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Inspector Gadget

Megahero Series
by yo go re

What do you get when you mix Inspector Clouseau, Get Smart, and the Six Million Dollar Man? A surprisingly big hit!

In 1981, the cartoon Ulysse 31 retold the story of The Odyssey a millennium in the future - Commander Ulysses helped broker peace on the planet Troy, and is on his way home when he angers the rulers of the universe of Olympus. It was basically an excuse to cash in on Star Wars' popularity (and was even sued for copyright infringement due to some of the series' music), but it was noteable for being a French/​Japanese co-production: DiC Entertainment in France, and Tokyo Movie Shinsha in Japan. The show only lasted a single season, but DiC and TMS enjoyed their partnership and began looking for a new project and began developing Lupin VIII - that's not a typo, "Lupin the Eighth." (Clearly they had a thing for stories set in the future.) Copyright issues meant that series never got off the ground, so suddenly the production companies had a big hole in their schedule. Enter Inspector Gadget.

When Augustin Tamare slipped on a banana peel, he was rushed to the hospital to treat his injuries. He must have had great insurance, because the hospital took this opportunity to give him every medical procedure known to man, and also to replace about 97% of his body with shoddy electronics. Where was that banana peel, the roof of a Severe Bludgeoning factory?

The Inspector Gadget toys are made by a company called Blitzway, who we've never heard of before. They seem to be taking influence from Figuarts, though, judging by the inclusion of alternate faces. Gadget has three: one looking straight ahead and smiling, one looking down seriously, and one with the mouth open in a wide smile and the eyes looking to the side. Which side? You get to choose - the set includes swappable eyes for that head, allowing him to look left or right. Dang! Oh wait, all the eyes are swappable, so you can have any of the three expressions paired with eyes looking in any of four directions!

Inspector Gadget unquestionably dresses like Inspector Clouseau - a double-breasted, belted trenchcoat and a gray trilby. Heck, in the original pilot he even had Clouseau's mustache, though that was changed for legal purposes before the series was picked up. The sculpt is detailed yet cartoony, and the paint (a lot of airbrushed shadows) serves to accentuate what's already there. The figure moves at the ankles, knees, hips, waist, wrists, elbows, shoulders, neck, and head - the knees are just single hinges, and the elbows and shoulders are swivel/hinge, but all the rest are balljoints. Everything feels nice and sturdy, which will be good for using the accessories.

We'll begin simple, with alternate hands. You can replace his fists with hands designed to hold things tightly (the included flashlight or magnifying glass), a right hand designed to hold something loosely (his badge), a pointing left hand, and a right hand with the index finger replaced by a screwdriver, our first hint at the weirdness to come. The final hand has the thumb and pinky extended to be the Top-Secret Gadget Phone. Do you think that people will ever stop mining phones that way, now that we all talk to each other in little black rectangles? There are also a pair of rollerskates that can plug into the soles of his shoes - and like Harley Quinn's, they actually roll! Go-Go-Gadget couples' skate!

There's no way any toy could possibly cover every device Inspector Gadget uses throughout the series, so Blitzway had to pick what they wanted. Since we last discussed his skates, let's work our way up, starting with the Gadget Springs, pieces (with real functional springs) that fit between his feet and his shins. Then there are the go-go-Gadget arms, extensions that fit into the wrist so his hands can stretch away from the body - those come in two lengths, for variety. We also get two extenders that only work in the neck. But only one at a time. And they're the same length. So... why? The promo photos showed the shortest telescoped piece being for the neck, and there being only one of it, but that's not how things turned out at the end.

The top of Gadget's hat can be switched for different versions: one that turns it into his Gadget Copter, with slots for the handles and the rotor blades; and the other with two spots where hinged metal arms can plug in, allowing you to use more of the alternate hands and more of the accessories at once! And you know what else always came out of his hat? The Gadget 'Brella, which he always tried to use as a parachute (though it never worked). Sure enough, thet set includes an umbrella! It should be pink rather than red, but it's here. Other than the Go-Go-Gadget Mallet, that's one of the most iconic things he has. But you know, it's odd that despite having swappable eyes, he doesn't include the Go-Go-Gadget Binoculars, which dropped down out of his hat.

Despite being filled with the most malfunction-prone gadgets money can buy, Inspector Gadget is even worse at inspecting than he is at gadgeting. He'd never prevent Dr. Claw and the evil agents of MAD from achieving their goals (and in fact would probably unwittingly assist them) if not for the intervention of his neice Penny and her dog Brain. In fact, you could cut him out of most episodes entirely and it would make no difference.

Penny and Brain are sold in a set by themselves, but that doesn't mean they're not just glorified accessories. Remember how articulated Inspector Gadget was? Remember all his accessories? Yeah, forget that, because both these figures are solid lumps. Well, they do have some interchangeable parts, so not solid solid, but this is definitely a step back. Because without any joints, neither of these characters can take a step back. Or forward. Or anything else.

