Thursday, July 20, 2017

She's Not Like Most Figs

At times, I'm more a fan of the merchandise than the wrestler. I have nothing personal against Nia Jax. I'm sure she's a nice person. I think it's the way that she's presented that hasn't won me over. Nia should be a monster. She shouldn't speak much, if at all. I'm not even going to go into the theme song, despite playing off of it for the title of this post. I will also say that the outfit needs changed, but I'll be praising it, in a way, in just a few paragraphs. Indeed, Nia Jax is an interesting figure in the ring, but now she's also a fascinating action figure.

When the prototype pictures of the debut Nia Jax figure first hit, I was blown away. It looked to be one of the best efforts Mattel has put forth in the WWE line, if not the very best. It captured Nia, but it also did something that I've wanted from her since in-ring debut. The same thing that I mentioned just above. It made Nia into a monster, at least as far as display in a WWE figure collection is concerned. I knew the figure would be popular, and indeed nearly every collector that I know is impressed. But if she doesn't impress me on television, why does she in plastic?

Nia debuts in the Basic Mattel WWE line. As we've discussed here before, the female figures from Mattel are all in the Elite body style no matter which line they're included in. The difference is usually accessories, although even the line on that has been blurred on occasion (see the first Alicia Fox figure). Nia looks great carded and fills the plastic bubble like a champ. The card art features Nia's more recent straight haired look, though the figure has her debut curly hair. I prefer the latter, as it makes her more monstrous and hearkens back to another devastating women's wrestler, Rhonda Singh in her guise as Monster Ripper.

Really, everything about this figure is perfect. Look right into the face and you think of the now-expected shot of Nia's eyes as her entrance begins. Nearly all new parts had to be made for Nia, and I can't think of any other character that Mattel will be able to utilize them for. The costume is laser-line perfect. Actually, I'd say it's even better than the real thing, which we'll get to as promised. My only gripe would be that the detail on the shoulders does limit mobility of the arms, but who's complaining? The figure, and character, should look menacing. In this case she certainly does.

Why do I like the outfit here and not in real life? In plastic, it makes her look like a female Big Van Vader. In real life, to be quite honest, the outfit makes her look dumpy. I'm not sure exactly what material the real costume is made out of, but such a small tweak could make a huge difference in her presentation. In a rare moment, a toy looks better than the real-life counterpart. As her career moves forward, hopefully WWE realizes the same.

What a figure! Due to all the unique tooling and her ubiquitous presence on television, I'm sure that Nia will be no stranger to the action figure world. Although I wouldn't count on it immediately, I do see a future figure with the updated, straight hairstyle somewhere down the line. She's a female monster getting a figure when ladies like Rhonda Singh and Awesome Kong never did due to varying circumstances. Though she would have been my third choice among those names, I'm happy that Nia finally made the "revolutionary" breakthrough.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Hall of Fame Figure Royalty

For the first time in history, one figure line has captured Jerry "The King" Lawler in all areas of his career. 2012 saw The King make his Mattel debut with a "modern" Elite figure capturing his look at WrestleMania XXVII. Following that we received a Basic figure release based upon his appearance as a commentator. Finally, a classic Memphis version of The King has arrived as part of the Target-exclusive WWE Hall of Fame line. Longtime readers will recall that the first Mattel Jerry Lawler took home "The Joshie" Award for 2012 Best Figure. How does the latest figure measure up?

I'm still loving the Hall of Fame packaging. Lawler is the perfect figure for it, as the royal blue and gold motif is fit for a King. You may also recall that in addition to being in the Hall of Fame, Lawler has been the most recent host of the event. The figure is a superb fit for the window packaging, and thanks to the pose and accessories there is no "floating" here. I also appreciate that no annoying "announcements" are present on the window itself to take up precious autograph space, should you choose to explore that option.

