Packaging - ****
I was never a fan of the clamshell. Maybe it's just that McFarlane began with these, then moved to cards, and it initially struck me as a backwards move. Maybe it's the incredible challenge in opening the things. Maybe it's that I'm not mainly a MOC collector. But whatever, this time, there's no denying how beautiful these are. The choice of logo, the design and colors involved, the way the figures are displayed in the shell and the slight color variations in the labels -- it all comes together as well as you could hope. These make gorgeous display pieces in the package, and store well.
Sculpting - ****
There are really two ways to look at sculpts here. First, the level of detail in the sculpt. That doesn't just mean "more is better" -- Todd sometimes goes overboard, and these are refreshingly traditional, with a few small exceptions. The dragons are symmetrical, nobody has a big honkin' boot, nobody's entrails are spilling out, there are no cybernetic parts to be seen. At the same time, the details are all over the place. The scales, the underbelly, the eyes and teeth, the spines, the claws, the wings -- there is not a single millimeter on these that does not show wonderful attention to detail. Also, as Michael pointed out in his review, the dragons were sculpted in clear plastic, then painted, so at times the clear plastic shows through -- on the wings, in particular. Some might consider that a point to mention in the paint category (and it does come up), but I put it here because it fits into this general point about how the dragon sculpts were executed. It leads to a second way to judge the sculpt of these figures -- choice of pose, general design of the dragon body. How big are the wings, how are the arms positioned, what does the tail look like, etc. There, it's really a matter of personal preference more than anything. I like the Komodo dragon the most, as it's the most traditional dragon in the bunch. His wings are the right size, his pose works, he isn't a wyvern (like the Eternal Clan dragon, who has no forearms). I find the tadpole look of the Water Clan dragon a bit much, and the scrawny wings on the Fire Clan dragon disappointing, and the marble in the Sorcerer Clan's hands is a bit "Hallmark" for me. But none of this really hurts the score. With five dragons, you don't want them all too be repeating themselves, so some variety is nice. The Tadpole dragon does have excellent fins all over the place, the Sorcerer Clan dragon looks appropriately mystical and majestic holding his orb... in the end, even where the choices are ones I'd not have made, it works. But I anticipate some people preferring to skip one or another of these. (To be completely honest, I'd give Komodo, Water and Sorcerer clan four stars, but I'd probably give Fire and Eternal only 3 and a half -- the scrawny wings and backwards pose on the Fire Dragon rub me the wrong way, as does the permanent tower base and chicken-look of the Eternal Clan dragon -- still, this is a personal bias, so I wouldn't give these figs a poorer score necessarily)
Paint - ****
Paint apps are a new high for Todd. There is possibly the loss of a half-star on the Fire Dragon, whose underbelly suddenly becomes red in a rather blotchy way. But at the same time, the subtle gradations from white to black on his back, the stripes of black on the Komodo, the highlights of yellow and orange on the Sorcerer, all are amazing. I have to say, I'm not crazy about the glyphs on the Sorcerer Clan's wings -- they're too simple, too clean, they just don't look quite right. But it's tough to complain when the scales are done so well, the mix of colors so precisely chosen. It doesn't look cluttered or too simple, it's just well done. The best is probably the Water Clan -- he's got a mix of blue and purple and green, all of it with a pearl-like finish, the blending is so subtle it is hard to tell where one starts and another ends. It's just magical. Still, for people who want more and more and more, the Water Clan may disappoint -- a deliberate decision was made to leave some paint off at the legs in the back and on the underbelly, to let the translucent plastic work its magic and contribute to the tadpole look. Some might consider that a poor paint choice, but as it was clearly intended, I leave the high score here.
Articulation - **
No getting around it. No real poseability here. The Komodo, Sorcerer, and Eternal Clan dragons all have bendy tails, and they can be put into a number of nice poses, so there's that. But that's it. I won't even bother listing where the few joints are, as they don't matter, with one exception. The Sorcerer Clan Dragon has two joints, one at the start of the neck, where it meets the body, and one where the neck meets the head. Combined with the swivel joints on his biceps and wrists, and it means you can move his head and arms around a bit. He can clutch his globe in two hands, or just one. He can look off to his right, or forward. He is probably the only dragon that can be posed in two significantly distinct positions.
