And now, Scary-Crayon reviews... Mad Monsters Series 2: The Grim Reaper by: Wes

One day, when I was in the fifth grade, my science teacher gave us a pop quiz at the end of class. I don't remember what was actually on the quiz -- I want to say it involved pH levels and asked us to determine whether various substances were acids or bases -- but I do recall that it consisted of ten true/false questions. Per usual, I came into class the next day to find my exam overturned at my desk. When I looked at it, however, I was shocked and perplexed -- despite being a pretty bright kid and feeling very confident about my performance, I had managed to get every single one of the questions wrong on a true/false test! And yet, at the top of the paper, Mr. Edwards had written "100% A+" in red ink.

Seasons don't fear the Reaper~Below the questions, he had also written the following: I guess I should fail you, but it's clear that you simply got things mixed up.

I open with that story because it's sort of the same way with the subject of today's review: the Grim Reaper figure from Classic TV Toys's Mad Monsters Series 2. Unbeknownst to me, the toy was actually broken in the package -- such that, as soon as I removed him from his plastic bubble, poor Grim's left leg fell off due to a broken hip pin. Moreover, because these toys are made such that each leg is attached to the opposite arm via criss-crossed pieces of rubber, this also caused his right arm to sag lamely until I simply pulled it out. Normally this would have been a huge disappointment: a figure that loses an arm and a leg right out of the box is disheartening stuff indeed. On the other hand, I had read that the CTVT figures can be improved a great deal if one restrings the body... so in the event that I found Grim's poseability to be somewhat lacking, I had been planning to restring him anyway. This early break just forced my hand.

And now that Grim's restrung? I bloody love him! But it does bear mentioning that as cool as he might look in this review, none of these photos would have been possible without a bit of elastic cord (it took me a while to find, so here's what you want -- Stretchrite round elastic cord; it's white, comes on a small blue cardback not unlike the one in which Grimmy here was packaged, contains five yards, and can be found for just under $1 at Walmart), the help of this guide (I used the first method), and a little bit of time. Of course, it's entirely possible that -- if you happen to get one -- your figure won't fall apart out of the box and therefore won't require your assistance in order to not look like a double amputee. It's also possible that your figure, being assembled in such a way that motivates other people to intentionally break and restring their own, won't be nearly as much fun as my fixed Grimmy here. But before I start gushing, I just want to note that while I guess I should fail this figure, it's clear that with a little work it can be one of the most fun toys ever.

SEPULCHRAL SCULPT, PALLID PAINT, & GHOULISH GARB

Oddly fleshy for a skeleton...The flesh-colored undies are a nice touch, too!But *now* Grim's dressed to party.That'll be two coins, please.

Well... this is a figure that makes me glad I don't give numerical scores! I mean, how do you score something like this? The sculpt is decidedly simple -- it's pretty much an athletic doll body with prominent mold lines, little black boots, and a dollar-store skull head. There's no paint at all on the body; the torso plastic is a different shade than the arms, legs, and pelvis; and the hands are a ghostly white (apparently they glow in the dark). A super-detailed Four Horsemen sculpt with a NECA-level paint job this figure ain't.

And yet, does Grimmy here really need any of that? This is a Mego-style nostalgia figure, meaning that it's meant to look like something that was made in the 1970s. It succeeds. What's more, the skull is actually quite well sculpted. Yes, I referred to it as a dollar-store skull head -- but anyone who's seen dollar store skeletons know that they can be pretty detailed! The teeth are individually sculpted (Grim even has fangs), there are lines below the eyes and around the brows that give Grimmy a sort of menacing expression... he's even got the jagged scalp lines between the bones of the skull. Similarly, while the skull can be described as having a dollar-store skeleton paint job, that's not necessarily a bad thing either. Here, it means that in addition to all of Grimmy's sockets and cavities being painted, the teeth have been painted individually to make them stand out more and the sides of the jaw and neck have been given a more greyish paint job to distinguish them from the rest of the skull. Heck, he even appears to have gotten a brown/orangeish wash to bring out the sculpted lines!

The body, of course, gets none of that, but because this is the Grim Reaper he gets a hooded black cloak to cover his bare body. It's cloth and fits loosely, which is really all it needs to do to transform Bedroom Fun Halloween Ken into the fearsome personification of death itself. So it works -- mostly -- though I will say that I was a bit disappointed to see that CTVT gave Grim a regular Caucasian body. At least with a black body (as in completely black), Grim would've been able to maintain his shadowy image (not to mention that it would've given the glow-in-the-dark hands a cool "floating" effect). Furthermore, CTVT does manufacture an articulated skeleton body, so I'd assumed that Grim would be sporting that underneath his robe. If I'd known that he came with the standard Caucasian body, I probably would have ordered a skeleton body and cloak separately.

