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Mandarin Spawn

by yo go re

Even 22 years later, it feels good to be vindicated.

The Scarlet Edge was a brutal and peerless Warrior from an ancient feudal society. He was master of combat in all forms, until his savage death in a war against an Army of the Undead. Enraged at his defeat, he returns to Earth to gain his revenge as Mandarin Spawn. Where he seeks to do battle... and test his skills against the greatest Warriors this world can offer...

The original Mandarin Spawn was released in Series 14, in 1999. It was an amazing-looking figure, and instantly proved popular among the fans. It got four repaints, was available in three different scales, and was even reimagined for Series 28. And as great as it was, I can distinctly remember being shouted down on the Spawn.com message boards for saying it would be even better with articulation. Well, here we are two decades later, and Mandy Spawn is back. With joints. Oh, what an amazing future world we live in!

This is not a direct copy of the original "Scarlet Edge" Mandarin Spawn. The design is similar, of course (otherwise we wouldn't be able to recognize it as Mandarin Spawn), but McFarlane's as-always-uncredited sculptors were free to reimagine things as they worked. Like, the crest on the head is still layered and angular, with s big spike in the back and a smaller one in the front rising back from a noh mask on the forehead, but the new figure has horns in addition to his curved tusks. That's something new! He has a pointed red beard and teal earrings, both features that were on the old figure, even if you never noticed them. So it's classic features done in new ways.

The armor is similarly updated. The golden breastplate is the upper face of some doggish demon, with the belt becoming the lower jaw and tongue. He wears a long loincloth that has a thin, sculpted filigree and a tampographed dragon. [Correction: that dragon pattern is sculpted on! --ed.] A pair of asymmetrical golden oni masks serve as his kneepads, and the greaves that cover his shins each have their own design as well: one with an angry porcelain(?) demon face, the other with golden flames. His bracers are red, with large points on the elbows, and their own small white masks in different places. On the left shoulder, he wears a large pad of swirling golden armor with one more mask embedded in the center; the right shoulder also has golden armor, and would be considered the "smaller" side if not for the big, curved horn spiking up out of it. That thing comes up higher than the tip of the head, reaching nearly 9" tall.

The body beneath the armor is solid black and sculpted with large scales and plates, as if this was a human-shaped dragon, rather than a human who died and came back from hell. That serves as a great base to contrast the rest of the costume against: deep red, aged gold, bone white, and several accents of a metallic teal. This figure doesn't have the large shield like the original, so there isn't quite as large a surface for intricate paint apps, but this is still good and looks amazing. He will have to be careful in battle, though: the armor only covers his front, so other that the single mask in the middle of his spine and the big spikes on his heels, he's entirely unprotected back there.

Beyond the shield, '99 Scarlet Edge had two swords and a big, double-bladed staff weapon. The new one doesn't get any of that. He's armed with a simple, curved dao sword, and a vastly ornate guandao glaive weapon with a dragon sculpted on the blade, a fancy golden dragon face designed to look as though it is breathing the sword like a flame, and sculpted feathers hanging off the pommel. Both the weapons have red hilts and golden crossguards, with the silver blades being knicked and worn from use.

Still, considering how iconic the old gear was, we'd have preferred to get updates of those rather than something new. Like, the double-sword was "his" weapon, these just look like he grabbed some random things off the wall.

So all that's great, but now we come to what makes this figure best: the articulation. Technically the old Mandarin Spawns (Series 14 and 28 alike) had articulation, and so had more than one pose, but in practice they didn't - S14 Mandy was always standing straight up, S28 Mandy was always lunging back. But in 2021, Todd McFarlane actually puts some effort into the joints, so this one has swivel/hinge ankles, double-hinged knees, swivel thighs, balljointed hips, a balljoined waist and torso, swivel/hinge/swivel wrists and elbows, swivel biceps, swivel/hinge shoulders, hinged pecs, and a balljointed head. Some of the joints in the arm duplicate each other, and lowering the swivel thighs wouldn't go amiss, but this is awesome. It's a dream come true from decades ago to have a Mandarin Spawn that can actually be a threat on the battlefield, not just look cool standing in the background.

One of the things that cemented Mandarin Spawn as a fan-favorite was the rainbow of colors in which he was available. After all, what's better than one really cool figure in awesome colors? Getting a second that looks different, but just as good. McToys clearly remembered this, because even before the new Mandarin Spawn shipped, there was a repaint on the shelves.

Taking a cue from the original repaint, this one is blue - not the same sort of teal, but a bright, mid-tone blue, with the armor in gray and silver instead of gold. It's not even a question of simply switching the paint color, either, because there are masks and apps on this one that the "standard" figure doesn't have. Like, look at his knees: Scarlet Edge's demonic kneepads are gold with white mouths; Azure Edge's are molded in gray, and have the teeth painted, but also get special detailing on the facial features.

