Everybody knows Queen, the British rock quartet with a countless string of classics, from the stadium staples "We Are The Champions" and "We Will Rock You" to the nearly six minute opus "Bohemian Rhapsody". But while they were a hugely popular and successful band throughout the world in the mid-to-late 70's, they largely fell out of favor in the U.S. in the 80's and 90's, though still remaining chart-toppers in Europe and elsewhere. While the specific reason for this is open for debate (some speculate it was the whimsical cross-dressing in the video for "I Want to Break Free"), it's clear that Queen is enjoying a slight resurgence in popularity, even in the land that (maybe) shunned them for dressing like housewives.
You can buy Queen shirts at trend-spots like Hot Topic. A successful jukebox musical entitled "We Will Rock You" was a hit in London, and is scheduled for a North American tour soon enough. "I Want It All" can be heard in a Dr Pepper commercial, and "Under Pressure" can be heard in so many recent ads and TV shows lately that I've stopped trying to count them all. It's rumored that Johnny Depp may play the Freddie Mercury in an in-the-works biopic.
Speaking of Mercury, part of the resurgence can be seen in NECA's action figures of the late Queen front man. They started out with an 18" Freddie Mercury that played a motion-activated, minute-long sound clip (a medley of the two sports arena classics mentioned above and, oddly, "Radio Ga-Ga"). More recently, they've simultaneously released two smaller, 7" versions of Freddie, one a shrunken down version of the 18"er, and the other an all new sculpt. NECA's toys were what roped me in to the growing Queen resurgence, and I have to admit now I'm completely hooked on all things Queen.
Freddie Mercury (nee Farrokh Bulsara), possibly the greatest rock vocalist ever, was more than a singer: he played an array of instruments, most prominently piano, and he also wrote the music and lyrics for many of Queen's greatest hits, including "Crazy Little Thing Called Love", "Don't Stop Me Now", "Killer Queen", and of course the aforementioned "Bohemian Rhapsody". He was an unequalled showman, flamboyant and energetic beyond description and without the use of the "gimmicks" employed by today's shock rockers like Marylin Manson. He was unapologetic and relatively unshy about his homosexuality, but he was less forthcoming about his impending demise from the AIDS virus, which he succumbed to in 1991. The death of such a prominent entertainment figure from the disease increased public awareness of the disease that has since become a common threat.
The first of NECA's 7" Freddie figures is, as was previously mentioned, the smaller twin of the 18" figure, which is about two and a half times the size of the little guy. Based on Queen's 1986 "Magic Tour", this iconic look is most well-known from Queen's concert at Wembly stadium. A slight variation (with a Marilyn Monroe t-shirt instead of the undershirt) was seen in the video for the song "The Miracle". The outfit mainly consists of a yellow jacket with six straps running horizontally along its length, giving it a ribbed look, and tight white pants with a red and gold racing stripe down each side. The sculpt is good, and all the detail of the material is done well, without the over-texturing that has become common in most NECA figures.
The head sculpt is good, but seems to be lacking some of what made the 18" figure look so spot on. This is Mercury's short-haired, mustachioed look,
which is such a distinct look that it would probably be recognizable even if the likeness were worse, but it could still be a bit better (especially when compared to the "Leather" version, but more on that later). The paint may also have something to do with it. While most of the paint is handled well with very little slop or bleeding anywhere on the figure's face or body, the eyebrows stand out as the one sore spot. The paint clearly does not follow the sculpted area, and their slight upturn gives Freddie a perpetual sad or perplexed look. Other details, such as Mercury's chest hair and five o'clock shadow, are handled just as well (or even better) than the painted details on the 18" figure.
The articulation is a bit limited, and I almost find myself wishing the figure was a little more pre-posed. As it is, his stiff arms make it difficult to pull off any of his more iconic poses. You can do a decent approximation of his most iconic pose (the old right arm raised , clenched fist), but he can't achieve it without looking fairly mannequin-like. For the record, he gets balljoints in the shoulders, pegs in the wrists and waist, and a balljoint in the neck (only at the base of the head this time, unlike the 18" version which featured a joint at both ends of the neck). His ankles seem to conceal a joint, but they don't appear to move. It should be noted that the packaging refers to the figure as "stunningly detailed and poseable" and I can only hope what they really meant was "Stunningly detailed! And poseable."
