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By Thomas Wheeler

Brian Savage has been kind enough to let me start a series of reviews based on some of my customized action figures. Most of these are based on 3-3/4" G.I.Joes. This one's an exception.

The idea for this particular one came about as the result of two different events -- a scene in the Teen Titans animated series, and a project that a friend of mine and I worked on to create a particular paint-like substance for possible use in dioramas.

The scene from the Teen Titans animated series was from the episode where the character of Terra, which Bandai recently produced as an action figure, had betrayed the other Titans, and was in the process of taking them down one by one. When it came to Raven, the two characters ended up in a lengthy battle in a chamber that, thanks to Terra's earth-based powers, was filling with mud. Needless to say, the two characters got covered.

The other aspect of this custom came about a while ago, when a friend of mine and I were trying to workout a plausible way to create a sort of simulated mud for possible use in some action figure dioramas. That particular project never materialized, but my friend was always one for making environments look as authentic as possible. Trying to come up with a sort of "scaled-down mud" proved to be an interesting challenge.

Using actual mud was out of the question, especially here in Arizona where on the rare occasion we actually get enough rain to produce mud, the soil is rather sandy, rocky, and gritty. Try to use that in a diorama of small-scale action figures and it's going to look more like they're trying to slog their way through the sand trap on the 16th fairway at Pebble Beach.

So, we needed to create a mud-like substance. The eventual solution was to use a mixed, semi-gloss brown acrylic paint, mixed with a fine, almost-but-not-quite powdery substance that my friend said was more or less the styrofoam version of sawdust. This would give the "mud-paint" the "gritty" look that most mud tends to have, but closer to scale with the action figures.

Ultimately, the diorama project fell through, and I was left with a sealed jar of "mud-paint" with no particular use, but I kept it around just in case I ever thought of one.

Then I saw the Teen Titans episode, and I wondered just a bit if the mud-paint could be applied to an action figure, instead of just a diorama setting. The 3" Teen Titans figures were not especially expensive, so I decided to try it.

Granted, the Terra figure is not dressed in the same outfit that she was in that particular episode. After she betrayed the Titans and returned to her "master", Slade (better known in the "comics" DC universe as Deathstroke the Terminator), she was given a new uniform, a sort of segmented armor, which also allowed Slade to control her actions to a degree. The Terra figure is dressed in the outfit she had when it seemed she was a member of the Titans. But that was good enough for my experiment.

Unlike a G.I.Joe figure, Titans figures cannot be disassembled readily for customization purposes. There are a couple of assembly screws in the back, but in Terra's case, given the long molded hair the figure has, even this wouldn't've been easy. I decided to leave the figure assembled and just paint as carefully as possible around the articulation points. I hoped that the figure would retain its articulation once the painting was done.

While it may seem like an easy thing to paint an entire figure one color, it's not. I had to be cautious around the eyes, which I did not want to paint in, obviously, and since I had to hold the figure and paint it, I couldn't cover the entire figure all at once. I had to do about half the figure, let the paint dry, and then paint the other half. And then go in for touch-ups here and there. And the problem with using a glossy paint is you're never quite sure when it's dry.

And, the styrofoam granules in the paint weren't always cooperative. I didn't want any of them getting into the articulation points. I also didn't want any of them causing any odd effects on the face. I had no interest in a Terra that looked like she had a large zit at the end of her nose or some such. It was also no easy thing to paint the hair "underneath" the head.

Finally, though, it worked, and the end result came out pretty much as I wanted. I then painted a piece of cardboard with the same substance (which was a darn sight easier than painting the figure, I'll admit), for photography purposes.

Granted, the figure is not a precise duplication of her appearance in the Teen Titans episode that gave me this idea. So, if you find that unacceptable, consider it an image of Terra before she gained proper control of her powers. You've gotta figure that having super-powers that let you literally move mountains is going to sometimes be a dirty job before you get the hang of it...