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Alathena Moonbreeze

World of Warcraft
by Artemis

Elves have been around about as long as there's been fantasy literature - which is a lot longer than there's been the term "fantasy literature", which Tolkien only coined in 1939 - but unlike a lot of mythological figures, who've been reinvented so many times their own mother wouldn't recognise them, today's elves (aside from the "cutesy elf" offshoot) aren't that dissimilar to their origins in Germanic folklore. Even World of Warcraft, the domain of all sorts of "sure, why not?" crazy ideas, can trace the lineage of its pointy-eared brood back to the Alfar of Norse legend. Except the pointy ears themselves, that is - that was Tolkien again.

The very first series of World of Warcraft figures offered up an elf as its token female, in the form of Valeera Sanguinar, and, well, she sucked. Since then the only attention the elven race has had so far as I'm concerned (i.e. female) has been Lady Vashj, whose kind (the Naga) are distantly descended from elves - of course, she wasn't that great a figure herself, so perhaps DC Unlimited are right to avoid women of the pointy-eared breed (although not literally, since damn near everyone in WoW has pointy ears). But here we are at series five, with a predictably barely-clad and hippie-named Alathena Moonbreeze, a Night Elf (even more tree-huggy than usual) - and, like all the regular WoW figure-characters (until/unless they turn up later in the comic), that's all anyone knows about her.

All except for her measurements, that is, since like the majority of her Warcraftian sisters she's wearing about enough to scandalise a Las Vegas showgirl - in fact, Alathena's leafy-metalwork ensemble is the most revealing outfit yet, moreso even than the succubus (aside from the boots, anyway, but wearing thigh-length boots isn't exactly a modesty-enhancing feature). So far as more mundane measurements go, she's about 6¾" to the top of her head, thanks to her angled pose - I'd call her an even 7" standing straight up in flats, while to the top of the raised bow the figure as a whole clocks in at almost 10". Her visual design is very strong, effortlessly communicating what she's about - she's just fired, probably at a raised target (although elves being elves, her archery might be good enough for a high elevation shot at long range to have a chance of hitting something), and her focus is still along the line of flight, while her bow is tilting slightly as her grip on it relaxes, and her right hand is still poised from letting go of the arrow. There's a strong breeze coming up from behind her, which (unlike Valeera) all of the elements of the figure are consistent with: her hair and loincloths are whipping forward, she's leaning way back to brace herself against the wind, as well as to steady her aim.

Her clothing, what little there is of it, consists of muted brown leathers, decorated with silver metalwork representing leaves and vines - in the case of the glorified bikini which is all she's got on between thigh and shoulder, the metal comprises the straps holding the outfit together as well, with the fabric limited to covering her breasts and crotch. Presumably it's some kind of elven flexible silver, otherwise it'd be hellishly uncomfortable. Anyway, that kind of intricate decoration can give painters headaches - paint too little and the base colour shows through on the sides of the raised ridges, paint too much and you get slop over the skin - but Alathena passes with respectably high marks, with only a tiny amount of coverage issues that, really, you'd never notice unless you studied her up close looking for them specifically. There are muted black applications on the loincloths, and the creased fabric around her knees and elbows, as well as in the veins of the larger silver leaves, but by and large the paint is flat colours, relying on precision and the underlying sculpt to sell the figure, and they don't fail. The only thing I've found on the figure that really counts as an error is a pair of extra sculpted seams around the strap holding her left bicep armour on; looks like it might have been intended to be a wider strap, with the thinner one over the top of it, but the underlying brown paint app got skipped by accident. It's easy to ignore, or easy to fix if you're inclined.

The lamentable Valeera aside, I've been quite impressed with the faces on the World of Warcraft figures - some are better than others, but they've all been pleasingly distinct and characterful, and Alathena continues the trend. She's got the beauty you'd expect of an elf (especially a female elf in a franchise appealing to male gamers), fine-featured but not fragile, and her face is set in an expression that's a mix of serene composure and understated badassery - there's no malice or aggression there, but she's made up her mind to kill her target stone dead, and no messing about. Her eyes are very pale blue, but they have a border that's just visible enough to keep them from seeming pure white; and her lips have a well-chosen glossy plum colour that's attractive but not too glamorous as to spoil the all-business look of her. Her blue hair and eyebrows - big eyebrows, these WoW elves have - get a faint highlight, which as is generally the case with these figures is a bit rough, but muted enough that its somewhat ragged edges don't detract from the figure, and the dark hair benefits from the extra definition.

The articulation section of a World of Warcraft review is always pretty uneventful, and Alathena's at the low end of that low scale, without even a construction joint that nobody bothered gluing up - immobile from head to toe. So let's talk about the bird instead: according to the packaging her name is Sorna, and a quick Google indicates that she's a variety of WoW "pet" called a Hawk Owl - a rather more dramatically hawkish kind than the hawk owls we have out here in reality. She (I have no idea how you tell with normal birds, let alone this thing, so I'm just going off the name ending with "a") is beating her wings to remain upright in the face of the figure's suggested wind direction, which makes her look rather compact - fully spread she'd have about a 6" wingspan, which is quite a lot of bird to be carrying around on your forearm, especially with little more than a single layer of leather between your skin and a bunch of razor-sharp talons. Presumably Alathena still having a right arm can be chalked up to all that elf harmony-with-nature stuff. Sorna has a reasonable if simple set of paint apps for her face, a blue beak, white feathers (which look a bit like giant eyebrows and Jaime Hyneman's moustache) and vicious-looking yellow eyes, and the rest of her is a slightly shaded dark base with modest highlights, chalky brown on the feather tips and blue-brown nearer the body. As with Alathena's hair, the highlights are nothing special on technical merit, but they does their job without causing any problems, and the sharp, highly detailed sculpt of all those feathers, obviously drawing on real hawk wings for visual reference, produces quite a satisfactory result.

Wildlife aside, Alathena also comes with a preposterously ornate hunting bow, the top half of which is packaged separately and slots into the hand after opening. The core is a carved, gnarled piece of wood, curved and recurved so much it's a miracle it can remember which way to shoot, and augmented with strapped-on bits of silver. The wood gets a heavier highlight than those on the rest of the figure, especially around the tips, while the silver uses the same dark wash - it's a good sculpt, and the paint shows it off reasonably well. Interestingly, the bow isn't symmetrical, top versus bottom - it could be a manufacturing goof, with the top being a separate piece, but asymmetrical bows aren't unknown, and with the whole grown-not-made look of the weapon, it may be intended to look that way.

With her high-heeled boots (only an elf would have the balance needed to get away with those monsters in a forest) Alathena's not going to be standing on her own two feet, so she comes with a pre-attached base on her right foot - it can be removed, but the peg is on her toe, not the base. It depicts, capably but unremarkably, a barren rocky terrain - dark grey with a sparing lighter highlight - and, on mine at least, has a slight tendency to let its occupant lean backwards a bit. Not to the point where she falls, but enough to look a little awkward; the heel slots into a cavity in one of the rocks, so putting a tiny piece of plastic or putty in there would shore her up, no problems.

Alathena's not a surprise, really - like Benedron, Tamuura and Amberlash, she's a striking and interesting character, realised in physical form with an above-par design and sculpt, and precise paintwork in a pleasing palette. If DC Unlimited ever nail sophisticated shading they'll be knocking them out of the park, but even as it stands now, I'll happily buy any future females they produce that meet this mark.

-- 12/26/09

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