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By Thomas Wheeler

We all have our likes and dislikes in the toy collecting world. There are any number of concepts, and I'm not going to name them here, that I simply don't understand how they even get off the ground, let alone into the toy departments and toy stores, where they enjoy a fair measure of success. I just simply don't get the appeal of some of these things.

And then there's DRAGONS UNIVERSE. Unlike the other concepts, and unlike the vast majority of my collection, Dragons Universe is not really an action figure line. It's a building block toy from Mega Bloks.

I don't often venture into the building block aisle. It's not for a lack of interest or appreciation for what Lego, Mega Bloks, Kre-O, and some others are able to come up with. Certainly there's some extremely impressive product, both licensed and created in-house, that these companies are able to create. And it's not for a dislike of the product itself. When I was a kid, I had a ton of Lego, and that was before any of it was themed around Star Wars, various Super-Heroes, Halo, or anything else. Basically, I just can't afford the stuff. Building block toys are not inexpensive, and as cool as a lot of them are, you can really get a case of "sticker shock" walking the aisle, and I'd rather dedicate my toy funds to action figures.

But, once in a while, I'll make an exception. And a while back, during a particular down time in the action figure world, I came across this pack of little figures from the Dragons Universe line. For some reason, they'd been stocked in the action figure aisle at the store where I discovered them. I liked the look of them, so I decided to buy them, and did a little research into the concept.

An early press release for the concept described it like this: "The story of Dragons Universe starts on an isolated planet where the soldiers of the Alliance are under attack from the Predavors, an alien race of warlike Dragons. The Predavors have come in search of the Cores, glowing spheres that are the source of all power."

Now, I found this pretty impressive. It was basically combining two distinct genres -- the medieval days of knights and dragons, thrown into a futuristic science-fiction environment. The concept and the combination was very cool and impressive as far as I was concerned.

While there was no way I could be a completist with the toy line, I did start to keep watch for its more affordable elements, especially those elements that included one or more of these cool little figures. A second five-pack of them turned up, and there were reasonably priced small vehicles, or other items that came with a figure.

And then -- the line vanished. Other, mostly licensed Mega Bloks concepts continued. Halo. Power Rangers. Hello Kitty of all things. But the Dragons Universe seemed to be gone. I thought this was most unfortunate, but there wasn't much I could do about it.

But some time later, something unusual happened. Dragons Universe merchandise started turning up at some different locations, especially clearance stores and at least one grocery store chain. This in and of itself wasn't that unusual. Any clearance store chain that has a toy department is likely to receive toys that have run their course at the primary retailers. What was unusual was that some of the Dragons Universe toys that were turning up were new toys, that I had never seen before, and that had a more extensive name.

Now, the concept was called DRAGONS UNIVERSE: RISE OF THE PREDAVORS, and it seemed that the major difference was that there were now evil Predavor knights, as well as the heroic Alliance knights, who had previously only been faced with battling Predavor dragons.

This certainly appealed to me, although I knew it was going to be difficult to track down the items. If there's any rhyme or reason to the toy products that a clearance store chain receives, I've never been able to determine it. All I could do was keep watch, buy what I could when it showed up, and hope for the best.

I did a little research, however, and one thing aggravated me for some time. The Mega Bloks Web Site showed a five-pack of Predavor Knights, essentially the enemy version of the Alliance Knights five-pack that I'd initially picked up that got me interested in Dragons Universe in the first place. This was certainly something I would like to have, but whatever Rise of the Predavors product was turning up, it didn't include this. I reached the conclusion that, despite a photograph of a packaged set on the Web Site, it had never been produced.

Well -- SURPRISE! I found it at one clearance store chain! I like surprises like this. And even better, there was a new five-pack of Alliance Knights, different from either of the sets I'd previously purchased, that I didn't even know existed.

I do find myself wondering a bit just how globally Dragons Universe, or any Mega Bloks toy, might be distributed. The back of the package card features information and advisories in anywhere from seven to over a dozen languages.

So, how are the toys? Extremely cool. Since even with this set, my Predavor Knights are still pretty badly outnumbered by my Alliance Knights, let's start with the bad guys for a change.

One thing I like about Mega Bloks figures over most of Lego's little figures is that Mega Bloks doesn't feel constrained to follow that rather boxy little body pattern that Lego uses for most of their figures. Okay, it's cute in its own way, and it works withing the building block concept, and there's something to be said for consistency, but I appreciate the fact that, with several of its lines that include small figures, including Halo and certainly Dragons Universe, Mega Bloks has produced something a lot more detailed.

The main colors for the Predavor Knights, of any of them that I've picked up, have been a very dark metallic gray, and a shade of red that would not be inaccurate to call blood red. It's not a friendly, cheerful color of red. It's a rather malevolent-looking red. It's very effective.

Each of the five figures in the set has his own individual name, and a designated rank. And I really have to hand it to Mega Bloks for going the extra mile in this regard. It would have been easy enough to simply toss five small figures into a pack, or include one with a dragon or a vehicle, and leave it at that. But Mega Bloks didn't do that. They came up with a very military-like organizational structure for the figures on both sides of this conflict, and gave them individual names. I find that impressive.

