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Gandalf the White

Return of the King
by Poe Ghostal

Gandalf is my favorite literary character. Oh, there are other ones I'm very fond of - Ebeneezer Scrooge, Randolph Carter, Dick Diver, the Continental Op. But when it comes down to who I'd like to share a beer (or in his case, a glass of red wine) with, Gandalf's my man.

As the spectre of darkness grows over Middle-earth and Sauron's armies issue forth from the Black Gates to lay siege to the lands of Men, Gandalf knows that in this war, victory cannot be won by force of arms alone. All hope now lay with the success of Frodo's quest, and to that end the White Wizard marshals the forces of the free peoples in a desperate bid to distract Sauron's gaze from his own lands. Like a radiant beacon of hope in desperate times, Gandalf musters the defenses of Gondor and councils the leaders to stand firm in the face of darkness. Every moment so gained brings Frodo another step closer to Mount Doom.

Without Gandalf, I might not be an adult action figure collector - it was Toy Vault's line of figures based on The Lord of the Rings (the novel) that drew me back into collecting just after I started college. While the toys may look a bit quaint - and looked so even for the time - they were great figures and clearly created with a great love for the source material.

Of course, along came the movies, starting in 2001, and what was once a beloved secret treasure of geeks became a billion-dollar, Oscar-winning franchise. While I do love the movies, I still love the books just as much, if not more. But Ian McKellen portrayed Gandalf so incredibly close to the literary version that I couldn't help but love him too.

ToyBiz's Lord of the Rings line, already fading from most collectors' memories, was easily the best 6" line of movie-based action figures ever made, and perhaps the best movie-based line ever made, period. The figures featured top-of-the-line sculpting, great articulation, huge character variety, and tons of accessories. I got this Gandalf off eBay, and it came in the larger packaging used for the first three years of the line, before they switched to the more standard blister pack. Despite it winning the 2001 ToY Award, I never actually liked the big "ring" packaging: it's huge, ungainly, hard to open, and doesn't actually show off the figure all that much.

ToyBiz produced four different Gandalf the White figures, two of which preceded this release. The first had an excellent head sculpt and a plastic cloak that hung off his shoulders. They later produced another one as part of the Gandalf & Shadowfax set which featured a cloth cloak. Finally, for this figure, they used the cloth cloak and sculpted a new head that features Mithrandir in more of a fighting mood - and with much whiter hair, which is closer to the film.

The likeness of McKellen isn't as close as the first version but it's still quite good, and I have no complaints about the body sculpt. I'm usually not a fan of cloth on 6" figures - there's no way to physically shrink the threads used to make it, so it never "hangs" right - but I actually like it here. It adds a certain chaotic aspect to his look, as if he's in the heat of battle, which goes well with the wind-whipped hair of his head.

Gandalf has what appears to be a slightly balljointed neck (it's hard to tell - the hair limits the movement so much, it's basically a swivel joint); a swivel right shoulder and a balljointed left shoulder; hinge-and-swivel elbows (again, I think - it's a bit hard to tell); swivel wrists; a hinged right wrist (a very nice touch, because it looks great with the sword); swivel waist; MOTU 2002-style hips (semi-balljoint); hinged knees; and hinged ankles with good "rocker" range. The one negative thing is the huge button on his back, which makes his right arm do a "slashing attack" or whatever you want to call it. I hate big ugly buttons that ruin sculpts and I especially hate action features that limit articulation - the right shoulder is only a swivel, rather than a balljoint.

Not a whole lot of paintwork here. The outfit looks fine; the face is molded from plastic and is a bit too glossy. Gandalf comes with his sword, Glamdring, and his white staff. The tip of the staff wasn't put together quite right and looks a bit messy. The sword, however, is great - even better than the one that came with the "Trilogy" Gandalf the Grey. Also, the cloak is tied together around the figure's neck and can come apart easily.

While I prefer Gandalf in grey, and the "Trilogy" Gandalf the Grey remains my favorite figure from this line, I do like this figure quite a bit. I think it's a better figure than the first version, despite the weaker head sculpt. The action feature is still irritating, though.

-- 07/04/10

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