Gladiator Flamma
ACI Toys

   "The following is a guest review.  The review and photos do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Michael Crawford or Michael's Review of the Week, and are the opinion and work of the guest author."

I'm a big fan of historical sixth scale figures, so it was with great interest that I read the following guest review from Jeff Parker - take it away, Jeff!

There was a time, not so very long ago, when you couldn’t move for historical figures. I’m not saying they were ever quite as popular as your WWII fare, but still they were pretty numerous. Companies like Dragon and Ignite used to make many Roman, Greek, Viking, Mongol and various other barbaric hordes for those that fancied something a little more in the ancient/classical vein.

However, Times have moved on, and although we’ve had some rather splendid Samurai from Dragon in Dreams over the last few years, most other periods in history (apart from the occasional Hot Toys movie licensed mythical Greek of Spartan) have been rather under represented.

But not anymore!

Now ACI have stepped up to the challenge, and their first attempt at a character from ancient Rome has turned out pretty darned impressive. If you are a collector and kit-basher you are almost certainly familiar with the name ACI Toys, as for many years now they have run a website that is a treasure trove of clothing sets, parted out accessories and original bits and pieces. Visit the link above and I bet you’ll see something you want… nay NEED!

They are not however a retail site (apart from the occasional exclusive). They design, develop and manufacture items that are stocked on other specialist shops and retail sites. Just use the ‘where to buy’ link to see the stockists, there are quite a few out there.

As far as I am aware ACI have only made a few full boxed figures sets, kicking off with Sun Yat-Sen back in 2009, then the most recent before Flamma being ‘Gangster Johnny, Brooklyn, New York City 1933’, that bore a striking resemblance to a certain Mr Bale in Michael Mann’s Public Enemies.

He was a stunning figure, and the suit, shoes and accessories were testament to just what ACI are capable of. I’m still considering getting the Gangster Johnny figure. But as soon as he was announced, the one that really caught my eye was this guy ‘Flamma’. As not only had ACI developed there own new muscle body, but he came with a kick ass set of accessories (all be it minimal) and the murmillo gladiator helmet alone was enough to get me salivating.

So, do you like movies about gladiators Billy? Because if the answer is yes, you are in for a treat!

Packaging - ***1/2
Considering this is a non-licensed product, they have managed to pull off a striking bit of packaging. Although not licensed, Flamma was a real historical person who was famed for receiving the rudis on four occasions (a symbolic wooden sword) that once given meant the recipient could move from the frontline of gladiatorial combat to the training of new conscripts. But each time it was awarded Flamma chose to remain fighting, entering the ranks of the revered Rudiarii.

Crazy… maybe, but you have to remember that the most successful gladiators were very much the sports/pop stars of the time. And boy was Flamma successful, his gravestone erected in Sicily by his comrade Delicatus bears the inscription - "Flamma, secutor, lived 30 years, fought 34 times, won 21 times, fought to a draw 9 times, defeated 4 times. Syrian by nationality.”

As noted in the inscription, Flamma was of the secutor class of gladiator, and from my research everything here is pretty accurate in terms of his attire, apart from the helmet. The secutor would often do battle with the retiarius, a gladiator armed with a trident and net, meaning the secutor helmets were normally kept unfussy and tight to the head (as seen here) so as to avoid tangling in the nets cast at them.

However, there is a belief that many of the more famed gladiators, of whom Flamma was certainly within the ranks, did have more showy ostentatious armour and helmets, sometimes gifted by patrons made wealthy by their exploits in the coliseums.

It’s quite a big box, measuring 14” x 10” x a little over 5”. First we are met by an outer sleeve covered in images of the figure in various states of dress and in a good range of poses. The overall graphics are full colour but favour muted sepia and parchment tones, which work well in evoking the spirit of the time. It has a sturdy construction and carries some good information on the sets contents and a brief biography of Flamma.

The outer sleeve lifts off to show a window-fronted box, through which you get a good look at the figure within. He’s held in a vac-formed tray (by three twisties…. those infernal twisties, why do they taunt me so?) alongside his weapons, helmet and extra hands. He also has a cloak, which is wrapped around a triangular card and then bagged behind the tray.