The human half of the set is wearng her standard outfit: pink shoes, green pants with patches on the knees, and a red T-shirt with a white stripe across the middle. Her blonde hair is pulled into two pigtails. Her normal expression is neutral, but the set includes an alternate head featuring an excited smile. You swap the entire head and neck as one, and need to trade the hair between them as well.

When you consider Penny's next accessory, you have to remember that Inspector Gadget aired in 1983. In 1983, touchtone phones were still in the process of replacing rotary phones and personal computers were called "personal" because they could fit inside a home, but Penny's walking around with a computer the size and weight of a book that had full-color video conferencing, an endless database of information, and wireless connectivity. Today that's commonplace, but for the '80s you get the feeling she wasn't hiding the fact that she was the one solving all Uncle Gadget's cases not to spare his feelings, but rather to keep from being burned as a witch. The set includes two copies of the computer book: one closed, that she can hold by her side with the standard arm, or an open version that her alternate arm can hold in its palm.

Brain was far from being an average dog. For one thing, he was yellow. For another, he walked on two legs, had opposable thumbs, and could readily understand plain, spoken English. With Penny being the brains of the operation, it was up to Brain to be the pennies the field operative. He would dress up in a costume to blend in unobtrusively somewhere, then Inspector Gadget would mistake him for the MAD Agent and spend the rest of the episode trying to capture him instead of the real bad guys.

Since this set couldn't very well make Brain's communicator collar, with its microphone, speaker, and antenna [couldn't it? --ed.] (the pices would have been too thin and flimsty), they made sure to include a costume for him. It's a delightfully tasteful and culturally sensitive number, including a sombrero, a serape, and an alternate nose with a curly black mustache. That's very similar to the accessories the 1992 Tiger Toys release had.

The third set in the line features Inspector Gadget's boss, Chief Quimby. He appears to be Gadget's direct supervisor and the head of whatever organization it is that employs a half-robot cop and has the authority and jurisdiction to send him all over the world. Does your local police department regularly dispatch its detectives to other continents to act as spies or counter-terrorist operatives? Because Metro City's does. Apparently.

As far as superheroes' police contacts go, Chief Quimby is sort of the Bizarro Comissioner Gordon: he's personally annoyed by the guy he has to work with, but is allowed to publicly acknowledge his existence. Of course, Inspector Gadget is like the Bizarro Batman, in that none of his equipment works right and he's a terrible detective, but the public adores him.

Like Penny and the Brain - yes, Penny and the Brain (one is a genius, the other's humane) - Chief Quimby isn't articulated at all. He has a great sculpt, matching the animation model quite nicely. All the figures do. But Blastwave [Blitzway --ed.] clearly knew where the best place to spend their money was, because who's ever going to have Chief Quimby do anything other than stand around intensely?

Actually, you can do something with Quimby other than have him stand around intensely. His whole deal is that (when he's not calling the Top-Secret Gadget Phone) he shows up undercover to give Gadget his assignments; and when he does, it's usually in some highly improbable location. Like inside a coffee pot, wearing a snorkel and dive mask. This one isn't quite that outlandish: he's popped up from a trash can. The interior of the bin is detailed with black bags and a few silver cans. To fit Quimby inside, you pull him apart at the waist, remove the entire left side of the chest, and the right arm that's holding his pipe. The replacement right arm disappears down into the garbage bags, while the replacement left arm is bent at the elbow to hold up a sheet with Gadget's latest assignment on it. There's even an extra combover piece that allows the garbage can's lid to attach to his head without falling off.

So those figures were all available to purchase individually, but there's also a "Deluxe Version" that bundles them all together with a few extras. Like, literally bundles them together. When you open the big box it's sold in, what you'll find are the three existing releases in their own existing boxes. "Wowsers" indeed. There's also a fourth box that has all the figures' display bases (oh, PS: each of them was supposed to include a display base) and their instruction sheets (which would have been nice to know before I went through each of these toys linearly).

There are articulated flight stands of various heights, though Inspector Gadget is the only one who can use them. The main draw of the Deluxe Version is the bonus scenery stuff: a dozen sturdy cut-outs that represent bushes, sound effects, speech bubbles, and so forth. Included clips can either plug into the bases or onto the ends of the flight stands depending on how high you want them to hover. They do add a cute charm to the set-up, honestly.

Inspector Gadget costs $90, Penny and Brain $70, and Chief Quimby $50 - but the Deluxe Set is only ("only") $190, a $20 savings before you even add in the extra effects. So if you're interested in the whole line, it's better to get the big set than the individual figures; but are you really interested in anyone other than Inspector Gadget, knowing they're nowhere near as playable as he is?

-- 02/21/21

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