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Chronicles of Narnia
by yo go re

When Peter Jackson had a huge hit with the Lord of the Rings trilogy, other studios tried to copy that success: Golden Compass, Spiderwick Chronicles, Bridge to Terabithia, The Seeker... you get the idea. The most successful is doubtless The Chronicles of Narnia - after all, it got a sequel.

Even ignoring the quality of all those coattail-rider films, there's one area in which LotR blew them all away: toys. ToyBiz delivered what is likely to be the best movie toyline of this decade, and no other company has come close to matching that level of quality. Of particular disappointment were the Narnia toys from Hasbro, which were remarkably terrible little lumps, undersized, lacking detail and non-poseable. That's why we recommended the Disney Store versions of the characters over anything you could buy in the Big Five (which, with the demise of KB Toys this past Christmas, must be the Big Four now). The Prince Caspian toys turn that around though, offering at least a handful of decent mass-market figures, such as Asterius, here.

A powerful Minotaur [half man, half bull] of imposing strength and solemn presence, Asterius is an older Narnian who longs to see his land return to its former glory. Through a selfless act, Asterius saves many of his Narnian friends during the raid on Miraz's castle, including the fauns, half man and half goat.

Asterius takes his name from two characters in Greek myth: the first was the husband of Europa (you'll recall she was the one Zeus bedded while in the form of a bull, after bounding all over the continent that today bears her name) and stepfather to her demigod children, which required him to take the form of a bull to care for them; one of those children was Minos, who became king of Crete after his stepfather's death, and then his wife, consumed with lust for a snow-white bull, bore a semi-bovine child who they named after dear old (step)dad. That's why the second Asterius was known as the Bull of Minos - or, in Greek, the Minotaur.

The Prince Caspian toys are made by Play Along toys, the folks who used to have that mysterious connection to Art Asylum and are now a part of Jakks Pacific. Asterius' sculpt is okay, but between DC Direct and the Four Horsemen, we've seen better. Of course, both of those were specialty toys, not mass-market, so you have to cut this one a little slack. Still, his armor doesn't have any sort of texture at all, neither the metal nor the leather, and his horns are smooth (save for the big scars on the left). There's at least some minor striation on his hooves, so that's a plus.

Of course, it wouldn't matter if this figure had been sculpted by Michelangelo himself, thanks to the drab paint apps. The picture on the back of the card shows Asterius with brownish-gray fur, a pale pink face, dark hands with lighter nails, and his armor had at least three different shades of brown, with small silver studs all along it. So that's the myth. What's the reality? Gray fur, grey hands, gray nails, gray face, one-color armor and super sloppy silver. Asterius' eyes are clear and the inside of his mouth is detailed well, but other than that? This looks like something McFarlane Toys would have put out.

To Asterius' credit, though, is the copious amount of articulation the figure has to offer: hinges in the toes, ankles, knees, elbows and jaw (!), swivels for the hips, waist and biceps, balljointed wrists, shoulders and head. It's plenty of movement, but despite it all, it's still really tough to get both hooves flat on the ground at once. He has one accessory, a large silver axe on a brown pole, and he can hold it in both hands.

When the Prince Caspian figures came out, Asterius was the only one I cared about. I mean, obviously: minotaur! But it was hard to swallow the $10 pricetag for what was so obviously a sub-par figure, so I kept passing. The new Narnia toys have started showing up at discount closeout stores, though, and when my long-awaited mancow hit the pegs, I didn't hesitate. There's no way Asterius is worth full price, but at clearance, yeah, give him a shot. Just be aware that the Mynothecean Seven will laugh at him behind his back.

-- 07/16/09

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