Thursday, July 26, 2012

Hasbro Keeps On Keepin' On

In keeping up with the trends in wrestling memorabilia collecting, it seems as if I'm writing about the Hasbro WWF figure line at least once a year.  The line, celebrating it's 22nd anniversary this year, is riding a tidal wave of popularity with no end in sight.  From collectors re-amassing their long lost childhood collections to new collectors discovering the line for the first time, there certainly is a lot to be on the hunt for...and write about.

As I've previously discussed, Hasbro is experiencing the same rediscovery period that the LJN WWF line went through about a decade ago.  While the Remco AWA and Galoob WCW collections have their unabashed fans, I would argue that those lines have never reached quite the same heights in popularity due to a lack of scope.  While they are great figures with an impressive array of names, Remco and Galoob's total of around 20-30 different characters is doubled by the lineups of LJN and Hasbro.

The Hasbro WWF figures do pack a lot of charm into a small package.  The likenesses are close to the wrestlers and the colorful look of the figures place them right into the 1990-1994 WWF time frame in which they were produced.  The "Real Wrestling Action" included in each of the figures is as welcomed by collectors today as it was by kids of the era, making moves "come to life" even if they did not always match the moves done by the respective wrestlers.

What has been interesting to watch is how secondary market values on many of the figures have changed.  Figures like Andre the Giant and Dusty Rhodes were deemed "rare" even while the line was still in production.  Carded examples of those figures still see high prices and have been joined by the likes of Ax, Smash, the second Brutus Beefcake (black, white, and red tights), the third Ultimate Warrior (purple), and more that were much more frequently found at retail than Andre and Rhodes yet still have climbed in demand.

The infamous final series, aka the "green carded" series, remains highly valued as well.  Not only did the series feature members of the WWF's "New Generation" which had been long awaited such as The 1-2-3 Kid and The Smoking Gunns, the series had just made it to Hills Department Stores and a few other regional retailers before the entire line ended.  The initial shipments included Kid, The Gunns, Ludvig Borga, and Adam Bomb with repaints of Yokozuna and Crush added a few weeks later.

Like with any toy line, collectors will often wonder, discuss, and debate just what could have been had the line lasted longer.  I've previously visited the long-standing and controversial rumor of an "orange carded" series that would've followed the "green cards."  Existing evidence validating that these figures were indeed in Hasbro's plans is talked about to this day but has yet to surface.  Fans have also continually speculated about the "canal" under the ring ropes of the Hasbro WWF ring toy.  Could this have been a future spot for a steel cage accessory?

My personal speculation begins and ends with the Hasbro King of the Ring ring that saw limited release in 1994.  The ring base is molded in yellow plastic while the ring posts are red.  While the colors aren't totally out of the King of the Ring theme under which they were released, I still tend to think that the item may have started out as a Hulk Hogan-themed ring.  Considering that the Hulkster was in the midst of his brief WWF title-winning return when this item would've been planned in 1993, the time frame matches up.  Again, this theory is only fact-fueled speculation on my behalf and no evidence has ever been presented to back it up.

The King of the Ring ring seemed to mark the end of Hasbro truly caring about the line.  With a wealth of non-action figure toys such as Damien the snake, dress-up kits, and the legendary Royal Rumble mini-ring being produced in the early years, Hasbro almost seemed to know that they would not have the license beyond 1994.  With the wrestling industry suffering as a whole, ending their WWF association was a business move that Hasbro most likely did not regret at the time.

With the trend of Hasbro collecting in full force, Mattel hinted last year about a new WWE line that would bring fans back to the days of past figures.  This, of course, turned out to be Mattel's WWE Brawlin' Buddie line.  The line, though heavily promoted by WWE, has been a disappointment to collectors due to being quite smaller than the real Tonka WWF Wrestling Buddies and because of wishful thinking for a new Hasbro-style line.

Will we ever see Hasbro-style WWE figures again?  I'd wager against it, although most wrestling fans know to never say never.  Just like in the actual wrestling business, nostalgia is usually delivered in small doses.  After the success of Jakks Classic Superstars line, I have a feeling that we will frequently see the "Legends" in merchandising for years to come.  To me, that is as comforting as it will get.

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Thursday, July 19, 2012

Monday Night Raw Bats 1,000

Did you know...that WWE celebrates the 1,000th episode of Monday Night Raw next week?  Of course you did.  You also knew that Monday Night Raw is the longest running episodic prime time show in the history of television.  To Hell with the fact that all of the "trailing" shows like Gunsmoke and The Simpsons don't run every week like pro wrestl...err...sports entertainment does, but why let facts get in the way of WWE truths?