I've always found the names interesting, as well. The Dragons Universe conflict does not take place on Earth. And yet, the names of the various knights are not entirely alien-sounding. There's a sort of ancient Greek-Roman sound to a lot of them.

The Predavor Knights in this set are led by one GENERAL VARRO SEJANUS. That's not a name I'd necessarily expect to find in the phone book, but it doesn't sound entirely plausible. General Sejanus is notable from the rest of his squad by the fact that his armor is mostly red. The helmet, torso, legs, and lower arms are all red. The Predavors symbol on the chestplate is imprinted in black.

Sejanus' helmet has a decidedly malevolent design to it, with a series of backswept spikes running across the top of it, and angular, V-shaped eyeslits, that have been painted in black. There is some dark metallic gray trim on the sides of the helmet, between the spikes.

The armor is extremely well detailed, especially for such a small figure. Visible plates and ridges have been sculpted into it. All of the Predavor Knights share a common armor design, with the main differences being color distribution, and helmet design.

Sejanus' upper arms are dark metallic gray, as are his hands. A rank emblem is imprinted in red on his left shoulder.

Under General Sejanus are two sergeants, and two privates. The sergeants are SERGEANT LUNARIS and SERGEANT CAPRENIUS. Their armor is mostly dark metallic gray, with red upper arms and hands. The Predavor emblem is imprinted on their chestplates in red, and rank emblems are imprinted on their left shoulders in black.

Distinguishing them further are their helmet designed. They're somewhat similar to General Sejanus', although instead of the series of four backswept spikes, they have two, somewhat thicker than Sejanus', and almost looking like horns from certain angles. The eyeslits, which are red, are somewhat differently positioned than on Sejanus' helmet, but they retain a certain V-like shape.

Finally, we come to the privates, who are named PRIVATE BARBATUS and PRIVATE RUBICO. As with the sergeants, their armor is mostly dark metallic gray, with red upper arms and hands. The Predavor emblem is imprinted on their chestplates in red, and rank emblems are imprinted on their left shoulders in black.

Their helmets are entirely different from Sejanus or the sergeants, though. They're a bit rounder, almost looking like some sort of medieval interpretation of a Star Wars Stormtrooper helmet in some respects. They have two distinct eyes, painted red, that are far rounder than the V-shape of the other helmets, and the helmets are fairly broad at the base. They also have a curved red antenna emerging from the left side of the helmet.

I don't want to get into body proportions, size, or articulation at this time, since that's something that applies to both Predavor and Alliance Knights alike, so I'll save that until I've reviewed the Alliance Knights as well.

The Predavor Knights come with an impressive array of weaponry, an assortment of five different long guns that, realistically, would be impossible for these figures to carry. One assumes that the armor has some sort of strength enhancement and balance compensators in it. The guns all have either one or two transparent red missiles installed in them.

There is also a transparent red shield with the Predavors emblem on it. The figures can either carry this in one hand, or it can be fitted to a peg on their back. No great surprise, the excellent package illustration on the back of the card shows it worn on General Sejanus' back. Rank has its privileges.

Unfortunately, I can't tell you a lot about the personalities of these characters. While there has been a Dragons Universe Web Site with character profiles, including animated "flash" displays, and these sets have a QR code that can presumably be scanned (and as I don't have a cell phone I have no idea whether it works or not), the last time I checked the Web Site, which admittedly was a long time ago, it hadn't been updated with new characters. And seeing as how I found these guys at a clearance store, well...

I think it would be fair to say that, seeing as how they're the bad guys, they're probably a rather ruthless bunch, obviously well organized enough from a military standpoint, but almost certainly a rather vile band of brigands out for power and conquest first and foremost, along with whatever other villainous traits you'd care to toss in.

Now, let's consider the Alliance Knights five-pack. This is actually the third such five-pack produced by Mega Bloks for the Dragons Universe line, but it's the first in the Rise of the Predavors extension. As with the Predavor Knights set, each of the figures has his own name and rank, and the set includes one general, two sergeants, and one private.

Although over the course of their lengthier run, the Alliance Knight have had a bit more color variance, the most traditional colors associates with the Alliance Knights have been silver and blue. As I said, there have been differences. I have one here with bright red armor, a far brighter red than the Preadavors. I have one with white armor, and a couple with copper armor. Now, in fairness, I do have a couple of Predavor Knights with different color schemes. Although both have dark metallic gray armor, one has gold trim, the other purple. These two were sold with dragons. But, as far as basic color schemes go, I'm going with the majority here.

Leading this detachment of Alliance Knights is a chap by the name of GENERAL PRIMUS JUSTUS. It's certainly a heroic-sounding name, I'll give it that, almost bordering on the campy, but I rather like it. General Justus is wearing armor that is predominantly dark blue, with silver upper arms and hands. The Alliance emblem is imprinted on his left shoulder, and a rank insignia is imprinted on his right.

