Drastic Plastic General Custer

Last week I reviewed Drastic Plastic's latest figure in their Leaders of World War II line - Franklin Roosevelt. This week, I'm looking at their first figure in their western series, General George Armstrong Custer.

A few years ago, I wrote an article for a scholarly encyclopedia called The Mythological West, An Encyclopedia of Legend, Lore and Popular Culture. Obviously, my contribution was on the representation of the western myth in modern toys. In that article I mentioned that Custer is the most commonly produced action figure, having seen dozens of versions over four decades.

Sideshow Toy just produced another 12" Custer last year, and I know lots of  folks will be asking me to compare the two. I'm going to beat them to the  punch, and do an in depth comparison. However, it is at the end of this review, rather than mixed within. I thought that would serve people a little better, and give you a chance to see how things stack up individually and in direct comparison.

I also spent a lot of time with this figure over the last week or so. Sixty bucks is a lot of moola, and I wanted to give you as in depth and unbiased an appraisal as I could, and I didn't want that initial 'oooo, it's a western figure' euphoria I get to cloud my comments.

Custer is available direct from Drastic Plastic, at a retail of $60. I have a list of several sites at the end of the review where you can also pick him up.

Packaging - ****
The packaging for this figure is ideal. While the basic black of the Leaders of World War II boxes is a tad dull, the artwork on the cover of this box is excellent. The art was produced by Andy Garringer, a long time Custer fan and re-enactor, who even portrayed the man in the mini-series North and South II, and he has done a marvelous job of capturing the historic appearance.

The inside fifth panel has plenty of historical information, and again the presentation of the figure in the inside tray is excellent. That should
satisfy the MIBers, but for the openers, it's all collector friendly as well. You can take everything out, and pop it all back in again later, with no damage. Beautiful work all around.

Sculpting - ***1/2
This sculpt goes for the classic look of Custer, as most people will remember him. With long blonde hair, moustache and goatee, his appearance was all the more striking 125 years ago. The sculpt is very nicely done, with great detail and accuracy. While it's not exactly accurate for the time of the Battle of the Little Big Horn, it is the look most people are accustomed to.

Paint - ***
I mentioned in my FDR review that the paint ops was an area that DP could look to improve. It's particularly noticeable on this figure, more so than the previous FDR.

The skin tone is consistent, and the detail and accuracy of the eyes, mouth and smaller details are quite good, but the line between the hair - on top of his head, and on his face - is not well distinguished. There's lots of bleed of the yellow off the hair and on to the face, hurting what is otherwise an excellent sculpt.

Articulation - ****
I just discussed this body on the FDR figure, but I'll run down it's advantages again.

There's every articulation point you'd expect in a 12" figure today - ball jointed neck, ball jointed shoulders, cut biceps, double jointed elbows and knees, wrists which move in all directions, chest, waist, ball jointed hips, and ankles that move in all directions.  Also, with bendy fingers on one set of hands, and a half foot joint, plus unique designs on the double jointed knees and ball jointed shoulders, these bodies are extremely well articulated.

For views of what a naked Drastic body looks like, check out the photos in the previous review.

Accessories - ***1/2
There's a ton, as you'd expect.  Most are weapons, and I'll cover most of the rest in the Outfit section.

Custer has his two Webley revolvers, that have a removable metal pin and cylinders.  A separate bag of cartridges can be loaded into the cylinder for a truly authentic look.  This seems to be hit or miss though, as mine are too large to fit, while others have reported having no trouble.

The pistols fit into two holsters, with flaps and snaps.  The quality is good, but be careful with the snaps, as I think they could come loose from the pleather fairly easily.

The holsters fit on the canvas belt, which has removable rifle cartridges as well.  The belt looks terrific, but the buckle is a tough one to use, and I wish they had employed a simpler design.

There is also the requisite Bowie knife and sheath.  The sheath fits on the belt, but hangs quite low on a long strap.  The Bowie knife design is terrific, and one of the best looking knives I've seen in a long time.

The Remington rifle has lots of little features, like moving sites on the front and back, and a moving hammer ('rolling block').  This allows you to also drop one of the rifle cartridges into place in the chamber. These are some excellent details! The sculpt is a bit soft, and the paint ops heavy, but the size is in much better scale than many other western figures of the past.

The final extra is another set of hands, this time wearing gloves.  The bendy finger hands aren't quite as useful on a figure like this where gripping weapons is crucial, but they work fine.  The gloved hands have posts that fit inside the arms easily, and I had no serious trouble getting them to attach and stay.

Outfits - ****
Drastic outfitted their version with a real buckskin outfit - yep, real buckskin. The quality of the material, tailoring and stitching are all simply amazing. There's no loose threads in the fringe, and each little piece is identical in size. The cuts are absolutely clean, and it is one of the nicest outfits I've seen. The brass buttons on the jacket are metal rivets, which look terrific and are sure to last. Just like the suit on FDR, Drastic really put a lot of effort into the uniform.

The blue shirt is also extremely nice, and very accurate in terms of style and cut. It fits the figure  well, and doesn't give him an overstuff appearance under the jacket. It also has full sleeves, so you can display Custer sans jacket if you'd like.

The red tie, a bit of a controversial topic in some historical circles, is cut to scale far better than these items usually are. It seems that ties, bandanas and the like are so often too large, but Drastic did a great job with both this and the FDR tie.

