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Spawn Series 22: The Viking Age
by Poe Ghostal

When Spawn Series 22 was under development, the original idea was to make a line based on McFarlane's Spawn: The Dark Ages comicbook, but Todd wanted the "Dark Ages" toyline (extant since Series 11) to have its own identity, separate from the book. After the idea of a viking/fantasy theme was brought up, each of the main characters was going to represent one of the elder races: for instance, Bluetooth was going to be the token dwarf.

Harold Bluetooth is a mercenary fighter - well-equipped with a shield, sword and battle-ax - who will battle for whichever side invites him first. A fighter famous for his speed and his ability to blend into the landscape and take his enemies by surprise, Bluetooth was just pleased to be on the battlefield... no matter which side he fought for. Bluetooth issued the ultimatum to Erik Bloodaxe from Jorvak Skullsplitter. However, Skullsplitter's treachery enraged the mercenary and he changed sides in the heat of battle. Bluetooth fought Dark Raider and eventually removed the traitor's head from his body.

As I explained (thoroughly) in my Skullsplitter review, I'm not fond of this little back story for Harald here. In that review, I went on a wee bit of a tirade about its historical accuracy; but there are other, more tangential reasons for my dislike of the storyline. First, two of the characters, Spawn the Bloodaxe and Skullsplitter, are clearly Lord Covenant and Guy Dublanc from McFarlane's Spawn: The Dark Ages comicbook. But the Dark Ages comic was cancelled several months back; presumably, when the comic was cancelled, the line was retooled. Still, there's a lack of continuity there that's a bit disconcerting.

Second, and more importantly, why is there a need for a backstory at all? This complaint isn't so much directed at McFarlane Toys at it is toy collectors in general. I know that McFarlane put out several lines without the backstories - it was the fans who demanded they be brought back, feeling that they had no connection with the figures without some sort of understanding of who or what they were. All I can say is, that's a little sad. It seems collectors are ready to come up with potential storylines for their toys, but they're incapable of characterizing them.

But I'm not offended by McFarlane's backstory, which was written by former Dark Ages scribe Steve Niles. I'm not sure it was necessary to use the names of real-world historical figures, such as Harald Bluetooth here (no, that's not misspelt). Harald Bluetooth was the ruler of Denmark and Norway in the late tenth century, and he converted much of his kingdom to Christianity. He was contemporaneous with Erik Bloodaxe, but just barely (Bluetooth died in 987 AD; Bloodaxe died in 954). The use of these historical figures only blurs history unnecessarily, though I am aware of two facts: A) the real-life biographies of Thorfinn Skullsplitter, Erik Bloodaxe and Harald Bluetooth are of little-to-no everyday use to your average person, and therefore inconsequential, and B) the story may even induce some figure fans to find out more about Viking history.

In summation: I'll shut up now and start reviewing this figure.

As a collector back in the mid-1990s, I was aware of McFarlane Toys and the higher level of quality they were bringing to the action figure industry. However, not having been a fan of the comics, I had no real interest in the toys. That all changed in 1998, when McFarlane released its eleventh series of action figures. Entitled "Spawn: The Dark Ages," the line featured Spawn the Black Knight, a hulking, huge medieval warrior; the Skull Queen, a bewitching sorceress; the Raider, a centaur; the Spellcaster, a hideous, deformed wizard; and the Ogre, who was - an ogre. This fantasy-themed line immediately drew my attention, and I picked up several of the figures. I was doubly pleased a year later when McFarlane offered Dark Ages II, its fourteenth line, which featured such luminaries as Iguantus and Tuskadon, Spawn the Black Heart and the incredible Mandarin Spawn.

Noting the incredible popularity of the Dark Ages subgroups, the ninteenth series of McFarlane's line was also dubbed "The Dark Ages" and presented the Spawn mythos as it might have been in the age of Japanese samurai. The line was popular, but not quite as popular as the previous lines; the Eastern flavor didn't quite have the same draw to Western consumers. Hence Series 22: The Viking Age. Transmutation of a Dark Ages comic-based line aside, Series 22 is simply an incredible line of action figures.