Nonetheless, Raw Episode #1,000 is upon us.  While I still wonder if a few early telecasts that opened with Rob Bartlett in an empty Manhattan Center announcing that highlights from previous episodes (essentially reruns) would be shown in lieu of a new episode actually count, it's an impressive feat regardless.

I can still remember when I first heard of Monday Night Raw.  It was on a late-1992 episode of Prime Time Wrestling.  Vince McMahon was at the helm of the long table which was the central part of PTW in it's final form.  I'm not sure if it was the exact same episode, but it was right around the time that Bobby Heenan introduced Jerry "The King" Lawler as the newest member of the table discussion as a replacement for the recently babyface-turned Mr. Perfect.  In the episode that included the Raw announcement, Vince spoke "via satellite" with the newest tag team to join the World Wrestling Federation, that being The Steiner Brothers.  It was an exciting time to be a WWF fan.

Although excited, I didn't quite comprehend the concept all at once.  Due to Vince's passion-infused voice, I misheard his announcement as "Monday Night Rawl."  I didn't know what a "Rawl" was, nor do I to this day, but who really knows what a "Raw" is, either?  Fast forward to the first episode and while I finally got that the title was "Raw," I had no clue why Woody Allen and Mia Farrow would be battling it out in a cage match the following week.  Yes, as some sort of joke, that was indeed announced for the second episode, complete with accompanying graphic.

While those two never made it to Raw, it's amazing just how many people from both wrestling and other forms of entertainment have.  In a world where wrestling telecasts have often been looked upon as low brow entertainment, Raw has become a cultural mainstay.  People know Raw.  People know that it's on Monday Night.  While the winds of change blew that mainstream mentality to WCW and Monday Nitro for a few years in the 1990's, Raw has stood the test of time.

The upcoming 1,000th episode celebration should be memorable, if anything.  Apparently quite an impressive list of past talent is being assembled for the show.  While most will probably only have cameo appearances lasting a few seconds, it's always nice when those stars are remembered.  The 10th Anniversary special of 2003 was sorely lacking in that area in a time when the "Attitude Era" was pretty much the only "past" still being celebrated.  The 1000th episode guest list will also be interesting as to see if there is any "Raw" criteria at all being considered.  Taking into consideration that many of the Legends and other past superstars often used by WWE today had little or nothing to do with Raw, we may see an entirely different group of stars than is the norm.

Whether or not we get to see the cameos that we want, the show will still evoke many Raw memories.  My own personal favorite would be the very first broadcast that I had the opportunity to attend live.  It was July of 1997 and while the "Attitude Era" seeds had definitely been planted, the bloom was not yet in full force.  It was a full event with matches for Shotgun Saturday Night being taped before and after the actual Raw episode.  There was even a dark match main event featuring a triple threat involving three of WWE's biggest stars of all time: The Undertaker, Bret Hart, and Stone Cold Steve Austin.  The episode itself featured the infamous Hart "enema" promo as well as his pinfall loss to The Patriot.

Other memorable Raw moments for me would include the late-1993 Intercontinental Title Battle Royal (and Ramon-Martel "final" the following week), The Price I$ Raw, the return of Lawler and Ric Flair in late-2001, the final wrestling event at the Pittsburgh Civic Arena (Raw 5/10/10), the debut of The Radicalz (also here in Pittsburgh), the subsequent 10-man tag team match involving the Radicalz with a ridiculously hot Dallas crowd, the 2001 Austin/HHH-Benoit/Jericho match, the Eddy Guerrero-Rob Van Dam ladder match...the list goes on and on.

With only a few segments announced for the 1,000th episode, it is anyone's guess what we will see this coming Monday Night.  It's Vince McMahon's variety show, and I'd speculate that with three hours and a plethora of surprises, variety is exactly what we will get.  The question that I have been posing is one that I have wondered if WWE itself has even thought of:  "Do we get to do it all over again in January for the 20th Anniversary?"

Uncut.  Uncensored.  Uncooked.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

The State of Wrestling Collecting Address--2012 Edition

"Out with the old, in with the new."

That's one statement that you'll never see promoted in these pages.  Myself, like many collectors, thrive upon the glories, and glorious memorabilia, of the past.  That being said, longtime readers will know that I frequently review new product and am always open to what's coming in the future.  I decided that it might be fun to once again take a look at what's on the horizon in wrestling collectibles. 

