IGNITE'S ROMAN EMPIRE

Last modified: Wednesday, February 5, 2003 2:54 PM

This hobby covers a lot of area: The potential subject matter stretches from any creature or thing which ever existed to any which could or couldn't. My wild-assed guess tells me that the most consistently popular is probably Military: WWII, and after that in an unknown order, Adventure Team, Military: Modern, and Law Enforcement: Modern. Within these there are subcategories too, like Navy, German, SWAT, etc. It thins out after that. Hollywood, Femfigs (excluding fashion dolls, which are probably the most popular of all), Horror, Sci-Fi, Astronaut, WWI, Civil War, Western, Napoleonic, Samurai, etc. are less popular areas, except for temporary humps of interest triggered by a popular movie or newsworthy event. This is reflected in the commitment of the manufacturers: The big knockdown, drag-out manufacturer battlefields appear to be in the theater of WWII. Mature companies approach the less popular and unknown areas cautiously.

Ignite is a new company based out of Hong Kong. Their choice of initial figure offerings (Roman, Civil War & Napoleonic) shows that they're willing to take the risk that there's enough interest in these less popular areas to make a profit, without having a mainstream-appeal fallback product. In the case of the Roman Centurion (that name doesn't appear on the packaging, but it's often sold under that name), some of that risk can be attributed to opportunism-- The movie "Gladiator" was awfully popular and it's probably no coincidence that the headsculpt looks suspiciously Russell Crowe-ish. Due to its non-English origin, the box has some quaint over-the-top stuff which is good for a endearing chuckle: "Rome Did Not Have An Army...It Was An Army". Far from view, hermano.

Another possible attraction for a new company is that there's very little competition in these areas, coming mainly from Cotswold and Sideshow Toys. In this figure (and perhaps their others-- I don't know), they seem to be modeling themselves on the Dragon/BBI standard-- using a variety of precise production techniques to produce a detail-rich, quality product, priced around the upper midrange. The main difference between their product and lower midrange companies like 21C and Sideshow Toys is in the variety of techniques and materials used in manufacturing. Offerings from 21C and SST usually contain the dressed figure with a lot of accessories; the accessories are usually very homogenous in their construction though, often molded of a semi-rigid plastic and treated to a weathering paint operation (mainly washes). Dragon, BBI and Ignite follow a different philosophy: The accessories are often produced by a variety of different methods, and often composed of separate parts and materials. Rarely are the parts subjected to the weathering paint ops, and consequently tend to look much cleaner, and perhaps less "realistic", in a modeling sense.

That's a matter of preferences. On one hand, the clean and bright metal and metallic plated plastic is very eye-catching and the multi-piece construction imparts a quality feel. It's "neat" looking. From another perspective, it seems awfully garish, especially the shin armour, the sword and dagger blades. Bright flawless chrome looks great on robots and kitchen appliances, but a little odd on historical warriors (even though swords and armor can be and have been polished to such a degree). It's not so much the high-polish by itself as it is the combination of that, the cleaness of a new figure, the symmetry and the absolute perfection of the finished surfaces-- it's "unreal". That was my first critical impression at least. I'm perhaps less than impartial on this issue since I've slaved away polishing homemade metal swords and armour to gleam and have remarked how electroformed and plated nickel can look "Cylon-ish". With homemade stuff, no matter how hard you try, perfection is elusive. That can be sort of an oddball plus with this genre because it gives character without looking funky. Modern gear isn't quite as forgiving. Those are minor quibbles though. Regardless of your preferences, it's easier to weather an unweathered thing than vice-versa.

