Saturday, May 18, 2019

The "Lost" Retro Series

We're all like jilted lovers. Their decisions and actions betray us, upset us, and annoy us, yet we keep coming back for more. Wrestling figure collectors are the victims. The evil entity luring us? Mattel. Sure, they have a great product that we can't get enough of. But what does it take for us to get it? Lousy distribution. Much-wanted product that is deliberately made to be "chased." But here we are. And here is another review of a series that can be classified under all of the above.

Mattel WWE Retro Series 5 should have been available everywhere. You have one of the most popular acts of the last few years debuting in a hot line and an all-time great making his "re-debut" in the style. Aside from some appearances at online retailers and, shockingly, in the bargain basement, this series really didn't show up much of anywhere. The sad part is that without these four the Retro set and collection has a glaring omission. Nevertheless, "Macho Man" Randy Savage, Big E., Kofi Kingston, and Xavier Woods have arrived.

In my opinion, The New Day was a must for the Retro line. They fit the style, they're fun characters, and the men behind the characters are likely getting a huge thrill being immortalized in the type of wrestling figure that they grew up playing with. The pink and blue color combination is a ray of sunshine in a line that was getting somewhat dull in looks. Sure, many superstars of today lack vibrant colors, but one of the Hasbro WWF figure legacies is exactly that. It was a reflection of the roster at the time and this line should continue that. The current WWE Champion (as of press time) and his crew do just that. Be sure to check out Woods' very Sheik (chic?) boots and the fact that Big E's figure feels very much like Hasbro's Warlord of decades ago.

For me, Randy Savage is the sleeper here. You can't have a bad figure of The Macho Man. It just does not happen with what a larger-than-life character that he was. That being said, I wasn't too excited when this figure was first revealed. The nWo black and white colors just don't do it for me in this style. I would have preferred the Savage that we should've gotten in 1992, but didn't. A simple repaint of the "Macho King" figure with vibrant pants, similar to the figure included in the Hasbro Royal Rumble mini-ring. After having the figure in my hands, I can say that I was pleasantly surprised. It really screams "Savage" (or "Oooooh yeah," perhaps?) in the WCW/nWo era and goes well with other figures in the line such as Sting, Goldberg, and Ric Flair. It should be noted that a packaging variation has been discovered with Savage. In some releases his left arm is raised inside of the bubble.

My only real gripes are the packaging, which has changed for the better in future series as documented in the last entry, and the fact that I would've swapped the "Real Wrestling Action" moves of Woods and Kingston. It's a solid lineup and good to see The New Day released together. If they all weren't so difficult to find I would say that Kingston would be the most popular due to his recent successes, but you'll pretty much have to go the online route to ensure that you pick up the set. There is already another Savage available in the line that I'm sure we'll be seeing here on the blog sooner than later, but it does not really fill the void that I mentioned above. I would not be surprised to see The New Day redone in different colors down the line also.

Thanks for still checking out the blog even on our reduced schedule. There's plenty more to come...

Thursday, April 18, 2019

An Olympic Hero, A Showstopper, A Paragon, & A Lobster Head

The distribution may be flaky at best and Mattel isn't doing anyone any favors with some more than bizarre business choices, but another round of retro goodness is here. Thankfully, the line returns to its roots of two years ago in many ways and even improves in other areas. So much for predictions abound that the line was about to end, nothing in the foreseeable future seems to point in that direction, especially with some recently seen prototypes.

Another four superstars round out the latest wave to hit stores, including two Hall of Famers. Our lineup tonight is Kurt Angle, Shawn Michaels, Chris Jericho, and Sheamus. The best news to come out of this series is that the obstructions on the cardback are largely gone. The homage to the Hasbro "Real Wrestling Action" symbol is back and the fairly pointless stands are gone. Also largely reduced are the graphics advertising a game enabled by scanning the card with your cell phone. There's still a small note of it in the corner, but the barcode is now included on a piece of cardboard packaged behind the figure.

These four names are all fresh to the WWE Retro line and all fit in quite well. Angle and HBK are the most "retro" representing their looks circa 1999 and 2002 respectively. Sheamus and Jericho seem to appear in their most recent WWE incarnations. In a way I'd have preferred an earlier Jericho look, but how can you argue when this version of Y2J was so much fun? In my opinion Angle stands out the most, maybe because he's the closest here that could've actually been in the Hasbro line albeit a couple of years off.