So, a rather cool and pretty striking design. Not as innovative as some of the very top end stuff these days. But still perfectly respectable, and strong enough to make sure it should arrive with you unharmed.

Sculpting - ***1/2
When I first saw pics of the figure I knew it was a must have, but I did fear the portrait was veering a little too close to caricature. I can however report that in hand it actually looks very realistic. OK, I know it’s a little extreme, but often people that have lived extreme existences wear that on their faces.

I can actually see quite a few likenesses hidden within this sculpt, most wont be apparent to all, but when you hold this in your hand and view from different angles I’m getting John Malkovich, Ron Perlman, Willem Defoe, Steve Austin and even a little Guy Pearce around the mouth. I know that may seem like quite a troop from one portrait, but what can I say, I see a little of them all.

First off he is bald, so no fussy hair to be sculpted, but of course being a guy who wears a helmet as part of his chosen profession, he’s hot going to want to be fussed with it anyway! The face is fixed in a determined and focused semi psychotic stare. This is perfect for most gladiatorial poses. But the irony being that very few people will ever pose this without the helmet in place. The features are lean and taut and covered in a selection of cuts and scars that radiate all over the head. Then his chin sports some sculpted long stubble, almost entering beard territory.

In short it’s a great looking head for a character like this, and though not up there with the masterful work of the words top 1/6th sculptors, it’s perfectly adequate for the job at hand. And trust me, it looks better in hand than in any shots I’ve seen so far. And that even includes these amazing shots by Lukazou over on OSW, and they are some sweet photos.

Paint - ***3/4
JC Hong can rest easy, he’s still the king of 1/6th paint apps, but when compared to many other so called high-end manufacturers this is a damn good stab at it (gladiator pun not intended). The flesh tones are all warm, well applied and convincing, but because of his semi-naked attire the entire surface from his bald dome to his smallest piggy is given some degree of detail. I did notice that the tones on the head were marginally darker than the body, something that’s not immediately apparent from the front but is more so when viewed from behind. It really is slight, maybe a tonal variation of about 5%, and it could be explained away as light hair growth on his shaved head, but I mention it anyway.

His pale blue eyes (odd for a Syrian I know) are painted exquisitely, with super crisp edges to the pupil and iris, and some delicate detailing subtly handled around the edges of the eye. His lips and stubble growth are just given a wash to help define the sculpted detail beneath.
The rest of the paint on the body is more frugal, with some subtle light washes and a few airbrushed shaded areas to help elucidate the gentle but incredibly well applied skin pore texturing that covers the whole of the body. Then some of the more extreme veins that traverse his limbs are picked out in a naturalistic blue hue, and finally his ‘ahem’ nipples are painted in too.

What we end up with is a very natural looking, well-defined muscular body. It’s one I can see being in great demand for all kinds of bashes, but at the moment ACI aren’t selling it as a parted out base figure, if that will change I don’t know, but I bet there are a lot of people who hope it does.

So in summing up, this is a very impressive paint app for a full boxed figure set that is way below the RRP of Hot Toys, Enterbay or even Blitzways range of high end prices, and with this in mind comes a hairs breadth of a full score.

Articulation ***1/2
Here we have the first outing for the new ACI muscular body, and it’s a great introduction. Lets face it if you spend a lot of time developing a muscle body that not only looks great but poses well too, you’d be a fool not to release it on a figure that shows it off.

First off the ankles are on a kind of double-dumbbell joint so a good range is achievable here, the knees are double jointed at the top of the shin and bottom of the thigh, so these can bend right back. The hips are both free swivelling ball joints and the waist can swivel a little in all directions. The shoulders are a hinged ball joint and because of the solid engineering on the swooping shape between the pectoral muscles and the shoulder the arm can still manage to cross over the front (I hope that makes more sense to you than it does to me). This is difficult to fully utilise on this figure because of the heavy cladding on the left arm. But it means that when stripped down for a more contemporary bash he should have no problem either holding a rifle or a pistol in a double-handed grip. The elbow is a simple pegged hinge, so it can bend to just over 90 degrees and also spin/turn. The wrists are classic double pegged ball joints and swapped over without too much of a problem, but a blast from a hairdryer or a dip in boiling water makes it even easier.

