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Ivory Lord Rama

The Ramayana
by yo go re

Last winter, audiences were introduced to the epic poem of Beowulf through the magic of CGI. Or maybe re-introduced, for the few who actually managed to stay awake through English class. Anyway, the point is, the story was presented as being incredibly old, since it was written 1,000 years ago and set 500 years before that. Boy, that's really old, huh? Sure, until you realize the Indian Ramayana has even that early date beaten by, oh, about 1,200 years.

The Ramayana, a two thousand year-old Indian epic, chronicles the life of Prince Rama including his thrilling battles against the fearsome demon-king Ravana, his quest to save his wife Sita, and his journey to find his way home to be crowned King of Ahodhya. Through this timeless adventure, Rama exemplifies what it means to be a true Hindu hero: strong in mind, body and spirit.

Rama, the hero of the Ramayana, is an incarnation of Vishnu, and the purpose of the story is to demonstrate dharma - the righteous path. The story is so holy, in fact, that just hearing some sections of it can relieve the listener of sin and shower blessings upon them. So if you feel lucky after reading this review, you know why.

New toymaker Kridana has just started a line of figures based on the Ramayana, and of course Rama is one of the inagural figures. Additionally, when Kridana went to Wizard World Philadelphia, they brought along an exclusive variant, Ivory Lord Rama.

Rama, an avatar of the God Vishnu, is the Maryada Purushottama - the ideal man, one who embodies the highest values of honor and duty even when an easier path might be available. For the sake of his father's honor, Rama gives up the luxury of palace life and accepts 14 years of exile. Cast away in the forest, the evil demon-king Ravana kidnaps his wife Sita! He and Hanuman must band together to free her. Can Rama, with his awesome strength of both mind and body, along with the mystical powers of his best friend Hanuman save her? Come along on his adventure and find out! Help him win in the darkest of times as a true Hindu hero: fighting the forces of evil without giving into them.

Well there you go - if you're like most Westerners, you've never heard of the Ramayana, but right there on the box you know everything you need to know to get into the toy. See, there's a reason we always prefer to have unique bios on the back of the packaging, rather than just generic chatter. In comicbook terms, Rama is like Superman: smart and powerful, yet also unfailingly honest and fair. The kind of guy who always does the right thing without ever taking shortcuts.

The standard Rama figure is wearing golden armor with turquiose panels, but this exclusive sees him in white armor with gold panels. Why the change? Well, because part of the story of the Ramayana is Rama discovering his godhood, and the ivory armor is Kridana's way of signifying that revelatory change within him. Like when Neo realizes he can stop bullets in The Matrix.

Thanks to his big ponytail, Rama stands 6¾" tall, which puts him more or less in a six-inch scale (he's right in between 6" and 7", but you have to figure that the ideal man would be taller than average, not shorter). The figure has 13 points of articulation: balljointed head, balljointed shoulders, hinge elbows, swivel wrists, balljointed torso, swivel waist, swivel hips (T-crotch) and hinged knees. Honestly, in both size and style, the figure is a lot like the Four Horsemen's take on the Masters of the Universe.

The sculpt was handled by Matthew Flesher - but if that name doesn't mean anything to you, how about "Big Chief?" Yes, the sculptor we first noticed for the terrible Michael Turner-styled Superman/Batman figures has proved once again that those were a fluke in an otherwise-impressive body of work. Don't believe us? He's also responsible for Blue Beetle, 2007's Toy of the Year. Anyway, Rama looks very nice here, with a stylized yet detailed sculpt. His proportions are a bit "superhero cartoony," but that means he'll integrate well with modern collections. The texture in the golden panels of his armor seems somewhat soft, but since everythig else is crisp, you have to assume it's on purpose. His pants have a rough texture, and the edges of his armor are etched with what appears to be Sanskrit.

Paint is applied well all over. The edges are all crisp, and there are a few different shades of blue on his skin to suggest shadows, midtones and highlights. As you'd imagine, the Ivory variant's armor is white, but it also has a darker wash on some areas to create contrast. The tilak jewel on his forehead is a metallic red - and of course, the shape identifies him as a devotee of Vishnu. His pants are salmon-colored, and also painted with subtle shadows.

Rama has three accessories, beginning with his bow, Kodanda. Rama without Kodanda would be like Batman without a batarang: he is always depicted carrying it, showing his readiness to destroy evil. It's a short golden bow, with an ornate frame on the front and wood grain on the back. It's strung with a nylon cord, but it's not designed to actually be drawn back. The figure also includes a 2" arrow, to complete the look. The packaging artwork shows the bow as being much longer, however; no idea why it got shrunk down.

The largest accessory (more than 5" from end to end) is Shiva's bow, which features in the story of Rama's marriage to Sita. Sita's father, the king of Mithila (modern-day Nepal), wanted to find a suitable husband for his daughter, so he set a challenge: all a potential suitor had to do was lift a bow, string it, and fire an arrow. Of course, as the property of a god, the bow was too powerful to be budged by mortal man. That's a little bit "King Arthur," a little bit "Atalanta and the Golden Apples." Rama stepped right up, hoisted it easily, and ended up breaking the bow when he tried to string it. Appropriately, the accessory has no string, and is sculpted with a huge crack running through the center. It would have been really neat if it had been molded as two pieces, held together by friction, pegs or magnets, so that you could re-enact Rama breaking the bow, but that's probably cost-prohibitive for a new company.

Behind Rama in the packaging is a free comicbook with a cover by Michael Turner. The comic has very clean, minimalist black and white line art, and the 10-page story introduces all the main characters: Rama, Sita, the demon king Ravana and Rama's brother Lakshman. And for those who thought the figure's face looked weird, you'll see that it matches the art quite well.

"Kridana" is the Sanskrit word for "toy," which is entirely appropriate. The figures in the Ramayana series each cost about $15, which may sound slightly expensive, but is fair for what you get. The figure is the right size to integrate with your 6" collection, and is better articulated than the average DC Direct offering. Overall, Rama is a good, solid offering from a new toy company, and worth checking out. Take a chance with your money: after all, it's much more interesting to have an epic Indian hero than yet another slight variation of a horror movie character you already own three of.

-- 07/09/08

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