There's a lot of reuse here from the 2012 release, but with Lawler that's ok. The man has honestly changed very little physically in four decades. He's forever young. The same can be said for his attire. He's clad in the same entrance gear that was included with the first figure, as he wore a classic Memphis outfit for his WrestleMania appearance. You could argue that the color of the crown could have changed. It should also be noted that the crown does not fit the new head sculpt very well. He's going to be holding it most of the time, but it still must be pointed out.

Speaking of the new head sculpt, it's all Lawler right down to the classic goatee. The hair and smug expression were captured perfectly. I honestly can't think of a bad Jerry Lawler figure likeness from over the years. Even the very first figure of The King from Jakks two decades ago captured his then-cowardly heel spirit. Whereas some wrestlers never seem to be set just right in plastic, Lawler's just seem to get better and better.

If I had a complaint it would be with the stance of the figure. For whatever reason, the legs always seem to be spread apart in an "action" pose. While The King is no stranger to getting in on a fight, I appreciated that you could set the first Mattel Lawler release in a stoic pose, should you so choose. It's not that big of a deal, but it did make me realize that I like the earlier figure just a bit more. There was a reason why it was my "Figure of the Year!"

These Hall of Fame figures seem to have great production numbers, but they won't be around forever. It seems that Mattel isn't afraid to keep Jerry around in the line, but it's hard to say if a classic Memphis version will see the light of day beyond this. I'm sure that the secondary price will rise on this one, but if you had to pick one I'd still advise you to seek out the 2012 release. I will say that I liked this figure enough to pick up a second one to be autographed. If you follow suit, be sure to see if The King will whip out his trusty paint pen for a signature that truly pops.

Then again, when it's Jerry Lawler's autograph we're talking about, there's never a bad one!

Thursday, July 6, 2017

The Future of Figures Is Now

With the non-stop barrage of new WWE product from Mattel, last October was unofficially "Mattel Month" here on the blog. July looks to be a repeat of that, with several weeks of reviews covering stars of yesterday, today, and tomorrow. We kick it off with a view of both today and tomorrow thanks to the new NXT line that is exclusive to Target. With four new Elite figures, six new Basic figures, and a ring, this line is even getting its own endcap display in most stores. We're focusing on the two Elite "debut" figures, who would be Austin Aries and No Way Jose.

This isn't the first dance for Aries as far as figures or the Mattel line. Aries had several Jakks figures in their TNA line and has already had a Mattel WWE Basic figure. No Way Jose is seeing his rookie action figure here.

The packaging for the NXT line is very unique. The Elite figures are packaged in window boxes designed to look like the "X" in NXT, complete with character-specific artwork behind the figure. There's a bit of "floating" here, but it can be easily forgiven seeing as that you want to see the aforementioned artwork. Although we're focusing on the Elite style here, I'm a big fan of the Basic NXT figure carding, too. It reminds me of a figure line out of the '80s with a lot of white used giving it a bright and fresh look. I'm sick of the dark and brooding style/colors that have dominated most everything in merchandising and pop culture since the mid-1990's. Can't we just be happy?

The line consists of more NXT alumni than current NXT roster talent. That said, just by looking at him you can understand why No Way Jose was chosen. He makes a great action figure and is very unique in presence. Need a retro comparison? The LJN WWF Wrestling Superstars line has Special Delivery Jones. The Mattel NXT line has No Way Jose. Jose's rubber shirt does limit his "entrance" poseability, but it still looks very good. So good in fact, that I won't complain about it being rubber. The facial expression is great and captures the "Fiesta!" attitude of the character.

Just as the happiness of Jose is evident in his figure, the smugness of Austin Aries comes through in his. "A Double" has a good facial likeness (the Jakks version may have been just a touch closer) and utilizes the smaller Elite body type that we've seen many time. The removable cape is a great addition and is a top reason to go for this Elite figure of Aries over the Basic. The figure actually has an old school feel when it's on, much in the vein of a '60s or '70s caped wrestling heel. Considering that I once saw Aries do a perfect Baron Von Raschke imitation at an Impact Wrestling house show, it's fitting.

