard for movie stuff these days...unless you're Mattel.

The head sculpts on the two skull based characters - the flaming GR version (which is a swappable head accessory for Cage), and the Caretaker are terrific, with lots of detail and realism. It's actually kind of difficult to create a flaming skull that doesn't look like he has some sort of weird orange afro. Flames always appear in motion to us, and when you make them a static item, they always look a little odd. The flames on this GR are middle of the road, not as good as I'd like to see, but better than some of the other GR variants I saw on the shelf. The flames do look a little like a bad hair piece, but the angle and style avoid making him look completely ridiculous.

The skull underneath the flames is the terrific part. Nice and evil looking, with lots of small detail work right down to the pupils of the eyes, where are sculpted in 3D. Likewise, the skull of the Caretaker has a ton of detail work, and is not just the same skull. The actual bone structure is distinctly different, especially in the cheeks and nose.

So then why the low score for the Cage GR? Uh, it's pretty obvious when you see him. It's the Cage head sculpt, which is of course the main reason you'd buy this figure. It's Nic Cage I supposed, or perhaps his stunt double. Either way, he looks awfully bewildered. The puny neck, which isn't an issue for a skeleton, looks terrible on a 'real' head, and the head sits up so high that it's hilarious to look at. Let's just say it's a very good - and smart - thing that Hasbro did when they packed in a swappable head for this guy.

The Caretaker also looks better because he doesn't have the flames on top of his head, but rather down around his neck. This does mean his head sits up a bit far on a very skinny post, but in most poses (especially with the mouth open) this isn't an issue. The flames around the neck look much better than any of the 'fire hair', as do his flaming cuffs on his jacket.

His long coat is made from a fairly stiff plastic, with tears and burns in appropriate spots. The coat restricts a lot of the cool articulation, but mostly in the legs. The coolest part of his sculpt (other than the skull of course) is actually largely hidden by the jacket - his chest. His bony torso is enveloped in flames as well, and these look the best of any of the flame work I've seen to this point in the line.

Then there's the Scarecrow. Again, the sculpt shows a ton of detail, right down to the texturing of the clothing and canvas face. The detailing on this canvas bag mask isn't nearly as cool in this small scale as I bet it is in the film though, and is a tad too reminiscent of the Scarecrow from the Batman Begins line. The body sculpt is great though, and the skinny limbs and huge oversized spurs work together great from a visual perspective.

The one negative that will put most people off around sculpt is actually a huge plus for the articulation - the itty bitty ball joints at the hips. The balls are about half the size of the old Toybiz joints, and look really odd when you first pick up the figures on the peg. I found myself pondering "why the Hell did they do that?" as I was buying them, but once I got them home and opened them up, I figured it out. Still, as cool as they are for the joint junkies, you can't ignore that they do effect the appearance of the sculpt.

Paint - ***
One of the big issues with Hasbro's first Marvel Legends series is paint. Not that it's sloppy - it's not. I'll have a review of the first wave up soon, but I've already opened and shot all but Emma Frost, and I can tell you that the paint application does not show significant slop or quality issues. No, it's the simplicity. There's very little use of any kinds of wash or dry brushing techniques, and most of the predominate colors aren't painted. Instead, the pieces are cast in those colors, making them appear more toy-like and less intricate than past lines.

That's not a problem with this line. There are plenty of paint ops and small detail work, and the figures show the usual paint techniques employed by most of the industry.

The Cage GR has fairly plain, if clean, paint work on the Cage head and face. I really suggest getting rid of that head if you do buy this figure, and just going with the GR version.

The GR head has excellent paint work, particularly with the ashy wash and yellow eyes. The body shows is cast in black, but does have silver on the appropriate areas, and lacks the shine that is so often the issue with unpainted plastic.

The Caretaker skull also has an excellent wash, but the eyes aren't quite as nicely done. On the GR head, the stalks are sculpted out from the sockets slightly, and the small pinpoint eyes are painted on the ends perfectly. The Caretaker skull still has small stalks in the sockets, but they're more like bumps, and the painted ends aren't quite as neatly done.

While other figures in the Hasbro Marvel lines to date have lacked much wash, the Caretaker goes in the opposite direction, and has what amounts to probably too much wash on the jacket and pants. Hasbro will have to work at finding that perfect happy place.

The wash techniques on the Scarecrow are much better, particularly on the bag mask and shirt sleeves. He does have more small details though on his clothing, including stitching on the pants and those cool/goofy spurs. Don't get me wrong - the paint work on these figures isn't up to specialty market standards by any means, but it's solid for a mass market release, and better than the more simplistic work on their first Marvel Legends series.

Articulation - ****
Toybiz has been considered the kings of articulation in the under 12" market for the past several years. With their work on Spider-man, Marvel Legends, Superhero Showdown, Fantastic Four and Lord of the Rings, they pushed the number of joints that small figures can have to new levels. But not all was perfect. Joints were often loose, especially hips and knees. Joint quality was often an issue, with pins breaking or warping right in the package. And while the joints were there, they weren't always that useful. Ball jointed hips were sometimes no better than cut joints, and the ball jointed shoulders needed help. The neck joint was one that always bugged me, and didn't have the range of movement you expected.