Most collectors know what they like -- if you insist on articulation, if you buy anything that's a dragon, whatever your preferences, you've already made up your mind about this score. But as a fan of articulation, I do want to defend these in one respect. I don't think dragons really lend themselves to action figures if you want articulation. Sure, the wings can flap and the legs and arms can move a bit -- but that gives you Dragonheart dragons, and they weren't nearly as great as this. Nope, you'd have to give things ball joints, which would seriously impinge upon the sculpt -- and even then, you still wouldn't have the distinctive serpentine movements of a dragon. McFarlane tried to accomplish that with the Horrid from the first Dark Ages Spawn line, using ball joints in the neck to approximate a snake-like twisting and turning. It was a neat idea, but this looks better and was probably a better choice. Wings, for that matter, would have to be stuck in one position or another, unable to fully collapse or expand, unable to really be posed. Nope, dragons just don't work as figures with articulation, and while I'd love to see more poseability in the arms or at least one dragon with flappable wings, sure, I also think these look great and I wouldn't expect much in the way of articulation anyway.
Accessories - Bupkis
As anyone who's crazy enough to have kept track of my reviews might know, I don't care about accessories unless they are necessary. Knights need swords and shields, but dragons don't need anything. The bases COULD count, but they really are functional more than anything, so I don't count them. They're nice, though, for the record. Still, no accessories here. It doesn't bug me. That said, I can imagine how cool it would be if they came with some treasure piles, or corpses, or scorched remains of a hut or something. That WOULD be neat..... So, yeah, some kind of accessories would be nice. Maybe for Dragons 2.
Fun Factor - Komodo and Water ****, Fire, Sorcerer and Eternal ***
Kids who like dragons will like these, I imagine. If your kid really digs dragons, all of these are going to be fun, and the Komodo and Water Clan, whose poses are the least "restrictive," will be a blast to play with. The Fire and Eternal and Sorcerer Clans are all posed in somewhat unique ways, making play a little less of an option. These are definitely statues, they are for display, and they don't DO anything. But at the same time, they have dramatic poses and they won't break easily,
and I have trouble restraining myself from taking Komodo off his base and flying around the room with him. I know that as a kid I would have ignored the lack of articulation and made these guys go at it. Heck, green army men are statues, too. For the right kid, these would definitely be fun.
Value - ****
I'm comparing these to Reaper's Marthrangul, slightly smaller than Water Clan and $100 a pop. Or Games Workshop's Forest Dragon, $50 a pop. Wizards of the Coast's Huge Red dragon, $20 if you're lucky enough to randomly pull him, $35 if you go online to buy him specifically. Mage Knight dragons are $15-25 depending on where you go. So for dragons this detailed, this beautifully painted, and this great looking overall, $11 is a fantastic buy. If you pay more for some reason, they're STILL a great buy.
Things to Watch Out For -
It's a good news/bad news thing. The bad news is that QC is a bit of an issue -- of the five figs I bought, two had QC problems. The good news is that this isn't the traditional, infamous McFarlane QC problem -- nothing broke off. The Sorcerer Clan dragon, however, had a mis-aligned pin on his foot, to attach him to his base. I needed pliers to fix it, since it's metal, but with them it was easy to bend it back into place so he could stand properly. The Komodo didn't have it so easy - the wire in his bendy tail poked through the rubbery skin, and once I put it back, it took a dab of superglue to keep it in place. The others were fine, but you might want to scan through the figs on the pegs to before picking yours out. No problems with paint or anything else, however.
Overall - ****
I rarely get McFarlane toys anymore, and when I do, it's usually just one or two figs from an assortment. Even the Dark Ages lines have had one or two figures I've skipped. But these guys are just spectacular. As Michael pointed out, dragons aren't exactly rare, if you want trashy pewter cutesy stuff. But for proper toys, for unsentimental hardcore Dungeons and Dragons DRAGONS, there really hasn't been much. Mega Bloks has fun sets, but the dragons are bare bones. Dragonheart made a valiant effort, but they were saddled with action features and sorely lacking in interesting poses. And other than that, you gotta go back
a ways to find anything. These fill a real hole in the market, they're well done, they're cheap. The lack of articulation may bug some people, but it doesn't bug me, for all the reasons I gave. Pictures are worth more than words, though, so check out the various pics to appreciate just how great this new line is.