Thursday, September 27, 2012

Time To Play The Mail-Away Game

Mail-away figure offers have always provided some additional fun for collectors.  The concept is relatively simple: collect a number of proofs-of-purchase "points" from packaging, occasionally some receipts, and a couple of bucks for shipping.  6-to-8 weeks later (usually sooner) an exclusive new action figure is all yours.  The famous Star Wars bounty hunter Boba Fett was originally a mail-away, as was the original G.I. Joe figure of Sgt. Slaughter.  It was always the kids with the astute and "with-it" parents that had the mail-away figures due to all the rigamarole of obtaining them.  It was well worth the extra effort.

Mattel has re-introduced this concept in their WWE line.  The company kicked it off in the summer of 2011 with a Toys "R" Us mail away promotion for the first (and so far only) Vince McMahon figure in the Mattel line.  This summer it was announced that the first figure of Triple H officially labeled "Chief Operating Officer" would be released in a similar promotion.

Obtaining the figure required three figures from certain Mattel WWE series to be purchased within a three-month span at Toys "R" Us.  Clip the three proofs-of-purchase, include the original receipts, as well as a check or money order for $5 shipping and handling and mail it all off to Mattel.  Simple enough.  Actually much simpler than finding three figures of any desirability in a Toys "R" Us store.  Visiting the stores at non-peak hours helps greatly, but it is still a daunting task to not walk away with figures other than John Cena, Randy Orton, or Rey Mysterio.

To their credit, Mattel created an online registration system that you must engage before sending for your figure.  This way a figure is reserved for you, in theory, upon arrival of your request, and e-mail updates notify you when your request is received, order is shipped, etc.

While I personally ignored the McMahon promotion due to already owning a plethora of "Vinnie Mac" figures, I couldn't pass up the Triple H offer.  Thanks to Ric Flair and other champions "stylin' and profilin'" in suits over the years, many wrestling fans, myself included, have it ingrained in their minds that "wrestlers + suits = class."  It's just the way that it is!

The figure arrives on your doorstep, within two weeks in my case, in a box large enough that the figure shouldn't be damaged.  It's a nice touch that both Mattel mail-aways have been carded.  The company could easily ship it loose.  The card is a smaller version of their basic figure packaging, but includes a picture and a full backer bio like any other Mattel WWE product.  Nice touches to be sure.

Trips is indeed in his "COO" suit.  The facial likeness is good and has not been used on any other Triple H figures to my knowledge.  The forehead wrinkles could be a bit more pronounced, but I'm not going to complain about that.  The trademark half-smirk is plastered across his face and works for a non-wrestling gear figure.

The head of the figure is also the location of my first complaint.  The now-gone ponytail protrudes from the back of Hunter's head, but has to be tucked inside the suit coat.  If it is pulled out over the coat, the head is constantly looking downward.

For being a figure in a suit, it has all the articulation that you would expect and maybe even a bit more.  He can stand, sit, throw a punch, and probably deliver a Pedigree.  My second issue with the figure is that it is too tall.  It looks like the problem lies within the legs, as for whatever reason they were produced just a bit too long.  My theory is that in order to include all of the articulation, the legs had to be made that long.  With joints in the upper thigh, lower thigh, above the knee, below the knee, and ankles, it's a theory that fits.

The best news is that if you're reading this entry "hot off the presses," you still have a shot at getting the figure.  Although the promotion was originally to end in early September, it has now been extended until early November.  That gives anyone interested a chance to try and find some half-interesting figures at Toys "R" Us before the holiday shopping season begins.  Good luck!

Is it worth it?  If you're buying three figures that you actually want (and want to open) in order to get the proofs-of-purchase, absolutely!  If you're buying three Randy Orton figures just to get the proofs, probably not.  It's up to you...and it might be time to play The Game.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Topps Represents The 2012 WWE Universe

It seems like trading cards have dominated the majority of topics on this blog as of late.  It makes sense.  Past or present, wrestling and trading cards have gone well together with no end in sight.  Some wrestling collectors collect them.  Some sports card collectors collect them.  Even some non-sports card collectors collect them.  They're an ultimate crossover collectible.

Topps has produced two WWE trading card offerings per year over the past several years.  Earlier this year Topps introduced its WWE Classic set, featuring studio photos of the stars set on foil cards.  This month collectors are treated to the release of Topps WWE 2012.  Although a release date was set for the end of September, retailers such as Toys "R" Us and Wal Mart had the cards for sale in the first week of the month.