WRAITHLIKE RANGE OF MOTION

The hip bone's connected to the -- string bone~

Articulation's another funny category for our grim friend. The elbow, knee, and ankle hinges work as expected, as do the swivel-hinge wrists and swivel neck. The ball waist is also fairly intuitive. Though it's not technically a ball-in-socket joint -- the torso ends in a ball with little bumps on it that fits partly into the hollow pelvis -- it does work like one, as the tension in the string connecting the arms to the legs keeps it in place and the little bumps allow it to hold poses securely. The shoulders and hips, however, are more difficult to describe. The shoulders are basically swivels, except they're not -- because they're anchored by elastic cord, you can work them like ball joints if you can get them to hold their positions. In fact, because the right arm has a bit of mold flash around the shoulder that provides a bit of hold (like the bumps on the waist ball), it has a better range of motion than the left. Similarly, while the hips work much like ball joints, the only thing really holding them in place in poses is the weight of the figure and friction between Grim's boots and the floor. I imagine that if you do the floral tape fix part of the restringing method -- which I haven't done yet but plan to do soon -- the stickiness would provide enough hold for these joints to function more reliably in the capacity of ball joints.

This is Grim's Pope impression.OoOoOoOoOo Grimmy gonna getchaDonatello style!I'd definitely leave this guy on the side of the road.

Even without the floral tape, though, Grimmy is light enough that he can maintain his footing in a variety of fun poses. Really, the biggest limitation to his poseability -- or at least the outward appearance of it -- is the fleshy body, since you'll likely want to keep him as covered up by the robe as possible. As such, no matter how you've got his legs aligned, he'll pretty much look like he's either standing tall or in a crouch (or like he has particularly short legs). You can vary Grim's poses a bit more with the arms, however, and those don't look nearly as bad when the fleshy parts show. Death having flesh-colored arms and not wearing an undershirt is one thing; Death having flesh-colored arms and not wearing pants is quite another.

Because these parts are strung together via elastic cord, there's also a sort of action feature -- if you wind the arms up, you can get kung-fu windmill chopping action. Death is the ultimate ninja, so it's appropriate.

APPALLING ACCESSORIES

The Grim Reaper doesn't come with much in the way of accessories. His cloak isn't quite an accessory -- he wouldn't be the Grim Reaper without it! -- but it is removable if you'd like to display a white guy in tighty whities fleshies and a skull head for some reason. And while it's a cloth robe and thus isn't "articulated" it can be used to tweak Grim's appearance further. For instance, you can completely cover his face with the hood for a more ominous look or flip it all the way back for an off-duty Grim. It can also be arranged into a point or pushed down in various ways, though it can be difficult to get it to behave in those configurations. Some sort of wire lining around the edge of the hood would've made it super awesome, but it's adequate as is.

Oh yeah, I'm SO hardcore.When he's not working, Grim enjoys a good knee-slapper as much as anyone.

To keep the robe tighter around Grim's waist, he also comes with a silver, glittery-looking piece of string. It does the job and is long enough to be wrapped in multiple ways (I prefer to wrap it around twice and tie it in a bow at the back), though it does seem a bit gaudy for the personification of death. (I'm in no particular hurry, but I intend to replace it whenever I come across some rougher-looking rope.) And there are the boots, which might or might not be removable. I think they come off, but I couldn't pull them off unaided -- one might have to take a hairdryer to them first in order soften up the plastic.

And finally, there's the only true accessory a Grim Reaper figure really needs -- his handy reapin' scythe! Admittedly, due to the design, it looks less like a scythe than a staff with some sort of odd alien skull on the tip, but it's got the shape right and looks good when Grim's holding it. That said, Grim can't normally hold the scythe, as the CTVT monster hands are molded in an open position and aren't made to grasp accessories. Yes, it's unfortunate, but you can use a clear plastic band to keep Grim's primary tool where it belongs.

FUNEREAL FUN FACTOR

At the beginning of this review, I mentioned that there would be gushing -- and yet there hasn't really been any gushing. CTVT's Grim Reaper is a pretty cheap toy. For all practical intents and purposes, he's a dollar-store doll with somewhat better articulation... assuming that yours doesn't fall apart right out of the package and/or you restring the old boy. Grim only comes with one accessory, albeit an appropriate one, and he can't even hold onto that accessory without an extra something that incidentally isn't used to restrain this figure in its bubble. On the merits, this is not a fantastic toy. So where's the gushing? Here's the gushing.

