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BLACK PANTHER Adds Diversity to Marvel Legends to a Point (Review)

Hasbro‘s Marvel Legends figure series for Black Panther features a couple of firsts: it’s the first to have four out of the seven characters be people of color in the sense that we earthlings mean it, in that they’re African as opposed to blue or green non-humans, with a gender balance of two women and two men. And while they could have cheaped out with extra shared parts, in that the two males and two females in question wear very similar outfits, they are unique and highly detailed sculpts. We also get the first Lupita Nyong’o likeness that isn’t the motion-captured Maz Kanata.

The last Marvel Legends Black Panther figure came out to tie in with Captain America: Civil War, and it was a popular, hard-to-find figure; Hasbro’s compensating this time by making both Panther and his evil-suit nemesis Killmonger two-per-case in each figure assortment. Nakia (named “Marvel’s Nakia” here because you can’t really trademark an Arabic word) is one-per-case; buy five out of the six available characters to build Okoye, played by Danai Gurira. Build-a-figures are usually either oversized characters, or characters Hasbro assumes would be a difficult sell by themselves. Okoye is unusual in this regard, because if you think a toy of Danai Gurira in action/combat mode won’t sell, McFarlane Toys has one word for you: Michonne.

And then there are these three unrelated white dudes. But the reasons for their inclusion may not be what you think.

Black Bolt (who in toy form is more of a Dark Blue Bolt), for example, is there because nobody expected a Marvel TV show to fail. If Inhumans had been a hit, this figure would be more in demand. It’s the comic-book version–every Marvel Legends assortment, for cost reasons, needs a few comic characters that can use generic bodies–but the square-jawed headsculpt could just about pass for Anson Mount.

The wings, which usually stay in his armpits in the comics a la Spider-Man’s web wings, are oddly executed here. They’re designed to look good in one action pose: the one for which you may want his alternate, power-screaming head.

As to why Namor the Sub-Mariner is included, well, he’s almost nude, so he’s easy to make out of generic body parts. But also, with his alternate bearded head, he looks a whole lot like another water-themed Atlantean superhero who’s popular right now…

Both my wife and my mother-in-law looked at the image above and went, “Oh, Aquaman.” So it’s working. Iron Man, I assume, is here because there hasn’t been a Legends Iron Man in a while, and kids who want one can pick one up. Though it’s not a Robert Downey Jr. version; it looks more like Robert Pattinson, to be honest. And the figure’s kitbashed from other Iron Man parts, including a wrist launcher that looks like it once fired spring-loaded projectiles a couple of toy lines ago.

But we’re not really here for them so much, though you do need Namor and Black Bolt (but not Iron Man) to complete Okoye. Since Okoye’s head comes with T’Challa, however, you could, if on a budget, just buy an extra Nakia and switch heads. Their outfits are similar, although they do look to be different sculpts, save for shared thighs. The head-switching possibility is such a great shortcut to not buying Black Bolt and Namor that I’m surprised it’s actually doable.

Nakia comes with her two ring weapons and an additional spearhead (plus Okoye’s spear and torso).

Okoye has tattoos that are more realistic than on the usual toy; most figures, like WWE, do celebrity ink in straight black, but her head tats look naturally faded.

Like the ladies, Killmonger and Panther looks similar from a distance, but up close it’s clear that the details aren’t the same at all. It’s like the same general costume idea executed by two wildly different customizers.

Both cat-suit guys sport the extra Spider-Man pec articulation and have hinge-and-ball neck joints that allow for more actual cat-like poses.

Both also come with interchangeable hands, and Killmonger has extra weapons. What he doesn’t have is a bonus head, which could mean that Michael B. Jordan didn’t sign likeness rights, or (more likely) the sculpting budget was exhausted.  That’ll be a disappointment to some, but the detail work on the gold stitches in his mask is quite something.

Panther’s bonus head uses the new face-printing technology, which becomes clearer when you enlarge an image of it and see the stippling.

Given the variety of costumes I’ve seen in the movie clips, I’m wishing for a lot more film-based figures in the Wakandan Afro-futurist aesthetic. Four is a good start, and a reminder that superhero figure collections can have diverse cultural inspirations as well as ethnicities.

Black Panther Marvel Legends should be showing up in stores now, for around $19.99. If you’re lucky, you might be able to find dealers and retailers who mark up the main characters blowing out Namor and Bolt at a loss. Shop judiciously if you’re building Okoye.

Will you be going for a full set, or perhaps seeking a custom Okoye body? Anyone going to go for it and make a Marvel Legends-style Michonne? Let me know your thoughts in comments.

Images: Luke Y. Thompson

Luke Y. Thompson likes nothing better than finding the right backdrops for toy pictures. Talk figures with him on Twitter.

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