Although nothing like the '80s "boom" period or the Attitude Era, there is a surprisingly large amount of items on the market today.  With the "PG Era" WWE in full-force, it's no wonder that many of these items are geared towards kids.  WWE branded children's books, apparel, and even linens sit alongside merchandise from SpongeBob, Batman, and other kid-friendly properties.  While I hope that we don't see A.J. pillowcases anytime soon, the childlike characters such as Hornswoggle are very prominently featured.  With "Back-To-School" time (thankfully) coming right around the corner, expect to see WWE backpacks and stationary sets once again at retail.

Even in a somewhat milder WWE world not every item is for the youngsters.  BIC has released large lighters featuring some WWE Superstars who aren't as frequently featured on items such as Layla, The Miz, and Eve while apparel in the adult sizes seems to sell briskly.  WWE seems to finally be grasping the concept of fans wanting to have a "wrestling shirt that doesn't look like a wrestling shirt."

While some fans are insulted by the notion, it does make a lot of sense.  Although fans should be proud of their allegiance to the squared circle, wrestling apparel has often been notoriously garish.  This is, in part, due to the fact that the apparel worn by the wrestlers themselves is loud and eye-grabbing.  For a few years now TNA has seemingly understood the "apparel perils" of wrestling fans by offering t-shirts that are simultaneously stylish and fun.  The promotional t-shirt for TNA Bound For Glory 2011 is one such product.  Another innovative example is a shirt for TNA Knockout Velvet Sky which was specifically designed for men.

"Innovation" could actually be used to describe many of TNA/Impact Wrestling's products, but sadly there isn't much distribution for them outside of their own retail website.  Seeing as how the company's trading card and action figure lines frequently sell out, it may not be a bad time for TNA to explore getting more items into brick and mortar stores.  With Hulk Hogan aboard for nearly two years now, it almost seems like a no-brainer.  "Hulkamania" shirts sell no matter which company's banner they are sold under and TNA has even made a stylish new version of the red and yellow.

It's hard to believe, but there has not been a time in nearly three decades that wrestling action figures have been absent from store shelves.  In fact, I'd wager that many of you are reading this blog because of a love for them.  While Mattel continually floods today's stores with countless re-releases of Randy Orton, fans clamor for figures of new talent, both male and female, as well as legends.

Another blow to collectors was delivered this past week from Mattel.  It seems that the long-awaited Miss Elizabeth figure, slated to be released through their Mattel Collector's site, is now scheduled to be released in one of the standard "Elite" lines.  This ensures that the figure will be next to impossible to find at retail.  The previous Legends figures released through the Collectors site, while around $28 after shipping, were at least easily obtained.

This is just another blunder in what could be a great line if it were not impossible to collect thanks to issues such as these.  While some Jakks figures were harder to find than others, most "limited" figures were at least repaints and not long-awaited characters like Elizabeth.  Hopefully Mattel realizes their mistakes before it is too late.

In a more positive area, WWE Home Video has released another winner with their recent Best of WCW Clash of the Champions DVD and Blu-Ray.  Although full Clash releases would be preferred, WWE whipped up a very enjoyable collection of matches from the entire run of the Clash.  Making it even better is the fact that WWE recently had it, as well as many other DVD and Blu-Ray releases from their library, available at rock bottom prices through their website. $9.99 new release wrestling...err...sports entertainment Blu-Ray discs?  I'm there.  In a related note, it appears that the Blu-Ray release of No Holds Barred recently mentioned here has been delayed or canceled.  The DVD was in fact released, but I have a feeling that we'll be seeing this one for under $5 sooner rather than later.

With events like San Diego Comic Con as well as the holiday buying season coming sooner than anyone would want to admit, more new and exciting products will be flying onto shelves.  Will there be more cool wrestling t-shirts?  More legendary matches on DVD?  Mattel figures that aren't Randy Orton?  Time will tell.  The only thing we know at this juncture is something that we have learned after a painful lesson this past Monday night...

Even Brooke Hogan makes more sense as an authority figure than...Hornswoggle.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Wrestling MarketWatch: USA! USA! USA!

American patriotism is a gimmick that has stood the test of time in the wrestling world like no other.  Put Hacksaw Jim Duggan into a wrestling ring in the year 2012 and suddenly it's 1988 again.  What gets your blood pumping more than the patriot battling the evil foreigner with flags waving and the security of the nation hanging in the balance?  It doesn't get more basic, yet engrossing, than that when it comes to losing yourself in a pro wrestling match.

I've said it before..."Hot Dogs, Apple Pie, & Wrestling."  Wrestlers such as Duggan, Sgt. Slaughter, Hulk Hogan and events like SummerSlam and The Great American Bash can take a normal summer wrestling card and turn it into a patriotic spectacular.  It's no mistake that memories of those stars and shows often stand out proudly in the minds of many a wrestling fan from the '80s and '90s.

