By Christopher Smith
Earlier this year, and in the wake of its partnership with Super 7 toys to bring Kenner's unreleased 1979 Alien prototypes to fully realized life, Funko announced a full "ReAction" line of retro 3 ¾" action figures (for those unfamiliar or born after about 1986, think Kenner's original Star Wars toyline: basic and clean in design, with five points of articulation, and a simple, elegant bubble photo card). Like their Pop! Vinyl collection, the ReAction line has already spawned a series of sub-lines, largely focusing on Eighties cult, sci-fi and horror cinema: Escape From New York, Back to the Future, Terminator, a Rocketeer figure, and a series of iconic horror villains have been offered not only via popular online outlets like Entertainment Earth, but even in brick-and-mortar stores such as Barnes & Noble, Toys-R-Us and, yes, Wal-Mart (!). The ReAction line has displayed clear potential, which it's beginning to realize, and thanks to Funko's impressive reach, it's a delight to see figures like this back on the pegs, evoking a storied golden age where peg upon peg of figures in this style, along with the nascent, better-articulated G.I. Joe and Super Powers line, stretched as far as a child's eye could imagine.
The Universal Monsters subline, however, has perhaps been one of the most-anticipated. Early prototype and promotional images released by Funko looked highly promising, but there have been detractors of ReAction: some simply don't get the appeal, opting instead for more up-to-date toys, and others have found the actor likenesses to be wanting, though I swear by the Nathan Fillion likeness on their Malcolm Reynolds figure. Others have pointed out some slightly dodgy quality control, pointing to some messy paint applications, online images of Terminator endoskeletons with one fragile arm broken off (the same thing happened to my Kenner IG-88 figure as a youth, though), or the Snake Plissken I saw in Toys-R-Us with a sadly misaligned neck joint (he looked like the Duke of New York had sentenced him to the guillotine).
I'm happy to report, though, that the three Universal Monsters ReAction Figures I've obtained so far have been anything but disappointing, and in fact have exceeded my expectations. I get the sense that Funko and their designers have put a lot of care into these figures in particular, as the classic monsters are not only a well-loved property, but the line stands in the shadow of its predecessors such as Remco's Mini Monsters and a fondly-remembered Burger King promotion from the late Nineties.
I, for one, remember Mini Monsters fondly. Along with Remco's other toylines based on DC comics' Sgt. Rock and The Warlord (the latter of which coincidentally bore an extremely strong resemblance to Mattel's He-Man in body type and construction), these toys showed up at the discount drugstore/retailer chain Woolworth's, where I'd often go with my mom. I couldn't tell you quite why – I think this was a few years before the Broadway musical became the cultural juggernaut it would – but I walked away one day with a brand new Remco Phantom of the Opera figure. Sure, he didn't quite fit with G.I. Joe or the iconic heroes and villains of a galaxy far, far away, but then, he always was an outcast, wasn't he? The vinyl-caped and grim-visaged fellow, who also glowed in the dark, was a favorite of mine. Who knows what happened to him; perhaps he went into same dark matter pocket dimension that claimed my Super Powers Flash when he fell behind the couch. But no worries, because he and all his co-stars are available once again!
The attention to detail, along with some direct nods to Remco, are what makes these figures a delight. Like their predecessors, the Funko versions come on detailed cards, with well-chosen and striking black-and-white imagery, along with an iconic, sufficiently creepy logo design for each monster. I opened The Wolf Man before writing this review, but he comes on a similar card to Frankenstein, The Creature from the Black Lagoon, and others (I preferred the promotional image to the released one, though, and ended up discarding it. Pack rat that I am, I am saving the other cardbacks). The figures themselves are very well-sculpted, with many subtle details cleverly included in each deliberately retro sculpt.
Frankenstein, for instance, has his wrist stitches visible, and includes his iconic platform shoes and ill-fitting clothes, down to the last detail; The Wolf Man's fur, clawed feet, and grimy worker's togs get buttons and creases. The Creature's scales and fins are vividly rendered, yet the deliberate rough edges given his spines and claws seem wholly appropriate to the era in which these toys would have been produced. Think 1980-1983, around the time Kenner's Empire Strikes Back, Return of the Jedi, and Raiders of the Lost Ark figures improved upon their initial offerings, including subtle nods like the medallion scar on Toht's palm and the grapple winch in Boba Fett's wrist gauntlet. If these sparked your imagination as a child or your admiration as a collector, then this is definitely the line for you.
The paint applications are all clean, with no slop, and the intentionally limited articulation is tight and functional. In my opinion, these are the best ReAction figures yet, and point towards exciting future possibilities for Reaction, especially where classic, iconic properties best realized in this format are concerned. While not quite a completist, I definitely plan to at least track down Dracula and The Mummy, all of which are guaranteed to make this Halloween season a delight. Enjoy them, perhaps, with your favorite childhood monster cereal or while watching Svengoolie on Me-TV. Funko has successfully inspired a rush of childhood nostalgia in this collector, and here's to their ReAction line continuing long into the future (or perhaps the timeline of an alternate past).
Christopher Smith teaches composition at Columbus State Community College and has spent about two thirds of his life being obsessed with comics, music, and the strange, somewhat overlooked corners of pop culture. He lives with his wife, son, and two devious cats.