Despite there being quite a bit of metal in this figure (in addition to vac-metalized plastic), I'm still left wondering what real metal, i.e. hammered steel, would be like on a figure. Yes, there's lotsa metal on this figure but it's mainly die cast, not hammered and formed. There is a difference. Die casting produces results which are similar to plastic molding, the perceptible difference being mainly the material's weight and hardness. With this figure, some pieces are coated with enamel, so they might as well be plastic. In fact, it's a little bit hard to tell in some places- like the helmet- which is made of a mix of metal and plastic. I wasn't sure about the spear and pilum either and had to do the cheek heat detection test (metal feels cold). I was surprised to discover that the decorations on the leather harness are polished steel since the belt is vac-metalized plastic. I think that the only places where it really is necessary are on the Pilum spear's thin shaft (for strength), the stamped steel shin guards (so they could be as thin as they are) and the edged weapons (for strength and wear-resistance). In most of the other places it's mainly for bragging rights and because the weight feels kewl. However, in such cases, the use of metal makes little difference in the finished appearance and the weight can be a liability. This is especially true of the helmet. I haven't bought any of Cotswold's armoured figures to satisfy my curiosity about the look of formed steel to gauge how it contributes to authenticity at this scale. I suspect that it does.

It's a little unfair to complain about some of these things, considering the price of the figure. Although $60 places it in the upper middle range of factory-produced figures, that's at the impoverished low end of what it would cost to do this figure in a no-compromises way. Unlike modern or near-modern genres which can be convincingly modeled with cheap, production-friendly materials and techniques, the more ancient periods pose a far tougher challenge to model satisfactorily. Perhaps the toughest thing is chainmail... and that's probably the most obvious weakness of this figure's outfit. I've agonized over this issue many times before (especially in "The Toll Road to Hell" series) and my conclusions there apply here-- in spades. This is perhaps one of the funkiest attempts to fake chainmail I've seen so far. It's thick and stiff, and kind of like an oversized ballistic vest... which has none of the natural weight and drape characteristics of real chainmail. Although I haven't seen any fabrics which can convincingly fake it, a thinner and less cardboardish construction would have been better.

The padded undergarment has similar problems, because of the stiff faux leather decorations. It's understandable that fake leather would have to be folded over and sewed to conceal the unfinished side. Unfortunately, the doubling of the material makes it more rigid, resulting in leather-shafted tassels which thrust erectile through the sleeve holes of the "chainmail" (The sexual innuendo is to give you an idea of how funny I think it looks).

You're probably thinking that I hate this figure, right? Wrong! I think it's very kewl, one of the best figure releases of 2002. I don't need to tell you how kewl the sword and dagger look-- see for yourself! I've pointed out some of the things which I think could be better... knowing full well that for $60 you can't expect perfection. Some of these things fall into the category of do-it-yourself improvements. Weathering is an appropriate do-it-yourself job. Fixing the leather tassels would be a relatively cheap and easy job. If you want a reason to take up chainmail knitting, this would be a good one. If you continue along this line of thinking, you might eventually end up replacing the (not too bad) rubber sandals with your own cut from real leather, maybe grafting the nail studded soles onto your own. Or recreate the shield in wood, hand painting it so that it looks less like ancient Roman color lithography. Heck, you might want to delve into metal working techniques so you can create your own sword and spears. You see where I'm going with this, right? With this particular genre, with respect to authenticity, a customizer is on a more equal footing with a producer who relies on a factory. That's why I like this figure just fine as it is... because it looks great for a factory-made figure. And you get a lot of interesting, well-made accessories for your coin. But I'd rather put all my customizing energy and time into creating my own figure instead of upgrading this one because I believe that it's do-able.

I haven't said much about the nekkid figure itself because there really isn't much to say that isn't obvious from the photos below. It's kinda like deja vu all over again, similar to a Dragon figure and maybe a BBI, and with nothing really innovative going on. The only thing that I saw as noteworthy was that it's a rather tall figure, slightly taller than a Dragon figure (which is already pretty tall relative to Hasbro Joes). Although it doesn't have super weak knees or ankles, can be a bit challenging to stand because of all the costuming weight up topside.

Below are links to large images (which should open in a separate window); That way the pics don't bog down the loading of this article, and you can examine the detail better if you're interested.

 

I would like to thank Good Stuff To Go and The Old Joe Infirmiry for a number of recent online purchases. They've got easy-to-navigate websites, painless order systems and prompt service. (Once you get into their catalog, GSTG has a unique outline format which lets you browse and zero in on items of interest quickly and easily.)

 

--Jimbobwan, 02/05/03