Thursday, January 29, 2015

The 25th Anniversary of Hasbro WWF--Part 5

What a month it's been!  Twenty-five of my favorite Hasbro products in honor of the 25th anniversary of the line.  Like any list, it's all objective! Fans are always getting riled up over WWE "Top" lists, but it's all a matter of opinion.  The various incarnations of Shawn Michaels and Bret Hart didn't make my list, but Andre the Giant and Greg Valentine may not have made yours.  As a kid, you may have buried Demolition or Razor Ramon in your Hasbro rings while they reigned supreme in mine.  Everyone has their favorites, and from 1990 to 1994, Hasbro gave all of us a lot to choose from!

*My list was in no real particular order, but if I was forced to pick a favorite, it may very well be the Doinkster. Hasbro went above and beyond with the Clown, complete with newly sculpted parts and, best of all, real rooted hair.  This is definitely a "heel " Doink the Clown, based on his well-remembered early days as portrayed by the late Matt Borne.  It was always cool when the announcers would tout what a great technical wrestler Doink was despite his clownish appearance.  It added another layer to the already sinister character.  For the record, Matt Borne is the Doink pictured on the cardback.  I'm thankful that I was able to have one signed before his untimely death.

*Another item that disappeared from shelves as quickly as it arrived was the Royal Rumble mini-ring.  The three mini-figure four-packs were plentiful in the Summer of 1992.  Unfortunately for those who missed out, Hulk Hogan, Randy Savage, and Ted DiBiase were among those that were available only with the ring.  For whatever reason the ring only seemed to ship once and wasn't available very long thus leaving the figure packs to rot on shelves for years.  Retail disinterest was the likely culprit, but had the ring been released at the same time as the figures it may have been a different story.

*Cool, cocky, bad, and another great figure from Hasbro.  Honky had long passed his days as one of the top heels in the WWF, but his figure was still planned and released.  He wouldn't have been the same without his trademark guitar which, coupled with his "Real Wrestling Action," came crashing down on many other wrestlers.  Even with other figures of Honky from LJN, Jakks, and Mattel, the Hasbro is probably still my favorite.  It even has the jumpsuit belt that other manufacturers "forgot."

*Bam Bam Bigelow always came across as a perfect action figure. Flames, tattoos, and a whole bunch of "mean."  I found the figure on the day of the 1994 Royal Rumble.  Much to my surprise, Bigelow ended up having a singles match that night as he took the place of Ludvig Borga in a bout against Tatanka. Bigelow and Tatanka, both graduates of Larry Sharpe's Monster Factory, were always well-matched opponents. Though he never quite made it as far as he should have, Bam Bam had his moments and, in my mind, is a great future WWE Hall of Fame candidate.

*Speaking of those who should be in the WWE Hall of Fame brings us to
my favorite tag team of all-time, Demolition.  I still remember being so conflicted about how to purchase Smash.  His single figure was fairly plentiful along with Ax, but the same Smash also came in a tag team set with Crush and their pre-match masks.  The two-pack became difficult to find, so for awhile Ax had to fend for himself in my Hasbro ring. Perhaps just a lonely Masked Superstar?  Eventually, thanks to a lone Demolition set at my local Service Merchandise store, the trio was united and took on the LOD, The Bushwhackers, Doom, The Horsemen, and The Steiner Brothers (thanks to Galoob for the last three).  I even remember an epic singles struggle over the Intercontinental Championship between Smash and Marty Jannetty that mysteriously ended when Hasbro released a sneaky fellow known as Repo Man.

Twenty-five items for twenty-five years.  A revival of the Hasbro style would be a no-brainer.  It would couple the secondary "action feature" lines that are made to appeal to kids with figures that older collectors would snap up in an instant.  Why hasn't it happened?  Your guess is as good as mine.  Maybe the manufacturers just want to "leave the memories alone..."

Thursday, January 22, 2015

The 25th Anniversary of Hasbro WWF--Part 4

The Hasbro WWF line was a ton of fun to play with.  Growing up with them as I did, I ought to know.  The lack of non-wrestler figures in the collection was a bit frustrating, but Hasbro was likely looking at LJN sales records where some manager and announcer figures performed worse at retail compared to the wrestlers themselves.  Even without the extra characters, the Hasbro figures remain a favorite all of these years later, and here are five more of my own favorite products from the line...