I'd have to rank Shawn Michaels as my least favorite simply because I'm not necessarily seeing HBK in the face. There's a fine line in how these WWE Retro heads should be done. While they shouldn't look like a regular Mattel figure head plopped onto a Hasbro-style body, there does have to be an almost cartoonish resemblance. Sheamus and Angle capture the latter perfectly. Jericho is good, but it may be just a bit too close to the regular Mattel version. In a nice change, all four have action maneuvers that fit their characters and don't interfere with the figure likenesses.

Only Jericho includes an accessory, that being his "Scarf of Jericho." It's very difficult to remove, but it will come off from around his neck with enough finagling. A gold medal accessory may have been a nice addition to Angle, but I can't imagine anyone deducting points without it being there. It is interesting to think that we now have three eras of Shawn Michaels in the Hasbro style, and I'm happy that we got a different look this time rather than The Rocker or The Heartbreak Kid again. The "Sweet Chin Music" action is pretty cool, too.

In my opinion the WWE Retro line is really picking up again. There
are some very wanted names coming for this format including Diesel and Goldust as well as surprises like The Iron Sheik and Junkyard Dog. The line has seemingly escaped from its days of a lot of dull colored characters translating into dull figures in a style that should not be dull. As long as the distribution stays fairly decent, I think that we could be seeing the "rebirth" of the Hasbro style go for a long while.

Friday, March 22, 2019

10 Years...

I still remember typing up that first blog entry. Little did I know where it would all lead. Who would have thought that a weekly blog about wrestling memorabilia would take off? When no one else is tackling the same sort of thing, readership will grow. Even with interest in the wrestling business at a fairly low point at the time, people came to read. Maybe it was because a huge chunk of the content was nostalgia. Either way, if you've read this blog at any point in the last decade, thank you! And before I continue, I apologize for this anniversary entry being stream of consciousness to an extent, but it just feels right in this case.

I always tried to keep the same mission: to enlighten and entertain using wrestling memorabilia. Though I did occasionally stray discussing other topics within wrestling, I constantly attempted to tie it into at least some collectibles. I also did my best to keep the content positive. It's easy to write negatively and sadly there are a lot of negatives in the wrestling business to write about. Did I stray? Sure. But you all enjoyed my infamous New York City encounter with A.J. Lee. I'm told that even Jay Lethal mentioned it in a shoot interview. Even with a little bad came some good.

It was interesting to see the highs and lows of readership from week to week depending on the content. As a rule wrestling action figures always attracted more readers. Looks through musty old magazines did far less. But as far as feedback, the latter always seemed to attract more. How does that work? Even I don't know. The posts covering the excitement around Greg Price's Charlotte Fanfests were usually well-received also. While they weren't 100% memorabilia related, I always had demand for more meet-and-greet stories. While many of those tales are being preserved for different avenues in the future, I couldn't ever resist spilling a few of them.

Dusty, Bruno, The King, and Piper are just a few names who I feel were written about more than others around here. I never thought that I would be writing memorial entries for The Dream and Hot Rod back in 2009, but time marches on. Autographs have also always been a staple, considering I myself am a huge collector of them. I know that doesn't ring true for every collector, but I appreciate you staying on if it's not your thing. While I don't think that every single piece of memorabilia needs signed, more often than not I will purchase an item if I think that it has autographing potential.

In case you missed the last entry of 2018 and haven't been keeping up with this years offerings, the blog is no longer weekly. For one thing, so much of what I've wanted to cover initially has been done. Another reason is that my time doesn't allow me the pleasure of getting an entry in weekly. If a writer is truly enjoying the content, the output will be that much better. If I'm rushing through to get an entry done just for the sake of getting one done, it isn't going to be good. For another truth to be revealed, my personal interest in the current product is at an all-time low. I have not seen a weekly program in well over a year and no longer regularly watch the monthly pay-per-views. While I love so much of the current talent, the presentation is nearly the complete opposite of what I want to see. Therefore, my coverage of current memorabilia suffers.

With all of that being said, we're nowhere near being over. When I have a great topic it's still just as fun as it always was to maintain this blog and continue the journey. I have several ideas lined up for the near future and still maintain all of the branches of the blog on social media through Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. While the tales of wrestling memorabilia are now told in various ways outside of the blog that you're reading, it's a sincere hope of mine that you all still have a big spot in your heart for the original. You may not have a Thursday evening destination any longer, but remember to visit now and then.

In another decade we'll be reflecting on twenty years right here. Mark my words.

