Alexander the Great (Alexandros III of Macedon, 356-323 BC) is one of those iconic historical characters that everyone seems to know or name, to the point where one is tempted to take him down a notch. And there were plenty of issues with him and his character, not least his relentless ambition, competitiveness, rashness, and delusions of grandeur. He was certainly a conqueror with an unprecedented scale, speed, and rate of success, and for that he was idolized for generations of Romans and those who took their cultural cues from Rome (elsewhere he was demonized instead). From a modernist or humanitarian perspective there are sides of his character that are less often mentioned but perhaps even more commendable: most notably, although a successful Greek conqueror, he chose not to treat his conquered enemies as the subhuman beings he was taught they were by his society (and by his teacher, the philosopher Aristotle), but instead sought to pacify, unify, and merge the societies he had come to rule, on a remarkably even footing for any time. He probably would have failed even if he hadn't died prematurely at 33, but this suggests that, contrary to popular belief, he had a talent not only for conquering, but also for governing.
At any rate, this is not what this is about. TBLeague (formerly Phicen) has just released its sixth-scale figure of Alexander the Great, occasioning this review. And since Dragon did the only other high-end Alexander in this scale (that I know of), back in 2004, it is a natural point of reference. Both figures are based to a significant degree on the Oliver Stone film Alexander (2004), starring Colin Farrell. Another point of reference for the TBLeague version is a larger scale statue by ARH (HERE and HERE), as confirmed by the ARH logo on the box. Neither the film nor the figures are entirely historically correct.
Dragon's Alexander comes in a box that opens up like a book cover to reveal the figure and its accessories through a clear plastic cover; the back side of the cover contains a shallow clear plastic trey containing the cape and the two-part spear; the figure and the rest of the accessories are contained in a clear plastic trey in the box proper.
TBLeague's Alexander comes in a typical container for TBLeague boxed sets, one where the cover and side flaps are held by magnets and can be removed and propped up like a triptych. There is a missed opportunity here, as they could have followed other companies' lead and printed an appropriate background on the back side (which is just plain black) that could have worked as a backdrop to the figure. The figure and its accessories are held in a couple of black foam plastic treys, each with its own thin black foam cover.
Everything comes safe and collector friendly in both sets.
Here time of production makes a difference. Standards and possibilities were very different in 2004 from what they are today. Dragon's Alexander obviously is less finely and realistically sculpted, although it is not bad at all for the time when it was made. The face does not look like Colin Farrell, and might be an attempt at the actual Alexander (if so, not very successfully) or possibly Richard Burton's Alexander (from 1956); to me it really looks like Tom Jane. The head is bald, allowing you to swap between a soft plastic hair wig and a lion-head helmet that is fairly accurate to the 2004 film, except for its sculpted plumes and crest. There is plenty of fairly fine sculpted detail on the armor, including a lion's face over the chest, the sword (especially its hilt), and the soft plastic riding boots. The head and rear spikes of the long spear are very sharply sculpted. The body's legs are covered in seamless rubbery material with appropriate sculpting, although they might be a little too skinny.
TBLeague's Alexander has a very finely sculpted head sculpt that also does not look like Colin Farrell. As far as I can tell, this is a generic pretty boy with a possibly "Eurasian" look. The head vs helmet problem has been resolved by resorting to "real" hair, which works well enough with the lion-head helmet. The helmet is a little less accurate to the film in at least some details, but its crest and plumes are more on target. Once again, there is plenty of fine detail to the armor, including a gorgon's head over the chest, sword (especially its hilt), "wrist armors" (sic!), and even more detailed soft plastic boots, and there is also a gorgeous shield carrying a sun or starburst design found on the lid of a box in what is almost certainly the tomb of Alexander's father; the design has been adopted in stylized form as the state symbol of the modern (Slavic) nation of (recently Northern) Macedonia, much to the annoyance of modern Greeks. The sculpted items are given an even more detailed treatment, making them look more weathered and worn, most notably in the case of the scratched and dented shield. The body used is the seamless M35, which has finely sculpted muscles and veins; it is, however, incomplete, missing both the feet and the genitalia.