*Macho Madness makes my list twice!  Although he was the "Macho King" for less than two years, it was a very cool extension of the Randy Savage character.  Coupled with Sensational Queen Sherri, the duo is well-remembered for their feuds with Dusty Rhodes, Sapphire, Miss Elizabeth, The Ultimate Warrior, and Roddy Piper.  Despite not being in the title scene of the time, Savage's matches with the aforementioned foes headlined cards around the country.  The Hasbro Macho King figure had a regal purple and gold color scheme and came complete with removable crown and a sceptre for bashing opponents ("Ding!"--Jesse Ventura).

*Earthquake and Typhoon weren't a couple of fat slobs, these were two gigantic and powerful men.  I was always a fan of the larger-than-life wrestlers, and the very first tag team match that I saw live pitted the Natural Disasters against Hacksaw Jim Duggan and Sgt. Slaughter.  Just a few months later I was again thrilled when the Hasbro Natural Disasters hit the stores.  By this time, Hasbro was no longer producing tag team sets, so Earthquake and Typhoon were sold separately.  My parents were as watchful for new product as I was, and one afternoon my mother surprised me with Earthquake.  She even went as far as to suggest that I team him with Akeem until I could purchase Typhoon!  In case you were wondering, that extra large team never came to be.  A short time later I bought Typhoon at Children's Palace with some money from my grandparents.

*The Hot Rod!  Though the Hasbro version of Piper is wearing entrance gear, I.wouldn't have it any other way.  Roddy has always been among my favorites in the Hasbro line, and it's actually a version that we haven't seen since.  The red elbow pads indicate that Hasbro was trying to capture the look from early in his 1989 return.  I have also always appreciated the effort that was taken by combining his "pre-ring" kilt attire with a no-nonsense action pose.  And of course, this figure is perfect for recreating his 1992 Saturday Night's Main Event match with The Mountie.  You remember.  "Shock Proof!"

*As most companies do with major licenses like the WWF, Hasbro branched out.  None of the other toys were nearly as successful as the action figures, but a few were just as fun.  The Jake Roberts "Snake" toy is a cool spin-off, but it was released at a bad time.  To begin with, it was simply marketed as his "snake" as opposed to Damien or Lucifer.  Whether or not this had to do with the names themselves or the fact that it was designed/released around the time of the transition is anyone's guess.  Add that to the fact that Roberts himself was gone from the WWF not long after release ensured that the snake would have a short sales window.

*Who would've believed, even in 1992 when his first figure hit shelves, that The Undertaker would be one of the longest lasting creations to come from the company?  The aura of the character may only be matched by the likes of Andre the Giant.  The evolution of the character helped keep "The Deadman" alive for nearly a quarter of a century.  The original look and feel of The Undertaker, an old west mortician, was never better captured than in the Hasbro figure. In his second release, it was the inclusion of the cloth overcoat that truly made the figure fresh and unique.

Up final five!

Thursday, January 15, 2015

The 25th Anniversary of Hasbro WWF--Part 3

 As we roll on in the month-long 25th anniversary celebration of Hasbro WWF, it's interesting to note two other silver milestones in wrestling for 2015.  WrestleMania VI, my personal favorite edition of the event, will be celebrating the big 2-5 and in November, the character of The Undertaker will have been tombstoning his way through WWF/WWE rings for twenty-five years.  Who could have imagined that the latter, what easily could've been a throwaway character, would be iconic a quarter of a century later?  I have a feeling that "The Phenom" will show up in our Hasbro remembrances eventually, but for now here are the five for this week...

*For as big as they were, the Von Erich family did not see an action figure until "The Texas Tornado" hit shelves in 1992.  A great likeness coupled with a "Real Wrestling Action" that fit his actual finishing move, the Tornado was a great addition to the Hasbro lineup. The sad reality was that the figure was released less than a year before the untimely death of Kerry Von Erich.  That being said, Von Erich did several known autograph appearances in that time period and was known to be a gracious signer regardless.  Does a signed Texas Tornado Hasbro figure exist?  Time will tell should one ever surface, but until then we have a great figure of one of wrestling's most storied and charismatic legends.

*Kamala may be beloved now, but in his ring days "The Ugandan Giant" was terrifying.  The mask, paint, spear, and wailing battle cry were enough to scare any young fan and make the big man fascinating at the same time.  From Andre the Giant to Hulk Hogan to The Undertaker, Kamala was a formidable foe for all. Hasbro brought collectors the second action figure of the headhunter, and I can still remember the day that I found it.  A small mob of kids were crowded around the Toys "R" Us Hasbro WWF section, so I knew something good had to be there.  It didn't take me long to notice the yellow borders of the newest figure set. It took even less time for me to decide that Kamala was joining my collection that day.

