I was never really a huge fan of Marvel's god of thunder, Thor, but by some odd twist, I remember being a huge fan of his alien counterpart, Beta Ray Bill.
If you're not familiar with the character, it's not surprising. He never really had a huge part in the Marvel universe. He was just a brand new character appearing in Thor #377 in 1983, meant as a new adversary for Thor, who turns out to be a hero, worthy to weild the god's own hammer, Mjolnir. Basically, he kicked Thor's ass.
Walt Simonson, the creator of the Korbinite warrior, has said that he wanted Bill to look and feel like a monster, which is why he designed him with the horse-like skull for a face. It made him look the part of an evil monster, so when Mjolnir decides that this monster was worthy to weild the powers of Thor, the audience would go, "WTF?"
When I read the story as a kid, I thought it totally worked. I've been a fan ever since.
The packaging of the new wave of Marvel Universe figures (Wave 18), is similar to the look the line has had from the start. It's still mostly blue and the figure and card art take up most of the space that faces the aisles. The back of the card still has the poor product photography (I don't know why they keep using the crappiest poses for this section when I've seen much better solicitation photos from Hasbro), and the "also available" line up.
The biggest differences are the inclusion of the "Collectible Comic Shot" on the front and Rocket Raccoon as the mascot on the back. These changes made their appearance on the Wave 17 packaging (see Shadowland Daredevil) and they'll continue at least until Wave 21.
I'm all for the varying mascots and especially like that they say something different for each of the characters. Some of the word balloons are lol-able, like the Hulk's raccoon saying "Do you find my small, furry nature reassuring?" Later in the line, MODOK shows up, and then Dazzler of the X-Men. There's not much reason for either, but it does give some exposure to lesser known characers in the 616 and let's face it, the "files" theme died once they stopped including the actual file cards. These new mini-comic covers are just crap.
The figure inside however, is all kinds of awesome.
Bill looks to be a unique body since most of his parts need to be created from scratch. Not many characters in the Marvel pantheon sport 3-fingered hands, his trademark horse-face, and Asgard-inspired, alien armor (the Marvel version of it anyway). They probably could have gotten away with just switching out his head and hands and using the old Classic Thor body, but it doesn't look as if they've done that, either.
The new figure is a beaut. It's got tons of viable articulation (thigh swivels and an articulated jaw are my favorites), solid construction, a pretty good accessory, and loads of play value. In fact, I think it's even better than the Marvel Legends version.
How is a 4" figure better than the 6" counterpart? It's all a matter of design. The Marvel Universe figure feels like the decisions about what joints to include and how much articulation was actually needed was a well thought out. There isn't a lot of wasted effort here. If you have the 6" figure, then you remember the useless finger and toe joints, and the odd wrist joints that didn't add anything. It's also far better proportioned and more well-balanced.
I do miss the hinge joint on the neck that allows the ML Bill to look up, though. The Universe figure only has a ball joint.
To be fair, the 6" figure is almost a decade old now, so a lot of this could be put down to experience on Hasbro's part. They've been improving the Universe figures since they got the license in '09, and it's been paying dividends these past 2 years.
The figure comes with only one real accessory: Stormbreaker, his Asgardian hammer. It looks nice and golden, rather than a dull bronze like the Marvel Legends version and fits perfectly into his hand by either the strap or the haft.
His cape and shoulder pads are also removable, but they don't really count as an accessory. The shoulder pads are sculpted as a piece with the cape, and they look awesome on him. I doubt you're going to want to take the garment off when you're displaying it. They attach to him via two posts that fit into the holes in his back. The two points of his cape kind of just fall onto his shoulders. You'd think it would look fake, but it's a pretty nice solution, and works for display.
Paint hasn't really been an issue lately in the Marvel Universe line, since a lot of the fine detail is now tampograhed into place. Most of the time, it's the eyeballs you have to watch out for, but since Bill's are white, pupil-less orbs, you're golden. You might want to check the white spots for bleeding or slop, but I doubt it's going to be an issue.
Though I'm really a dilettante in Thor comic lore, he's fast becoming one of my favorite comic properties. Though I was disappointed with the Marvel Select Thor, the recent SDCC Legends Thor, the Thor movie as well as Marvel's The Avengers, and my purchase of The Art of Thor, have all been positive forays into that world. Swords and sorcery, monsters and magic, epic mayhem of gods and goddesses: it's all awesome.
Then you throw sci-fi pulp into the mix with an alien warrior crash landing in a sentient ship named Scuttlebutt, and well everything just explodes into viscous, creamy goodness. Beta Ray Bill is really a great figure, and I can't wait to get the rest of the new Universe figures because of the hours of fun I've had playing with it.