Howdy kids! I’m back again with another segment meant to help fill the 4 inch scale action figure void in your lives. Last time around we looked at the Kamen Rider Shodo Vs. line. Today, we’re going to look at another line from the same folks at Bandai: Ultraman. Unlike Kamen Rider, which is practically a blank slate to me, Ultraman is one of those franchises I’ve been aware of since I was a little tike, although not one I ever really got into. After finding the first few Ultraman toys at the same comic shop that had the Kamen Rider guys, I decided to dip my toe into the Ultraman franchise. I feel like this character, for whatever reason, is a pop cultural icon that deserved a deeper look, as opposed to my Kamen Rider method of just making it up for funsies. So with that in mind, welcome to the Ultraman triple feature review!
This was my first exposure to the character via reruns waaaaay back in the day. The basic premise of this 60’s import involves a member of the Scientific Special Search Party (SSSP) named Shin Hayata who would get himself into trouble and then switch places with Ultraman: a 500 foot tall alien who would then awkwardly wrestle with monsters in rubber suits en route to saving the day. It was total 60’s camp, and it still holds up today in that way that only the truly great campy stuff can. Episodes can be easily found on youtube, and it kept both me and my kiddos enthralled at multiple points this summer. It’s a cross between Godzilla and Power Rangers with plenty of scale models and low budget special effects and redubbed dialogue. I don’t know if it’s the recent resurgence of Kong: Skull Island and Rampage and Godzilla (and Kong vs. Godzilla), but I definitely have a big dumb monster itch to scratch. The fact that I can scratch that with my young kids in the room makes Ultraman all that much better. It’s not too scary as to give my kids nightmares, but it’s not so dumbed down that I’m not entertained every time. Every. Time. I readily admit it’s not Shakespeare, but if you’re looking for kid friendly monster beat em up shows with just enough ridiculousness, I highly recommend you check it out. Check out the pilot episode where Ultraman is so impressed with Hyata’s pure heart that he bonds with him and saves him from death here.
The initial Ultraman series ran 39 episodes and has 2 different endings, depending on if you go with the original Japanese or the English dubbed version. Then, various other series like Ultraseven and Iron King picked up and carried the Ultraman legacy off and on for the last 50 years. I haven’t dabbled beyond the original Ultraman yet, but there’s a high likely-hood I get there eventually.
Show grade: B+
If you like campy fun and have that itch, this is a good place for scratching.
While flipping through the bargain back issue bins this summer, I ran across a 3 issue Ultra Comics Ultraman series, intended to introduce a new audience to the character before the premier of a new show back in 1993. Each issue came polybagged with a collector card because…well, 1993.
Each cover is described as “Virgin Cover Edition,” as if it’s taunting all of the Ultrafans out there. I see no other reason for the wording. Hang in there kids. Ken Steacy, a name I remember from the old collectible comic card days, handles the cover art for each issue.
I half expected these to be total junkers wrapped in pretty covers. I was surprised to open the issue and see the writing by Dwayne McDuffie and art by Ernie Colon, both names that I recognized as quality creators. It really is a decent mini series. At times, some of the art had a Mike Mignola via Cosmic Odyssey feel to it, where it’s kind of simplistic and should be darker than it is, but the subject material has that inherent lightness to it that makes it work.
- The Ultra Origin
The action when fighting the monsters is clear, but I do feel like the monsters would have benefited from a more detailed and grotesque art style.
- I want my monsters ugly!
As it stands, I feel like the series is a solid if not spectacular experience. Some of the pin-ups in the back are beautiful, and it’s clear that all involved weren’t phoning it in unlike some other licensed books I’ve read.
At the same time, it could use just a bit more fun that comes with not taking itself so seriously.
The story definitely veers from the TV show version, as SSSP is now a much more serious space patrol organization that refuses to wink at its audience. The tone of the book itself is more serious, too. It’s not always a bad thing, but I will admit that I miss some of the campy fun of the 60’s show. The book definitely scratches that itch monster fighting. If it were a regular monthly series, I feel like I would be inclined to pick up a trade or two, but I doubt I’d buy it all the time. As it is, this series only went 3 issues 25 years ago. I’m glad I snagged them.
