Thursday, December 15, 2011

The Von Erich Legacy Is Remembered...And Continued

They say that if you weren't there, you have no idea just how crazy it was. A buzz created by a group of talented young men. Insane fans. Screaming girls. No, not BeatleMania. Von Erich Mania.

Throughout the better part of the 1980's, pro wrestling in Texas was defined by the Von Erich family. Patriarch Fritz was originally a hated "German" wrestler known for the dreaded "Iron Claw" finisher. By this time, Fritz was the owner of World Class Championship Wrestling. WCCW had a television show that had a reach as far as Israel, excellent production values, a hot in-ring product, and Fritz's sons as the starring babyfaces.

David, Kevin, and Kerry Von Erich were no doubt the cornerstone of WCCW. Their seemingly endless feud with The Fabulous Freebirds is lovingly remembered to this day. Sadly, the tragedies of the Von Erich family are more often discussed. The deaths of Fritz's sons Jack, David, Mike, Chris, and Kerry have been chronicled everywhere from tabloid television shows to WWE DVD releases.

As usual in this blog we celebrate the good in pro wrestling and thus choose to remember the great memories that the family has brought us in the ring and will continue to do in the very near future. Just this past week it was announced that Kevin Von Erich's sons Ross and Marshall will debut for Pro Wrestling NOAH in Japan in January 2012. Trained under the experienced eye of Harley Race, there's great hope that the new generation of the Von Erich clan will pick up where their father and uncles left off.

Keeping the tradition of the previous generation of Von Erich's alive are three new figures in Mattel's WWE Legends line. To say that these figures have had a rocky road to release is an understatement.

Originally announced well over a year ago, WCCW-styled figures of Kevin and Kerry were slated to be released in a two-pack while the WWF Texas Tornado version of Kerry was to be released as a single in a WWE Legends series. Due to over production and a high price point to the first series of Legends two-packs released exclusively through Toys "R" Us, the second series, planned to include the Von Erich's and The Rockers, was canceled. While The Rockers ended up being sold through Mattel's online collectors store, Kevin and Kerry were split up and included in the Legends Series 6 along with the Tornado figure and new versions of The Ultimate Warrior and Eddy Guerrero.

While this seemed like a collector-pleasing solution, all was still not well with the WWE Legends line. Mattel announced that the 6th series would be the last sold at retail and that future releases would only be sold through their collectors site. The series was ultimately released, although at first only to online sites that sell the figures at a higher price than brick and mortar stores. After much fear in the collecting community that the series would never hit stores, in the past month the figures have found their way into Toys "R" Us, Wal Mart, and K-Mart.

I'm pleased to announce that the wait was worth the while. Despite their huge popularity in the 1980's, the Von Erich family had only ever seen a single action figure release. This was the Texas Tornado figure in the Hasbro WWF line released less than a year before Kerry's death. Finally we not only have another Tornado but a Kerry from the WCCW days and Kevin as well.

I've seen many non-collector fans of the Von Erich's speculate and even grumble as to why David and the other Von Erich brothers were not produced as well. I'll repeat my rebuttal here: we're lucky to have the ones that did end up produced. The figure companies are only going to produce characters that they feel are going to sell. While old school fans can say "Well, I'd buy it if they made it..." until they're blue in the face, when push comes to shove 95% wouldn't end up buying it. That's where economics come into the picture. Early reports are that The Rockers two pack released through the Mattel site has suffered from disappointing sales as well. This only ensures that less and less Legends figures are made until the concept is done completely. Does it please me? No. Does it please my wallet? Yes.

The fact is that we have several great figures including one legendary wrestler who has never before been immortalized in plastic. The figures come packaged on the standard Legends card backing with attractive artwork of the stars. Mattel made an interesting mistake early on here with a picture of Texas Tornado-era Kerry on the WCCW-era Kerry figure package and vice versa. Many fans would not notice this, but it is worth pointing out. On the other hand, the Kerry figures are a bit more attractive on the card than the Kevin figure. The Kerry figures are a bit bulkier and take up more of the plastic bubble.

All three figures sport a right hand positioned in the "Iron Claw" hold which is a very nice touch. All three also include individual entrance gear that is extremely accurate. Kevin's jacket is made of a cheaper quality material than Kerry's gear, but in the package it's really impossible to notice.

Kevin is one that I'd have thought to be a hard likeness to capture. I'm not sure why I'd think that, but Mattel definitely proved me wrong. Kevin's face sculpt is easily one of the best in the entire history of the Mattel WWE collection. Kerry's is the same on the both figures. His is very, very, very good, but I prefer the Hasbro Kerry likeness just a bit more. Nothing at all to complain about in this department.

All three figures have reused bodies, but I doubt anyone will be complaining here either. Kerry uses a very chiseled and defined torso while Kevin is slighter. Very true to life for both men. It should also be noted that Kevin is indeed barefoot as he was throughout his career. This does not hurt the figures ability to stand at all.

The figures compare well to others in the line and will look great displayed with their friends and foes from WCCW and beyond. Slap an IC title on Tornado and an NWA title on the Kerry and memories in plastic have rarely looked so good.

Much like the glory of the Von Erich wrestling dynasty, the greatness of these figures is a tad bittersweet. Seeing the detail and work that went into these figures makes one wonder just what kind of magic Mattel could make with other territorial stars who have never received a figure. As was mentioned above, it's getting less and less likely that we'll ever see such treasures produced.

My verdict? You don't have to ask. These are amazing figures that should be in the collection of any Von Erich fan or collector. There is an initial price gauging right now due to the online retailers having these first and the news that this is the last series of Legends to be sold at retail. This should end and prices will drop. Ultimately, I'd advise to wait and pick these up at retail. The Guerrero and Warrior figures also in the series will be more recognizable to children thus leaving Kerry and Kevin for the adult collector.

****"From The Musty, Yellowed Pages..."****

The Wrestler, September 1970, Page 49

In keeping with this blog's policy of bringing you the latest finds in vintage magazines, I present another future star as a youngster.

A few months back this mini-column re-introduced a magazine find that I had actually spread on the Internet nearly a decade earlier. Indeed, the Human Suplex Machine was an Inside Wrestling Pen Pal as a child. Today we present one who might just be a bit more "Fabulous."

The last name may be one letter off, but there is no doubt that the future "Fabulous One" Steve Keirn is the youngster here. Yes, Skinner himself. The photo used HAS to be from a few years earlier, as Keirn hardly looks the age given of 19.

19 years old in 1970? Check. Keirn was born in 1951. Miami, Florida? Check. Keirn lives there to this day and runs WWE's developmental affiliate FCW. Same smile and ears? Check. Favorite wrestler Jack Bruno? Uhhh...who? I'm fairly sure they meant to print Jack Brisco.

Unless Keirn was looking into the future and thinking of The Rock's character in Race To Witch Mountain?

Regardless, our lil Skinner certainly was a sharp dressed man.