It's the most anticipated comic book film of 2004. Okay, maybe not. Maybe Spider-man 2 is the *most* anticipated. But for fans of Mike Mignola's comic Hellboy, the new film is just what they've been waiting for. Directed by Guillermo del Toro, best known to comic fans for his work directing Blade II, the film brings the character of Hellboy to movie audiences.

For those not familiar with the popular comic book, it all started with those wacky Nazi's mucking around with the paranormal again. They manage to open up a door to Hell, and snag themselves a baby demon - Hellboy. But before they can turn him to their nefarious plans, he's 'rescued' by the Allies, and brought up on the side of good. Now he fights alongside several other paranormal heroes to keep the world safe.

The real surprise here isn't that Hellboy made it to celluloid. Any fan of the comic will tell you it's a great opportunity. No, the big surprise is the actor playing Hellboy isn't The Rock, or Vin Diesel - it's Ron Perlman. Mr. Perlman is probably best known for his work on the old television show, Beauty and the Beast, as the beast of course.

But that's not quite fair, as he's been in over 80 films and television shows. He worked with del Toro in Blade II, and is a great character actor. But for them to go with someone in the lead who wasn't the 'hot this minute' action star is quite refreshing.

The toy license has been split up between companies based on scale and style. Sideshow will be doing a line of 12" clothed figures, and one of the large 18" 'mixed media' style high end figures. Mezco has the license to produce a line of 8" figures, and their own 18" figures done roto-cast style. Tonight I'm reviewing the 8" series, sans one figure, and next week I'll have both my own review and a guest review of the 18" version (the short version - suhweeet).

The 8" set includes two versions of Hellboy (one with his jacket, one without and different accessories), Abe Sapien, Rasputin, Kroenen, and Sammael (not reviewed tonight). There are also variations in the series - both Hellboy's come with and without his teeth showing, perhaps with an open fist and a closed fist - and a couple Diamond exclusives. The exclusives include a Battle Damaged Hellboy, and a Wet Suit Abe. You can find these for $10 at many retailers, including your local comic shops (where the price may vary wildly).

I'd like to thank Killer Toys for sending this set of five along.  You can pick up the full set of six there for about $65, or the individual figures for about $12 each.  They also have the 18" version for $45.

Packaging - **1/2
I'm being a little rougher on the packaging here because this is Mezco, and I expect the kind of creativity we see in the packages for their in-house developed properties.  Of course, they were probably limited by the licensee in this case, so the rather bland nature of the insert is excusable.  Hey, at least they're in clamshells!

Sculpting - ****
There are figures in this wave that will be your favorites, and others that you'll be less interested in.  But that won't be because of poor sculpting on any of the characters.

I've said for a long time that Mezco is the great underachiever of the action figure world - they have some tremendous talent, but they've never found the right license with which to showcase it.  They've done great work on their in-house stuff, but last year's attempt with Underworld was less than impressive.  This time around though, they nailed it.  This license could be the one that really puts them on the map with a wide range of collectors - especially the Toddites.

Every detail on these figures - and there's tons of them - are done with excruciating accuracy and attention.  Every head sculpt is dead on, and even the "I'm grittin' my teeth cuz I'm bad" expression on the variant Hellboys works perfectly.  Too often that particular expression comes off constipated, but not here.

Every figure also has something that really sets the body sculpt apart as well.  The trenchcoat Hellboy has his, well, trenchcoat, one of the most realistic and well done soft plastic coats I've seen.  Both he and regular Hellboy have the concrete right arm, and both the closed and open hand versions look terrific.  The left hand is sculpted to hold the gun nicely, and you can get it to fit without too much trouble.

Then there's the amazingly detailed glove on Rasputin, which is removable.  He has a properly sized fisted right hand underneath, and the glove fits snugly and looks great on as well.

Kroenen has his body armor, and his 'secret' face.  Yes, that face plate is removable, but it's a bit of a spoiler for the film.  On the left you'll see a photo of him with the face blacked out - if you'd like to see a close up of what he looks like under the mask, just click on that photo.  If there's one sculpting issue - and without seeing the film, I can't be sure it's an issue - is that Kroenen seems too skinny.  It's really only an issue in his legs, but without seeing the film I can't be sure that this isn't just the way he should look.

And finally, perhaps my overall favorite of the group, Abe Sapian.  The detail work on both his heads and the great hand sculpts are my top two reasons for picking this guy up - at least in terms of sculpting.

Paint - ****
When you have a lot of dark colors and lots of wash, sometimes it's easy to hide paint application issues.  But the work on this entire set of figures is truly astounding, and the more I look at them, the more impressed I become.

Detail work, especially on the faces, is perfect, with no slop or bleed anywhere.  Likely problem spots like the line between Rasputin's beard and face, or the reds and blacks of Hellboy are clean and neat.  And on several of the figures, they've used slightly different finishes to give the impression of different materials, even when using the same basic colors.  A great example of this is Kroenen's black boots and black pants, where a gloss versus matte finish was used.

But the most impressive paint work here was reserved for Abe.  The paint work on both heads is beautiful, and that's not a word I use very often in describing toys.  The blue-green skin colors look fantastic, and they've managed to prove that you can use a gloss coat to imply a wet appearance.  I complained when McToys tried this with the Matrix figures - here it works amazingly well.