The boot sculpts are extremely well done, with excellent detail and a tight fit. Every wrinkle is there, and the boots have a realistic leather appearance, although they are molded plastic. The spur sculpts are also very detailed, and the small spurs even spin. One of the negatives for me is here though - the spur straps have fairly poor buckles, and it may take a bit of effort to get them to stay fastened.

Custer is also wearing boxers and socks. I have no idea what type of underwear 19th century men wore, but it is a recorded fact that the only thing he was left wearing was one sock. I suppose you could re-enact his final moments if you were so inclined. I have this bizarre vision of one of the descendants of Crazy Horse waving around a naked Custer doll wearing one sock.

The only big negative I have with the overall outfit is the hat. It's made out of the same soft material as the jacket and pants. That means it is much more difficult to get it to look right on his head, and you have to play around with it quite a bit to get a realistic appearance.

By the way, you'll notice one picture to the left is shot on the shelf.  After playing around with him for a few days, and switching the belt to the outside of the jacket like in the cover art, I finally found a decent pose for the soft hat.

Value - **1/2
Ah, but every rose has it's thorns. For this figure, the big thorn is the price. At $60, you're paying a premium for the extra attention to detail. In the specific comparison to the Sideshow figure, you'll see where there are lots of little extras with the Drastic Plastic version, but whether they are worth the extra $30, double the price of what you should be able to pick up the Sideshow version at, is really up to your budget. If you can pick up this version around $40, you can add at least a half star or more to the value.

Overall - ***1/2
The Drastic Custer is a beautiful figure, but not without it's flaws. The hat, rifle, hair line and buckles are my biggest issues, although the price tag is nothing to sneeze at. Still, if you're a big fan of the old west, or just Custer himself, you'll find it tough to pass this buy if you see him in person.

Where to Buy - 
I don't know of any bricks and mortar stores that will have these, but you can purchase them on-line:

- direct from Drastic Plastic, you can pick up Custer for $60 plus shipping.

Custer vs Custer - a Showdown!
I know what everyone really wants to know - which one is better? Here's the simple answer...neither. While there are certain aspects of the Drastic Plastic version which are fantastic, there are others on the Sideshow version which blow you away. There isn't a clear winner between the two, but I'll go through the my opinion on the comparison of the aspects of each to give you a better idea of which one might be right for you.

When it comes to the head sculpt, the nod goes to Drastic. I prefer the long haired look, and the head seems more proportionate to the body. He looks exactly as I'd expect him to, although it's not historically accurate to the Little Big Horn period.

Drastic is also the clear winner on the buckskin outfit. The quality is simply amazing, and every piece of fringe is perfectly cut without a single thread. The same is not true of the Sideshow version. The other two major cloth pieces of his outfit - the shirt and bandana - are also better on the Drastic version. The cut and fit of both are more realistic, and simply look better on the figure.

A clear winner for Sideshow is his hat. I don't like the soft version that comes with Drastic's, and the sculpted version that Sideshow produced looks terrific.

The boots are a toss up, as are the spurs. I like both sculpts, and while Drastic's spurs have greater detail and even turn, I don't like the lack of sturdy buckles. This one is an even call.

Another even call is on the belt. I like the Drastic belt for the material and ability to put in and take out the rifle cartridges. These are simply sculpted on the Sideshow belt. But as with the spurs, I don't like the buckle employed by Drastic, and much prefer the easy to use Sideshow version. So for me that's another wash.

A clear winner for Drastic is the extra gloved hands. I never have been able to get my Sideshow version to wear the gloved hands successfully, but I had no trouble getting Drastic's to work well.

The rifle is a winner for Sideshow. The sculpt is better, with greater detail and nicer paint ops, than the Drastic version. While the DP rifle includes some nice touches, like the moving hammer and sites, the overall look doesn't quite do it. I wish the Sideshow version was larger - like the pistols, the scale seems off - but it's the better of the two.

Not so with the pistols though. The smaller Sideshow versions look fairly good, but the extra detail in the Drastic versions, including the removable cylinder and the extra bullets you can load in, push Drastic in front here. Drastic's versions are also more in scale with the figures hands. The holsters are another plus for Drastic, with a little better quality and the flaps that buckle across the top.

The knives are a tie as well. While I like the style of the Drastic bowie knife better, Sideshow's isn't terrible. Both are accurate versions of knives of the time, and no one has any idea of exactly what type he carried. I don't like either sheath in particular, as the molded version Sideshow did doesn't fit in with the rest of the style of the figure very well, and the pleather version Drastic did hangs too far down.

If you're keeping a scorecard, you'll notice that overall, I liked the Drastic figure better. But there's a big caveat here - price. With a price tag as much as double the Sideshow version, you may very well decide that the improvements don't justify the extra cost. Unfortunately, you can't make one perfect figure out of both either, since the scale is slightly different on them. As you can see, the Sideshow figure is a little bigger, so swapping over the hat won't work.

If price isn't an issue for you, you can live with the silly hat, and you can find a way to get the buckles to stay put, buy the Drastic version. If price is an issue for you, then most certainly pick up the Sideshow version. And if you're like me, and have every version of Custer ever produced, then you'll be picking up both.

Figure from the collection of Michael Crawford.

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