“Retro Cloth Figures” have made a surprising come back in the last few years. I’m not sure if it’s because fans of them are now working at toy companies, they’re easier to produce with minimal tooling costs, or that there is a substantial market for them, but most lines can get a couple waves out before disappearing (which is better than a lot of Action Figure lines do these days). The fascination all began back in the sixties when toy manufacturer Mego introduced what was essentially Barbie for Boys – a generic body with cloth clothing and different heads. The twist was ample articulation and a wide berth of licenses, so basically this is what you collected before Star Wars came along and changed the toy industry.
Diamond Select Toys is keeping their Star Trek license alive through these Mego-inspired figures. They originally offered straight releases of the original figures, but then began folding in characters that had not been released. Now DST is extending their Original Series Megos with the two waves of never-before-released-in-Mego-style characters. First up is Captain Pike and the M-113 Creature, better known as the Salt Vampire. DST was kind enough to provide us a sample of each for review.
Packaging: At first I was pretty jazzed by the clamshell package because I thought they were “Collector-Friendly” and could be resealed. Boy was I wrong–they’re fastened nice and tight. I was really looking forward to the resealing because, while I always want to open and play with my figures, the “vintage” aesthetic of these toys look best on the card.
On the plus side, the bubble is not attached to the card, so that remains nice and pristine once you crack open the shell. The card art mimics the classic Mego look. It’s not quite as “retro” or catchy as I would like, but it does the trick.
Design & Sculpt: Captain Pike comes to us from the failed pilot “The Cage“ and features the original, more sweater-like uniform shirt. The clothes turned out pretty well, considering the scale and price point. The only thing that isn’t that great is the star icon on the chest, which is just a sticker.
My only real disappointment is that the leg below the knee is one piece, rather than having a separate foot. That’s how Mego did the figures originally, but an articulated foot would have been ideal. The crucial sculpted piece is the head, which does a good job of capturing Jeffrey Hunter‘s likeness, but is stylized just enough to fit in well with the overall aesthetic of the line.
The Salt Vampire (or M-113 Creature) also does a good job of riding that thin line between accurate likeness and the Mego style. The head and both hands are unique sculpts and capture the look of the monster while being rough enough to have plausibly been part of the original run of Megos.
The Vampire’s cloth costume doesn’t fare as well. This was an opportunity for some kooky inventiveness and would have been a lot of fun to go off-model like several of the original Trek Megos (think Mugato), with more colors and patterns. Instead, we get a good burlap “dress” over a fuzzy white jumpsuit. It’s accurate to the show but isn’t very visually stimulating. It envelopes the feet as well, so it’s darn difficult to get this guy to stand. I should also point out the “dress” has already started to unravel and he’s only been out of box for about a week.
Plastic & Paint: The paint is about what’d you expect, but on the better end of the spectrum for Mego replicas–almost to a fault. Pike almost looks too good to be a Mego. His head is painted a pale flesh tone as opposed to just being tan plastic like the rest of the figures. While this makes him look much better on his own, he doesn’t quite fit in with the rest of the collection. The Salt Vampire head and hands are fully painted but fit well with the line.
Articulation: Pike has 12 points of articulation: swivel neck, ball-hinged wrists, hinged elbows and knees, and pseudo-balljoints at the hips, waist and shoulders thanks to the magic of rubber-band technology. I grasp the appeal of the retro looks, but why rubber-bands over more standard modern joints?
Like all Megos you can get the most range out of him while hand-held, but the rubber bands don’t really hold poses well. The main issue here are the boot-sculpted lower legs which lack ankle articulation, making standing more difficult than it usual. The Salt Vampire has all the aforementioned plus ankle hinges, but has even more trouble standing than Pike. One plus, though, is that all hinges are ratcheted so they actually do hold poses fairly well. (But what’s good elbow and knee articulation with poor shoulder and hip articulation?)
Accessories: Pike comes with a black utility belt plus a phaser and communicator that both fit in holsters on the belt. Each of the latter are cast in light blue plastic and are reused molds from the previous figures. While that’s a fun nod to the line and its Mego origins, The Cage had pretty unique, and daresay iconic, phasers so it feels like a cheat not to produce a new one. While the phaser fits a little loosely in the belt and at an on angle in the hand the communicator is nice and snug in both. Of course it’s sculpted in “closed” position, so there’s not much use to it being out of the belt. Conversely, yon Salt Vampire gets nothing, save but for an insatiable craving for your precious, precious body salts.
Quality Control: These are very good quality for the format, and indeed the high caliber of Pike’s paint helps elevate his neatness. The clothing fits well and there are no loose strings, etc. Good on ya, DST and your manufacturer of use.
Fun Factor: They’re fun to play with in the sense that dolls are fun, by which I mean you can get a good range of motion from manipulation the limbs with your hands. But due to the nature of the format it doesn’t hold those poses very well, so as a display piece they’re pretty lackluster.
Overall: “Retro Cloth Figures” get a lot of grief from non-fans, and rightfully so I’d say. I’m all for nostalgia, but I want to enjoy the things of my past through modern interpretations. That’s why I buy Masters of the Universe Classic figures and new Star Wars toys rather than buying the vintage stuff. It’s because of that sentiment that I just can’t really wrap my head around the fascination of doing stuff entirely in an antiquated format; purposefully making it look low-grade.
But that’s where these two figures step up the game, both are of higher quality than most companies pursue in this format. The Salt Vampire is a welcome addition to the menagerie of Aliens (pun gleefully intended), but lacks the stylistic oomph of the earlier figures – to use I phrase I never expected to, it’s too screen-accurate. Conversely Pike does a great job of being good figure, but is too good for the rest of the line.
Ultimately Mego Knock-offs are a highly niche market, so odds are you already know if you’re getting them or not regardless of this review. If you are a fence sitter, like myself, know that each figure has trade-offs. Pike is great quality but has no real place in the collection, while the Salt Vampire is a much needed addition to the Villains, but the execution of his jumpsuit makes him less than impressive.