Say Ashley Wood and I suspect the first thing that may come to mind will be his World War Robot toys.
Giant, clanking war-bots with vinyl limbs, preposterously huge weapons, an unexpected amount of articulation and amazing paint jobs (or â€˜colourwaysâ€™ as they are known in threeA land).
Quite aside from his comics, Wood (along with threeA co-founder Kim) has been causing quite the splash with his â€˜Bots. They seem to bridge the gap between action figure and art toy collector quite neatly. And while Iâ€™ve always been intrigued, itâ€™s never been enough to actually buy one. There is something quite distinct about the design, an acquired taste I think, much like Woodâ€™s art work itself and Iâ€™ve never been able to get myself quite past the â€˜water boilerâ€™ aesthetic even if I can appreciate that the things look very World War 1 or even a little steampunk, something I usually go for.
So when Wood announced the Adventure Kartel line, human figures from an as-yet-unreleased comic work, I was much more interested. Again, these figures appeared to have the high-end vinyl collectors ethic in spades as well as a nice comic book feel. I liked the look of the first release, Tommy Mission and totally fell in love with his apparent on-again off-again girlfriend, Little Shadow.
I was hooked.
Little Shadow was announced, along with three variants (threeA version; available to members of the threeA club and Shadow Mode; a more limited monochromatic version, Iâ€™ll be reviewing the regular version here) back in April of this year for pre-order at a flat fee of $80, this included the figure and shipping.
She finally arrived this October, so, was she worth the wait?
Packaging: Shadow arrives in a cardboard mailer with the Adventure Kartel header and threeA logo on the side. Once inside the mailer you get to Shadowâ€™s box proper. Itâ€™s best described as similar to a shoe box in size and shape. Itâ€™s shrinkwrapped but that poses no particular problems and ensures that those of you who might prize the box art (and there are many in the threeA world who do) will not have it ruined during shipping.
To be honest, thereâ€™s not much here for the MIB crowd, no plastic window at all, if you want to look at Shadow, youâ€™ll have to open the box.
In the box lid is a little extra surprise, a folded, glossy double sided poster of Shadow. One side features the box art again while the other side has a short comic strip of Shadow waxing lyrical about being an immortal teenager who fights the forces of darkness and has a little trouble getting her very tight jeans on.
My trays had a small residue of paint on them, almost as if Shadow was placed in there still wet, maybe they were breaking a leg to ship these girls out? Who knows?
The box is of a high enough quality that you may want to keep it if you have to store her. I usually tear into and recycle any packaging for my toys ASAP, but I have to admit, this is a nice package.
Design & Sculpt: As mentioned previously, I find some of Woodâ€™s art to be an acquired taste. His style can be quite reminiscent of Jamie Hewlett, so itâ€™s little wonder that he drew a few chapters of Tank Girl after Hewlett declined to return to the strip. Little Shadow definitely has some of that â€˜Hewlettâ€™ vibe to her and in fact a few friends have already pointed out how she looks like she could be part of the Gorillaz , who were of course created by Hewlett.
Her head sculpt is delightfully cartoonish, angular with slightly exaggerated features; an impish nose, slight over-bite and vectored hair. The hair falls over her left eye and is a separate piece glued to her head. As far as I can tell, she has no left eye under her hair, there is a kind of groove or line just before her hair-line starts.
Her hands are gloved and beautifully sculpted. The folds and wrinkles of the gloves are nicely done and she appears to have individual fingers at least to the first or second knuckle, they could be stuck together due to the paint but as they are un-articulated I see no reason to try and pry them apart. Both hands are sculpted open, but she has an extra right hand sculpted in a closed fist.
Shadow comes with two sets of feet, a pair wearing Converse All-Star-style sneakers and a separate pair with sculpted strapless high heels. The attention to detail on the trainers is beautiful, the laces are nicely sculpted and the soles perfectly replicate the patterns of a pair of Cons, except for the Cons label on the inner heel. The high heel feet seem quite plain in comparison, but her toes are quite good, each having itâ€™s own toenail and even a few wrinkles on the second toe where itâ€™s bent. Her arches are raised away from the edge of the shoe too, which I thought was a nice touch.
Little Shadow is just over 11 inches tall with her legs making up 7 inches of that height. Yeah, sheâ€™s pretty much like a Barbie. Dammit, Iâ€™m a 36-year-old man who owns a dolly!
Plastic & Paint: Shadow appears to be a hybrid of plastic, rubber and vinyl. Her head and hands seem to be vinyl, there is a tiny bit of give in her hair and the tips of her fingers. She canâ€™t really hold anything, but at least if she takes a tumble or a bump, sheâ€™s not going to lose a finger.
Where most of her body is a hard plastic, her chest is rubber. Yes kids, she has squishy boobies. Itâ€™s pretty much impossible to remove her clothes to properly inspect her construction (more on that later) but her torso seems to compose of the squishy rubber frontage and a hard, plastic back.
Shadowâ€™s hair is black with a brown wash.Â Thereâ€™s no smudging on the back of her head, although some of the paint appears to of pooled a little around the folds of her hair and has resulted in a little shiny deposit which is still tacky to the touch.
She has a slight, black wash over her face and pretty much the rest of her body. It makes her look slightly grubby but strangely it works, at least for me. The one area this lets the figure down is on the body, where the black paint tends to gather in the seams where the figure has been glued together, bringing attention to its â€˜toyness.â€™ But you could argue that this is a figure which is very much intended to be displayed clothed.
Her sneakers are white with the uppers painted royal blue with a very light brown wash. The soles have been given a brown and black wash which does and excellent job of highlighting the grips. Her high heel feet are moulded from black plastic with flesh highlights.