The second Freddie figure, according to the package blurb, is based on his "leather" look from the late '70s. That's a rather vague description, so let me try to pinpoint this look a tad further. The "late '70s" means that this look falls around the time period of Queen's Jazz album (which incidentally featured nothing that could be described as jazz in a musical sense). As such, he can be seen wearing these exact pants (a tight black affair with yellow stripes up the sides that terminate in a triangle at the waist), in the video for "Fat Bottomed Girls", which was a track on the aforementioned album. The suspenders, however, are sequined, rather than red as they appear on the figure. The jacket was a bit harder to peg down, but I finally located it in a 1977 live performance of "We Will Rock You". There are other videos and promo shots where Mercury is wearing a similar black leather jacket, but it lacks the white bicep patches and seems to have a significantly different cut seen in the "Rock You" performance and the NECA figure.
The other costume elements, such as the suspenders,
double gold chain, and Adidas shoes, can be seen at various times throughout Mercury's appearances. As such, this outfit could very well have been worn by Mercury at some point, although I have yet to see any video or photograph that depicts this exact combination. Freddie's head sculpt this time around features a shaggier haircut and no facial hair whatsoever. While prototype pictures showed a decidedly Neanderthal-looking face, the final figure actually features an excellent likeness.
It's far more accurate than the "Magic" version,
and captures Freddie's hooded eyes, high cheekbones, squared jawline and prominent overbite perfectly. The promo photos also showed Mercury looking "at the camera" rather than facing into his microphone, which clearly throws off the look of the figure, since it's obvious that his open-mouthed sculpt is intended to represent a singer in mid-song. The one nitpick is that the head seems ever-so-slightly too small for his body, though it's so minimal that I can't tell if the extreme pose is creating some sort of optical illusion and I'm making it all up in my mind.
The paint, again, is strong except for one area. The fine detail work on the figure's face, shoes, jewelry and bare chest are exceptional. The gold chains in particular are well done, with very little bleed considering the thin-ness of the sculpt. The only poor area is the suspenders. There is bleed everywhere, especially in the black areas, and on the left side it was so bad that I felt the need to touch it up with my own paint, which I rarely do (I prefer a Sharpie marker if I can get away with it).
The figure's articulation is pretty much the same as his "Magic" counterpart, but "leather" Freddie also has working ankle joints. Strangely, this figure can achieve a wider variety of dynamic poses, despite the fact that it's more pre-posed than the "Magic" Freddie. Though his right arm is severely bent, the balljointed shoulders let you tweak his pose quite a bit more than I expected.
Both Freddie figures come with the same flat black base
with Freddie's signature stamped on in white. While the figures can easily stand without them, they're a nice addition. They also both come with Mercury's half mic-stand, although with '70s Freddie the stand comes separate and must be attached. This is because '70s Freddie's microphone is permanently inserted into his closed hand, so in his case the mike itself can't be counted as an accessory. As a bonus, he gets a brandy snifter, which fits great in the hands of most Iron Man figures.
If you're a Freddie fan, both of these figures are must-haves. If you're only going to get one, it really depends on which look you like better, although for my money the "leather" version is more playable and features a better likeness.
Of course, if you want to quasi-re-enact the video for "Princes of the Universe" and stage a battle between Connor MacLeod and Freddie Mercury, then the "Magic" version is the way to go. Craig Campbell sculpted both figures, and I can only hope that these are the first of many. Mercury had a lot of very different looks, and I would personally love one based on "Bohemian Rhapsody" or Queen's appearance at Live Aid.
NECA has always been good at giving me figures from my "dream licenses" - licenses I always wanted but never thought would see the light of day. Gremlins, Labyrinth, Highlander and Donnie Darko, just to name a few. But I think Freddie Mercury is the first time they've given me a figure of something I never even knew I wanted. NECA, it would seem, knows more about me than I do, and they will, they will rock me.
Is this the real life? Is this just fantasy? Tell us on our message board, the Loafing Lounge.