The normal 90-card base set is supplemented by a TON of subsets.  Hall of Fame.  First Class Champions.  Divas Class of 2012.  CM Punk's Top Class Matches.  There's even a subset entitled World Class Events that features pay-per-view poster art similar to a subset from a Fleer WWF set a decade ago.  Each seven-card pack includes one subset card and most seem to also include an alternate-colored border parallel card.  Cards are also sold in twenty-one-card "jumbo" packs that are similar to the old rack packs.  An alternate-colored border parallel card different from ones you would find in the seven-card packs are included in these jumbo packs and vary depending on where you made your purchase.

There are also the now mandatory "hit" cards featuring special cards such as relics, autographs, printing plates, sketches (by Jerry "The King" Lawler), and even a Triple H signature card limited to one in every 36,000 packs.  Whether or not the latter actually even exists has already been the subject of debate among collectors.  The card is mentioned on the back of each pack as well as the "odds" of pulling one, so we'll just have to wait and see.

Purchasing a full 24 pack hobby box guarantees the buyer two hits: one shirt relic card and one autograph card or a WrestleMania XXVIII mat relic card.  As nice as some of the relic cards are, every buyer is looking for an autograph, so the potential for disappointment is there.

The box that I opened surprisingly had three "hit" cards and a nice assortment at that.  Although the autograph could have been a better name, Diva autographs usually don't disappoint.  I particular liked this Alicia Fox autograph as it was on her Divas Class of 2012 subset card as opposed to her base set card.  The box also contained a shirt relic of Randy Orton.  Finally, a printing plate was pulled.  Although printing plates have been included in both WWE and TNA card sets before, this is the first one that I've pulled.  Unfortunately, the plate was of Tyler Reks.  Still, it's a fun and unique pull.

The base set cards are, well, very basic.  They're the same design as other Topps 2012 sports cards although the color differs as to whether the star is supposed to represent Raw, Smackdown, or NXT.  Though some good photo choices were used (Goldust, Brock Lesnar, and Kaitlyn spring to mind), they're still a very basic set.  The different colored parallel border versions really don't do much to help.

The real gems in this set are the subsets.  If Topps did an entire WWE set full of just subsets, I think I'd be very pleased.  First Class Champions features former WWE Champions with a foil spinner belt at the bottom of the card.  Divas Class of 2012 gives us a chance to see all of our favorite Divas (Natalya, Kaitlyn, A.J.) and ones that most fans couldn't pick out of a crowd (Maxine?!?) for a second time in the set.  Best of all is the Hall of Fame set.  Utilizing the standard WWE Hall of Fame graphics, thirty-five legends are represented ranging from "Mean" Gene Okerlund to Rocky Johnson.  There are even some Hall of Fame autograph cards out there!

John Cena is the sole pack poster child this time around, while the hobby boxes feature Cena, Lawler, Punk, Roddy Piper, Kelly Kelly, and Cactus Jack for a nice mix of new and old.  There are $20 blaster boxes also available at most retailers.  Although you are guaranteed one relic card per box, keep in mind that you will NOT find any autographs or other hits in these boxes.  The blaster boxes themselves are also a bit shorter than usual, which is apparently a growing industry standard.

I'm very mixed on this set as a whole.  The subsets are amazing, but if you're going to collect them via pack you're going to end up with a LOT of base cards.  There also seems to be an issue regarding the base cards distribution via pack.  Although it may not be the case with every pack, many packs seem to hold the same sequence of base cards.  For example, if you purchased a pack that contained William Regal, Kane, Aksana, Tensai, Sheamus, Wade Barrett, and Josh Matthews you may pick up another pack with the same lineup. 

I'm rather bored with the base card design.  It's changed very little over the years.  As I say almost every time I tackle cards, I want another Heritage set.  Topps has brought it back Heritage a regular set for other sports, and even jacked up the price a bit.  I would have no problem paying a bit more for Heritage cards.

Ultimately the subsets are the gold here.  Each subset seems to be averaging around $10 per set on the secondary market.  If you're like me and find these to be the most appealing cards in the set, purchasing them separately may be the way to go. If you're strictly out to pull autographs, avoid purchases at the big retail stores.  You have more of a chance to pull them from hobby packs at a hobby store.

