Thursday, October 21, 2021

Move Over "Bullseye," There's A New Dog At Target!

The two earliest wrestling names that I recall uttering (thanks to the magic of '80s Memorex cassette tapes) are King Kong Bundy and The Junkyard Dog. I still remember my family purchasing the LJN Stretch Wrestler JYD for a relative for Christmas 1987. As my mother was wrapping it, I asked if we could slide him out (the boxes were not taped) so that I could pull the chain. Pull it, I did! Knowing that relative, that figure is probably long gone (sadly even the Bundy and Hogan that I owned are, too) but Target is giving us all another chance to yank that silver chain and grab them cakes, too.

Target's exclusive WWE Legends Series 12 is another wave that's causing both excitement and frustration for collectors all over. I won't go into the distribution issues this time. I've done enough of that this year already. Plus, I have to say that I was personally pleasantly surprised as far as the chase figure in the wave goes. The lineup consists of Rowdy Roddy Piper, Kevin Nash, Billy Gunn and our man of the hour, The Junkyard Dog. The JYD also happens to be the chase figure for this set, with the version in blue tights said to be the chase as opposed to the more common red.

This is actually the first time that JYD has seen a figure release in blue. Both LJN and Jakks produced him in red while Jakks and Mattel have given us The Dog in his white design which is probably his most famous style. The blue is actually one of his lesser-used looks, so if we must have a chase it's the best version to set as such.

The pre-orders for the set were manic as usual. Those of us lucky enough to have folks in their lives with separate Target accounts can try for two, as the figures are limited to one per person. I would never try for more than two, I simply want a fair shot at receiving both versions. With this figure, as well as Brutus Beefcake in a previous series, I lucked out and did in fact receive one of each. For Randy Savage, Ted DiBiase and Greg Valentine I had to resort to reasonable secondary deals while the Jake "The Snake" Roberts chase seemed to be as abundant in stores as the regular version was. Once released the figures do occasionally pop-up with Target online giving another opportunity for the chase. If that doesn't work out for me it gives me a chance to hook friends up with the basic versions as generally even those are hit or miss in stores. It's a silver lining on the black cloud of poor distribution.

With this version of JYD we get his classic collar and chain as well as King Harley Race's crown. Initially I thought that the former accessory was longer than the one from the first JYD Mattel release from years ago. It isn't, though the links used are different. To me, the latter accessory just serves to anger collectors a bit. For one thing the company already re-used it with the RetroFest King Duggan figure. After all, it was his crown, too. However with the confirmation that Race is no longer signed for further figures to be made coupled with the frustrations and anger over the controversial release of his sole entry in the line, I don't think that we really need to revisit his accessories. Yes, JYD famously "stole" and put the crown on at WrestleMania III, but a much better accessory would've been a re-creation of that classic baby blue JYD t-shirt. Not to split hairs, but he was also wearing the white tights at Mania when he put the crown on. Well, at least it fits the figure snugly.

The only brand new part of the figure is the head. I'm not sure that it's better than the initial Mattel release, but it does have a totally different facial expression. It may have been fun to have bushier hair with this one. If they want to revisit JYD again down the line, it might not be a bad idea to re-release the white tights version with a thicker body. The Dog infamously bulked up as his years in the World Wrestling Federation moved along. Honestly, the legs could be a tad thicker too, though that's a common complaint with many figures in the Mattel line. 

Looking back on how big of a star The Junkyard Dog was and of course associating that with how much money he drew, in my opinion he would be the perfect candidate for a figure in the "Ultimate Edition" line. With Target having an upcoming separate line of Ultimate Edition Legends, why not add The Dog? Include the aforementioned shirt, a stockier body and multiple heads representing his various hairstyles. It would fly off of the shelves just like this figure is going to.

That being said, this is of course another one that you should grab immediately should you desire it. It isn't a Figure of the Year candidate, but it's damned cool. Both versions are a ton of fun and since there's never been a blue tights version released before, the chase is worth going out of your way for. As usual around this time of year, the figure reviews here on the blog will be coming in just a bit faster, including one reviewing a certain FOTY candidate, so keep an eye on all of the socials. You can also check out a shot of all three Mattel Elite JYD's on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter, so follow the blog everywhere while you're at it!