For the first time in seven years, I encountered an issue with a Mattel figure right out of the packaging. The left arm of Aries was loose. At certain angles it will stay, but at about mid-range it simply falls. This is something that reminds me of the waning days of the Jakks WWE line, and not a trend that I look to see continue going forward. I've read some reports over the years of an arm breaking right of the packaging, but it always seemed to be fairly isolated incidents. With the amount of Mattel figures that I've purchased, some even second hand, this has yet to happen to me until now.

It's great to see NXT getting its own line, but I think that Mattel misjudged the popularity by making it a retailer exclusive. Judging by sales of NXT stars who have been inserted into the regular WWE lines, Mattel should have realized that collectors want these characters. Even the ring, which I did purchase as well, is a perfect centerpiece for the line.

In any case, don't hesitate to pick these figures up when you see them. While Aries will probably be a part of the Mattel line for some time to come, No Way Jose is still technically in "developmental." He could go on to be a star with dozens of figures or fizzle and see his only appearance here. At "retail exclusive prices," buying the complete set is certainly an investment, but the special packaging and unique character options is enough to ensure that most of the figures will not remain on shelves long. This is almost a "Best of the Independents" action figure line at retail.

The future does indeed appear to be now!

Thursday, June 29, 2017

Wrestling MarketWatch: WWF Magazine

As great as the other publications were, there was something special when you picked up an issue of the official WWF Magazine. It was glossy, all color, and all slick. The photos of WWF superstars and events were second-to-none since, for the majority of the magazine's heyday, outside photographers were banned from ringside. It combined all the "news" that was fit to print along with the legendary merchandise catalog and packaged it together in one nicely disguised additional piece of marketing. The superstars, the managers, the announcers, and even the ladies--they all made it into the magazine. While it may be gone today (aside from the occasional "special"), the decades of existing issues continue to stand the test of time.

In this edition of MarketWatch, we'll look at some of the recent auction sale prices of WWF Magazine. Instead of showcasing the milestone issues that have been largely covered here in the past, we'll focus on some of the less-remembered covers. As is usually the case, even if an autographed example is shown, the prices given are reflecting unsigned pieces.

*We kick it off with an issue from when the magazine was still bi-monthly. It was August/September 1985 and the "Rock N Wrestling Connection" was still in full force. Who was at the center of that era? Cyndi Lauper, of course. Who were three of the biggest baddies? Rowdy Roddy Piper, The Iron Sheik, and Nikolai Volkoff. All four of these WWE Legends (I would say Hall of Famers, but Lauper continues to be inexplicably snubbed) create a cover image that is pure '80s WWF. As discussed on this blog years ago, the keen reader will spot a photo inside of the issue of Fred Blassie that is more than obviously the inspiration for his LJN Wrestling Superstars figure. This issue recently sold at auction for $30.

*Still deep in the cartoony land of late '80s WWF brings us to the January 1989 issue. On the cover is none other than "that piece of garbage" (per Gorilla Monsoon), Brother Love. This was less than a year after the character debuted. If you've been watching the recent WWE Network additions of Prime Time Wrestling, you know that he was still a big deal from week to week, advancing many storylines on "The Brother Love Show." Decades later in WWE Magazine it was mentioned that this was one of the lowest-selling issues of all-time, but that could have been just a made-up blurb. Nonetheless, the issue featuring the man who "loooooooves" you recently sold for $20.

*October 1992 brings us one of the more underrated stars of the mid-90s (in my opinion, anyway), Tatanka. The Native American superstar may have come along just a few years too late, but I will always fondly remember his battles with Shawn Michaels, Bam Bam Bigelow, and IRS among others. He made an amazing cover shot, too, in his only official WWF Magazine cover appearance. Tatanka still actively competes on the independent scene to this day, and is one of the nicest superstars that you'd ever want to meet. He is very active with fans via social media, as well. This underrated issue just recently sold for $13.

