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Roger the Homunculus

by Poe Ghostal

The second series of Mezco's Hellboy figures, based on Mike Mignola's Hellboy comic, had three original characters and, in the great tradition of Playmates' World of Springfield line and its Homerphilia, one Hellboy variation. The Hellboy variation was a Hellboy with a B.P.R.D.-issue jetpack, and the original figures were an Alien, Johann, and Roger the homunculus.

"Hi. I have pants on."
- Roger

Roger is a bit of an enigma. He's a homunculus, but as the ill-fated B.P.R.D. agent Waller notes upon spotting the comatose Roger for the first time in Wake the Devil, Roger is really big for a homunculus. Homunculi are usually very small, about twelve inches tall. The most well-known modern reference to homunculi is probably Dr. Praetorius's experiments in The Bride of Frankenstein, where the creepy doctor "grew" a bunch of little people in jars. The basic recipe for a homunculus consisted of a bag of bones, sperm, skin fragments and hair from any animal of which the homunculus would be a hybrid. This was to be laid in the ground surrounded by horse manure for forty days, at which point the embryo would form. Roger claimed that this was more or less how he was made. But why was he so large? I have a theory, which I'll share later in the review.

Roger was sculpted by Dave Cortes, who has done most (if not all) of the Hellboy work for Mezco (both the movie and comic lines). I think Roger features the finest sculpt of the entire series thus far. Of particular note is the face, which manages to capture the innocent, yet sorrowful expression Roger so frequently wears. I mentioned in my Johann review that a little bit of B.P.R.D. artist Guy Davis's style had crept into that sculpt; I think there's even more here, especially in the face. Davis has presided over some of the most important events of Roger's life (to put it mildly), and I think seeing his influence here is a nice tribute to that.

But the rest of the sculpt is great too. As we're repeatedly commented in our reviews, Cortes perfectly captures the rough, blocky look and texture of Mignola's work, and Mezco's factory manages to reproduce that quite well in the production pieces. I especially like the work on Roger's "gas cap" on his chest; it has a bronzed, sixteenth-century look, and yes, it opens and shuts, though it's just flat on the inside (no actual hole there). The infamous block-of-wood crotch also looks good, though I think it's a little large. The ring is real metal.

The paint apps are excellent, with a slight black body wash and some excellent metallic/brown on the gas cap. The work on the head, especially the yellow eyes, is also very good. Though there's not a lot of detail here in terms of paint apps, what there is has been very well done. There's none of the spilling found on the Alien or Johann. Roger has fairly straightforward articulation: balljoint neck, shoulders, torso, and hips; hinged elbows, wrists, knees, and ankles; and swivel biceps and forearms. No waist articulation.

In terms of accessories, Roger comes with a removable B.P.R.D. flak vest and a book with a Mignola-esque skull on it. The vest is rubbery and looks great; it's perhaps a little large, scale-wise, but that's an understandable result of creating a removable vest on a 1/12 scale toy. The book appears under Hellboy's arm in a piece Mignola drew for a European portfolio (the pin-up can be seen in The Art of Hellboy), and Hellboy fan Xequals10 theorized that "it is supposed to be the Book of Gods that Roger is looking at in the beginning of Plague of Frogs (yeah I know the cover is different). It ties into his love [for] Cloacina."

For centuries, the traditional understanding of a homunculus has been that it is small; it could be argued that its small stature was its defining characteristic. Otherwise, they were just like humans. There's already a body of folklore based on a human-sized automaton: the golem. Roger seems to have more in common with a golem than a homunculus: he's human-sized and has superhuman strength and toughness. Why didn't Mignola just make Roger a golem?

For years, Mignola has mentioned an idea for something called Joe Golem. "Joseph" is the apocryphal name of the Golem of Prague, who was created by a rabbi in the late sixteenth century to protect the Jewish ghetto in Prague from anti-Semitic attacks. Many writers, from Gustav Meyrink to Michael Chabon, have featured the Golem in their stories, and he even appeared in an episode of Gargoyles. I have no evidence to back up this idea, but I think the reason Mignola made Roger an unusually large homunculus rather than a golem is because he wanted to save those legends for exploration in Joe Golem instead.

However, the golem - or more specifically, the Golem of Prague - has appeared in two non-canonical Hellboy works. The first is a pin-up page drawn by Lee Bermejo for the Hellboy: Weird Tales anthology; the other is the short story "Of Blood, of Clay" by James A. Moore in the Odder Jobs anthology, in which Roger meets the Golem.

Like the rest of the second Hellboy series, Roger runs about $15 at your local comic shop. That's expensive, though I think, given rising gas prices and the shrinking action figure market, that collectors are going to have to get used to it. $10 is becoming the standard price for an action figure at a big retail chain; $15 seems reasonable for much higher-end work by small companies. I know some people are going to have to be dragged kicking and screaming into the higher-priced future of action figure collecting, but inflation's been happening for centuries and petroleum-based plastics aren't going to be getting any cheaper...ever. There are lots of alternatives to petroleum-based plastics, however, and it would be interesting to know if any companies are trying them out.

But I've digressed. Roger is possibly the best figure to come out of the Hellboy series thus far. Kudos to Mezco and Dave Cortes, and I'm keeping my fingers crossed for Series 3.

-- 11/18/06

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