Armies of Middle Earth:
the Bad Guys of Wave 2
In this day and age of recall elections we're reminded that we should give equal time to different sides of an issue, so we're going to do our part. What's cool is that here we can give the bad guys, the people (and creatures) that define our heroes a chance to say their piece and get some exposure. You may wonder why we don't cover as many villain toys as the hero ones, and it comes down to lack of material. As much as you'd love to see a piece on the Mattel Batman villains, umm they just aren't there so we have no material (sort of like the Bush Administration and good economic news). But the refreshing thing about Armies of Middle Earth is that there are plenty of bad guys to go around, as you'll see from this Spotlight.
Before we press on, for more information on Play Along's Armies of Middle Earth line you are simply a click away from plenty of information. The first place to look is our Spotlight on the good half of Wave 2, and then check out the synopsis at the end of this article. If you went and read the good side Spotlight and noticed the synopsis is exactly the same, try hitting refresh about four times, then a banner ad (and buy something) and check it again. If it's still the same, your browser is normal.
So why Armies of Middle Earth? Well, combine a popular series of movies with hordes of warriors battling it out and the current climate where military toys and action is in our everyday lives, and you get the idea. Plus, who wouldn't want to have legions of hard-working orcs attacking those wimpy pretty-boy Elves who like to sit around and philosophize?
The single sentence description of the line would be toy soldiers meets high fantasy meets plastic. What you have are a variety of creatures, characters and environments that are all roughly scaled together (some of the larger monsters and environments are scaled down) so you can set up your kitchen table to look like Helm's Deep. And the beauty of having these is such a small format (figures are under 3") is that you actually could set them up on a table and still have room for that bowl of Ramen Noodles! Just don't accidentally eat any of the toys or you might get nutrition with that meal.
Since the good guys got their own Spotlight, we'll look at the bad guys from Wave 2 of Armies of Middle Earth. The bad side consists of a pair of mounted figures and two 3-packs of orcs. The mounted figures are a Ringwraith and an Orc riding a Warg while the 3-packs are of a triplet of Uruk-Hai and then three Mordor orcs.
Now all these characters have a few things in common. First, they are all bad! Not bad in they leave the toilet seat up, but bad in that they like to kill, maim, scare and raise taxes. Really bad! Second, they all have bases they attach to which can be removed, though many of them have trouble standing without the bases. Think of the bases as really artsy walkers. Third, they all have weapons they can put down even though laying down their arms is the last thing on their minds. Since they all have small swords (no wonder they are mad at the world) you'll want to make sure you don't lose them.
About articulation. These figures are articulated, but it is very limited due to the size of the figures (and probably the licensing agreement!), so don't expect a high degree of poseability. Be especially careful when breaking the joints free of any paint because as a general rule they are easier to break because they're small. These are designed more for display, especially within a diorama setting (thoughtfully available in parts from Play Along). The figures are scaled to roughly two inches tall, though obviously an Uruk is taller than a hobbit would be.
Overall the sculpting is very detailed for al the figures and the paint applications are impressive. Quality control was clearly in place for this line, and hopefully Play Along can share their secrets with other companies! The packaging is similar to the semi-cylinder that Toy Biz employs for their Lord of the Rings action figures, so there is a nice continuity between the lines. Armies of Middle Earth uses a lighter blue than the Return of the King blue, but since this line is more about coverage of all the movies rather than any one of them it works well. The light blue is actually a mathematically summed combination of the colors of the three movies (red, green and blue) and then passed through a prism during the summer solstice in Athens, Greece. Not really, but that sounds really cool so feel free to use it at the Return of the King line party and you'll score.
At first glance the Ringwraiths, or Nazgūl are the errand boys for the Dark Lord Sauron. He sends them out to lead his armies, scare his enemies and get his missing One Ring (and laundry). But they are much more than that because they are his slaves as they've been corrupted by the rings they were given and now can only serve Sauron. Now they hide under black cloaks like really evil flashers, just waiting for any innocent to put on the One Ring so they can flash them with their spectral look. They are generally lazy and tend not to walk or run about, but rather they like to use mounts to traverse the countryside. Sometimes (as for this figure) they use horses that are specially breed to accept them as riders (they have notoriously bad breath), but other times a fell beast will do (coming soon perhaps?).