Bluetooth is a perfect example. What we have here is your average Viking warrior, McFarlane-style. Yes, the loincloth is silly and the clothing is a bit too complex to be hostorically accurate, but I'm going to ignore all that now - this is just an excellent medieval-fantasy action figure.

The packaging, as I mentioned in my Skullsplitter review, is nigh-invulnerable. It consists entirely of a blister bubble, dubbed a "clam shell" by our own yo go re. A slip of paper provides the graphics, which are actually fairly nice. The image of Bluetooth's head comes very close to looking like a real-life picture. But opening it - hoo boy. Have those scissors ready, and be prepared to undo a lot of twistie-ties.

The sculpting is... well, you can see for yourself. No one can beat McFarlane, it seems, when it comes to sculpting, although when it comes to likenesses I think ToyBiz's Saruman and Gimli figures (by Phil Ramirez) are still the best I've ever seen. But I digress - from the smallest wrinkle on his face to the tiniest belt buckle, Bluetooth is a work of art. I'm especially impressed by his pasty white thighs - now that's realism! McFarlane Toys: the company that isn't afraid to reveal the truth about the Vikings' tans (or lack thereof). But seriously, the sculpting is, hands down, stunning. I even like the little touches of "real fur." He's like a little man standing on my desk, ready to disembowel me if he weren't 6¾" high.

The paint application is great, too. Super-detailed, and for once, we've got some brighter colors. I particularly like Bluetooth's stylish pea-green tunic. There's some great colors on the shoulder pads and other areas as well; these aren't the "brown lumps" McFarlane's toys sometimes seem to be.

But the real kicker here is the articulation. McFarlane's often taken flack for the lack of articulation in its toys, but S22 shows that they can do it when they put their mind to it. Bluetooth features 20 points, including double-balljointed shoulders, swivel joints at the neck, elbows, waist and wrists, peg joints at the knees and ankles and balljointed hips. He can be posed into a number of great positions. The excellent amount of articulation means he's not just a "poseable figure," but a toy, too. And I'm fairly certain Bluetooth is one of my few toys that can realistically shrug - that's the kind of motion range you get from those double-balljoints.

Not everything's perfect, of course. The ankle joints get a little loose and can make it difficult to get the figure to stand. And as you can see, the shoulder joints are rather ugly. Fortunately, they're well hidden beneath the large shoulder pads, even when his arms are raised forward. At the very least, the joints are better hidden than they are on Skullsplitter.

The accessories are, for the most part, excellent. Bluetooth comes with a war hammer, a sword, a shield, a knife, and a horn. The horn is pretty much useless - with its hemp cord, it just looks bad on the figure. The sword and hammer, however, are excellent. The sword is actually a decent attempt at a realistic Viking weapon, and the hammer, while more fantasy than reality, features a great design that is clearly inspired by actual Viking-era art. Similarly, the shield is ornamented with Scandinavian-style figures. The round shield is also surprisingly realistic and true to the era. The sword and hammer fit into his hand by removing the little caps on the hilts, allowing for a realistic-looking grip; the shield is a little bit tougher to get into the left hand, though with some careful twisting you should be able to get it in there nice and tight. The knife, unfortunately, while looking cool, doesn't fit very well in its leg sheathe due to the furry loincloth; it might break if left in there.

At an average price of $10, you really can't go wrong with this figure. I recommend it to Spawn fans, casual action figure collectors, and Viking fans. Historical accuracy aside, this is a great figure at a reasonable price.

I'll leave you with these words of wisdom from the Poetic Edda, a compilation of Scandinavian myths and proverbs from the Viking era:

Praise day at evening, a wife when dead,
a weapon when tried, a maid when married,
ice when 'tis crossed, and ale when 'tis drunk.

-- 09/05/02

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