Saturday, March 9, 2019

Counting To Five, One Last Time, In The 500th Post...

I truly thought that the 500th post on this blog would be a more festive occasion. I also thought that the next time that I'd write about King Kong Bundy it would be finally celebrating his inclusion into the WWE Hall of Fame. I was wrong on both counts thanks to the surprises that the wrestling world, and life, often throw at us. This is not one of the fun surprises.

I last saw King Kong Bundy in person last year. He was, as usual, in good spirits. From my experience, Bundy liked making conversation, and jokes, with every fan who came up to him. He seemed to be a genuinely good guy who was no holds barred in regards to the business that he topped for a time. He spoke his mind and, whether or not that is what kept him from being more celebrated in the "WWE Universe," I don't think that it mattered to him.

King Kong Bundy is one of the first wrestlers that I remember knowing of. Somewhere exists an audio tape where a very young me quickly utters "KING KONG BUNDY! JUNKYARD DOG!" There's no doubt, though I was a casual fan at best in those early years, that I had good taste even as a youngster. I was thrilled by the larger-than-life gladiators. These weren't visuals animated onto the screen or actors in movies largely made up--these people were REAL. Bundy was as widely immense in life as he was portrayed on the screen. Was there any question that he broke Hulk Hogan's ribs? Of course not! How could he have splashed the man and NOT severely injured him?

King Kong Bundy also never seemed to overstay his welcome. You might say that he could have had a much more fulfilling career had he not strayed from the business. A WCW run may have been fun. It's also surprising that he didn't do more in Japan. Alas, as alluded to above, he was his own man. You get that feeling that he did what he wanted to do. He also headlined WrestleMania. And, after all, WrestleMania 2 was what the world had come to.

I will also say, without a shadow of doubt in my mind, that King Kong Bundy was vastly underrated. I know that I had said this long before his passing, possibly even somewhere on this blog. I think that so-called "work rate" is bunk (something that I know I've touched on before here), and that it really doesn't draw a dime. Unreal characters do. That's what Bundy was. Not to mention, he was crisp. Watch a Bundy match. Does he ever really look lost? Nope. He knew what he was doing and could do it with the best of them. He could adapt to opponents of any size, and let's not forget that backwards bump where he literally seemed to hover in mid-air. The latter thanks in part to that famous 1987 Topps trading card illustrating the move.

Bundy is another one who's presence at conventions I'm really going to miss. The legends are fading fast. Cheers to those of you, such as myself, who were lucky enough to take part in the past twenty or so years when conventions and meet and greets for wrestling really took off. We were able to meet scores of wrestling stars of our youth. Many of these greats, like King Kong Bundy, are now gone forever.

Thanks for The Avalanche and the five count, KKB. If anyone could be labeled one-of-a-kind, it was definitely "The Walking Condominium."

King Kong Bundy


Sunday, March 3, 2019

Mego Enters The Wrestling World, Fifty Years After Creating The Action Figure

As a child I knew all of the various superheroes, but the only one that captured my fascination and has kept with me for nearly forty years was Adam West's Batman. As did many children, I had Batman toys but none that were really Adam and the gang. Due to licensing reasons these just didn't exist until around five years ago. The closest thing around was a line of 8 inch clothed action figures by a company called Mego. In the 1970's, Mego's "Worlds Greatest Superheroes" figures were treasured by a generation of children growing up on then-fresh reruns of the 1966-68 Batman TV series. While the figures of Batman, Robin, Batgirl, The Joker, The Penguin, The Riddler, and Catwoman weren't spot on recreations of the TV characters by any means, this is what they had. Mego also had success with figures of characters from The Dukes of Hazzard, Wizard of Oz, Star Trek, and Muhammad Ali just to name a few. Sadly, by the early '80s, changes in the industry and some bad decisions saw the company close. Though I didn't own the Mego figures myself, I did learn of the company, which closed right around the time that I was born, since those toys were the closest thing from the era of the show.

Fast forward to 2018 and Mego Corporation has returned. Beginning with an exclusive contract with Target (opening up to more stores in 2019), the popular 8-inch figures have returned with a mix of new properties and recreations of past successes. Most recently a line of "Legends" has slowly been released including Ali, Marilyn Monroe, Bruce Lee, and Elvis. But the big news on this blog? Mego has finally produced a wrestling figure. Who bigger and better to start with than Andre the Giant?

