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Sun WuKong

Figura Obscura
by yo go re

Sun WuKong is the Wolverine of China.

High atop the Mountain of Flowers and Fruit, a mystical monkey was born from an immense magic stone. He began to explore his new home, befriending many of its beasts and eventually finding a place amongst the wild monkeys of the Mountain. Recognizing his bravery and tenacity, the simians named the stone monkey their leader, dubbing him the Monkey King.

The Monkey King is, in theory, just one of the sidekicks to Buddhist monk Tang Sanzang in Journey to the West - Tang Sanzang was, like Wong Fei-Hung, a fictional character based on a real historical figure, the monk Xuanzang, who really did go to India to bring Buddhist teachings back home. WuKong isn't even his only sidekick, but he's easily the most popular and the most famous. Anyway, the novel has 100 chapters, and fully seven of them are dedicated to the origin of Sun WuKong; the first seven, in fact, before we even meet Tang. Knowing, across time and acoss cultures, that humans are basically the same, it's not hard to imagine that the Monkey King was introduced as a side character, got insanely popular, and so later retellings of the tale not only expanded his role, but also brought him in earlier - just like Wolverine. Logan was introduced more than a decade after the original X-Men, but when the team finally gets its first movie, who's it focus on? Wolverine. Who eventually gets a special origin story? Logan. Thus, Sun WuKong is the Wolverine of China.

Journey to the West is attributed to novelist Wu Cheng'en, but was more likely the work of many people over many years. Adding credence to this theory are the repeated stories. If you study the Christian Bible, you'll find lots of "doublets" - stories that are told twice, often with conflicting details - and Journey to the West is no different. WuKong gains immortality four different times, through four different means: scholastic study, tricking the lords of the underworld, eating magic fruit, and drinking magic wine. Going back to our analogy, imagine 500 years from now, someone was trying to tell the story of the X-Men; obviously they want to include the story of Wolverine in this, but which parts? To keep this simple, how did Wolverine first meet Sabretooth? Living in the Canadian wilderness? In the army? Are they brothers? Father and son? If you've got four different authors writing four different versions, and one editor is tasked with assembling all these fan-favorite ideas into one story, leaving any of them out is going to piss off some group of fanboys, and thus you end up with one monkey becoming immortal four times. Five if you count when he ate Lao Tzu's magic beans.

Monkey is the latest figure in the Four Horsemen's Figura Obscura line, and the first to fulfill their promise that the line's not just about holiday figures. And there, we were betting on a Fourth of July Uncle Sam! [I mean, if you want to get technical, the Horsemen have already done that --ed.] Despite being made in the Mythic Legions style - aka, fully modular pieces that can be pulled apart as you like - most of Sun WuKong's parts are new molds, and only a few of them seem like we might see them pop up in Mythic Legions in the future. Monkey feet? Hands with fur on the back? Biceps and thighs that are sculpted like cloth? Sure, bring all those back. But the stumpy shins and long forearms, to give him monkey proportions? The ornate, Chinese-influenced armor? Hard to imagine that stuff showing up on a goblin or elf.

The figure comes with two heads and four faces, so you have plenty of options for how you want him to present himself to the world. One head features the phoenix-feather crown given to him by the Dragon Kings (basically so he'd leave them alone), while the other has the golden circlet that keeps him from acting up (you know how Inuyasha's necklace will drop him to the ground at a command? This one shrinks and squeezes Monkey's brain). The faces are either calm or howling, and either bare or done up with black, white, and red facepaint, matching the way he's depicted with opera masks. Clever! The faces are swappable, so either head can have any look you want.

Although WuKong is covered in all sorts of armor, you can remove most of it if you want and still have a decent-looking figure. We alsways say the distinction between an action figure and a doll is whether the main play pattern involves taking its clothes on and off, so this may be treading that line. He's got softgoods for his scarf, the sash fed through the loops on his belt, and both a skirt and a loincloth under his waist armor. Take the scarf off, and he has three beaded necklaces in white, green, and purple; take that off, and he has a collar at the top of his armor. If you want to take that off, you'll need to remove the figure's neck first. There are ornate pauldrons that plug into the usual holes on the figure's back, meaning they can swivel up out of the way a bit when you move his arms. Pop the torso off the waist ball, and you'll be able to remove all that lower body armor, as well. Basically, you can go from fully armored to very stripped-down, and the toy will still look good.

The figure gets all the usual Mythic Legions/Figura Obscura articulation: ankles, shins, knees, thighs, hips, waist, wrists, forearms, elbows, shoulders, neck, and head, plus a balljoint where you plug his tail in. Remember, the difference between a monkey and an ape is that monkeys have tails, so Sun absolutely needs that bodily appendage! Heck, when he's shapeshifting into one of his 72 disguises, he'll often still have his monkey tail as the only giveaway of who he really is. You know I'm not personally a fan of bendy articulation for bodyparts, but as Rustin would say, eh, it is what it is. This one gets a bonus by also having a swivel where it disappears into the little bit of armor on his rump, meaning it can turn as well as bend. What's really cool is that the softgoods, designed by CJESIM (just like Santa's robes were), all get posing wires so you can have them moving naturally even as Monkey leaps around performing his amazing feats. Generally beating up whatever demon is plaguing the pilgrimage this week. Journey to the West really just is an ancient version of a typical superhero serial. Anyway, all four softgood pieces - skirt, loincloth, sash, and scarf - have the wires inside their hems. Fun!

In addition to the alternate heads and faces, Monkey gets an assortment of alternate hands, and also one pair of alternate feet! The hands are open to different extents to hold different accessories, while the second pair of feet are wearing purple slippers. Those would be his "cloud-stepping shoes," which allow him to stand (or ride) on clouds as though they were solid objects. When he's not going 1⅓ the circumfrence of the Earth in a single somersault. He's as overpowered as Superman.

Sun WuKong's signature weapon is his magical staff. It weighs eight tons and was originally used to measure the depth of the oceans, but has the ability to change size however WuKong needs it. This toy can't telescope, of course, being just a plain black stick with detailed golden caps on the ends. It would have been neat if, since those are removable, they'd included two lengths of post to plug them onto: one for holding, one for fighting. In addition to that, we get a pair of scrolls, a gourd for some reason, and one of the Peaches of Immortality.

The Monkey King is packaged in the usual Figura Obscura "magnetic book cover" style. Nate Baertsch took inspiration from traditional Chinese paintings, showing Sun WuKong (outlined in gold leaf) and some of the various demons he beat up on the outside of the cover, and his home on the Mountain of Flowers and Fruit as a backdrop on the inside. The box itself shows the other travelling companions: that's presumably Sangzang floating in the sky above Bai Long Ma on the left side; the dragon by itself on the back might be Bai Long Ma's Yu Long form ("Yu Long" means "Jade Dragon," but it refers to white jade, not the more familiar green like this seems to show); and that's definitely Oolong and Yamcha Pigsy and Sandy on the right side. The tray behind the figure inside the box shows the Heavenly Garden where he stole the peaches.

Sun WuKong is possibly the most famous character in Chinese literature, but it's at least somewhat suspicious that Xuanzang went to India and came back with a story involving a character similar to Hanuman: shapeshifting, strength, immortality, stories about mountains and the unusual size of someone's palm... as a copy of someone else's character, Sun WuKong might not be China's Wolverine, he might be its Lobo! This isn't the first action figure the Monkey King has had, but it's definitely a winner.

-- 07/01/23


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