Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Kenner's Mantis Alien

In the same package as Lava Planet Predator came another gem from the past, one of the most beloved of my vast Kenner Aliens collection, 1993's mighty Mantis Alien! Before we dive right in though, there are a couple of things I need to clarify.

Some of you may remember me expressing my dislike for toy lines that give a hero different costumes and gear of an extremely limited scope just to sell more figures. I feel that this angle only works well for a couple of characters (Batman, Iron Man) while it is supremely bad for others (usually Superman.) Kenner is no stranger to this tactic and they applied it to many of the licenses they held, including Aliens. The thing is, it works beautifully with the Aliens property. If you can get around the fact that some of the host animals the Alien figures spawned from could in no way house chest bursters, any variation of the creature's life cycle can be hand waved. Face Hugger Queen? A mutation caused normal Face Huggers to simply mature into giant versions! Killer Crab Alien? Planet populated mainly by giant, carnivorous crustaceans! The individual Aliens represented in the line could just be from specific hives where all drones are of that type, as they all matured from the same dominant host species.

Once again, the nostalgia here is nearly choking, the Mantis was one of my absolute favorites of the Aliens line as a kid, which is saying a lot as I owned almost every Alien made. The backing card is sort of the inverse of the Predator line; Art of a classic "drone" Alien flanks the bubble on the left beneath a vertically inclined version of the iconic Aliens title, with art of the Mantis Alien itself on the right. Behind the bubble is art of an Alien egg, incorrectly illustrated with the flaps opening from the bottom. This figure is so old, when I took him out of the shipping box, his bubble fell clean off the backing card! Convenient as it did almost no damage to the card art and I had wanted to save it for display purposes anyway.

The card back shows off some of the aliens and pretty much all of the horribly bad Space Marine figures. The Mantis came out about midway through the series, so he is advertised alongside such staples as the exploding Scorpion Alien, strangling Snake Alien, amazing Flying Queen and classic Queenie herself. New comers beside the Mantis include the Queen Face Hugger and the Rhino Alien, who like the Mantis, is a heavy retool/repaint of an earlier figure in the series, the Bull Alien. The Marines line up features the only good one ever made, Atax! You better believe he'll show up at The Barracks sooner or later.

Also featured are some vehicles from the line, the only remotely movie related one being the Power Loader. The Evac Fighter doesn't look too bad considering, but there's no decent pilot for it. Though I do know where I can get a boxed one for cheap... No! Must resist collecting urge...

Out of the package, he is nothing short of fantastic. As mentioned, the Mantis is a remold/repaint of the Gorilla Alien released earlier, but Kenner went so above and beyond on mold and paint changes, you probably wouldn't notice without close inspection. I don't own the Gorilla as of this moment to compare, but the Mantis uses the same torso and gimmick while receiving all new parts in form of arms, legs, head and an abdomen replacing the Gorilla's more traditional tail.

The Mantis Alien is cast in translucent green plastic, a method Kenner started using a lot in the Aliens line which I absolutely loved as a kid. There are some light silver sprays across his arms, legs, chest and head that really bring out a lot of the sculpted detailing, which this line is famous for. Way before McFarlane and NECA were turning out super detailed Aliens merchandise, Kenner was cramming every inch of their takes on the creatures with all kinds of muscle texture, bone extrusions and looping cables. What's even more amazing is that the sculptors didn't just design one leg and arm and mirror them for the opposite limbs; Each arm and leg, while similar in overall shape, have multiple unique organic details that differentiate them.

Being a toy from the nineties, the Mantis Alien isn't just there to look pretty, he has an action feature as well! Squeezing the lighter green tubes on the back together causes the figure to spread its arms wide, releasing them brings the arms back together to trap enemies in the Mantis' spiky embrace. You can also see that where the Gorilla Alien had a tail, the Mantis sports a newly sculpted abdomen piece, complete with veined wings and a hooked stinger.

The head is a lot less smooth than the standard drone, featuring a lot of ridges, spikes and folds across the dome of the skull. The top of the head has the heaviest application of the silver sprays seen elsewhere on the figure and the snarled mass of teeth are painted a metallic gold. With six points of articulation, the Mantis Alien can't strike a whole lot of poses, but besides grabbing and crushing, there's not much else you need from him.

The translucent plastic is a real hook to me, just look at how beautiful he looks with a strong back light! Despite the very non-movie design, the Mantis looks like he could pose for the cover of an Aliens DVD and not look at all out of place.

The Mantis Alien is an excellent example of how to do a repaint/resculpt right as well as being just as excellent an example of how to create variations on your main characters and still have them be appealing. Twenty years later, he still looks amazing and is a real gem in the Aliens line. I paid about fourteen dollars for a carded sample, but loose ones will of course be much cheaper. Your mileage may vary, but if you can find a Mantis for a price you don't mind paying, he's certainly worth it.

"You got it, Sarge!"


  1. This guy was one of my favorites too. He may lack the acid spitting feature of the gorilla alien cast, but you can have a lot more detail without a weird rubber head. At least, that’s what my grandfather always used to say.

    The Kenner Aliens project was cursed, albeit auspiciously cursed, from the get go as it was fueled by concepts from the failed cartoon show "Operation: Aliens". Clearly it is a great idea to turn an R-rated movie series about being murdered by a horrible alien species into family programming. There wasn't much precedent back then for animated shows like "Spawn" to run on HBO with a more limited audience.

    Regardless, Fox programming went to the cartoon abortion clinic and came back a happy non-dadddy. Kenner had time to change their box art, but it didn't stop a few board games, T-shirts, and watches from oozing out before the purge.

    You can also see some of these concepts in action if you manage to sit through "Alien versus Predator" for the SNES. Is it worth the godawful tedious gameplay to get to the fourth level and fight the Flying Queen? Yes. Hard yes. A yes every time.

    Some stills from the "Operation: Aliens" trailer can be found here:

    I swear I saw it once on a VHS—-maybe that X-Men pilot where Wolverine is Australian—-but you can’t find it anywhere these days.

  2. The very idea of an Aliens TV show for kids is endlessly amusing to me, though it ended up making a killing for Kenner. The mini comics completely dance around the fact that Aliens are murderous monsters as well; I only scanned that final panel, but the comic included with the Mantis consists of the Marines exploring a deserted colony and being attacked by Mantis Aliens. Now, you'd assume that the Aliens had simply KILLED the colonists, but at the end it's revealed that the shuttle that just left for the moon base apparently had every single missing colonist on it, alive and... well, alive at least as they are ensnared by Queen Face Huggers...

  3. Awesome information. I am really surprised with this topic. Keep up the good work and post more here to read. Web Services.
    family programming