*Hasbro was no stranger to Sgt. Slaughter.  His deal with Hasbro's bread and butter, G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero, is legendary and made him a household name and pop culture celebrity.  However, this figure was his first to officially be produced under the WWF banner.  It has an interesting design, as his attire is patterned after gear wore in a photo shoot and not actually in the ring, but it fits the Hasbro style perfectly. I doubt a more perfect facial likeness of Slaughter will ever be captured.  Sgt. Slaughter was the first wrestler that I ever met, was in the first tag team match that I ever saw live, and the first (and only) male wrestler to sit on my lap.  At ease!

*There's no doubt that the One Man Gang would have made a cool looking Hasbro figure, but Akeem was absolutely made to be in the line.  As "The Gang" himself tells it, Vince McMahon wanted a more colorful character than the "OMG," thus Akeem was born.  "The African Dream" hasn't been seen in WWF rings since shortly after the figure was released in 1990 and it's a shame. The One Man Gang has made a few token appearances, but with all of the goofy WWE humor, we need at least one more appearance from the former Twin Tower.  Rumor has always been that Akeem was to have been in the WrestleMania X-7 Gimmick Battle Royal, but that Gang had lost too much weight to fit the costume.  These days, the big man is once again large and in charge.  It's time for Akeem to jive down the aisle, one more time.

*Talk about having the "look" of a wrestler, Jim "The Anvil" Neidhart fits that bill.  The Hasbro figure captured that.  Though many of us would have preferred "The Anvil" in original Hart Foundation attire, instead we got him in the baggy pants of The New Foundation.  His partner in the latter team, Owen Hart, did not come along until a year later.  If ever you could hear an action figure verbalizing his catch phrase, it's this one.  The Hasbro "Anvil" is screaming "Yeah Baby!" and cackling just as he performs one of his flattening clotheslines.  Hasbro also captured the oft-jiggling paunch of Neidhart as well as they did his facial features. 

A tornado, an anvil, a Ugandan headhunter, an African dream, and a real American hero.  A battle royal if there ever was one is forming among these Hasbro elite, and next week we add another five to the fray!

Thursday, January 8, 2015

The 25th Anniversary of Hasbro WWF--Part 2

While I owned some LJN WWF figures as a child, I best remember collecting and playing with the Hasbro line.  It was always exciting to see new product in stores.  It got easier to spot those new goodies when, in late 1993, Hasbro adopted a system to differentiate between the various series of figures.  The borders of the cardbacks began to be released in varying colors.  Yellow, red, purple, solid blue (red, white, and blue had been the original color scheme dating back to 1990) and finally green all made it into the lineup.  What could have followed will be speculated and debated forever, but it's time again to celebrate five more great items that we did see.

*For some reason, when I began collecting the Hasbro line in 1991 the first tag team set that I wanted was The Bushwhackers.  Though they were a pure comedy act for the duration of their stay in the WWF, Luke and Butch obviously "whacked" their way into the hearts of many fans.  As far as their figures went, a nearly undecipherable appearance (as far as their verbalizing was concerned) in the first Hasbro "tag team" commercial probably went a long way as far as cementing them into the collections of kids all over.  The team from Down Under even saw a repainted re-release on single cards complete with switched heads and "chewed" cap accessories in 1994.

*Most of the Hasbro body styles were reused time and time again, but Yokozuna was one of the few that stood alone.  The Samoan star, billed as a sumo wrestler, was pushed to the moon as an unstoppable villain between late-1992 and mid-1994.  If you weren't around for the "Bodyslam Challenge" on July 4th, 1993, you really don't understand just how unstoppable Yokozuna seemed.  There didn't seem to be any credible threats to his championship reign.  Even after Lex Luger executed the hiptoss heard 'round the world, many of us remained convinced that Yoko would remain on top for a long time.  The result was a popular figure that, like Andre the Giant in the first series, stood out among the rest.  Banzai!

*Few superstars remain as beloved as Randy Savage, but when the Hasbro line was initially designed in 1989, the Macho Man was fast becoming a hated heel.  By the time that the second series was planned, Savage was being billed as the "Macho King," but the first series included a figure that appeared much as he had since his WWF arrival in 1985.  A headband, sunglasses, and stars on the tights.  This is how so many of us will always remember the Macho Man.  This first Hasbro figure of Savage provided that simple yet effective look and while he would make more appearances in the line, many collectors consider this the ultimate version.