Comic grade: C+ If you’re a fan and find it cheap enough, I’d recommend it.
The toys are really what brought me to the table here today. Without finding a really cool original Ultraman action figure, then I would have no reason to start digging around and watching old shows and reading the comics. I just knew Ultraman grew real big and fought monsters. Big, dumb lookin’ monsters. That was enough of a buy in.
Similar to the Kamen Rider toys, these come boxed (with candy) and do require a small amount of assembly. They also traditionally come with extra hand options and a stand. They usually feature enough points of articulation (10+ on most) to achieve a variety of dynamic poses. Instead of focusing on one particular wave, I’m going to bounce around to some of my favorites from the line. The comic shop I picked the figures out started pricing these guys at the same $8 price point, but then they realized Ultraman is special and raised the price to $12 per figure. That made me a bit more choosy. Much like the Kamen Riders, I’ve found the Ultraman toys are much less expensive online at the eBay if you’re willing to buy the whole wave in one go. A la carte, figs do get pricy.
The alien Baltans are first out of the gate. In Ultraman lore, they destroyed their own planet due to nuclear testing and sought to conquer Earth in its place. The toy extra cool because it has silver lobster hands–that’s really all you need to know. You don’t wanna mess with lobster hands.
This guy I’m not super familiar with as he’s an Ultraseven baddie and I haven’t made it that far. I know his name is King Joe. I know he’s a space robot. I know he looks like he’s at least 30% transistor radio, and that’s all I needed. He’ll beat you up and play a baseball game from 1952 at the same time.
- A great big dumb looking monster.
Next is Zetton, who was the alien responsible for taking out the original Ultraman at the end of the first series. He looks like he’s made from the same tubing that connects my dryer to the vent and I love him. Apparently my kiddo likes the dryer vent arms, too, because he took and hid this guy from me. I almost couldn’t find him–almost. This guy is dangerous. He’s to Ultraman what the dryer is to left socks, so look out.
The last baddie I’ll cover is Ultraman Belial, who is an Ultraman gone bad from some movie I haven’t seen. It doesn’t matter though because this guy is totally Ultra-Venom. Damn symbiotes did it again!
- No, I get the brains. You can eat the appendixes.
It’s not gimmick infringement, it’s the next logical step: everybody gets a Venom. Space heroes either get a Venom or live long enough to become the Venom. I think that’s how the quote goes.
- Get outta the picture, Iron Man! Iron King is in the club, not Iron Man!
Finally, we’ll check out some of the many available variations on Ultraman. About half of the line involves the various Ultraforms. It helps that the basic design of the original character is so timeless that it supports and encourages all the slight changes that make up the other versions.
Take Tiga for example–I don’t have any familiarity with that particular version of the character, but I know liberally adding blue into the Ultraman design makes for a fantastic toy. I’m a sucker for primary colors.
- Lil’ Tiga and big Tiga
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention Tiga’s mini me. Bandai also makes a line of 66 mm figures in addition to their 100 mm line. Why? I don’t know. I do know sometimes I get the fever when it comes to action figures so I bought some. They feature similar articulation, bigger heads and smaller everything else. They’re a fun novelty.
Finally, the big draw: Ultraman. The classic Ultraman translates very well to toy form as well. The Ultraman figures look like they’re ready to take down any monster or shrink down to team up with another 60’s based dynamic duo.
- Na na na na na—you’re walking, Robin!
Then there’s a bunch of other Ultramen I haven’t figured out yet. I’ll get there. They’re all good toys, and I’m sure the rest will factor in eventually.
Toy grade: A+, even with the upcharge. There’s something about giant aliens that look like cool robots that fight other giant aliens (who also occasionally look like robots) that is quintessential to toys. Ultraman and the rest of the line succeed in spades. He can fit in any situation from facing down super villains to force blasting the goldfish. Who knows what or who he’ll face next? Perhaps Tokyo has an idea…. Oh no!
Oh no! There goes Tokyo! Tiga vs. MechaGodzilla!!!
Until next time!