In this latest edition of MarketWatch, we'll take a look at some items that were derived from these icons of wrestling Americana and examine what they've recently sold for on the secondary market.  Put down the sparkler, take a sip of Diet Pepsi, and remember what wrestling, in many minds, is truly all about.  Although some examples shown are autographed, the prices noted were for unsigned items.

*Even with all the patriots in wrestling, there's only one Real American Hero--Sgt. Slaughter!  His involvement in Hasbro's G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero franchise cemented him as an icon of the 1980's.  Although Hasbro produced dozens of Slaughter figures over the years, his 1992 figure was the only one done for the WWF license.  All of the other Hasbro-produced Slaughter's, including the 8-inch figure often included with the LJN line, were made for G.I. Joe.  The figure is actually not in a wrestling outfit at all, but rather garb that he wore in promotional photos and a vignette or two.  For twenty years that's been quite alright with wrestling fans.  The figure is beloved for an incredible facial sculpt and "Sgt.'s Salute" action.  The figure has recently been selling for between $30 and $60 as has his tag team partner, the 1991 Hasbro WWF Hacksaw Jim Duggan.  The Sarge was not only the first wrestler that I ever had the pleasure of meeting, but Slaughter and Duggan were the first "good guy" tag team that I ever saw wrestle live.

*Like Slaughter and Duggan, SummerSlam holds personal memories for me as well.  The 1995 edition was the first pay-per-view event that I attended live.  It was two years earlier in 1993 that the event was patriotism at full-tilt.  SummerSlam 1993 saw "The Narcissist" Lex Luger go "All-American" in his "Call To Action" campaign against then-WWF Champion Yokozuna.  Even if the event fell a bit flat up against the amazing build, it's still a fun time to look back on.  The program for the event, featuring a photo of Luger still in his Narcissist days, recently sold for $30.  All WWF pay-per-view programs have seemingly been on a monetary upswing, but true collectors know that they have always been items to treasure.

*SummerSlam, as big as it has become, was the not the first patriotic wrestling spectacular.  That honor would go to The Great American Bash.  From tour to NWA, WCW, and WWE pay-per-view event to being celebrated as an episode of Smackdown, the Bash remains a staple in many fans summer wrestling diet.  In 1991 this particular meal was regurgitated.  WCW was in shambles as bad management and the departure of Ric Flair ripped the company apart.  The event was a disaster from top to bottom with chants of "We Want Flair!" echoing throughout the Baltimore Arena and a makeshift championship belt used in lieu of the "Big Gold" belt which had left WCW with Flair.  Despite the mess, the Turner Home Video VHS release of the event was always one of the higher valued tapes.  Selling recently for just $40, maybe fans have finally gotten their fill of the Bash that was more of a WCW history, that is.

*WCW would go on to recover, and in a few short years a "Real American" would enter the company.  That would be, as if it needed to be said, Hulk Hogan.  While patriotism is included in any number of "Hulkster" products, my favorite Hogan action figure of them all simply screams, "USA!"  This would be the Jakks WWE Classic Superstars "Real American" Hulk Hogan figure.  This figure was only available through a ticket redemption program.  Replica WrestleMania tickets were included with various other Classic Superstars figures.  When a full set was obtained they could be redeemed, via mail, for this amazing figure.  Hulk is clad in his white "American Made" shirt, "Hulkamania" bandanna, and blue workout pants.  Also included were his workout belt and alternate "Hulk Machine" gear from his 1986 appearances as part of The Machines tag team.  Secondary market value of the figure has differed greatly since it was first available.  Most recently the "Real American" sold for $75.  In my opinion, value will only go up as more and more collectors decide that this is one they want to keep.

*Speaking of Hulk Hogan, there is one item that may not have too much to do with patriotism but absolutely needs to end this entry.  At long last, WWE has released the 1989 movie "No Holds Barred" on DVD and Blu-Ray.  Panned by some and enjoyed by many, the movie starred Hogan and Tiny "Zeus" Lister and was produced by Vince McMahon.  The movie did not do as well at the box office as was hoped which probably led to having relatively few merchandise tie-ins.  Although Zeus did get a figure in the Jakks WWE Classic Superstars line, it was probably more due to his brief wrestling career than the movie itself.  One item that is still available on the secondary market is the No Holds Barred program magazine.  Including full-sized posters and a ton of film hype, the program has recently sold for just $20.  A bargain price for a nice item that certainly isn't a piece of...dookie.