Although the recent TNA Tenacious box was about double in price of the Topps 2012 WWE box, I think I enjoyed the former just that much more.  The TNA designs change constantly and seven hits per box was a ton of fun.  Still, a wrestling card with a non-glossy finish would ultimately win me over...

...somebody make it happen!

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Reflections On The King...

Chances are that if pro wrestling crosses your mind this week, the name Jerry Lawler will come with it.  For many fans, that's always been the case.  The tragic events of this past Monday's edition of WWE Raw has ensured that he's not only in our minds, but hearts as well.

The King has long been a favorite of mine.  With all the coverage that he received in the magazines of my youth, I knew that he was someone special.  Aside from a sparse few matches that I had in my video collection at the time as well as USWA Texas reruns, Jerry's arrival to the WWF on Prime Time Wrestling in late 1992 would mark the first time that I saw him on a large stage.  I can still remember yelling around my house that Jerry "The King" Lawler was now in the WWF.  Since I was the only one in my (yankee) household that knew who he was, it didn't make much of an impact.

Although The King saw a lot of use in comedic matches and segments in the early portion of his WWF affiliation, he was still able to make an impact on the fans.  As he was feuding with Doink, Dink, Wink, and Pink, I can recall wondering just how many WWF fans knew what a legacy he already had in the business.  It was just ten years earlier that he'd been battling WWF icon Randy "Macho Man" Savage in the crude yet dangerous-looking cages of Memphis wrestling.  Around that same time he was wrestling nationally known stars like Hulk Hogan, Rick Rude, and The Road Warriors in situations where The King himself was the hero.

Maybe that's partially the beauty of Jerry Lawler's work.  That he can seamlessly go from being the most heroic of the heroes to the most cowardly villain you've ever seen.  I think that he's gone back and forth as many times as he's won championships, a record that will probably never truly be accurately tabulated.

It was just a week ago that I wrote about the first wrestler that I ever met.  Jerry Lawler was the first wrestler that I ever met via the independent wrestling scene and thus it was his name that drew me to my first independent wrestling show.  The King was advertised for what would be the first of many appearances for Norm Connors' IWC (International Wrestling Cartel) promotion just outside of Pittsburgh.  Though I'd heard that Tommy Dreamer was going to appear for their event one month earlier, it was Lawler's name that cemented my decision to finally go.

As with any appearance I've ever heard regarding Jerry Lawler, he was great with the fans and equally excellent in the ring.  Even in his early 50s at the time, Lawler did everything in the squared circle that one would've expected out of him twenty or thirty years earlier.  A few years later, also on an IWC show, I was able to witness an incredible brawl between Lawler and his old rival "The Ugandan Headhunter" Kamala.  It was the kind of match that makes fans remember why they love wrestling.

When you boil it down, Jerry Lawler is an artist.  We all know the story of how his artistic drawing talents got him into the business, but he's an artist on a different canvas as well, that being the wrestling mat.  Lawler is the kind of talent that can keep you engrossed in a match for fifteen minutes without even touching his opponent, then go on and have an action-packed physical confrontation.  "The Total Package" may have been a nickname better suited for Jerry Lawler.

We don't know if we'll ever see him in the ring again.  We just want to ensure that he's still with us to look back on the forty plus years of royal gifts that he's given us.  The King is in a battle right now.  It's time for him to ride in on the white horse, pull down the strap, use the fist drop, and finish it with a...excuse me...the piledriver.

Pulling and praying.  Long Live The King.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

At Ease! The First Wrestler That I Ever Met...

Every epic has a beginning.  While my wallet might cringe at the thought, my wrestling memorabilia and autograph collecting has been an epic over the past two decades or so.  Chances are that if you're reading this, you're in the same boat as I.  But it's fine, relatively harmless, and celebrates the form of sports and entertainment that so many of us love.  In the "Rock 'n Wrestling" entry of a few weeks ago I showed the coloring book that started off the memorabilia end of my collection.  Now we will take a look at not only the first wrestler that I had the chance to meet, but that oh-so-important first autograph as well.

It was in September of 1988 that the encounter took place.  My incredible parents were always 100% in-tune to my likes and interests.  Unless it was something objectionable, they were supportive of what I enjoyed and usually took some interest in it themselves.  Both of my parents grew up in families that enjoyed Pittsburgh's Studio Wrestling program in the 1960's.  Another of my loves at the time, Star Wars, was introduced to me through my folks loving the films upon their initial release.  Even G.I. Joe, a brand which at the time was in midst of revitalization though the "A Real American Hero" line, was slightly followed by my mother and father through the cartoon and comic book respectively.