In all, other than the hair, there is very little slop. The dry brushing is uniformly excellent and gives the figure a grimy look which I think really works.
Articulation: This is probably the hardest part to review. Iâ€™ve had relatively little experience with toys in clothes, but Iâ€™ve always found that when I have taken the clothes off a figure, they never seem to go back on again right. Fortunately, her togs are so tight I canâ€™t get them off! There was some worry from fans before she was released that her leg articulation would be severely hampered by her tight jeans, and that is exactly the case.
She is able to move her feet at the ankle and there is some give at the hips and knees but not enough to put her into any action poses. I canâ€™t tell exactly what articulation she has under there, but judging by other figures in the line, I would suspect some kind of ball jointed hip and double jointed knees.
Her feet and hands have pegs that allow them to be inserted into the wrists. There have been some stories of the wrist pegs snapping; I can see this happening as they are very thin but as long as they are treated gently you shouldnâ€™t have a problem. Perhaps removing the hands, then posing them and re-attaching them would be the best way forwards if you were feeling ultra cautious, although Iâ€™ve had no problems with mine. At least removing the hands makes taking off her hoodie that much easier, the one bit of clothing you can easily remove.
Her arms have a cut joint mid bicep and double jointed elbows. Again, I suspect a ball jointed shoulder. Thereâ€™s a waist, ab joint and twin jointed neck, itâ€™s articulated at the bottom of the neck and top and with that weird rubber coating it allows for a fair range of movement.
As previously mentioned, the feet, like the hands, can be removed and swapped over. The ankle pegs are far thicker than the wrists and popping them in and out should pose no problems at all. Some folk have complained of flaking paint on the ankle joints but Iâ€™ve had no problems with mine so far. But then, I have mainly been displaying her with her sneakers.
She stands up perfectly well on her own in her sneakers, no need for any stands at all, but she proves a bit of a pain to balance when she has her heels on, prone to toppling over if youâ€™re not careful. If you want to display her that way, you may wish to invest in a stand for her.
Accessories: Little Shadow comes fully dressed in a T-shirt, jeans and zip up hooded top. The t-shirt varies from version to version, mine has a print of a rooster on it with the slogan, â€˜Big Cockâ€™, ho, ho. Iâ€™ve seen other Shadows tees that have a robot head with â€˜We Are Watchingâ€™ on them, much nicer.
The hooded top has a zipper that runs from top to bottom. Itâ€™s in scale with the figure and actually works. Sure, itâ€™s a little fiddly but it gives you a nice option on how to display her and looks fantastic. Toys in this scale can really suffer from â€˜toy clothes syndrome,â€™ they look over sized and donâ€™t hang right on the figure. Thereâ€™s none of that here. The in-scale zipper goes miles to help, but all the stitching is immaculate also.
All the clothes have been distressed which means, frankly, they look filthy. Iâ€™m unsure what threeA use to do this but is looks almost as if the clothing has been painted. My wife thought a process similar to screen printing was used on them but Iâ€™m not sure, they feel almost damp to me but they do flex to allow movement, at least in the upper body.
Shadow also has a kind of field bag. Made from some kind of denim like material, it is slung over her shoulder and has a second strap that runs around the side of her body, almost like the shoulder holster of a gun.
Again, the detailing is amazing. The stitching is minute and all of the straps are adjustable. Those little plastic squeezy clip buckle things? Yeah, they actually work! Theyâ€™re so tiny that most of them are gummed up with the paint used to distress the bag, also, theyâ€™re so delicate you might want to treat them with kid gloves or just leave them alone period, I can quite easily see them breaking.
Shadow has one weapon, her skullboom. Think of the typical cartoon bomb, a black sphere with a fuse sticking out of the top then combine it with a skull, voila! The skull is moulded from a single piece of white plastic and heavily distressed with lots of black dry-brushing. There is a groove sculpted around the fuse as if the top if the skull is removable although you canâ€™t actually remove it. The skull is also missing a bottom jaw. The whole thing fits snugly into Shadowâ€™s bag.
Iâ€™ve already mentioned the extra right fist and high heel feet.
Quality Control: I have no real complaints about my Little Shadow. Yes, there have been reports, as previously mentioned, of her wrists snapping or flaking paint in the ankles, but Iâ€™ve yet to encounter any of those problems with her myself. The paint, other that that slight pooling on the hair, is fine. Other than that, sheâ€™s pretty tip-top.
Overall: Is she worth the wait and 80 bucks? Iâ€™m saying yes. Sheâ€™s not only a great entry-level figure to the world of art vinyl toys, but also a good 1/6 scale figure too. Okay, so she doesnâ€™t boast the sculpt of a Hot Toys figure but then she doesnâ€™t boast a price tag north of $100 either and bear in mind that $80 (and less if you are a member of the threeA club, which entitles you to a 15% discount) includes shipping, wherever you are in the world. Itâ€™s just a pity that she doesnâ€™t have greater articulation in her legs, but Iâ€™m willing to trade that for a figure with high detailing, great in-scale clothes and bags of attitude.
ThreeA are going to be a company to watch, they already produce high quality figures from Ashley Woodâ€™s own work (World War Robot, Popbot & Adventure Kartel) and have recently picked up the licenses for 2000ADâ€™s characters (including Judge Dredd), Tank Girl and Spawn. Yeah, just imagine a 1/6 Spawn with that level of detail in the clothing and paint work and tell me youâ€™re not drooling.
In all Iâ€™m giving her three and a half ravens, if she had full use of her clothed legs it would of be a straight four.