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Chen Stormstout, Pandaren Brewmaster

World of Warcraft
by yo go re

For a few years now, DC Direct has been producing World of Warcraft figures through its "DC Unlimited" sub-brand. The figures have shown up at specialty stores and Toys Я Us, but there's one release that is so under-the-radar that it isn't even included on the company's official rolls.

Hailing from the secretive Pandaren Empire, the mighty brewmasters travel the world in search of exotic ales and the finest brewed spirits. These affable warriors rarely seek out danger or trouble, preferring instead to spend their time concocting new and tasty beverages for any brave enough to imbibe them. However, if attacked, the laughing brewmasters bring all of their pandaren agility and ferocity to bear! They are peerless warriors and world class drinkers all in one!

Pandarens started as an April Fools' joke way back in the Warcraft III days, but the response was so overwhelming that they were eventually included in one of the expansions. There are several references to them in WoW, but they haven't actually appeared in the game (yet). One of the few named Pandarens was Brewmaster Chen Stormstout.

When the Pandaren were first introduced, they were wearing samurai-style outfits - Far East, indeed. For the record: pandas, Chinese; samurai, Japanese. Blizzard wasted no time in fixing this, though, so Chen is wearing an outfit that looks like the traditional kung fu uniform, all black with white trim and frog buttons holding the shirt closed. Well, mostly closed: he's got a bit of a gut, so the bottom few buttons are undone. The trim has a leaf motif, and the uniform is showing a lot of wear: the edges are torn, there are patches on the elbows and knees, and even a few holes where his black fur is poking through.

Chen is wearing a thick black belt that has a large round clasp with a leaf design in the center. Several of his brewmaster accoutrements are strung from the belt: a bamboo tube with a stopper, a corked green bottle, a bundle of leaves and two white jars. He's wearing sandals, and his short claws hang over the front edge. There's a surprising amount of translucent green plastic used on the figure, as well: the buttons on his shirt, the leaf in the belt clasp, the glass bottle on the belt, and even the bracelets on his wrists. Given the pseudo-Asian influence, that's probably the WoW equivalent of jade.

The figure only really has one accessory, since the others are permanently attached. For instance, the large coolie hat [that's offensive; call it a "Chinese sombrero" --ed.] that's draped on his back, or the huge keg he carries under his arm. They're both nice pieces, with sculpted wood textures. The hat is fur-trimmed and capped by a metal disc, and there's an inset pawprint logo signifying the front. The keg is covered by a fancy cloth that's then tied in place with heavy ropes, and there's even a fully detailed tap, for sharing the brew.

The true accessory (i.e., the one that you can remove) is a bo staff. It's made from bamboo... sorry "bambus," and has red wraps to create a handgrip. Near the end of the staff are a teapot and a wine jug, each tied to the staff with a maroon ribbon. The jug has the same pawprint we saw on the clothes, and the teapot seems to have been molded from the trans green plastic and then fully painted, because the leaf emblem on the side allows light to shine through. The 10¾" staff itself is in two pieces, so you can fit it into his hand.

Like all the World of Warcraft figures, Chen Stormstout has no articulation: he's a display piece, pure and simple. (His ankles swivel so you can make him stand flat.) He stands 8¼" tall, at the top of his ponytail, and will require at least a foot of horizontal clearance - this is a toy with a very large footprint. He's sold in an oversized black box, similar in size to the packaging for Korg Highmountain or Lady Vashj. And like those figures, he's really expensive: $50, even before you get into shipping. He's exclusive to Blizzard's online store, so don't expect any sales or discount codes.

However, in our opinion this figure is unquestionably worth the price, and it has to do with the one category we haven't mentioned yet. It was sculpted by Ray Villafane, and he did a great job, but the beauty of this piece is the paint. You've read Rustin's tribute to Eddie Wires, so you know how important the guy was to the industry. Eddie Wires painted this figure. And we don't mean he painted it the way he "painted" the hundreds of other figures in our collections - we mean he painted this figure. Every Chen in this limited edition was hand-painted by the master.

Normally when we talk paint, it's a discussion of what things the factory didn't get quite right. In this case, there's no factory, so there are no problems. Every inch of this beast looks perfect. His black fur is noticeably a different shade than his black clothes, which have a remarkably subtle gray wash to show the wear the fabric has been through. Similarly, the lining of his shirt is distinct from the fur poking out through it. There's no overflow, no slop, even in the tiny stitches on his knees and elbows or the ropes on his keg. The lower edges of his feet are brown, not black, but it's not a mistake: it shows that he's been walking the lands of Azeroth, treading in dirt and mud for who knows how long? The ropes are different shades, and the pattern printed on the keg's cloth wrapping is aligned perfectly. The bo and the containers hanging from it are just as ideal as the rest of him. His individual teeth stand out, and even his eyelids are expertly detailed.

There's no denying that this is an expensive purchase, but it's worth it. You're not paying $50 for an action figure, you're paying $50 for a piece of art. Art from an artist that isn't with us any more, at that. I may never own a page of original art from my favorite comic artist, but I can buy a kick-ass panda that was done by the action figure painter, and that's a beautiful thing. In fact, if it weren't so completely unknown and unadvertised, it probably would have sold out already.

Anthropomorphic pandas are nothing new. Just look at Kung Fu Panda, or how about obscure '80s indie comic Panda Khan (which you probably know for the main character making it into the TMNT line), but since when has World of Warcraft been about originality? Pandaren Brewmaster Chen Stormstout is a cool-looking character, he's been sculpted excellently, and of course, the paint is beyond reproach. This isn't just another action figure: it's a showpiece, and with that in mind, the price is great.

-- 09/15/10

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