And yes, I pulled both chains.

Friday, October 8, 2021

Will You Stop? -- Remembering Gorilla

This past week marked twenty-two years since the passing of Robert Marella, better known to millions as Gorilla Monsoon. Though I may have still been publishing my newsletter back in 1999, I generally stuck to wrestling merchandise. This blog was a decade away from being created. That being said, I never had the chance to properly convey my feelings on the life and death of one of my favorite wrestling personalities of all-time. While many wrestling deaths have happened since, many with men and women passing at a younger age than Mr. Monsoon, none have hit me harder.

While my parents grew up with Gorilla the wrestler, I grew up with Gorilla the announcer. One of the voices of the World Wrestling Federation. Almost the voice of reason in the crazy, wacky world of the WWF. While Mean Gene was the pitchman who hyped you up, Gorilla reassured you. When he told you that the world was watching WrestleMania IV, you believed it. When he said that the "SRO" signs went up early for a particular event, why would you even doubt him? He was an honest voice in a world that was built upon blurring reality. And while sometimes he would stretch the truth just a bit ("This match would be a main event in any arena in the world."), he always came back around.

You might even say that Gorilla was the king of the soft sell. Of course his words were meant to get you to come to the next event or purchase that upcoming pay-per-view, but were you ever annoyed or offended by the pitch like when suffering through the announcers of today? Highly unlikely! Another key was light-hearted banter. While it seemingly has no place in today's world, just tune into one of the classic WWF MSG or Boston Garden shows where Gorilla is teamed with Lord Alfred Hayes, Ken Resnick or even Hillbilly Jim. It wasn't all about cramming every second of airtime with the latest Twitter trend. Instead Gorilla and crew would comment on the location, a fan or two, even the food at the arena. It was fun, almost the kind of commentary that you'd hear between pitches on a baseball broadcast. The kind of fun that's been missing from wrestling longer than Mr. Monsoon has been.

And of course, Gorilla had two legendary foils in the broadcast booth, those being Bobby "The Brain" Heenan and Jesse "The Body" Ventura. While Gorilla and Bobby are absolutely classic, especially on Prime Time Wrestling and the 1992 Royal Rumble, I actually preferred the Monsoon-Ventura team. Though they did do some regular television broadcasts early on, it got to the point that they were saved for special occasions. The mixture of banter and comradery between the two had a quality that, in my opinion, has never quite been duplicated. I'm also not ashamed to say that after over thirty years of repeat viewings, I've memorized nearly every line of their ten pay-per-view broadcast team-ups. I'm sure that I'm not the only one.

Sadly, most Gorilla Monsoon merchandise was released posthumously. A glaring omission from the LJN WWF Wrestling Superstars line, three Gorilla Monsoon action figures have since been produced and are rightfully sought-after. There have been some cool trading cards released, but perhaps no t-shirt that I've worn in my entire life has yielded me more comments than one produced by WWE around five years ago. You guessed it. A bright blue tee featuring a stylized portrait of Gorilla in all of his jovial, affable glory. Even Mean Gene himself took note of me wearing it once before his passing. It was truly a happening.

With the way that the industry has changed it's hard to imagine that Mr. Monsoon would have much if anything to do with the wrestling of today. It would have been nice to have seen him reunite and make appearances with other legends at conventions and other events, but I have a feeling that more family time would have been most important of all to him. He was a real guy. A real man. We're just lucky that, through professional wrestling, the world got to know him. Forget just knowing him. We loved him.


Robert Marella

"Gorilla Monsoon"

1937-1999

Thursday, September 23, 2021

Even for adults...it's O.K. to play!

There's no doubt that society is ever changing. For better or for worse ideals and situations that were once unacceptable to the general public have rapidly been making a complete 180. No, we're not getting political here. We're staying on the track of collecting but perhaps in a bit different manner than usual. Collecting action figures hasn't always been the most accepted practice. To some it's just "collecting dolls." But what about playing with them? Surely only kids do that. Interestingly enough, adults have found a new way to "play" with toys ranging from superheroes to Star Wars to wrestling: action figure photography.