*His voice may have sounded completely different, but Bret "The Hitman" Hart did in fact guest star on The Simpsons back in 1997. To promote the episode, he also shared the cover of WWF Magazine with Bart Simpson in May of that year. It's a bright, vibrant cover that would be very much out of place in the very-soon-to-be "Attitude"-filled world of the WWF just several months later. Why did Bret use a generic wrestler voice? As the story goes, he was originally to voice a fictional wrestler. When the produces of The Simpsons saw the fans go nuts for the star when he arrived for his recording, the decision was made to instead animate "The Hitman" himself. The issue recently sold at prices ranging from $10 to $25.

*She may be gone way too soon, but her groundbreaking legacy lives on. Chyna may have done some things to tarnish that legacy in her later career, but for around four years she was certainly an attraction unlike anything that the wrestling world had seen before. In my meetings with her, she was nothing but gracious. My copy of this issue is autographed, as it was always one of the main items that I wanted her to sign. I'm glad that it got to happen. The August 2000 issue of WWF Magazine, featuring the "9th Wonder of the World" in one of her most beautiful shots, recently sold for just $8.00.

Five issues is a tiny sampling, but many of the prices prove that the magazine is still very undervalued monetarily. As with so much wrestling memorabilia, prices will go up and down as time marches on. What's important, as always, is the value to you, the fan. Maybe you grabbed that Brother Love issue off of the newsstand in '89 or you couldn't believe that Bart was standing with Bret in '97. Memories are the true treasure that you can't put a price on.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Hot Rod's Legacy of Memorabilia

The last time that Rowdy Roddy Piper was profiled at length in this blog was around the time of his passing. It was quite the sad time, as we had just lost Dusty Rhodes as well. Neither man is one who should be mourned long. It doesn't fit into the character of either man. Both brought countless joy to millions of people worldwide. In the case of Hot Rod, my friends and I highly rank him as one of the nicest wrestlers to meet. He may even top that list, and will likely never be replaced. Piper had a way of making any fan feel like an old friend. He was special.

Roddy Piper was at his peak of popularity (both "good" and "bad") just when the WWF marketing machine was taking off. Many remember his likeness showing up on everything from lunch boxes to trading cards, but that wasn't where the "Rowdy" memorabilia began. In addition to magazine and program covers, Piper's mug showed up on the cover of the 1983 Georgia Championship Wrestling calendar. Pictured with his broadcast colleague Gordon Solie. The feisty villain had just recently turned "good" by saving Solie from an attack by Don Muraco.

Just a few years later, Piper was making headlines on the cover of the then-fairly new official World Wrestling Federation Magazine. Though he would share the spotlight a few times in those early years with the likes of Captain Lou Albano, Cyndi Lauper, and even fellow villains Nikolai Volkoff and The Iron Sheik, my favorite "cover" moment arrived on the December 1985/January 1986 issue. An artists rendering depicts the "Hot Rod" celebrating Christmas the "Rowdy Way," complete with "Bah Humbug" t-shirt. "Ebenezer Piper," anyone?

And no one deserved their own dedicated Coliseum Video title more than the rowdy Scotsman. "Rowdy Roddy Piper's Greatest Hits" delivered exactly what it advertised. There were highlights from classic Piper's Pit segments, overviews of his biggest feuds, and of course matches. One of the most memorable moments on the video is when Rowdy Roddy Piper interviews...Rowdy Roddy Piper. It's "Hot Rod" at his heelish best. On a personal note, this was the final item that I ever had Roddy autograph.

How about action figures? There have been a load. Everyone remembers the classic LJN Wrestling Superstar figure with the cloth kilt. There are some figures such as the Winston Rock N' Wrestling eraser and the convention exclusive G.I. Joe that are stuff of collecting legend. There's even what is likely the newest figure, a Funko Mystery Mini that truly captures Roddy's spirit in its likeness. But my personal favorite may be the one that I played with the most as a child, his entry into the Hasbro WWF line. Something about it was just fun to play with, even if the figure didn't represent Roddy in his wrestling gear. Maybe it's the maniacal facial expression or the great detail on the clothing that still makes it stand out to me.

