Collins’ Crypt: Lego Monster Fighters

Brian builds brick beasts: Lego's new Monster Fighters line could be the gateway drug to a lifelong love of monsters.

Since I don't have my own kids, I find myself asking my friends who do a lot of questions that probably drive them nuts, like "does she talk yet?" or "does he know how to play Xbox?" (my kids will learn the importance of a good Gamerscore, dammit!). I'm also curious about when they can start watching movies; some of my oldest memories involve watching movies with my dad, and as I've said a bunch of times I was able to watch horror films at the age of 6 or 7.

But that won't be every kid's upbringing. And around this time of year, when horror is seemingly everywhere thanks to Halloween, I assume a kid of around that age will be curious about some of these iconic figures that they're seeing everywhere - vampires, swamp men, werewolves, etc. They're all over the place at stores like Target (even on their cereal boxes, once General Mills gets off their ass and puts Count Chocula and Franken Berry back on the shelves), and they're likely to catch a few images on TV too. But what if they're still too young (per you, or your spouse) to watch even the old-school Universal films, which are usually less violent or intense than some Pixar films (I've seen just about all of them, and I can't think of anything that terrified me as much as the incinerator sequence in Toy Story 3)?

Well, Lego has got you covered. About a month ago - perhaps not coincidentally in time for the Halloween season - they put out a new line of toys called "Monster Fighters", with 8 or 9 different sets already on shelves and one or two more on the way. The prices range from 8 bucks to the 200 dollar Haunted House, which has a whopping 2064 pieces, creating a three floor mansion which you can unfold to see all the typically creepy things inside - cobwebs, coffins, even a hidden staircase. Each set comes with a monster that is more or less inspired by one of the classic Universal monsters. Lord Vampyre is Dracula, Swamp Creature is Creature From The Black Lagoon, and Crazy Scientist And His Creation is the very lazily named version of Frankenstein. The only one that's not here is Invisible Man, but there's a limited edition Ghost and a Zombie set that make up for it. Hell you can even include the generic Haunted House if you want, letting it represent the monster-free The Old Dark House, which was James Whale's followup to Frankenstein.

But a bunch of monsters wouldn't give kids (or childish adults such as myself) much to do, so each set comes with one of the titular Fighters, who have silly names like Rodney Rathebone and Frank Rock, and come equipped with crossbows and the like. And there are backstories for them all; Jack McHammer, for example, has a cybernetic arm because his human arm was removed and put on the "Creation". The overreaching plot of the series (cue Dr. Marshall Kane: "What happened with Legos? They used to be simple.") is basically ripped off from Monster Squad, as "Lord Vampyre" has assembled all of these other monsters to help him with his plot to plunge the world in eternal darkness, but instead of one amulet he needs six moon stones, with one such stone being a part of each set.

Now, how you can figure that out from what comes in the box is beyond me; you have to go on the website to fill in the back story (I assume there's a book or something available at Lego stores, too?). I just wanted to have fun putting the damn things together, and I've picked up four so far (I hope to have them all by Halloween for a little display, where Monsters and Fighters will be forced to join forces against their common enemy - my cats), marveling at how this little pile of colorful junk can become a car or a tree that can launch a werewolf across the room (or just sort of tip over and land next to where he started). I enjoy puzzles and the like, but don't have much room for such things in the house (my dining room table's primary function is to hold mail, receipts, DVDs I was too lazy to put back in place, etc), so these are a fine alternative as the ones I've gotten so far (i.e. the least expensive ones) can be put together on my desk.

The only thing that kind of disappoints me about them is that the pieces are so specific that they don't lend themselves to imagination as the standard kits do. I'm sure a Lego expert would figure out a way to customize a new location or vehicle with parts cribbed from all sets, but the pieces are so small I'd be nervous about screwing around too much in fear of losing or breaking some (each set comes with 4-5 extra parts for such occasions). I remember the last time I bought some Lego kits (the Bionicles) there was a bonus "Voltron" like thing you could make if you had all of the necessary kits, which got a little more bang for your buck - it would have been cool if they did something similar here. Like, if you have the Vampyre Hearse, The Ghost Train, and the Zombies set (which comes with a car and a shack), maybe you could combine parts and make a swamp boat to go hunt the Creature with, or something. Because then you could have fun with that, and then disassemble it and put the original sets together again, adding a little more value.

But that's just me nitpicking because I'm a cheapskate. What's far more important (and very cool to me) is that a kid can learn about these golden era monsters with a knowledgeable parent helping him put it together, and if he/she is drawn to one in particular, maybe it can lead to a Halloween viewing for the special occasion. Again, there's nothing in these older movies that a kid old enough to put one together (ages 7-14 are the recommended ones on the boxes) couldn't handle, as far as I'm concerned, so if they're having fun making up battles for these creatures, they might enjoy seeing Karloff, Cheney, etc do their thing. I wish I had something to inspire me to watch the older ones first; by the time I got around to seeing the original classics, I had already been (over)exposed to the modern stuff that ripped it off. Thanks to HMAD I am now a huge proponent of watching stuff more or less in order - one should see at least a couple of the Universals before moving on to Hammer, and then their modern counterparts - not backwards, as I did.

Plus, these things ARE technically educational toys, so they're more or less learning something as they build up their interest in the genre. Even with little room for creativity within a single set, they're still learning the basic functions of assembly, following directions, etc. Helpful for when they're older and they want the model kits! Even if they don't really show much interest in the legacy of what they're building, they'll still enjoy putting it together - I couldn't care less about Star Wars but I'd have a blast putting one of those giant ships together.

Not sure why it's taken the company so long to go all out for the Halloween crowd; they've had a few stand-alone minifigures over the years, and there was a sort of Mad Science Lab thing as part of their "Studio" series about a decade ago, but otherwise this is the first full blown horror themed concept, after years of many sci-fi/action themed properties (Star Wars, Marvel/DC heroes, Pirates Of The Caribbean, their original "Alien Conquest" line, etc). The images of these basic monsters are so omnipresent that they can't possibly worry about scaring their target audience, and since they focus on these series instead of just generic planes and structures (i.e. what I had growing up), who better to cater to than horror fans? We HAVE TO get everything! Our collector nature demands it!

Speaking of collector nature - I sincerely hope they make a video game out of this series. I love the games they put out, as they're a perfect fit for my OCD collector nature - I play all of them to 100% so I can make sure I got everything, even on the ones I don't care much for like Pirates of the Caribbean. Besides, they've done games for Bionicle and Ninjago, so it's not a total pipe dream, and I can't imagine how much fun I'd have with a license I enjoy. So get out and buy these things so they will see the value in exploiting it!