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NECA: Defenders of the Earth Flash Gordon, Ming the Merciless, and The Phantom First Look

Well friends, we got to bring you a quick tease of these late last year, but the time has come for the full feature for one of the most anticipated new lines of 2021: NECA’s new Defenders of the Earth figures. Originally shown at Toy Fair 2020 back when the world was still normal, this line has been through some fairly quiet development since then, but we are thrilled to bring you a first look at the new Flash Gordon, Ming the Merciless, and Phantom figures! 

“Our duty is clear. The time is now. Fate has decreed that we are… DEFENDERS OF THE EARTH.”

If 2020 has taught us anything, it is that it is important to know and remember your history, and that mantra is something that can easily be applied to the action figures we know and love so well. I am sure that if you are reading this, you have many superhero, Star Wars, and other pop culture based action figures in your collection, but many of those properties and characters might not even exist without the pulp heroes of yore. Yes, these Defenders of the Earth have a long and rich history via King Features Syndicate that dates back to the 1930s, and have had staying power over the decades. I remember thinking how intriguing this license was for NECA back in February, and now that the figures have arrived, this is a winning combination.

We had the chance to chat with NECA’s head of product Randy Falk a couple of months ago for a FwooshCast, and he gave the update that these figures were on-track for an early 2021 release, so it looks like that timeline is holding. While this is a first look, these are final figures, so it is likely that these have finished production and are currently on their way to stores now. We were given the heads up that Wal-Mart will have about a 30 day early window ahead of other retailers for this line, but after that, they will available in other spots. So, if you are wanting to get yours ASAP, Wal-Mart will be the place to look first early next year.

The back of the packaging features the three figures we have for today, as well as Lothar and Mandrake the Magician. I am going to talk about each of these individually, so let’s get started with the character and I know and love the most…

THE PHANTOM!

He is the ghost who walks. The lord of the jungle, the hero who stalks, the beast call him brother, the ghost who talks!

Kit Walker is a part of a lineage that dates back to the 16th century. Drawing upon the supernatural strengths of the Deep Woods, his flashes of raw animal powers help him in his fight again evildoers and injustice. He joined the Defenders of the Earth to take down the evil Ming the Merciless, and of all of the characters who are a part of the this initial series, The Phantom is probably my favorite. He has a cool, yet simple, design that is the prototype for many superhero getups that came after him, and yet the color of purple used for the majority of the outfit is pretty unique, at least among my collection. For this version of the figure, the trunks are solid (his DofE look) instead of the stripes version, but if that is your preferred look, I would be willing to bet there is a chance at that down the line.

For the most part, and from what I can tell, these figures are built on the same bases created for NECA’s previous Batman, Superman, and Green Lantern figures. I have always admired those even though I was never able to procure them, so it is cool that those nice bases are getting a second life via this line, and I finally get to add them to my collection. These are opted under the Reel Toys banner, so they are definitely that 1:10/7-inch scale we have come to know from NECA. They are always good about credits on the packaging, and sculpting duties for these guys were handled by Djordje Djokovic, who I know primarily via his work with the Four Horsemen on the Masters of the Universe Classics line.

This figure has a clean, yet very detailed sculpt. I know those things don’t often go hand in hand, but that has been married very nicely here, so the costume retains its straightforward look, but the musculature and material changes are brought out nicely. From what I know, the costume has bene faithfully recreated here, and I like the matte work in the spandex portion contrasted with the shiny leather in the belt and boots. There is also some nice dark purple airbrushing used throughout the costume to help bring out the sculpting work even more, and that adds a level of subtle of variance in the mostly monochromatic costume. The likeness and small details are handled very well, and I especially like the work on the rings and the domino mask.

This base body has a good amount of articulation to it, and I count right around thirty individual point which includes big ones like double hinge elbow and knees, foot hinges, ankle rockers, and an ab crunch. I am pleased with how well the articulation works in most places, and the joints are strong and tight. The double elbows and knees do wonders, and the figure, while tall and lithe can balance on one foot, even with his higher center of gravity. Of all of these figures, I find The Phantom to be the most fun to pose, and you put him right alongside the likes of other super-articulated superheroes in heroic and dynamic poses. 

The Phantom, as well as Flash and Ming, comes with a great assortment of accessories as well. Some of these, like the blaster and blaster effects are shared with other figures, but he also gets alternate hands, a ring blast effect, and Zuffy from the planet Mongo. I LOVE getting “sidekick” figures, and Zuffy is not a simple slug figure – he features six points of articulation all on his own. I also love the blaster and ring effects pieces, and as a lot of companies are moving in the direction of including such pieces, these all work really well for The Phantom. The blaster gets a muzzle flash piece as well as fully-extended blast effect, and both of these are shared with Flash and Ming. These look really cool and work well with the included blaster. I am particularly fond of the ring blast, though, and the alternate hand included to facilitate holds the piece tightly for a convincing effect.

I know Flash Gordon probably has a larger following at this point, but do NOT sleep on this figure of The Phantom. It is a fun figure to pose, and as I said, he fits right along side many of your other superhero lines. 