Now, if seeing the world and meeting new and exciting people appeals to you, perhaps you might want to become a wraith. It isn't all that hard really. First you need to find and keep one of the nine rings of power made for men. Oh, you have to be a human. Anyhoo, once you get that ring you can be evil, serve Sauron and you'll be transformed magically (yep, by magic! And an insidious itchy virus) into a wraith. The great thing about being a wraith is that no one can see you, which is perfect for sneaking up on sorority houses and having a little panty raid on the unsuspecting coeds. Just leave the armor and cloaks at home!
Since there are nine wraiths in total, Play Along has the perfect chance to make several versions of the character and still be totally true to the movie and the book. There have been wraiths in different sets and even one riding wraith released in Wave 1, but this one is different. The first mounted Ringwraith was at a canter and the Wave 2 Ringwraith is in a hurry. He's riding hard with his sword in hand, just as they appeared in Fellowship of the Ring chasing Frodo on Glorfindal's horse Asfaloth. Of course they put Liv Tyler in there as Arwen too, because they paid her so much money they had to give her something to do besides look sad. But she's very good at sad.
The Ringwraith does dismount the horse figure, but his pose makes him look funny if he isn't riding. The horse is unarticulated, though it has some great sculpting including the tack and harness and a variety of cuts, and the coloring leans towards a very dark brown rather than actually black, and it makes a nice contrast to the all-black rider. The wraith has forearm twists and that's it for articulation. He does have a pointy sword, so don't be hatin'!
Orcs are pretty simple creatures, and it's usually best to let them run or walk wherever they are going. Handling heavy machinery (like a bus) would just be a bad idea. Since necessity is the mother of invention, the best solution to the logistics problems facing the orcs was to create a beast of burden (with apologies to the Rolling Stones) that was smart enough to get where it needed to go but not too smart to try and get away. Through years of breeding and intervention they achieved what they set out to make - the Yugo! And the warg, too.
The 2003 Wargs are a combination of efficiency, good handling and speed. They aren't well designed for carrying loads of equipment (no luggage racks) but they are perfect for the rough terrain of Rohan. The wargs are like very large wolves, just smaller than the average horse. They have an advantage over the horse in terms of their bites (with nasty, snarling teeth) and mobility (they are designed for more than charges). They aren't quite as well-matured as horses, and rumor has it they are rather inadequate when it comes to their naughty bits. For that you just can't beat a horse!
Since there are plenty of good guys with horses, evening out the score means adding in a war with a rider. Wave 1 had a warg rider (Sharku on a warg) and now a more generic warg and rider are added to fill out the ranks of Saruman's horde. The warg actually has stirrups attached to it (unlike many of the other riders who have stirrups sculpted on the riders) so you can slip the rider on and off the beast. The rider has a twist for the right shoulder and a forearm twist on the left arm, but that's all the articulation included. He has a sword with a wash that makes it look like tarnished metal (to cut and infect) and both rider and mount are well-sculpted with loads of detail included.
There are orcs and there are the Uruk-Hai. The former are the foot soldiers and simple folk of the twisted world of evil on Middle Earth while the later are the superstars. The Uruks are much larger than orcs, they are tougher and smarter, though being smarter than an orc is kind of damning by faint praise. Regardless these guys are the toughest of the orcs, and they love having a snack of man-flesh on the side.
The orcs were originally elves that were corrupted back in the day, which kind of explains why Legolas and Lurtz seemed to make a connection in Fellowship of the Ring. So centuries of torture and corruption turned the pretty elves into the nasty and evil orcs. A similar thing happened to men, but after all the corruptions and torture men still look the same, and this makes it harder to tell who are the bad guys. We should take up a fund and get them all jerseys, just so we know.
The Uruks included in this set aren't just your run of the mill Uruks, but they actually have names and stories behind them. Well, one of them is just a generic Uruk, so you can name him yourself and make a story for him, but the other two get to be famous. Ugluk is one of the Uruks, and he's sort of the leader of their little band. In the book he actually fights Eomer to the death in a duel (btw, Eomer is in Return of the King so guess who won), which is actually an honor for an Uruk. The other guy is Mauhur and he's an Uruk who gets to run through the hills for days until somebody on a horse kills him and burns his body. Good stuff, huh? In case you were wondering, no name has the armor and shield, Ugluk carries a head in his hand and Mauhur is the other guy.
The Uruks figures tower over the regular orcs and men, as they should. They all have swords that can be removed from their hands, and have similar articulation. Ugluk and Mauhur both have twisting shoulders but the generic warrior is slightly different. His left shoulder twists but the right arm has a forearm twist instead of shoulder articulation, and this is just due to the sculpture. They all have very detailed sculpting on their armor and even have pointed ears native to Vulcans. And orcs too.