IT'S A FREAKING GRIM REAPER DOLL!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

And with the hood over his face, Grim makes a great Trickster standin!The Grim Reaper gives love to his skeleton peeps!No kidding -- I think Darkseid's *already* resurfaced in some form.

Maybe morbid things are just my idea of fun, but I find this figure to be impossibly delightful. Even though he poses pretty well, he really doesn't need to -- he's entirely awesome just standing around. At eight inches tall, he's totally out of scale with most other action figures... and yet he isn't, since it makes perfect sense for Death to be larger than life! Because most fictional heroes and villains face the threat of death at some point during their adventures, Grimmy can hang out alongside pretty much any other figure and not seem out of place. Or maybe he seems completely out of place and that's what's so cool about him. It's like, What the hell? WHAT IS THAT GRIM REAPER DOING THERE?!?! The figure's size and doll-like appearance makes it especially funny, since even with the hood pulled over his face it's impossible for a giant Grim Reaper doll to look anything but conspicuous amidst your Doctor Who and DC Direct figures. Furthermore, his presence just inspires humorous scenarios and strange storylines. The images above are just a few of the Grim Reaper comics I plan to make -- I'm convinced that I can stand Grim here next to any figure in my sizeable collection and come up with some at least mildly amusing dialogue or scenario within seconds. Despite being Death, the Grim Reaper breathes life and excitement into any figure display, scene, or lineup.

Even if he weren't the Grim Reaper, though, I'm convinced he'd still be kinda fun. There's a reason the "Robot Chicken" guys use Mego-style figures in so many of their sketches: they're a blast to play with! In a world in which posing many action figures is akin to fiddling with a Rubik's Cube (seriously, Hasbro, what the bloody freak is up with your swivel-hinged ball-style hips?) -- and when quality control issues and even the way figures are made and packaged make one wary of stuck joints, warped limbs, joint looseness and damage resulting from excessive posing, and even paint chipping issues -- it's simply lovely to be able to pose an action figure that avoids all of these problems and seems relatively sturdy (aside from the initial problem) despite its obvious cheapness. Even if one of these toys does break in a way that's not easily fixed, it's nice to know that (at least for the time being), inexpensive replacement parts are readily available at CTVT's site! And since these figures feature removable and interchangeable outfits, you could have even more fun with them by ordering separate outfits and swapping them. Pirate Grim Reaper? Arrrrr, mateys! The Grim Reaper in a space suit?! Hey, it's not like leaving the planet makes one immortal! Grim Reaper with women's daisy dukes on underneath his cloak? Ehh... what ever floats your boat, Grimmy. These really are toys with all the clothes-swapping appeal of dolls, decent action figure articulation, and good old-fashioned 1970s charm.

CHILLING CONCLUDING REMARKS

He's THE GRIM REAPER, @#$&%!CTVT's Grim Reaper is something of a miracle. The thing came broken in the package and was basically a mess of limbs before I restrung him, and even fixed he's decidedly average or subpar in pretty much all of the categories one would use to evaluate an action figure's merit. I can't even say he's an excellent value. While $5 is a fair price for the toy, CTVT has a flat $8 shipping rate for orders up to $50 -- so if you only want Grimmy, you're looking at $13 to order him directly from the site. Some eBay sellers have him for the same price and cheaper shipping, but even then you'll pay upwards of $10. As much as I love this toy, I can't argue that he's worth that considering the quality of the product.

But goodness, this toy is fun! So much fun, in fact, that I'm actually looking forward to getting more CTVT figures. I want that skeleton body and another cloak so I can have another Grim Reaper -- this one without the unsightly fleshy bits. I want more oversized monsters to menace the figures in my collection. I want to buy random bodies and heads and outfits to make custom Mego-style figures. With a white space suit, space helmet, and a random body with a skull head, I could make some poor fool devoured by the Vashta Nerada... not to mention ninjas and zombies and random horror-themed figures in various outfits. Heck, with a blue body and a skull head, I could even make a Skeletor... or a Scare Glow with the glow-in-the-dark body! And I want to buy a "Married With Children" Peggy Bundy figure, if only because I've always thought the character was kinda hot.

Yet while this may be the start of a new obsession for me, I have a hard time seeing any future acquisitions edge out an articulated Grim Reaper doll in terms of coolness (well, aside from customs; those have a personal draw). I mean, he's the Grim Reaper. And whether we're talking about dollar-store Power Ranger wannabes or Hot Toys collector figures, Death in toy form is a pretty tough figure to follow.

-- Wes --
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