Historicity. There are no known contemporary portraits of Alexander, but his successors legitimized themselves through him and produced plenty, which were copied in the Roman period. They are consistent in his basic appearance, with a high forehead, somewhat sunken heavy-lidded eyes, and a very Greek nose (almost no indent below the forehead). Neither set has a head sculpt that looks like this (on the other hand, I had a high school classmate named Kingsley who did). The sculpted hair in the Dragon set is more accurate to the traditional portrayals of Alexander than the longer straight locks of the TBLeague set. In both cases, the armor is based on the 2004 film, and that in turn on two sources: the famous Issus mosaic from Pompeii (agreed to be based on an earlier Greek painting) for the armor (see HERE), and the so-called "Alexander" or "Abdalonymos" sarcophagus from Sidon, now in Istanbul for the lion-headed helmet (see HERE). The mosaic shows a painted head of the gorgon Medusa over the chest; the Dragon set replaces this with a sculpted lion's face, while the TBLeague set has a gorgon head, but sculpted in relief in a rather modern, abstract style; this does seem to be based, at least loosely, on what was seen in the 2004 film. Alexander was considered to be fairly short, but both bodies used here translate as just over six feet in 1:1.
Here again we are dealing with apples and oranges, if nothing else on account of the year of production. The Dragon set has a fairly basic paint application, flat treatment to the hair (which does not help the already relatively simple sculpted locks), and the dreaded "doll dot" in the glossy eyes. The paint treatment is not extended to the remainder of the figure's body, much of which (excepting the rubbery seamless legs) is shiny and toy-like. The paint application to the rest of the sculpted items is pretty neat, though not overly so. Metallic items are given a dull silverish color, non-metallic ones are in tones of brown and beige. The overall effect is rather drab, but there isn't much, if any, actual weathering (except perhaps a little on the boots). TBLeague has done better, but then again it is doing so almost 16 years later. The eyes are glossy, the eyebrows painted seemingly with individual strokes for each hair. The painted sculpted detail is sharper, and there is more weathering (rather too much on the white plumes); in fact, it is near perfect. The TBLeague helmet's color is more accurate to the 2004 film.
Historicity. Alexander was considered to be relatively fair and ruddy, where the Dragon set makes him a bit yellowish, while the TBLeague one quite tan. Alexander's hair was light for a Greek but still something we would consider light brown, possibly auburn; both sets make him look blonde -- and even more so than the bad dye job on Colin Farrell in the film. The armor from the Issus mosaic appears to be white colored, and that is more accurately conveyed by the TBLeague set.
The Dragon set uses a body that has very decent articulation. However, the head and neck are one piece, and if there is an ab crunch, it is rendered impossible by the armor. The seamless rubber-covered knees can bend to about 90 degrees. The TBLeague set uses M35, a very muscular but also very fully articulated body. It is only slightly hindered here, and for the most part performs very well. There is one significant drawback, shared by both sets: the one-piece sculpted boots. Although in both cases there are molded from soft plastic, that is enough to hinder ankle articulation and to make achieving sure-footed poses difficult. Dragon has the excuse of having made this in 2004, but TBLeague should have known better.
The sets are both fairly limited in accessories. The Dragon set has the lion-headed helmet with two plumes and a crest (which you have to attach), the sword, the scabbard on its leather (or leather-like) baldric, and the long spear (you fit the two halves together), as well as the removable molded hair wig. The TBLeague set has the lion-headed helmet (crest and plumes come attached), the sword, the scabbard which buttons onto the outfit, and the shield (on which see above), as well as the extra pairs of hands, making three pairs total (relaxed, grip, and fists).
Historicity. The lion-headed helmet is an odd piece known from the Alexander Sarcophagus, which can be shown to take various liberties with reality -- Alexander fights in a long-sleeved tunic but no armor, while his troops are shown heroically nude. The lion-headed helmet is a blatant reference to Alexander's much advertised descent from Herakles (Hercules), although that does not mean he didn't have and wear such a helmet at least on occasion. More typically, we would expect Alexander to have worn a Boeotian helmet (the shape of which is derived from a sunhat, see HERE), and he is in fact portrayed wearing one in at least one statue; it was also standard for his fellow cavalrymen. The two plumes on the helmet, however, are attested in the sources. Neither sword resembles what is shown in the Issus mosaic, but the TBLeague set's sword and scabbard are accurate to what is seen in the 2004 film. However, they should have been suspended on a baldric, as in the Dragon set, instead of being buttoned to the outfit. The ARH Alexander statue also has a baldric. The TBLeague shield is gorgeous, but questionable. For one thing, the rope that goes around inside the circumference of the shield's inner side is sculpted as part of that surface. For another, it is unclear that the sun or starburst design would have been found on a shield, and if so, that it would not have been simply painted on. Alexander's father's tomb does contain a very elaborately decorated shield (probably a parade piece, as it is likely to have been impractical in battle), complete with a sculpture group in the center and geometric decoration round the edges. As a cavalryman, it is possible that Alexander did not carry a shield, strange as it is for us to imagine. On the other hand, the long spear (22 inches in 1:6 = 11 feet in 1:1) might be appropriate for a cavalryman's lance (kontos); it is perhaps too long for a standard hoplite spear (about 8 feet) and too short for a Macedonian sarissa (about 16 feet). But there is room for variation here, and all this assumes (perhaps wrongly) that the companies did their homework.