*For a "common man," his action figure was apparently anything but.  Although I had no problems finding Dusty Rhodes on the pegs back in the Hasbro heyday, it's become quite evident that a lot of collectors did. His carded figure has long commanded high prices on the secondary market.  Even "The American Dream" himself has a love for the figure, recently using it as his main Twitter photo.  Rarity or not, it is the very first figure of a wrestler who has been capturing the emotions of wrestling fans for nearly fifty years.  Intentional or not, that "Bionic Elbow" left arm seems to be loose on every version, even mine that came directly off of the card. 

*There were a few items in the Hasbro line that if you blinked, you missed them.  If you were lucky enough to see it on the shelf once and wanted it, you hopefully added it to your collection.  The King of the Ring ring was definitely one of those items.  Released in 1994, the ring was a reissue of the original Hasbro ring molded in yellow and red and including King of the Ring stickers.  It will always be my own personal speculation that this item was designed intended as a Hulk Hogan-themed ring.  When his brief 1993 return ended (at the same time that this item would've been planned), the colors were retained but King of the Ring stickers were included instead.  There is no shred of evidence to indicate this, but it certainly seems plausible.

It couldn't have been so many years since my Hasbro Dusty was battling the Galoob WCW Arn Anderson or Yokozuna was being slammed in the King of the Ring ring, but it has.  Time flies when you're having fun, and Hasbro certainly provided that.  Next week, five more in store!

Thursday, January 1, 2015

The 25th Anniversary of Hasbro WWF--Part 1

It seems like only yesterday that those memorable commercials starring Jesse "The Body" Ventura burst onto the scene.  All new WWF action figures, complete with "Real Wrestling Action," that were about half of the size of what fans were accustomed to.  Despite having a short, roughly five-year run, the Hasbro WWF line continues to soar in popularity to this day.  2015 marks the 25th anniversary of the line.  Here on the blog, all of January will be dedicated to the line. Each week, I'll be remembering five of my twenty-five favorite items to come from the Hasbro-WWF partnership.  It's going to be a month of plastic, springs, and toys that are "so close to the real thing, it's like bein' in the ring!"

*What a rush!  What better way to kick off the celebration than with Hawk and Animal, The Legion of Doom!  The boys had already seen an action figure release in the Remco AWA line, but this was the first set to feature the famous spiked shoulder pads.  Though the pads were molded on (a Hasbro trend), the figures remain a favorite of many.  The Hawk figure even made an appearance at the 2011 WWE Hall of Fame ceremony, standing in for the late superstar.  Distribution on the pair varied greatly from area to area for a number of reasons, but the Road Warriors remain a favorite of most any Hasbro collector.

*Even late in the game, Hasbro was cranking out some impressive looking product.  Adam Bomb made his debut in the infamous final series that was released on green bordered card backs.  A ton of detail was put into the superstar from Three Mile Island, and the figure easily rivals the Adam Bomb Jakks Classic Superstars release over a decade later.  From the flowing hair to the goggles to the "nuclear" design of his gear, the Adam Bomb figure easily eclipses the life of the character itself.

*Hasbro had the WWF license at a perfect time.  The style of the figures worked impeccably with the wild and colorful characters that populated WWF rings of the time.  Papa Shango is a top example of this, with his hat, facepaint, tattoos, and "bone" necklace.  The antics of the voodoo priest were largely relegated to the opening matches once the figure saw release, but that didn't stop kids from continuing the crazy occurrences in the Hasbro ring.  Charles Wright would go on to portray several other memorable characters of the squared circle, but this Hasbro figure (and some black goo...) is a big reason why Papa Shango is so well remembered. 

*Another reason that Hasbro had such a great window of timing with the WWF license was by capturing some of the all-time greats on their way out.  He may have been in the midst of an ill-planned babyface turn, but Greg "The Hammer" Valentine saw a Hasbro figure released in 1992.  As a former Intercontinental and Tag Team champion, Valentine provided a memorable link to the LJN WWF line.  You could even team him with figures of his former tag team partners such as Brutus Beefcake or The Honky Tonk Man.

*Although the first series of the Hasbro line was filled with top stars, one name stands above the rest.  Andre the Giant may have been on his way out of the spotlight, but the decision to include him in the line is appreciated to this day.  Whether recreating his feud with Hulk Hogan or being able to create a dream collision with the likes of The Undertaker, Hasbro's representation of Andre ended up as a tribute to a man who is a cornerstone of an industry in which he is still beloved.

Happy New Year!  Be sure to return next week for more of the Hasbro silver celebration!