Even without those extra paint apps, buying this Walmart exclusive would not net you merely a hue-shifted version of what you already owned. Remember when McFarlane Toys would re-release some in-demand figures with the "R3" banner (Resculpted, Repainted, Revisited)? This is like that, because a lot of the sculpt has been changed. The body is the same, and the breastplate and the armor on the shins and forearms, but the loincloth and belt are entirely different, the shoulder pads don't even have the spike on the same side, and the face... the face has different teeth, different horns, different nose, different head crest... These are two similar guys, but they're not identical.

Even the weapons get changed! Bluey still has the guandao, but also gets a new ji lance with dragons etched in the blade and a Spawn symbol to match the one on his forehead. His weapons have gold blades and blue handles, and can be held in either hand.

The packaging is lovely. It's the standard window box that so many McFarlane figures come in, but the graphics on it show an Asian influence, from the shape of the window to the style of the figure drawings on the sides. The box itself is red, with a blue and white frame around the clear window, and a yellow tray behind the figure that features stylized Spawn mask graphics. The exclusive version gets an additional tag identifying it as part of the "McFarlane Gold Label Collection," which is presumably what they're calling their exclusives? Walmart got an exclusive Witcher figure at the same time as Mandarin Spawn, and it had the same identifier.

And then there was the GameStop exclusive! Released a few months after the other two, in June. The "Deluxe" edition was sold in a wider box that used the same graphics, but in black and white rather than red and gold. And yet again, we're far from just being a rehash of the same figure.

The Deluxe edition does cost significantly more than the other two, but not all of that is simply the tax of being a store exclusive at an expensive store - for instance, the paint apps are much more complex than before. At a glance it looks a lot like the mass market release, being all red and gold (as opposed to Walmart's blue and silver), but while the others had breastplates that were functionally a single color, this one breaks up its gold with black and red, applied in ways that shape look different, and white on all the fangs. He's the first to have any extensive paint apps on his back, both to cover large ares of the armor and to accuntuate the anatomical details, as well as the first to have paint detailing on his feet. The shinguards and kneepads are the existing molds, but again get new paint masks, to better stand apart. We're paying for this figure, no doubt, but the extra money is going into the figure and not into GameStop's pockets.

As for sculptural changes, we've now got our third distinct head, this one featuring a helmet instead of a (partially?) bare face. A bright red ponytail spills off the top, and there are flared wings where the ears would normally be. The lower edge curves out all around. Angled parts encase the chin and nose, and the tusks sticking out the side - which may be his, or may just be part of the armor - are smoother and more slender than the others have been. He has the same right shoulder pauldron as Bluey did (with more paint, naturally), but he gets a fancy new mold that fits onto the right forearm like a vambrace. It's spiky, and has more tiny porcelain faces on it. The loincloth here is sculpted like three pieces in an M shape rather than a single strip of cloth, and it has ornate details all over it (both sculpted and painted). Changing the colors might have helped, but this is definitely not "just" the same figure for the third time.

If that's not enough for you to consider this release "deluxe," how about the weapons? GameStop's Mandarin Spawn has all three weapons the above releases (molded in a way too soft plastic, honestly, because the handles get severely warped just by being in the tray, and will droop in the figure's hands), but doesn't stop there: honoring the original Mandarin Spawn from back in Series 14, this one also includes a double-bladed sword weapon and a shield with a face on it! Neither of them are exact duplicates of the '90s accessories (not even close), but those two things are Mandarin Spawn's traditional, iconic gear, so it's great to get them updated for a new millennium. [What about the two katanas he wore on his hip? --ed.] Just like back in the day, the shield can only be used on the left arm, but this time it's held on by actual straps, not just a handle for the hand to grip. All four weapons have plain gold handles (which, again, are annoyingly bent by the time you open the box) and silver blades, while the shield is gold with red and black inlays, and the back looks like wood planks.

We once said that the old Mandarin Spawn represented McFarlane Toys at the zenith of its ability, and that was indeed true: inventive design, amazing sculpt (by Erics Treadaway and "Cornboy" Mayse), good paint, and absolutely crap articulation. That was the best McToys could hope to offer. But apparently nearly losing the company rattled something loose and made Todd want to try harder, because now, at last, we get something even better. At last we get toys that live up to the "Ultra Action Figure" title they used to so blithely throw about. And if McFarlane wants to keep doing color/sculpt variations on the Mandarin Spawn theme, we're there for it!

-- 04/22/21

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