FLASH GORDON

Flash-ah-ahhhhhhhhhhhh! He’s a miracle! Sorry, I know this is not THAT version of Flash Gordon, but I cannot hear his name without also hearing Freddie Mercury’s voice, so I had to get that out of my system. Flash Gordon has had many varied lives and iterations even since his conception in the pulp days. While this is most definitely the appropriate Defenders of the Earth version, the figure itself, and the art on the packaging (also done by the multi-talented Djokovic) harkens back to those days when space travel was still just a dream, and futuristic fighters like Flash used their advanced weaponry in his interstellar adventures. The (mostly) solid red costume compliments the purple of The Phantom’s look, and gives a stable inverse to Ming’s garish and complicated attire.

Flash does share a lot of parts with Kit, but he does have a unique torso and shoulders to accommodate the golden epaulets/armor and collar of the outfit. The belt is also unique, of course, and that Flash Gordon symbol is so iconic that it makes the character instantly recognizable in any form, at least for me. The red is a bit muted (as in, it is not like candy apple or anything), and the airbrushing is done with higher contrast than the work on The Phantom. This helps further the pulpy look to me, and at the same time, I think this was needed just so Flash wasn’t a solid wall of red, as it is a strong color.

Now, Flash is likely going to get overlooked a bit when compared to the most visually-complicated Ming, but the portrait on this figure is just gorgeous, both in the sculpting and painting work. I say this not only because the skill is obvious, but this figure perfectly elicits that common look of what the futuristic man would look like during the pulp days. Some of it is hard to describe, like the high cheekbones and facial features, but some are apparent with the perfectly coiffed hairdo and stern, yet handsome expression. Not only does this embody the pulp books and strips of the time, but there it also recalls old movie posters from the 1930s, and just popular art in general of the times. I might be making a bigger deal out of this than it is, but as I said, it is very well done.

Flash includes the same laser and blast effects as The Phantom, but he also gets his own unique swappable hands and sword. I have always thought of Flash as being more of a blaster type guy, but the sword is really cool, too. It is cast in translucent yellow to give it an energy/laser effect, though I admittedly don’t know the exact origin. The blaster is pretty much what I picture in my mind’s eye when I think of a ray gun and it looks good with Flash, even more so than The Phantom, because he gets his ring.

This is the first Flash Gordon figure I have ever owned as crazy as that sounds, but this one was worth the wait. I think this will probably the be the most popular of the first series due to love of character and name recognition, so it is good to have the Savior of the Universe back out there, especially because of the growing threat of…

MING THE MERCILESS

I know I have an affinity for the bad guys, but Ming is just badass. The despot from Mongo, Ming has been a foil of Flash Gordon for all time, and steps into being the primary antagonist for the Defenders of the Earth. There is NO WAY you have a DotE line with Flash, and not include Ming, so I am glad to see that he here in series one. Of these first three figures, Ming is by far the most visually interesting and is very much a departure in style from the straightforward Flash Gordon and Phantom. The portrait is on another level, and as funny as it sounds, the HANDS are really expressive, too. Somehow, NECA has been able to accomplish this sharp departure in looks while still effectively using the same base body, so that is saying something. However, it is the new parts, of which Ming gets the most, that are really exciting. 

Even with the new overlays on the chest and belt, the body can still move as well as it does with the other two figures and none of the articulation is inhibited. The primary colors on the base body are navy blue and grey, but the ornate collar, gauntlets, and belt pieces add just about every other color in all of existence to Ming’s palette. Regalia on Mongo is certainly garish to my meager Earth eyes, but NECA has done a tremendous job in recreating it on this figure. It is one, albeit impressive, thing to create the details of sculpture and paint on a prototype, but to pull all of that through production on a mass-produced figure is a pretty remarkable feat. Even with all of the lines, patterns, symbols, and color transitions, nothing seems to be out of place here, and the paint work is really, really clean. I am very impressed.

Adding additional layers to the costume is a soft goods cape that features a wire frame to makes very posable. This feature has permeated more and more companies as of late, and even though I generally shy away from cloth with my action figures, this addition makes it a lot more appealing, especially for photography. Ming also gets the reused muzzle flash and laser blast effects shared with his series mates, but his ray gun, Serpent Staff, and cutlass are all unique. Both the staff and sword have very intricate sculpting and paint work, and the swappable hands can help Ming hold both as you like. I think of him as more of a staff kind of guy, and to leave his left hand open for his ring, but you can mix and match as you like it here. 

I have to admit that prior to talking to Randy, I was afraid that this line might have fallen aside or would be delayed indefinitely. That is certainly not the case as NECA is bringing it for the Defenders of the Earth, and the figures turned out great. If you are a fan of the cartoon, or even of the pulp history or these characters, you are in for a treat. Even if you are more casual like me, you will be getting some great action figures that fit right in with your other heroes and villains. The best news is that these look to start showing up at Wal-Mart as early as this weekend! Remember: Wal-Mart will have exclusivity with these for about a month, then it is planned for them to have a larger rollout to other retailers. So start keeping you eyes open for THE DEFENDERS OF THE EARTH!

*Thanks to the team at NECA for sending these figures along for a First Look, we really appreciate it!