But you can't possibly ignore that it was Toybiz that brought about an understanding that terrific articulation and good sculpting in the same figure was possible. To undermine or ignore the breakthrough work done by Toybiz and the folks that work(ed) there would be petty and foolish. If Hasbro had come into the Marvel lines and thrown out all the articulation, starting with their own vision of what is 'best', that would have shown their lack of respect for the work that Toybiz had done.

Hasbro has not done that. In fact, Hasbro has taken the work started by Toybiz and used this opportunity to improve it. Yes, you heard me - the articulation on this line is BETTER than the work on lines like Marvel Legends or Spider-Man in the past. Now, I haven't had enough time to play around with the first Marvel Legends wave from Hasbro yet, so I don't know if they've extended this improved articulation to that series, but the GR figures show some real improvements.

All the articulation is here - nothing has been sacrificed. In fact, more joints have been added, and joints that did exist before have been improved.

Let's start with GR. In both the Cage and GR head versions, he has a great ball jointed neck. There's actually a ball at the torso, at the bottom of the neck, and a second one at the top of the neck, where the head attaches. Unfortunately, all this articulation does nothing to save the goofy Cage head, but with the GR head it works fantastic. The neck can be pushed forward and the head back, or any other combination, giving you the opportunity to add all kinds of personality and malevolence to the pose. The range of movement on either single joint isn't huge, but in combination they work great.

He also has a hinged jaw, allowing the mouth to open. Because the neck is long, and the head can be tilted backward or forward, the jaw can open extremely wide - or close up tight and tilted down by the chest. Again, the range of possibilities is amazing.

He has ball jointed shoulders, but the right shoulder is in reality a cut joint, since the 'action feature' restricts it from moving out to the side from the body. Even here though, Hasbro shows the extra consideration, since most other companies would have made the shoulder totally useless for anything other than the action feature. Instead, Hasbro engineered it so it still moves forward and backward for general posing.

The ball jointed shoulders on all three figures work great, with an excellent range of movement. The Cage GR has a joint on both sides of the ball, as does the Caretaker, but the ball joint on the Scarecrow is only a joint on the torso side.

The Cage GR has double jointed elbows and the elbows are fairly large. That makes the arms look a tad monkey-like in straight standing poses, but in action poses those longer elbows allow for the forearms to almost touch the biceps, bending much deeper than most other double jointed elbows.

The wrists are pins, but there are also cut joints on the forearms at the top of the gloves. The right hand is a fist, sculpted to hold the chain, but the left has a pin joint allowing all four of the fingers to move independently of one another.

Then there's the body. There's the usually cut waist, which is much tighter than some past Marvel figures. And more importantly, the pin chest joint, so often found on Marvel Legends and so often totally worthless, actually works here! He can lean back or bend forward at the chest, and the joint holds him there perfectly!

Those itty bitty hip ball joints might look ugly, but the smaller size means much greater range of movement. Since the ball isn't rubbing against the pelvis, the leg can move smoothly through it's full range. These hips allow for poses much, much better than the older, larger ball joints. They're still ugly, but at least they're useful ugly.

The knees have a completely new joint system that I don't remember seeing any where else. It's double jointed, but instead of a simple pin joint above and below and knee cap, there's a ball joint above. It's hard to explain, but the pin joint at the true 'knee' allows for forward and backward movement. Then slightly above the knee is a ball/pin joint going into the thigh. This joint also allows for the leg to move forward and backward (like a pin joint would), but also allows the leg to turn, eliminating the need for a cut thigh. 

Finally, there's the ankles and feet, which have a ball and rocker joint at the ankle, and a pin joint at the half foot.

All three characters have pretty much the same articulation. The Cage GR has the most though, with the other two loosing a few points here or there.

The Caretaker doesn't have as good of a ball jointed neck, due to the sculpted flames. He also lacks the finger joints on the left hand.

I already mentioned that the Scarecrow lacks the bottom side joint on the ball jointed shoulders, but he also lacks the finger joints on the left hand, and only has a cut joint neck.

The tightness and quality of these joints really has me sold. I've posed a lot of Marvel figures over the years, and these by far are the best. Time will tell as to whether the joints remain tight, but for now I'm a happy camper.

Accessories - ***
Each figure comes with two accessories. It's a little light for my tastes, but for the most part they're all useful. Some of the GR variants get some pretty weird stuff though.

Scarecrow has his removable hat, which fits pretty well on his head but isn't going to stay on in a windstorm. You'll want to pose him first, then put the hat on, trust me.

He also has a wicked looking scythe formed from old wagon parts. The sculpting and paint on this weapon is very good, and his hands were sculpted to hold it well, particularly in two handed poses.

The Caretaker also has a hat and a weapon. His hat fits a little tighter than the Scarecrows, but again, you really want to pose him first, then put it on to avoid frustration. His weapon is this weird looking, flame shooting, boney cannon thing. It operates as his action feature, and works pretty well - he can even hold it in both hands nicely - but it's a little too goofy for my tastes. I would have much rather had some straightforward guns, but I'm betting this type of weapon came right out of the movie.