Go ahead and plug that hashtag in on Instagram. You will be amazed at what you see. Real events and matches recreated. "Dream" bouts and settings that never occurred. "Bookers" creating their own promotions and lineage. Even custom figures of wrestlers who never truly existed. It's all there. Taken with cameras ranging from professional jobs to the one packed right in your cell phone. Go ahead and look around. See what there is to see. I'll wait.

Did you see all of those cool pics? The truth of the matter is that "action figure photography" is an adult way to play with toys. And it's accepted. Did you take a gander at the "likes" and "follows" that these account receive? Escapism. Art. Fun. Whatever you want to call it, it's here to stay.

The action figure manufacturers themselves have totally helped. Figures are becoming more and more realistic every day. You're hard-pressed to find a wrestling action figure these days that doesn't have interchangeable hands included, not to mention heads and of course clothing and accessories. With varying ways to make a single figure appear visually, a crafty photographer can place that figure in any number of different situations with a variety of interesting results. Even mixing accessories and outfits from a variety of different releases can surprise the most seasoned toy photographer.

There are even some companies away from the licensed groups that are getting in on the action. Any variety of dioramas and backdrops can be found to make these photographs completely immersive. Sure, the Rebels can hop aboard a starship or Batman can surprise The Joker in a dark alley, but now wrestling rings can be set up in full-sized arenas. Need a backstage area and/or locker room? You're covered there, too. And of course there's no substitute for imagination and a little elbow grease. Heck, Mattel has supplied some fantastic interview backdrops as cardboard backing with some of their releases over the years. You didn't throw that packaging away, did you?

Believe it not, I'm of the opinion that this hobby will have a lasting effect on the collectible market itself. With more and more buyers opening their figures to have some fun, less will be left boxed. While some will argue that these modern figures are mass marketed and thus will never hold the same value as their counterparts from the past, just point out how lack of proper distribution (thought I'd avoid that word in this entry...) on some of the figures instantly cemented their collectability.

Now then, open up that Mattel King Harley and take a great pic!

Saturday, September 11, 2021

Bam Bam Goes Extreme

For being such a walking action figure as he was in life, Bam Bam Bigelow hasn't been immortalized in plastic near as much as he probably should've been. We've received one LJN, one Hasbro, two Toy Biz, one Jakks and now three Mattel figures. For a wrestler who looked like a beastly fireball with a career that spanned roughly two decades, the figure count is a bit underwhelming. It's also a bit surprising that not one of his figures reflects the outfit that he wore in what was easily his highest profile match. 

Mattel's WWE Legends Series 11 brings us Bam Bam in an outfit that we've seen once before as a figure but with a particular accessory that we have not. The series also includes Scott Hall, Big John Studd and Randy "Cream of the Crop" Savage. The packaging has remained consistent since the line returned and, according to those within Mattel, is not scheduled to change despite a new style soon to debut in the main line. With this particular color scheme, the shape has grown on me. The Legends line continues to be exclusive to Target and was the first wave not to be offered for pre-order. More on that later.

The Bammer is clad in his gray flame outfit worn most famously in WCW and ECW. The latter is what is being represented here due to the inclusion of a never-before released accessory: the ECW Television Championship. Bigelow also includes three individual sets of hands which are unique to the figure due to painted tape on the fingers. This gray costume was only seen once before in figure form thanks to Toy Biz in the late '90s. While Mattel easily could have reused the facial sculpt used in their previous two Bigelow releases, they instead chose to create an all-new one. I like both and I do feel that this one represents Bam Bam from later in his career as this figure is designed to do.

As there is a "chase" variant of one character in each WWE Legends wave (this time it's The Macho Man), I'm actually sort of surprised that it wasn't Bam Bam this time. The chase figure is a paint app variation of one of the figures while retaining the same sculpt and accessories. Seeing as the design of this gray costume with the "triple B" logo debuted with orange flames in 1995, the chase could've been that design. It wouldn't have hurt the value of the company's original release of that Bam Bam from over a decade ago as that figure had the original Mattel Bigelow head sculpt as well as his '95 entrance gear.