Lastly theirs the neck joint, its sculpted solid at the base of the neck but has another dumbbell design post where it joins to the head, so a reasonable range of movement can be achieved in tilting and looking up and down.

Many of the leg and arm joints have a ratcheted mechanism, you may have strong opinions on this, I don’t. I admit, that when possible I like a free flowing motion more, but when you have a heavy body like this one (as is also evident on the new HT Predators bodies) then it obviously helps in keep the figure standing when posed. A small degree of subtlety can be lost, but I found he posed fine.

In short I was pretty knocked out by this figures sculpt, design and engineering. You will find that the right arm is a little hampered by the padded sleeve and manica, but I think you’d be pretty hampered in the real world if you wore those things. So, I have to remain realistic, and while this doesn’t have the full range of a classic TT type of body, the fact it looks this good gets it close to a full score.

Please think about releasing these as carded bodies ACI… or at least bring out some more gladiators, perhaps Spartacus or the famous Priscus and Verus would make a good double pack… you know it makes sense!

Outfit - ***1/2
Gladiators liked to keep it simple, they needed to be as well protected as possible, whilst still being manoeuvrable enough to both defend themselves and then quickly go on the attack.

And so it is that Flamma here comes in a very minimalistic outfit. It consists of-

- Murmillo style helmet with twin red feathers
- Padded linen arm protector with leather ties
- Manica (articulated armour to cover the padded arm protector)
- Subligaculum (chamois leather loincloth)
- Leather chest strap
- Padded linen shin gaiters
- Greaves (Shin armour to cover the gaiters)
- Black hooded robe

So, as I said, simple but effective, and ACI have made sure each and every piece is beautifully observed. The standout is obviously the murmillo style helmet, as the detailing is just so well done, it is a bit showy for a secutor, who would probably have worn something more like this, but for sheer presence on the shelf I can live with this interpretation (and who truly knows what Flamma wore anyway?).

It has some elegant relief work showing figures and ornate faces along with detailed representations of the welded seams and latches (none of the latches work though). It also has twin long red feathers that stand up on either side; these are cut from real dyed feathers rather than moulded plastic. The greaves are made in a similar way to the helmet and have the same finish and ornate relief work, they are held in place on the shin with two adjustable straps on each one.

His chamois loincloth is simple but fits well, and over it is his wide leather belt with studs and strap detailing. The same leather is used on his chest strap, which again has some stud work and an O-ring on the back where the three straps converge and join. The manica is held in place by straps that wraparound the torso and two more that go around the arm, these all have small working buckles, but I’m leaving mine in place. I’m sure it could all be removed and put back good as new, but I’m leaving well alone. I think once the manika is un-strapped the padded arm cover would just slip off, but sorry, I’m not finding that out. It has 12 long leather ties running up its length that hang down like tassels and both the top and cuff are hemmed with leather edging.

As a bonus he is also kitted out with a long black hooded robe, this is made from a nice heavy fabric, meaning the large hood and the main body of the cape drape well and pretty convincingly over the body. If you do decide to display him in the cape (unlikely I think, but who knows) you might find a light ‘water treatment’ will help in making it look even more convincing, especially the rear of the hood. The hems and edging are left deliberately rough, but the effect when put on the figure does work well.

Ultimately we might not appear to get a lot, but what we do get is highly detailed and the finish is as good as it gets, but don’t just believe me, I happen to know an expert in this particular field.
Dan Shadrake is the chairman of the award winning society Britannia, they are an historical society working on re-enactments, living history and have a groovy sideline in TV and motion pictures, both as consultants and as ‘speciality’ extras for battle scenes (just check out their credentials on the website). So I showed Dan the Flamma figure and he was kind enough to write down his reaction-

"Incredible detail, most accurate version I've seen.
This is a category called a murmillo gladiator.
The padding and bronze armour as well as the fabric and belt arrangements are all well thought out and executed brilliantly.

The first thing to bear in mind is that there's not a great deal of archaeological reference for gladiator equipment, so we have to look at a few examples that survive and combine them with artistic evidence from wall-paintings, mosaics, statues and even surviving Roman graffiti.