Finally, there's the GR Cage. Or Cage GR. However you want to look at it. He has the very cool swappable GR head, which is going to quickly become the one of choice for anyone buying this figure. He also comes with a very long chain that fits perfectly in his right hand, and works pretty well with the arm whipping action.

Action Feature - Caretaker, Scarecrow ***; Cage GR **1/2
As regular readers know, I'm not a huge fan of action features. That's not just because they usually get in the way and require unattractive buttons, and levers, but because I firmly believe that kids aren't all that wired up about them either.

However, the Caretaker has the right kind. In fact, most of the time I wouldn't even call this an 'action feature', but Hasbro is labeling it as such. His funky gun fires a flaming projectile. It fires hard enough to knock over another figure, it loads easily enough, and it's unobtrusive to the basic figure. That's fine in my book.

The Cage GR has another old standby - push the lever on his back and he swings his arm in a downward motion. Since he can hold the long chain in his right hand, this whipping action actually makes some sense. It also works pretty well, and doesn't effect the shoulder articulation. You can still move the arm into a variety of poses, although the feature does mean it's not a 'real' ball joint. The arm can move forward and backward at the torso, but not out from the body. The lever is a bit distracting, but as action features go, this one is pretty average.

The Scarecrow also has a standard feature - turn him at the waist, and he snaps back to center, doing a 'slashing' move. This is a pretty common action feature for characters that carry scythes. The feature itself doesn't work all that great, but the negatives for those NOT wanting it are pretty few. There's nothing about it that's hurt the sculpt, and even the articulation has been pretty much left unaltered. That's because if you turn the waist to the right or left far enough, it clicks into place and holds there, not auto-twisting. Now, if you're really wanting a great slashing action, you'll be disappointed. But if you're like me, and accept that companies will be adding action features to lines aimed at kids, then you'll like this one even better. It's there, but has is almost like it's not.

Fun Factor - ***1/2
These are actually pretty fun toys, and the articulation combined with cool desings may make for a line that kids really like - even if they don't see the movie. I doubt any kid is going to want the butt ugly Cage version, but even he has a swappable Ghost Rider head.

Value - ***
At around $8 each, these are at the general going rate for movie based licenses right now. But at a slightly larger scale than Mattel's offerings, and much better articulation and accessories, they win the battle of value by a slim margin.

Things to Watch Out For - 
I didn't find a thing. The joints are all very good quality, with little chance for breakage. Even the thin neck pegs on the Cage GR swappable heads are sturdy, and can handle being forced in and out pretty well. Of course, you'll still want to watch for the best paint possible, but that's a given these days.

Overall - Caretaker, Scarecrow ***; Cage GR **1/2
I've already heard the bad mouthing start on this line, largely from people who gave them a quick glance on the peg and put them back. I wasn't too impressed myself when I saw them, especially the ugly, ugly hips. You thought the ball joints from Toybiz were ugly? You ain't seen nothing.

But these have to be opened and played around with for awhile to appreciate just how good they turned out. In fact, after I and a couple friends had them out for awhile, I proclaimed them the BEST superhero movie toy line we've gotten in a long time. The only real rival in this century has been some of the movie Spider-Man work, and even then, there's almost no variety in the supporting characters. Here we got great articulation, solid paint and sculpt, good accessories, and FOUR supporting characters right in the first wave. This line blows other movie lines like Fantastic Four, Batman Begins and Superman Returns right out of the water.

This line is a great start for Hasbro, and the fact that they've actually improved on the articulation of the past Marvel figures is outstanding. Get this quality of paint into the Marvel Legends line in upcoming series, and they'll have proved their worth as the successor to Toybiz.

But if you have your druthers, druther to skip the Cage GR. The normal head sculpt is atrocious, and is already setting the bar for worst of 2007. Thankfully, Hasbro showed actually smarts in not overpacking the Cage version, knowing that nobody - kids and collectors alike - are going to be really interested in a Cage version of GR. It's all about the skulls and flames, baby. 

I suspect there's at least one GR in this batch that deserves ***1/2 stars, depending on how well they've managed to do the flaming hair, so I'm going to be looking through the variants to pick him out next week.  From what I've seen so far, the 'flame cannon' version had the best hair, and had no goofy action feature.

Score Recap:
Packaging - ***
Sculpt - Caretaker ***1/2; Scarecrow ***; Cage GR **
Paint - ***
Articulation - ****
Accessories - ***
Action Feature - Caretaker, Scarecrow ***; Cage GR **1/2
Fun Factor - ***1/2
Value -  ***
Overall - Caretaker, Scarecrow ***; Cage GR **1/2

Where to Buy -
Start hanging out at the local retailers. But try not to look too creepy when you do it.

Related Links:
I don't have a lot of Ghost Rider related reviews - probably because there hasn't been a ton of product over the years:

- there is a guest review of the Superhero Showdown version of the character.

- and a guest review of the Marvel Legends series 7 version from a couple years ago.

Figure from the collection of Michael Crawford.

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