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Dark Raider

Spawn Series 22: The Viking Age
by Poe Ghostal

Pity poor Dark Raider. Unlike his fellow "Viking Age" comrades, he doesn't get a name - not even a nickname. Just a description: Dark Raider (that name sounds so familiar, too... something about that "dar" and "ader," though I can't quite put my finger on it...). Sure, you could argue that he's "also known as Yorn Raider," but either one sounds pretty lame. Does anyone really call someone else by their occupation? "Hey, Plumber, come here." "Hey, Horticulturist, come look at this fern for me." [Ahem. --ed.]

Also known as Yorn Raider, this impish fighter is key in the Jorvak Skullsplitter/Loki plot to kill the heroic Erik Bloodaxe. Dark Raider's lowering of his sword in defeat to Bloodaxe on the battlefield would be Skullsplitter's cue to murder the beloved warrior. Dark Raider fought an intense battle with Bloodaxe on the Day of Legend, before lowering his weapon in surrender, triggering Skullsplitter's attack. After the treachery, an enraged Bluetooth lopped of Dark Raider's head with his sword. Dark Raider, though, with the powers of darkness overtaking him, did not fall. Instead a new head - one with the skull of a beast - grew in the old one's place.

Nomenclature aside, I will spare DR the brutal treatment I have meted out on his contemporaries in terms of historical accuracy. By now, anyone who has read my reviews is more than aware that McFarlane Toys' "Viking Age" series is little more than a compilation of various sword-and-sorcery clichés with a few weak pretenses toward history. The Viking Age line owes more to Robert E. Howard, Michael Moorcock and Gary Gygax than Professor Tolkien, Ms. Le Guin or, God forbid, a history textbook. But enough preamble. On to the review!

The sculpting is, as always with McFarlane, top-notch. You don't get much more realistic work than this. From the (Viking?) runes on the sword to the leonine etchings on the shoulder armor, Dark Raider is yet another example of how high Todd is setting the bar for the industry. I particularly like Dark Raider's face.

Some people have classified the Viking Age figures along mythological/legendary lines: the Berserker is a troll (or an orc), Bluetooth is a dwarf (albeit a rather tall one), Bloodaxe is reminiscent of Conan (the barbarian), and so forth. DR here is supposed to be an elf, and with those pointed ears I guess he could be. His armor is rather similar to that of the Elves in the prologue of the film Fellowship of the Ring, and DR himself looks a bit like Elrond from the prologue - if Elrond went foaming insane. Or was in severe need of some Immodium AD.

But there are definitely parts of the sculpt I don't like, or that just plain annoy me. For instance, the story tells us that DR's head was lopped off and replaced by a head with the skull of a beast. Well, DR has a skull mask, but I'm not sure that counts as a "head with the skull of a beast." But the mask itself is interesting. What I like less are the antlers - not only do they seem brittle, but they look really, really stupid. Did his wife cheat on him?

The arms and hands seem a little small. And I hate his right foot: it's set in a permanent raised heel. The "articulation" on the toe is horizontal (could it possibly be less useful?) so that doesn't help. Why, in a line with as much articulation as this one, would the designers curse DR with a raised heel? It makes the figure difficult to stand without one of those black round stands sold by the McFarlane Collectors' Club. [I think you just answered your own question --ed.]

The paint applications are excellent. The paints on this line are brighter than usual - certainly brighter than Series 19 ("The Samurai Wars"), which were all brown lumps.

The accessories are great too. Well-sculpted and made from strong (if slightly brittle) plastic, the swords look great. The larger sword even slides into the scabbard on the back. Just be careful when you're posing/storing DR, perchance: the tabs that hold the scabbard into his back are very brittle, so if he should fall onto his back (or get squished while in storage), they'll snap and the piece detatch; and don't expect to glue it back on, either, thanks to the thin, awkward connection points. I don't speak from experience, but I've seen what yo has had to deal with. So definitely take care.

The decapitated head - his own, if we're reading the story right - is suitably horrific. Not all DRs come with the head, however; in an attempt to appease the parents' groups that constantly seem to harrass his company, Todd released two versions of the Dark Raider; one that included the severed head, and one that didn't. And even in the release that does have the head, it's not just staring at you from the clamshell package! It's hidden behind the insert sticker in the bubble, so you'll have to look in from the bottom (between his feet) to see if he comes with it.

The head certainly looks like someone who's dead. The jaw hangs slack, and the eyes are half-closed and unfocused. There are cuts on his cheek and forehead, and the skin is a pallid gray. The wound of decapitation is harsh and jagged, and the anatomy of the neck disgusting. The hair is sculpted to fit into Dark Raider's hand, as though that were the way he's lifting it.

As mentioned above, the articulation - in theory - is good. Having 22 points on an 8" figure is never something to complain about, especially when it's actually useful articulation. However, DR fails where most of his comrades succeed in terms of arm articulation. Unlike most of the other figures, DR's double-balljoint articulation allows for no real horizontal movement. Also, due to McFarlane's allergy to pin elbow joints, the arms are stuck in an extremely bent position. This means the posing possibilities for DR are quite limited. His arms want to jut inward in the direction of his crotch; he's either mimicking Hulk Hogan or doing something I don't even want to contemplate. Slide the swords in his hands (the pommels are removable to allow this) and he looks a wee tad better, but he's still looks uncomfortable.

Dark Raider is a good action figure, but he's definitely my least favorite of the "Viking Age" line. I like his facial sculpt and the detail of his armor, but his constricted arms and raised heel are irritating. Add to that a boring back story and you've got a mediocre figure in a good toyline.

McFarlane Toys has announced that the entire Viking Age line, including Dark Raider, will be getting the R3 treatment ("resculpted, repainted, revisited"). Dark Raider will feature a new silver paint job, a new head and what seems to be a new removable helmet. I was planning on getting this figure until the restricted arms of the original began to bother me so much. That said, the R3 Dark Raider looks a lot better than the original so if you want this figure you may want to hold off until mid-October when the R3s hit.

-- 09/30/02


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