I'm still surprised that we've never seen "purple flame" Bam Bam done as a figure. It's the outfit that he wore from 1993 to 1995 as well as in his famous match against Lawrence Taylor at WrestleMania XI. Seeing as that it seems that Mattel's well is running dry as far as a wide variety of legends available to make, we could see the design pop up sooner than later. I'm all for it.

I'm also all for this figure. In addition to being a great likeness with a brand new accessory, it's proven to be easy to obtain. It has remained in stock on Target's website and many stores have received the figure in abundance. That being said, don't sleep on it. If you want it and see it available you already know to grab it. I will also add that this is a perfect candidate for "Figure of the Year." As I've made clear before, my qualifications include the figure being reasonably easy to obtain for a wide margin of collectors. This "Beast From The East" ticks all of those boxes. With WWE Legends 12 beginning to trickle into stores, grab the master of the flames before you get burnt.

Thursday, August 26, 2021

Bring Home All Elite Action!

See what I did with the title? Anyway, LJN Wrestling Superstars are back! Again! Though this time it's actually for real. In stores. On the pegs.  I don't rally for either promotion in 2021, but I'll give credit when it's due. If there's a battle going on, AEW is certainly ahead on points in all aspects at the moment. They're simply hot while the other company is busy making bad decision after bad decision. But this isn't the Observer. We do what we've done here for over a decade: check out merch! Let's take a look at the latest and most unique entry into the action figure offerings from AEW: Unmatched Series 1  LJN Wrestling Superstars Cody Rhodes.

You'll notice a few things in my "official" description of the figure in the last paragraph. Cody...Rhodes? Yes, this is the first AEW Cody figure to have the last name included. Since I never took to referring to the second-generation star as simply "Cody," it actually took me awhile to even notice. He's just always been Cody Rhodes to me. You may also note that I did not include the word "style" after LJN Wrestling Superstars. Technically this is not a tribute figure but an actual LJN branded figure. 

Looking back you could argue that there have been attempts to recreate the LJN line as far back as 1995. That was when The Original San Francisco Toymakers launched their WCW line. The figures were a bit firmer and a tad smaller but the intent was obviously there. Years later, during the latter waves of the Jakks WWE Classic Superstars line an "LJN style chase" was included. These were even smaller than the Toymakers WCW figures. While the intent was there, the LJN branding wasn't. They're fun and a nice inclusion to a "classic" line, but something was missing.

I'm not going to act like the Young Bucks two-pack doesn't exist. Around the time that AEW was forming, there was an official "LJN Wrestling Superstars" two-pack of the super-kicking tag team released. It certainly counts, but it was something you had to seek out. You weren't walking into Target and buying one. Granted, Jazwares distribution thus far isn't much better than Mattel, so you may not be walking into Target and buying one anyway. Still, the chance is there. This figure is part of the first wave of the AEW Unmatched Collection which also includes standard figures of Kenny Omega, Darby Allin, Dustin Rhodes, Miro and the rookie figure of Dr. Britt Baker DMD. If you follow the social media for this blog you've already seen a cool story (bro) on the latter. 

So what's the figure like? The packaging is a LJN-stylized version of the standard AEW box. It's actually a lot like what the LJN-styled Classic Superstar packaging could've been had licensing been worked out. Just like in the '80s that baby blue is very visually appealing and stands out. The figure seems just right for the box and isn't too big. You get the notification of the included poster as well as a clip and save file card on the back. I didn't even realize that I missed that concept so much until this figure came along.

The figure is definitely an LJN-produced Cody Rhodes. It's not a perfect likeness but it's an LJN likeness. It's supposed to be just there. And it is. The pose is vintage Wrestling Superstars. The size is close. It's much closer to the original LJN figures than the Jakks efforts. Considering the original LJNs were all over the place in terms of size, Cody fits. He would also fit right in with the Toymakers WCW figures. The material used is probably a tad closer to those, too. 