Andre has had more than his fair share of figures over the years, including two Mego-styled figures by Figures Toy Company years ago, but here he is as the first official Mego wrestler. The style is his heel 1987-1989 "black strap" look, and seeing as that Mego is synonymous with the 1970's, I'd have preferred "afro" Andre as pictured on the back of the card. The strap is on the wrong side, as it was the first time that this look was transformed into an action figure by LJN for the Wrestling Superstars line back in 1989. It can be removed and switched around, but Mego has included a small piece of adhesive on the back so that the strap stays in place.

If you're looking for an exact likeness with your action figures, you should not be collecting Mego. It wasn't possible in the 1970's (although MANY Mego figures across the licenses had great likenesses regardless), and that has been reflected in the revival of the company. If Mego had returned only to produce figures resembling those produced by other companies, what would the point have been? Andre is 8 inches tall, just like the other figures by Mego. He isn't any taller, nor is anything but his head any bigger. While some may be off-put by this, it's very charming. Aside from the era of Andre being represented, this is the Andre figure you would've had back then.

In addition to the removable singlet, you get a folding chair and a thin plastic championship belt. Both again retain Mego charm, but have little value compared to the accessories included with the Ali figure and others. The chair is small and theorized by the fine folks at the Mego Museum forums to have been intentionally produced as such to look tiny in the hands of the Giant. It does not actually fold and unfold. The belt is made with what could best be described as the plastic that might be used for a wristband or a sale tag at a retail store. It is thin. The design is obviously based off of the WWF "winged eagle" belt with any copyrighted markings removed.

This figure isn't for everyone. Me? I love it. Though there may have been earlier examples, Mego really revolutionized the action figure. I continue to love the rich, and fun, history of the company and have embraced its return. It's a throwback that's not only sticking to its roots but adding to them. I understand why Andre was added to the line, and that doesn't necessarily mean we'll see more wrestlers, but it would be cool. I would love to see more '70s stars of the ring produced by Mego. Bruno, Dusty, and Mascaras? I'll even take a '70s Andre. At $12.99 a pop, how can you go wrong?

Long live The Giant, and the return of Mego.

Wednesday, January 2, 2019

Starting The Year Off Sadly & Silently...

As if enough living treasures from the wrestling world weren't already snatched away in 2018, we begin 2019 with yet another loss. It was just last week when I was writing about Mean Gene Okerlund who had been my favorite action figure of the year. This week, the world is mourning his death.

Mr. Okerlund's health problems over the years have been no secret. He came clean about one of his kidney transplants in the WWE Legends House series, yet in personal appearances he clearly hid any pain and suffering from which he may have been enduring. He never needed any aide to walk nor did he show major signs of age or exhaustion. He seemed to be the same Gene Okerlund that we grew up watching.

Perhaps that is why this one hits so hard. Certainly 76 isn't young, but in this day and age it isn't "old enough," either. Us children of the '80s who grew up with the World Wrestling Federation television network virtually narrated by the voice of Mean Gene figured that we would have him around. Sure, many of the wrestlers have left us, but those golden tones of the iconic announcer would be there far into the future, right? Sadly, along with the sound of Gorilla Monsoon and Bobby "The Brain" Heenan, among others, another legendary voice of the era is silenced.

For me, Gene was always the voice of authority on those broadcasts. You believed in what he said and the stars and stories that he talked about were believable. How could you doubt what he said? The grudges like Andre and Hogan, Warrior and Rude, DiBiase and Roberts were just as vicious as he claimed. If he said that the world was talking about WrestleMania, then you'd better follow his advice and get on the horn and order the show on pay-per-view right now.

And speaking of the one sold the '80s WWF tagline of "What The World Is Watching!" better than Mean Gene. His voice, coupled with the dramatic camera flight over water and canyons ending with thunder and lightning. You know the intro. And while the company has had other intros since, there will never be a better one. In fact, I would love for the company to one day bring back that slogan and use his authoritative voice. If Macdonald Carey can still tell us about the sands through the hour glass decades after his death, then Mean Gene can stay with us, too.

This is another gentleman that I will greatly miss showing up at conventions and events. You always knew that you were in for a laugh when Mean Gene was there. Of the many stars that I've met, I may have the most stories involving him. From asking a well-inebriated Mean Gene about the infamous SummerSlam sign blooper to seeing him pour on the charm just as he did so often on-camera, my memories will last forever, just as will all of yours.

From all of your "good, close, personal longtime" friends in the wrestling world, thanks for the memories, Gene. You weren't putting any of us on, you were a helluva guy.

Mean Gene Okerlund