This category of gladiator would only have padding and bronze greave on his lead leg (left) so two greaves are inaccurate (If we're using surviving artistic representations of murmillos as reference).

Also the segmented arm protection (the metal manica) is now thought to have only covered a section of the arm, rather than wrapping almost around it, however that's relatively recent information that's come to light from archaeological data found in Northern Britain and reconstructions are open to interpretation anyway.

This is an excellent model I'd recommend it highly."

Thanks Dan… so what are you readers waiting for… go get one?

Accessories - ***
I guess some of the items I already covered in the outfit section could also be considered his accessories, most notably the helmet and hooded robe. Meaning his only true accessories are his simple gladius (sword) and the red and gold scutum (shield).

The Truth is, that as a secutor these are the only tools that Flamma would have used, I do however think that as they have given him a murmillo helmet he kind of becomes more of a generic gladiator, and as such I would have liked to see a few other weapons included, lets face it there were a few others, they could have included (OK, I’m in full geek mode, but here ya go)-

- Arcus: Bow
- Sagitta: Arrow
- Acinaces: Single edged cavalry sword
- Pompeianus: Military sword
- Semispathae: Half-swords
- Spatha: Broadsword
- Sica: Curved scimitar
- Pugio: short dagger
- Hasta: Thrusting lance
- Contus: Pike
- Fascina: Trident
- Lancea: Short spear
- Verutum: Light throwing spear
- Pilum: Long javelin
- Plumbatae/Martiobarbuli (heavy metal darts)
- Iaculum: Throwing net
- Pugnum: Small shield used for pushing
- Parmula: Small, light shield
- Parma: Round shield

But I’d have been happy with a net, trident and perhaps a spear. I have a sneaky suspicion that ACI might be planning some other gladiators, so maybe they are keeping a few back for them.

But what of the actual things we do get. Well, the gladius sword is a simple object, but its been well sculpted and is to perfect scale, meaning it sits well in the figures hand. The scutum shield shows some great observation, the facia is a nice ‘dirtied-up’ red colour with convincing bronze edging and a steel dome in the centre, but the reverse with the gripping handle and the wood detailing is even more lifelike.

So, I can’t fault what we get at all, I just wish we got a little more!

Fun Factor - ****
Hey it’s a gladiator… he poses well, and he has a very sexy helmet… (That sounds wrong, but I’m sticking with it!). I actually think if this were given to a kid it would stand up well to quite a bit of hard-core play. The body is solid and robust, the accessories are pretty hardy (well, I guess the feathers on the helmet might get ruined) but in most respects this seems as sturdy, if not sturdier than most GI Joes from Hasbro and the like.
But for an adult collector who has fond memories of watching Spartacus and other classic sword and sandal epics as a kid, this is a gem of a figure!

Value for money - ****
This has an RRP of $129.99, but with minimum rooting around online I found it in plenty of places for $124.99 (and 99 in the UK). So for me this represents a truly great buy. No its not cheap, but the good stuff never is, and the fact you get $20 change from the all too common $150 that many figures demand today, gets a big thumbs up from me!

Overall- ****
Just an awesome figure, a great new body and a kick ass display piece. The price is good for a figure that has obviously had quite a bit of R&D lavished on it, the new body alone must make up quite a chunk of that price.
But the thing that clinches the full score for me is that it just looks so bloody great when kitted up and on the shelf, my daughter even wants to borrow it for a school project… not sure how I feel about that, hmmmm.

Where to buy
You can get a special limited edition (100 pieces world wide) direct from the ACI Toys site for $125 here. It’s sold as the ‘Parade version’ and has clean padding, silver armour, a purple cape and a white and gold shield. So basically it’s a colour variant, but a nice one.

If you are in the UK, like myself, you can get this from Collectable Kitbash for a reasonable 99.99 or you can check out either War-Toys of Arizona, Monkey Depot or the ever-dependable Cotswold Collectibles.

Ebay is of course always an option, and I’m seeing this with buy it now prices as low as $115, but remember to keep an eye on the shipping prices.

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This product was provided free for the review by the manufacturer. Photos and text by Jeff Parker.

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