Thursday, August 17, 2017

The Memorabilia of SummerSlam

When WWE decided to try and replicate the WrestleMania weekend experience, they chose SummerSlam as the centerpiece. While anticipation over the story lines and matches never comes close to those featured at Mania, SummerSlam has indeed been a marquee event for nearly three decades. Though the card lacks the uniqueness of the Royal Rumble, it is a perfectly positioned "summer treat" for wrestling fans. And as we know on this blog, that means goodies...

Some of my favorites revolve around the early editions of the event. The Ultimate Warrior heavily factored into the first five SummerSlam events from 1988 to 1992. In all honesty, The Warrior may have had a bigger impact at the event than his contemporary, Hulk Hogan. With his wild persona and insane look, he was a perfect fit for a "carefree" summer show. He took the Intercontinental title at the first two events and successfully defended the World Wrestling Federation championship at the third. A promotional button featuring a classic Ultimate Warrior promotional shot exists for the latter event.

Speaking of the 1990 SummerSlam event, it was at that show in which "The Mouth of the South" Jimmy Hart donned official SummerSlam shades. The bright neon orange was a staple of the time and was a perfect accessory for the always "loud" Hart. These shades were actually a promotional item used to advertise the event in the early 1990's. These, and other items, were popular giveaways from cable companies. Yes, at one time, cable systems were locally owned companies that you could actually interact with. This is indeed how I procured my pair, thanks to a local cable outfit.

As with most large WWF events, programs were a big deal with SummerSlam. Even in the last decade, WWE has continued to produced unique publications for the event. In 2009, most of the promotional artwork for the event was made to look like a vintage wrestling poster. Both the program and the ringside chair reflected this, with a "ragged" and "worn" look given to the art, while the WWE Superstars were framed in stars, just as they may have been on a poster had SummerSlam taken place in the '60s or '70s. It was a great concept. WWE produced a special program for the 2010 event, as well.

But my favorite piece? Sentiment takes over, as usual. As I discussed in my twentieth anniversary celebration of the event, SummerSlam 1995 is near and dear to my heart. It was the first pay-per-view event that I attended live. It was held in my hometown of Pittsburgh. It was also a promised a way. Since my dad's birthday was August 31, I always promised him that I would take him to SummerSlam. While 12-year-old me didn't pay for the tickets, we did attend. Returning from a restroom break, my dad surprised me with the laminated poster of the show featuring Diesel. I treasure it to this day.

It's "The Biggest Party of the Summer!" Take in NXT TakeOver! Hop a plane or train and go to Brooklyn yourself. The "easy breezy" days of summer are about to end. Make those all important plans right now to be a part of SummerSlam! No, I'm not Mean Gene, but in all seriousness, enjoy the event, and treasure the memories! And while you're at it, you may just be at the edge of your seat...

Thursday, August 10, 2017

The "Granddaddy of 'Em All" of Wrestling Conventions...

Over the past decade wrestling conventions have popped everywhere. Just like in other genres, "cons" allow fans to mingle with stars in addition to meeting with other average Joe's who have the same interests that they do. These wrestling events provide access that would have been unheard of even just a few decades ago. While there were smaller fan gatherings that occasionally received attention from the wrestling world, it was nothing like the modern day scene. And as far as these current conventions, nothing compared to the mighty NWA Fanfest.

You may have heard it referred to as "the Charlotte Fanfest," "Greg Price's Fanfest," or "NWA Legends Fanfest," but it all really started as a tribute to Jim Crockett Promotions under the name "Mid-Atlantic Wrestling Legends Fanfest." 2004 actually saw three different events held under the banner, and my first came over Thanksgiving weekend of that year which was deemed "A Tribute to Starrcade." Never in a million years did I think that I would be up close and personal with Harley Race, Ricky Steamboat, Greg Valentine, Arn Anderson, Tully Blanchard, and Ole Anderson, not to mention seeing legends like Dusty Rhodes and The Masked Superstar who I'd already had the pleasure of meeting. It was a wrestling dream come true.

I would go on to attend quite a few more of the Fanfests in Charlotte, in addition to those which branched out to Rockville, MD and Atlanta, GA. Each one had its own unique flavor and special guests. Many fans began to view the event as a family reunion. Not only were they seeing their "television family" from the old days, but they were reuniting with the new family that they had made thanks to Fanfest. Promoter Greg Price and his tireless staff made sure that this atmosphere was cultivated each year and never disappeared.

In addition to the personal feeling of the weekends, fans got to see and witness things right before their eyes that they never could have fathomed. The Horsemen together again? Dusty Rhodes returning to the Charlotte stomping grounds of Crockett Promotions? Jimmy Valiant and Paul Jones hugging and reminiscing? Harley Race and Ric Flair sitting down to discuss Starrcade? The legendary dog collar match revisited? It all happened at various Fanfests, and those are events just off the top of my head.