Articulation - Abe Sapien, Kroenen ****;  both Hellboys, Rasputin ***1/2; 
Kroenen and Abe almost classify as 'super poseable'.  Almost.  They have all the joints you could ever possibly want - ball jointed necks (in Abe's case, TWO ball joints, one at the top and bottom of the long neck), ball jointed shoulders and hips, elbows, knees, wrists, ankles, waist, chest, and at the half foot.  On top of that, Kroenen's knees are double joints, and Abe has cut forearms.  That's pretty impressive by any standards, and all the joints were tight and worked well...except for one minor quibble.  The ball jointed hips didn't quite have the range of motion I expected.  By twisting the ball around a bit you can get them to take most positions, but I still expected a slightly greater amount of movement.  However, this is a very minor quibble.

Both Hellboys and Rasputin aren't *quite* as articulated, but still have more than enough to give you lots of posing possibilities, and allow the figures to stand perfectly on their own in dozens of ways.

They have ball jointed necks, shoulders and hips, elbows, wrists (the concrete right wrist on Hellboy is also a 'pseudo' ball joint), chest, waist, knees and ankles (although the ankles on all three figures are fairly restricted).  Hellboy also has a cut joint at the top of the concrete hand, and three - THREE - cut joints in his tail.

Accessories - Trenchcoat Hellboy, Abe Sapien, Rasputin ***1/2; regular Hellboy, Kroenen ***
All the figures have well sculpted, nicely painted accessories - the difference is in how many and just how nice.

Trenchcoat Hellboy comes with his gun (which breaks open at the back of the cylinder), and the corpse torso he can drag around by a noose.  The noose is made of burlap type string, and works great with one minor nit - there should be 13 'wraps' on the knot of a hangman's noose, or so I remember from the old westerns.

The corpse is fantastic, with an exceptional sculpt, and even three points of articulation!  His neck and both shoulders are cut joints, and that was a real surprise to me.  Most companies would have gone for the solid plastic accessory.  The paint work is also very impressive, especially in the eyes and teeth.

The gun fits nicely in the holster, but there's no real way to close the flap.  That's another pretty minor nit to pick though.

Abe has three accessories - his alternate head, the necklace piece that fits around his neck, and what appears to be an Abe fetus.  Perhaps there's something up with Abe and Hellboy that we don't know about...

UPDATE!  An eagle eyed reader points out that this is probably a Sammael fetus - notice the three eyes!

The two heads pop on and off easily, and both look terrific.  The collar has a hinge at the back that allows it to open and close tightly around the neck.

Rasputin comes with two accessories, but both are huge.  One is the aforementioned steel glove, which fits easily over his right hand.  Then there's the 'baby' Hellboy, complete with huge concrete right hand.  Like the corpse accessory, baby Hellboy is articulated.  He has a ball jointed neck, concrete wrist and shoulders, and there's a cut joint at the top of the rock hand.  I was slightly surprised that his tail wasn't articulated, but that's just because Mezco is setting such high expectations.

UPDATE!  That same eagle eyed reader (thanks Chris!) also noticed that on top of Rasputin's glove is a hinged cover - it opens to reveal what looks like some sort of compass.  Another very cool touch!

Regular Hellboy and Kroenen don't do quite as well here, due to a lack of accessories in comparison to the others.  Regular Hellboy has the same gun as Trenchcoat Hellboy, and while it's a good piece, it's a re-use.  Kroenen has two 'blades' that fit in both fists, and look deadly, but that's far fewer than the rest of the series.  I suppose you could count his mask as an accessory, but since most folks won't take it off for display, I count it as part of his basic appearance.  Perhaps a final battle version of the mask, similar to Sideshow's 12" figure, could have been included?

Value - Trenchcoat Hellboy, Rasputin, Abe Sapian ***1/2; Kroenen, regular Hellboy ***
These figures are just ten bucks at specialty stores like Sam Goody and Media Play.  That's the same price as non-licensed figures from companies like Mcfarlane.  They are also bigger than most, done in an 8" scale, have tons of articulation, a nice selection of accessories, and excellent quality.  Even at $10 that's a great value.

Overall - Abe, Trenchcoat Hellboy ****; regular Hellboy, Rasputin, Kroenen ***1/2
This wasn't a line I was laying awake at night in anticipation for, but it's quickly becoming my first top line of 2004.  I expect the Trenchcoat Hellboy to end up on more than one Best Male Figure list for the year, and the line could be one of the best licensed lines we see.  The competition for licensed action figures that sport great sculpts, paint ops and style has just gotten tougher.

Mezco has also announced Family Guy figures for this year, and there's a line I'm also really looking forward to.  With the overall quality of the Hellboy line, I hope we see Mezco pick up more licenses in this vein as well.  I'll have my review of the 18" version up at Movie Poop Shoot next week, so keep an eye out for that!

Where to Buy - 
The only store I've seen these in so far is Media Play, but comic shops should be getting their's as well.  Choices include:

- Killer Toys has the set of six available for $65, or each individually for $12.  They also have the 18" version for $45.

Aisle Sniper has a couple different bundles, and the figures come out to about $12 each.

- If you're looking for the Sideshow Hellboy stuff, both Alter Ego Comics and Southern Island has a variety of it available for pre-order at discounted prices.


Figure from the collection of Michael Crawford.

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