I don't recall exactly how, but it came to our attention that Sgt. Slaughter himself, the real life "Real American Hero," would be making an appearance on a Saturday afternoon at a Monroeville, PA electronics/appliance store.  The name of the store, which did not seem to stay in business very long, has sadly escaped my usually sharp memory.  The date was quickly thrown onto our family calendar and I can remember nervously anticipating the event.

This is where some unavoidable facts regarding yours truly shall finally be revealed.  Although I was a wrestling fan at the time, it was actually Slaughter's G.I. Joe connections that made this meeting a can't-miss event for me.  Aside from William Perry in a far smaller capacity, Slaughter was the human face of G.I. Joe, which was probably my favorite brand during childhood.  Little did I know that it was the beginning of something far greater.

The morning finally came and as always we arrived early, a valuable trait that has stayed with me to this day.  Monroeville, PA (home of the original "Dawn of the Dead" film as well as the character of Dr. Bob Kelso from "Scrubs") was not far from my home and is essentially a suburban business area.  Despite this and the possibility of a large draw, I was the first fan in line.  Although a crowd eventually formed behind me, I really don't remember how big it became.  A desk was set up at the back of the store near the television section with a Sgt. Slaughter poster tacked to the wall behind it.

As I mentioned earlier, I can recall being nervous.  The same kind of nervous feeling that came along with me during visits with Santa Claus.  I wasn't scared, I didn't cry, and I always managed to smile and be simultaneously polite and enthusiastic.  It was just a natural nervousness that I would imagine many children experience.  I remember the Sarge entering through the back of the store where the signing took place, but it was my dad who often recalled that the door Slaughter was to come through was locked and that he actually had to shout and pound on the door to be let in!

I remember that an older woman in red with short gray hair was either in charge of the appearance or acted as if she was.  A stack of promotional photos labeled "United States Wrestling Alliance--USWA" (not that USWA) and "Raskin Sports Productions of Elizabeth N.J." were provided and the woman was looking through them.  Many years later through research I found out that this was one of the various independent organizations that Slaughter wrestled for at the time.  It is often forgotten or not even known by casual fans of Slaughter via the G.I. Joe connection that the Sarge was not with the WWF throughout his run with Hasbro and Joe.

Slaughter was clad in a camo jacket that had "G.I. Joe" emblazoned on the front pocket.  My mother guided me towards an extremely friendly and gracious television hero.  We shook hands and exchanged names--yes, he did say "I'm Sgt. Slaughter!"  After personalizing the provided photo to me in red marker with his familiar signature (strangely I did not bring any G.I. Joe items to be autographed), I sat on his knee and we pointed to the camera in unison for a photo op that would ensure personal bragging rights for a long time following.  One thing that I couldn't brag about was the "Jim Cornette Jr." fashion ensemble I wore that day.  It didn't matter as I had met THE real Joe, Sgt. Slaughter.

Until other local meetings with Diesel, Alundra Blayze, and Hillbilly Jim in the '90s and eventually plunging into the indy scene in 2001, this would be my sole wrestling meeting.  The first that ended up becoming the starting point for hundreds.  I've met the Sarge again a few times since then and he ranks as one of the nicest and most personable wrestlers not only in my book but in the memories of the hundreds of thousands of fans who have met him.

It was at a 2005 meeting with the Sarge that the 1988 magic was "rekindled."  Bringing the '88 Polaroid with me to be autographed, the Sarge suggested that we recreate the past and that this time he would sit on my knee!  It ultimately became one of the funnier and more memorable "meet and greet" moments for both myself and friends who were with me.

I'm often told that I'm lucky to have met so many wrestlers and have acquired so many autographs and pieces of memorabilia.  It's a hobby that I took pride in long ago that eventually took on a life of it's own.  I don't think the "luck" lies in the items or television heroes, though.  For me, the luck was being the child of two incredible parents who encouraged me to pursue the things that I enjoyed and sacrificed so much to see that I could do just that.  I dedicate this entry to them.  I owe them for so much more than just the kindness of taking me to that event twenty-four years ago.  They're my "Real American Heroes."