Of course, there are bittersweet memories as well. Rowdy Roddy Piper performed a stellar comedy act at 2011's Fanfest, only to have the news of his death break during the 2015 weekend. Many of us vividly remember managers Sir Oliver Humperdink and Gary Hart running around Fanfest like a couple of kids at Disney World. A few years later, Humpy would induct his friend into the Hall of Heroes (an event held at Fanfest) shortly before passing away himself. And of course all of the names like Sherri Martel, Buddy Roberts, Jimmy Snuka, Ivan Koloff, Ernie Ladd, and Jack Brisco, to list a few, who attended the event before their deaths.

This year's Fanfest was cancelled for unknown reasons. It would be a true shame if we have seen the last of this great event, as no other convention offers what Greg's show did. I often liked to say that it had "something for everyone," and I wasn't lying. With my very own eyes I saw folks both young and young at heart enjoy the legends and living the memories that were simultaneously being made. It was a spirit that is not often able to be captured, bottled, and released year after year. At Fanfest, that was the magic that indeed happened.

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Could it be the autograph of "The Saint?"

September 23, 2017 marks what would have been the 100th birthday of El Santo. To simply call the man one of the pioneers of lucha libre would be an understatement. It has often been told to us American fans that we simply could not fathom what El Santo means to his home country of Mexico. That his significance to his people was unlike anything that a professional wrestler here in the United States would ever achieve. That being said, did an authentic El Santo autograph finally make its way to my collection?

"If this thing is real, I'd love to have it."

The above sentence isn't my own quote, but when I first came across this signed photo, I suddenly imagined I'd walked into an episode of Pawn Stars. Since I had no way of personally authenticating it, I looked at some facts. I acquired the photo very inexpensively in what seemed to be a broken up collection along with some unsigned photos of other stars. The collection came from Texas, a state where obtaining autographs of luchadores would not be unheard of.

"It looks great to me, but I have to be sure. Mind if I call in an expert?"

Unfortunately, there aren't many lucha autograph experts to be found on the Internet, at least not readily. What's even worse is that there don't seem to be any examples of El Santo's autograph available for viewing, either. When searching for the autograph one only yields results featuring the signature of El Santo's son, El Hijo del Santo. In essence, I had to go on my own judgment...

"My opinion? It appears to be real."

The other photos in the collection are all of stars who worked in the Houston area in 1974. El Santo did in fact wrestle in that territory at the time. How good was the legend at signing autographs? There's no doubt in my mind that an astute fan could have obtained the signature before or after a Houston show. Until we have other examples, it's as good as any other El Santo autograph that would show up with that good of a back story.

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Two Legendary Powers Make A Retro Return...

Saving the best for last in our 2017 "Mattel Month" here on the blog? Maybe. It depends on whether or not you're one of the mass number of collectors who has been blown away by Mattel's WWE Retro figure line. In case you've been under a rock, earlier this year Mattel released a line of "retro" figures designed to match the beloved Hasbro WWF figure line of the early 1990s. While we've already looked at the first four figures in Series 1, today we're wrapping it up with The Undertaker and The Ultimate Warrior.

These two legends, while part of Series 1, did not ship in the initial cases sent to Wal Mart, the exclusive retailer of the line. After confusion and headaches alike, they're finally here. Hopefully Series 2, consisting of Stone Cold Steve Austin, The Rock, Mankind, Kane, Triple H, and Sting will not suffer the same issue. Regardless, all of the figures from both series come packaged on cards strongly resembling the Hasbro packaging that they are a homage to. As with the earlier batch, the cards are just a tad thinner than their vintage counterparts. This makes it somewhat difficult to find nice examples.

Both figures again have "Authentic Superstar Moves" replacing Hasbro's "Real Wrestling Action." The Undertaker has spring loaded arms to perform a slam (think Hasbro's Sid Justice, Ludvig Borga, etc.) while The Ultimate Warrior utilizes a new action that originated with the Retro John Cena figure. The figure's torso springs to the side when pulled back for a similar slam. Although this feature wasn't native to Hasbro, it certainly fits right in.

Speaking of fitting right in, it's interesting to compare these two new figures to the vintage versions. These are the first, and thus far only planned, retro figures by Mattel to have also been included in the original Hasbro line. They are very nice figures and blend perfectly with the originals. Were I making the decisions these two would not have hit the line for quite awhile. There are too many available names who didn't make it into the original line for new versions of these two legends to have crept in so soon. As listed above, Series 2 features six all-new names to the style.

Whoever is designing these has obviously done their homework and likely grew up with the line. Many of the nuances in the sculpting and sheer presence of these figures seem as if the designers were staring at a vintage Hasbro collection during the process. The Undertaker's hat is not removable, nor should it be. The Ultimate Warrior doesn't have quite all of the designs that his real-life gear did. It shouldn't. These are direct reflections of Hasbro. Even with the popularity of the Hasbro line, no one could have imagined a line like this in the year 2017. Yet, here we are.

The distribution of these latter two figures in Series 1 was disappointing. It caused collectors to wonder if they would easily be able to "Collect Them All." That is never a good thing with action figures, especially with a niche line like this. I don't know the specifics of contracts, but I would also think that Mattel would want this line at wide release as soon as possible. The reaction has been incredible and there would be no doubt that it will continue. Ring playsets and other non-figure releases (WrestleMania ring cart, anyone?) would be ideal as well.

"Retro" is indeed alive and well.

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!