This is just a small sampling of "Hot Rod's" lasting legacy of items. You may prefer something related to his movie career or his oft-forgotten venture into music with the "I'm Your Man" release. It's all here for us to cherish forever. There's even a new book written by two of Piper's children. Although I have yet to check it out, I'm sure that it will only add more great tales and stories to the already lengthy Piper legend. And will we see more Rowdy Roddy Piper figures in the future? To quote the man himself, "You damn betcha, man!" As long as the bagpipes play on, Roddy Piper lives...

...and I bet he's still outta bubblegum.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Is "The Artist's" First Mattel Figure A Masterpiece?

Traditionally, WWE is not a place where foreign stars thrive. There have been exceptions, but either the WWE audience does not gel with stars from outside of America or the company itself doesn't do a good job of playing to their strengths. Regardless, it's a trend that many current fans are hoping to see end. Why? They want to see Shinsuke Nakamura go to the top. They want to see the star who tore up rings in New Japan Pro Wrestling do the same in WWE. With what is arguably WWE's deepest roster in history, can "The Artist" do just that?

Nakamura has certainly arrived to a lot of hype, both to NXT and the main WWE roster. His first action figure is no exception. Usually reserved for legends, Nakamura's first Mattel figure is part of the "Defining Moments" line, highlighting a specific moment in time out of a long career. This figure celebrates Nakamura's arrival in NXT, which was anticipated by many fans worldwide. It happened at NXT TakeOver: Dallas during the weekend of WrestleMania 32 where Nakamura defeated NXT favorite Sami Zayn.

The packaging for these Defining Moments figures stands out and causes a rise of about $5 for what otherwise would be a Mattel Elite figure. The packaging makes a great difference if you're keeping the figure inside, but otherwise it is just a $5 upcharge for those looking to open it up. It is nice to get a look at all sides of the figure before it's opened and, aside from only one example that springs to mind (Defining Moments John Cena), the figures do not float in the packaging.

The Nakamura figure includes two entrance vests, which are both relatively easy to remove and replace. With sleeveless outfits like these, the rubber/vinyl used is more than welcome. It's with sleeved jackets and shirts where soft goods should always be used. When figures cannot be posed because of attire, it suddenly turns from "action figure" to "statue," but that rant isn't valid here. The figure also includes a removable arm band on the left arm. It comes loose when fiddling with the vests, but otherwise stays put.

For some reason, the pants make the figure seem heavier than the rather slender Nakamura should be, but I'm not complaining. I don't recall seeing the torso pieces used before, and they may very be unique to this figure. You can certainly do some of Nakamura's crazier moves, but his much-touted physical gestures are limited. I could see another figure with specially sculpted hand gestures coming down the line. The facial likeness and hairstyle are dead on.

Any fan of Nakamura will be happy with this figure. There is already a basic figure on the market, as well, but thus far this is the only one in the "Elite" style. That will undoubtedly change. If the extra $5 for the "Defining Moments" version bothers you, I'm sure that you will have another shot down the line. I could see a version with the NXT Championship being a possibility.

How will Shinsuke Nakamura fare on the main WWE roster? His popularity should serve him well, but I would predict that age, the language barrier, and the company's track record with foreign stars will keep him from being the number one guy. He can be a shining star as an upper-midcarder, and there's nothing wrong with that despite what some current fans would have you believe. Not everyone has to be the top guy. In wrestling, it's the illusion that everyone WANTS to be the top guy that matters. Some make it, some don't, but with wrestling it's the constant struggles that truly matter. I have a feeling that many WWE superstars with have their hands full trying to ascend past "The Artist" on their way to the top.