Dragon's Alexander wears what appears to be a beige long-sleeved tunic with pleated fabric pteryges (flaps) at the waist and shoulders; there are also beige boxer shorts. TBLeague's Alexander appears to be wearing a sleeveless short tunic (khiton) which is actually a sort of muscle shirt and white briefs, with a leather skirt of pteryges on top. Dragon's cape is beige and clean; TBLeague's is white but distressed (tattered and weathered) and blood stained, in what seems to me a somewhat unrealistic fashion. The Dragon cape is better designed at the front, while the TBLeague one has too much material showing on the front and not realistically bunched tight under the fastening; it does, however, have a wire, allowing for some options in how it hangs (though it does tend to rise up in an annoying manner). TBLeague's Alexander has also been given "wrist armors" that appear to be as decorative as they are (allegedly) functional; you have to put these on the figure yourself. Both Alexanders wear riding boots, the main difference being added detail in the TBLeague set.
Historicity. In the 2004 film, Alexander wears a white long-sleeved tunic without pteryges at the shoulders, and a beige (but not very dark beige) cape; neither set gets this right, although in some scenes there is a sleeveless variant that would fit TBLeague's look. In the Issus mosaic, both the long-sleeved tunic and the cloak are a darkish color (certainly not white), but there are white leather pteryges at both shoulders and waist. The sarcophagus is not of much help, since it shows Alexander unrealistically fighting in just a long-sleeved tunic and boots; but it does confirm the long sleeves and the traces of color suggest a darkish, reddish hue. Again, neither set gets this right. The undergarments provided in both sets are for modern sensibilities -- the Greeks did have undergarments (like loin-cloths) of sorts, except they wore them instead of, rather than beneath, the other clothing. The "wrist armors" that come with the TBLeague set are pure fantasy (as so often, probably ARH's fault), although probably far more interesting and appropriate to our modern eyes than any more conventional bracelets that might have been worn as a sign of wealth and/or rank. On the plus side, neither set tried to put Alexander in pants, as some modern fantasy might imagine him. Late in his reign he made various concessions to eastern fashions in his dress (now that he was also king of Persians, etc., not just Greeks), but he drew the line at wearing pants... apparently that was considered both barbaric and effeminate!
I suppose that depends on your expectations and experience. Neither Alexander really has anyone to play with, both have some difficulty standing in any action poses, and the keen-eyed historian might spot a problem or two. Yet, for fairly simple sets, these are pretty fully kitted out figures with plenty of historical or fantastical detail. They can be fun in themselves, or as a basis for more creative kitbashing.
The Dragon set is almost 16 years old, so fairly difficult to find. Ebay listings have it to $90 (USD) or more, plus shipping. This is a very decent price today, although the set is both limited and has not aged particularly well. But an ambitious customizer could probably do a lot with it. The new TBLeague set can be found for as little as $145 (USD), plus shipping. This is relatively light for a high end figure today, then again the set doesn't have a ton of accessories, a stand, or a backdrop, unlike some of TBLeague's more ambitious offerings.
Things to watch out for
Not much in either set. The items are either sturdy enough or flexible enough to be reasonably safe when handling with a modicum of consideration.
I did not expect very much from either set. I knew the Dragon one was going to come with a dated body type and sculpting technique/technology, and I could see the shortcuts (pleats instead of pteryges, for example); and I could see how TBLeague's was a cross between the 2004 film version and some sort of ARH fantasy in TBLeague interpretation, falling far short of historical reality or plausibility. But partly thinking I might customize them, partly thinking of kitbashing, I got both and don't regret it. I haven't done anything to either yet, perhaps because I like them enough as is. Neither set is egregiously expensive at present, and if you like what you see, or the historical character (however mythologized), or want to customize the sets, you might find them worthwhile.
Where to buy
As always, you can look or a deal on eBay, and that will likely be the only place where you can easily find any of the Dragon set; for the TBLeague set you can also check out the following:
Big Bad Toy Store for $145
Cotswold Collectibles for $146
Monkey Depot for $145
Timewalker Toys for $146
Hope this has been useful. What do you think?
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