His helmet is very distinctive. It's mostly dark blue, with a ridged fin running from the forehead over the top and down the back. The center of the fin has been painted white. The helmet's faceplate, a rather broad area with something of a "T" shape to it, has been painted in a bright metallic blue. I've seen helmet faceplates similar to this on Alliance Knights before, and for that matter there are others in this set, and for some reason, they remind me a little bit of the faceplates of Cobra Viper helmets from G.I. Joe. But hey, they look cool here, as well.

Accompanying General Justus are two sergeants, with the names of SERGEANT POSTUMUS and SERGEANT CARBO. Here, I think, are a couple of instances where Mega Bloks' naming procedures came up just a little short. "Postumus" sounds a little too much like "posthumous". And if I'm a soldier going into battle, I don't think that's a name I particularly want people knowing about. Some names just don't lend themselves well to certain professions.

Then there's Sergeant Carbo. Really? Carbo? I mean, this sounds like the name of a mascot for some sort of trendy diet plan.

Names notwithstanding, the figures are impressive. Their armor is mostly silver, with blue upper arms. Interestingly, unlike the Predavor Knights pattern, where the hands were the same color as the upper arms, and as such different from the rest of the armor, these Alliance Knights have silver hands, not blue, so the only different-colored part of their armor are the upper arms. As with General Justus, they have the Alliance emblem on the left shoulder, and a rank emblem on the right.

Their helmets are similar to General Justus', but somewhat lesser in some respects. The fin on the top of the head is nowhere near as pronounced, and it's been painted black. The T-shaped faceplate is somewhat larger than the general's, however. It's the same color of bright metallic blue.

Finally, we come to the privates, whose names are PRIVATE TRIFERUS and PRIVATE GALLUS. Not bad. At least, I can't think of any silly jokes to make about them. Their armor has the same color pattern as the sergeants, almost entirely silver except for blue upper arms, and the Alliance emblem and rank insignia are in the same place.

As one might expect by now, it's the helmets that set them apart. They have somewhat roundish helmets, with more goggle-like eye visors, also painted bright metallic blue. A black scope and antenna are mounted to the left side of the helmet.

As with the Predavors, the Alliance Knights come with a nice array of rather oversized-looking weaponry, silver with transparent blue missiles in it this time, and a transparent blue shield with the Alliance emblem on it, and on the back of the package, it's being worn by General Justis. I guess rank has its privileges even among the good guys.

And again, there's not a lot I can tell you about their personalities, although it would probably be fair to say that these Alliance knights are firmly cast from heroic personalities, full of chivalry, derring-do, courage, camaraderie, and all those other great heroic traits. And they're probably pretty good at ducking dragon fire, too.

Let's discuss a few traits common to all ten figures. They're not particularly tall, but then these building-block figures seldom are. They stand about 2-1/8" in height. Their overall bodily proportions are not entirely human. The heads are too big for the rest of the bodies, and the bodies are more than just a bit on the stocky side. But what the heck, if you can let yourself get caught up in the parameters of the concept, they're still very cool little figures.

Certainly they're all well-articulated. These little figures are all fully poseable at the head, arms, elbows, wrists, waists, legs, and knees. That's a heck of a list for figures in this size range. There's figures nearly twice their height that aren't that poseable.

Now, these are building-block toys, but they come fully assembled. That generally isn't the case with the knights that come with other sets, whether it's a vehicle or a dragon. In those instances, you have to assemble the figure. But it's no great challenge, since all you really have to do is snap the head, arms, and legs to the main body.

Technically, as such, these figures can be disassembled, but I see little reason to. Between the two sides, they're common enough in their design. Although I suppose you could take them apart and spread them on a table as if they'd all gotten dismembered in some horrible battle, but if that's the sort of thing you like to do with your action figures -- well, eewww. Get help.

Paintwork is rather limited, mostly amounting to stamped insignias and helmet details. For the most part, the paintwork is excellent, although a couple of the figures have a few very minor glitches. Nothing I can't clean up, and really, I find it hard to find much fault here. These are very small figures. Painting them can't be easy.

So, what's my final word? I was both truly surprised and sincerely delighted to find these sets. I knew that the Predavors one had been proposed, and I'd seen pictures of a packaged version of it, but these days, that doesn't really mean much of anything unless and until you actually see it in a store. And given the fact that I hadn't, and hadn't even found evidence of it online or anything, I was pretty well convinced that it didn't exist. I was certainly pleased to be proven wrong, and the new Alliance Knights set was a nice bonus.

I really don't know how to classify the status of the Dragons Universe line. Technically, you're not going to find it at the major retailers. And yet, new product seems to keep turning up at the clearance-type stores. Ultimately, I suppose, this will run out. But in the meantime, I'm glad to find it. It's a cool concept. I certainly get a kick out of the idea of taking the medieval legends of knights and dragons and giving them a sci-fi twist. And as long as occasional new product keeps turning up here and there, I'll buy it as I can. Scoring these figure five-packs was a biggie as far as I'm concerned.

And if you like cool building-block toy concepts, you really can't go wrong with Dragons Universe: Rise of the Predavors. It's not easily found, but the toys are well worth the search, and these sets are a great way to build your armies!