Thursday, June 8, 2017

Some Favorite (and Least Favorite) Items of the Stars

As the season where I do most of my wrestling-related trips draws near, it brings back floods of memories. An interaction, a moment, a word, an item. This is a hobby where nearly every piece of memorabilia has a story, especially those that bear autographs. Did the star have anything to say when he or she signed that particular item? Sometimes even the most silent stars will comment on certain treasures. It may surprise some that a man of few words like Harley Race would know the history of his own action figures, but he absolutely does. Many can pinpoint the exact time and place where a photo was taken. And some will even make sure to note when a figure, card, or photo is their favorite.

One of the first stars that I can recall commenting on something being their "all-time" favorite is a man who is no stranger to classic photos. "The Living Legend" Bruno Sammartino does indeed have a preference in the absolute library of photography that exists chronicling his career. The photo features Sammartino sitting in a posed studio shot. The black and white photo also features a hint of the classic WWWF Championship belt, the original of which is missing in action. The photo has been distributed many ways, but even appeared as a trading card in the 1991 Wrestling Legends set.

Speaking of cards, a man who is still active in WWE has his favorite, dating back to the WCW days. While you might think that Dustin Rhodes would choose a card of his legendary Goldust character, it's actually the opposite. Showcasing the classic southern style of "The Natural" Dustin Rhodes, the card is straight from the WCW Main Event card set produced by Cardz in 1995. Though Dustin has other cards in the set, this one is from a number of cards produced that highlight individual moves. At that point in time, no one was more associated with the bulldog than Rhodes. The photo is an amazing action shot from his match with Blacktop Bully at SuperBrawl V.

One of the top enemies of the Rhodes family once commented to me on his favorite action figure. It was as the Jakks WWE Classic Superstars figure line was in full force, and Arn Anderson was signing many examples of his new figure on that particular day. While Jakks made several figures of Anderson, they did tend to be a bit more buff than "The Enforcer" actually was. While signing my Galoob figure of himself, he commented to Dean Malenko and me that he preferred the vintage figure due to it having a much more lifelike look to it. Seeing as that it's one of my all-time favorite wrestling figures, I could not have agreed more.

Another favorite figure of mine, maybe more so due to presentation factors, did come from Jakks. This one is of a legend from both ECW and WWE, Rob Van Dam. Limited to 5,000, this particular RVD figure not only features the classic "Rob-Van-Dam" pose, but also reflects the brief period when the high-flying star held both the ECW and WWE Championships. Also included is a soft goods ECW t-shirt to fit the figure and a briefcase to reflect RVD's time as "Mr. Money In The Bank." What's also nice is that the figure was packaged in a style where the figure and accessories are showcased as opposed to the packaging itself. At a signing in Atlanta, RVD told me that this was indeed his favorite figure of himself. Who could disagree?

Of course, a few stars have "least favorite" items, too. One that really sticks out to me is from former TNA Knockout SoCal Val. How the beautiful redhead could have any "least favorite" pieces is beyond me, but she does have one photo that she doesn't particularly care for. In the promotional Impact Wrestling 8x10, Val is wearing a blue polka dot bikini. Val has told me several times that she doesn't care for the photo as she feels that she looks "12 years old" in it. Well, I know most fans would agree with me in that she looks like a full-grown woman in the photo, but you can be the judge with the provided image. Just don't take too long "examining" the photo. It is there solely for science.

And while many might think that Ole Anderson would only have "least favorite" items, I've only ever heard him gripe about two. Those are his two cards from the 1988 NWA trading cards series by Wonderama. To be fair, neither picture used is particularly great. especially the "dancing" card, as he put it. I paraphrased the rest of his description to keep the blog family friendly. Oh that Ole!

Thankfully, most wrestling stars embrace their merchandise. It's a record of the blood, sweat, and tears that went into their careers. Learning of all of these favorites listed here was solely by accident. Maybe I should start asking about more for future reference? Stay tuned...