Well, the least is clearly last in this feature so bringing up the rear are the Mordor Orcs. These fellas aren't that big and they aren't that tough, and they aren't even all that brave. What they have in spades is hunger, and they lover to complain about not getting enough to eat. It seems like they shouldn't complain when they have plenty of maggoty bread while others go hungry, but they are whiners. The good news is they don't get to whine too long before the Uruks settle their complaints with a novel solution - they kill the whiner and eat him, solving two problems at once. Didn't we tell you those Uruks were smarter than the average orc?
Now, the real question here is just how did these Mordor orcs end up with a band of Uruks from Orthanc (or Isengard, to make it more confusing)? Well, you could assume that these guys went with the Uruks from Isengard (or Orthanc, to make it confusing), or that they met up with the band after they took their prisoners but this was cut out of the film. We'll have to wait for the extended cut to find out if there is an answer and if so what.
The three orcs in this set are unique and special, so make sure you treat them that way! The leader of the Mordor orcs is Grishnakh, and he's the guy with the pink face. He's actually the one orc that makes it into Fangorn forest chasing Merry and Pippen, but like the roach motel he doesn't check out. He's joined by Snaga who's just a green orc who's trying to make his way in the world. The other orc in the set doesn't have a name but we'll call him Frank. He likes to go around in the same pose telling people 'I'm Batman!' The sad part is he believes it!
Just like America, everybody is Mordor is armed. We have guns, they have swords, ones that easily come out of their hands and can be mixed and matched just for fun. Grishnakh has neck and shoulder twists just like his buddy Frank (aka Batman). Batman (aka Frank) also has a waist twist so he can do aerobics unlike the pudgy Grishnakh. If Grish had worked out more he could have caught the hobbits, so let that be a reason to work out for you. Snaga only has shoulder twists, but his sculpting is really top-notch. His armor is well-textured hide and it looks fantastic. All the figures have great sculpting, but Snaga just stands out. This is why he was chosen for the mission - because he stood out. There's a lesson here - don't stand out!
Pictures of the Ringwraith
Pictures of the Warg Rider
Pictures of the Uruk-Hai
Pictures of the Mordor Orcs
No need to go to Middle Earth to recruit or build/grow an army when you can get these guys right here on Plain Old Earth. Here are some great places to start:
|Where to buy Armies of Middle Earth: The Armies of Middle Earth 3-packs retail in the $9.99 USD price range and the horse & rider packs retail in the $7.99 price range. They are available at toy stores such as ToysRUs, KB Toys, and larger Target locations, as well as various online toy retailers.
Several such online stores are RTM sponsors The Outer Reaches and Action Figure Xpress. (Be sure to check the other RTM sponsors, listed on the Shop Center.)
The Line So Far
Much as you would expect any large military to be organized, so is the toy line depicting the armies of Middle Earth. There are three basic divisions within the line, one at the individual level, one mounted and one involving playsets. There is a fourth set but we're going to call in a sub-category of the playset division just to avoid making the opening argument about three divisions wrong.
The soldier level sets are sold in 3-packs and called 'Soldiers and Scenes' and they are based on having three figures built around a common theme or specific scene. The Wave 1 sets were Attack at Weathertop, Warriors of Rohan, Moria Orcs and Ringwraiths. For wave one the count of good versus evil characters is 5 to 7, in favor of evil. For wave two, the odds are even at 6 each with Attack at Amon-Hen and Elven Warriors at Helm's Deep covered here on the good side, and Uruk-Hai and Mordor Orcs being covered in the companion piece when it is added.
For the mounted figures (cavalry in military parlance or Warriors and Battle Beasts for the toy line), there isn't much variety on the side of evil. This is because they really don't have much going for them in terms of small mounts. If you are a bad guy, you either are a Ringwraith with a horse, or an Orc with a Warg, and there is one of each in both the waves so far. The good guys have some variety, with wave 1 consisting of Gandalf on Shadowfax and Aragorn on horseback. For wave 2 you get a standard Rohan Horsemen and the bonus of two other characters (Legolas and Gimli) on horseback.
Along the lines of playsets, you have a Helm's Deep set, Orthanc and the Bridge at Kaza-dum. For the subset of playsets you have a pair or orc crews with some artillery. One set has a battering ram, while the other uses a siege ballista.
Will there be more? Umm, yeah.