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This one definitely falls into two categories: "It's about darn time" and "These were worth the wait!"

For those who don't know, ElfQuest is a series of comic books and graphic novels, with obviously a fantasy theme, created by Wendy and Richard Pini, who founded WaRP Graphics to produce their ElfQuest stories, beginning in 1978.

Over the years, the stories and concepts under the ElfQuest name got more convoluted than the continuity of Marvel's X-Men -- which is to say that if you hadn't been following it all pretty straight through you weren't going to pick up on it very easily. I can't speak for all ElfQuest fans, but to this day, I prefer the earlier tales to the later ones.

ElfQuest has long been a concept screaming for action figures to be made, and it finally happened. The talented folks at Art Asylum were granted the rights, under the Pinis' watchful eyes, to begin a series of ElfQuest action figures. The first assortment was to have been available around June, initially, which is when I pre-ordered them through my local comics shop. They finally turned up in late November. Hence the "It's about darn time" phrase. Fortunately, they were also "Worth the wait."

A discerning observer can take note of the fact that there's really two broad categories of action figures these days. There's the smooth, manufactured-looking action figures from long established companies like Hasbro, Mattel, Bandai, or those who imitate them to some degree, such as Lanard -- and there's the somewhat less-manufactured-looking stuff, probably headed up by McFarlane Toys, and joined by a wide range of lesser-knowns. I'm not implying that one "type" of action figure is better than another. In some cases, it depends on the characters and concepts involved. The ElfQuest figures tend to fit into the latter category, but they are still excellent action figures.

This initial assortment includes CUTTER, certainly the lead character of the entire ElfQuest concept; his wife LEETAH; the scheming troll PICKNOSE (who got his name because is nose is shaped vaguely like a pick-axe and not because of any disgusting social habits -- although he probably has those, too); and the mysterious winged elf TYLDAK.

Overall, the likenesses for all four are truly astounding. The head sculpts for Cutter and Leetah, especially, make the figures look as though they jumped right off the comics pages. Overall detail is just as superb on all four figures. Paint work is generally very well done, especially on the facial details.

Size is interesting. CUTTER may actually be a little outsized compared to the others. He stands about 7 inches in height, a good bit taller than either LEETAH or PICKNOSE, both of whom he should be more on a par with. Of course, TYLDAK is taller than any of them, but he's supposed to be. He comes in at 9 inches (11 with head fin attached) and has an impressive wingspan of over 21 inches! These figures are pretty solid, too. I don't recommend accidentally dropping the very bulky PICKNOSE on a bare foot. You'll hurt yourself and probably limp for a while.

If two areas come up slightly short, it is articulation, on a few, and assembly. The only figure I have absolutely no complaints about the articulation of is CUTTER. He has an astoundingly wide range of motion, and so does his wolf, NIGHTRUNNER. This is almost a two-pack, and it certainly makes sense for Cutter, leader of a tribe called the WOLFRIDERS, to come packages with his wolf. And if this had been produced by the average toy company, you can bet the wolf would've been a non-moving lump of grey plastic. But his legs all have three separate points of articulation.

The other three figures don't measure up quite as well in the articulation department. LEETAH's legs are such that she really can't stand on her own. TYLDAK's immense wings should've been wire-infused bendies. I can be more forgiving about the somewhat limited articulation of PICKNOSE because he's so bulky, and he's not badly articulated.

It's worth noting that each figure does come with accessories and a base on which to stand, with pegs for the holes in their feet (and an extra brace for Tyldak). These bases all interconnect to form what looks like a rough stone floor with the ElfQuest logo carved into it. As for accessories, Cutter comes with his sword, New Moon; Leetah comes with the Preserver known as Petalwing, and Picknose comes with a hammer and hat.

Now, let's consider assembly. Be warned, if you buy and open these figures, they will stink up your house for at least a day and a half while the rubbery glue used to seal certain parts in place (I swear it's the same stuff that I tried -- unsuccessfully -- to fix my sneakers with once) airs out. The last time I had to deal with figures this aromatic was the Mega-Monsters from G.I.Joe back in 1993. This isn't as bad in the long haul, but it's pretty overpowering for a while.

Beyond that, some sections just aren't assembled as well as they should be. There's a bit of a gap between Cutter's torso and waist. I can't tell if Leetah's hands are supposed to be poseable or not, and I'm afraid to bend them too far. The fin to be attached to the back of Tyldak's head doesn't want to insert very well. These may sound like minor complaints, but there's a certain lack of professionalism here that really needs to be dealt with.

However, overall, I have to say that I am abundantly pleased with these. I didn't really know what to expect. Lesser-known toy companies all too often turn out utter junk. The ELFQUEST figures are not utter junk. And the amount of refinement that they do need is relatively minimal in comparison to what you do get. I'm also pleased with the fact that the figures are outfitted in their earlier version costumes, where appropriate. And overall, the workmanship, detail, and likenesses are astounding. There's ElfQuest fans that have been waiting for over two decades for something this cool, and they're well worth it. They should be available at your local comics shop, and I have also seen them at specialty stores such as Electronics Boutique. Software Etc and Suncoast might also be possibilities.

The second assortment of figures - Skywise, Rayek, Guttlecraw, and the monster Madcoil, are expected to have production samples on display at Toy Fair 2002, and are drawings of these characters are pictured on the backs of the cards to the first assortment. The third assortment, hopefully ready in the fall of 2002, is expected to include Strongbow, Winnowill, a giant Hawk from Blue Mountain, and Two-Edge. If I were to recommend anything here, I'd like to see a two-pack of Cutter and Leetah's kids, Suntop and Ember, just to round off the family. But overall, this is a most impressive action figure line, and I hope has a good long life ahead of it.