Yes, you read right above. Included are the LJN poster and file card. There was obviously a great bit of detail put into this figure which I have no doubt will carry over into each one that is made. Even the fonts are the same. Now why wasn't I put into the crowd?

We have a winner! As scale and other issues have been slowly worked out I've been getting more and more into the Jazwares product. I've found myself picking up at least one of each character and even multiples if I see myself wanting one for autograph purposes down the line. This was an easy double purchase for me, as who wouldn't want the thrill of opening official LJN wrestling figures in 2021? I doubt these are warming the pegs anywhere. If you see 'em, grab 'em! With the AEW roster as deep as it's getting, it's fun to think about who all may receive the LJN treatment. It should be noted that a Wal Mart exclusive variant of this figure is coming, but that shouldn't detract much from the popularity of this standard release.

And yes, I clipped and saved...

Thursday, August 5, 2021

From The Musty Yellowed Pages--UWF Beach Brawl 1991 Program

Maybe Herbie did have a use for all of that baby oil three decades ago. No, it wasn't another late night at the office. It was UWF Beach Brawl! We've all heard the stories of Herb Abrams and his ill-fated venture into the sport of kings. He didn't want to just be competition for the World Wrestling Federation, he wanted to be bigger than the Stamford-based company had ever been! TV shows! Pay-per-view! Andre the Giant! Cookies! While some of that did actually happen (do we have evidence that any cookies were ever produced/sold?), three decades later we know the ultimate fate of the man and the company. But one tangible product still exists and today we're looking at it: the UWF Beach Brawl 1991 program!

While there are hats, video tapes and a few other programs floating around (does ANYONE have evidence of those damned cookies?), the Beach Brawl program is my favorite bit of Herbie's UWF memorabilia that is out there. It isn't so much what it looks like, though it does boast a colorful cover and plenty of photos inside. It isn't even that I am an avid collector of programs like many of you reading this. I never sought it out. I believe I picked it up relatively cheap in the last decade. What's really been a blast about owning this thing are the reactions that it gets from the wrestlers signing it.

"I didn't even show up," recalled Don "Magnificent" Muraco as he became the first to sign it. He was correct, he did not show up for his match with Terry "Bam Bam" Gordy, but he is featured in the publication. The infamous Johnny Ace ended up subbing for The Magnificent One. Brian Blair and Jim Brunzell got a great chuckle when recalling working for Herb Abrams as "Masked Confusion" as opposed to their WWF "Killer Bees" personas. Even Mick Foley, the most recent to sign it, marveled at it and recalled Muraco not actually working the event.

The program itself isn't too remarkable and certainly nothing compared to what the WWF was doing with programs or even WCW when they would manage to squeak one out. It certainly isn't cheaply made like a mimeographed independent show program of the era, but color on the inside definitely could've made it stand out a bit more.

Despite not winning on this particular show, Candi Devine still has the UWF Women's Championship belt in her possession and gladly brings it to autograph signings and appearances. The still-popular Rockin' Robin was the winner here and has her original WWF Women's Championship. Where's the fanfest promoter who will book these two ladies with Alundra "Madusa" Blayze (who, of course, still has the 1993-1995 WWF Women's Championship) and brings them all together for a special photo op? 

Speaking of things for wrestling fans to spend money on, Herb of course loaded the program with opportunities to order UWF apparel and other merchandise. Again, we know that hats and videotapes exist. The "Bruno book" offered would be the first printing of his autobiography that was released around that time. It is interesting to think that a man who built himself on honesty such as Bruno Sammartino would be taken in by a guy like Herb. It's my feeling that Bruno was so anxious to stick it to the WWF at that point that he was willing to go with whoever was trying to create opposition.

Speaking of Herb, one of the last pages in the book is fully dedicated to him and offers a bio that he most-assuredly penned himself. Perhaps the one truism on the page is the feeling that Bruno and Captain Lou Albano being part of the UWF lent credibility. While the promotion ultimately ended up with zero credibility to speak of, it is reasonable to think that some at the time may have thought that the inclusion of such names would in fact mean that there was promise in the company and that would attract both sponsors and fans. 

There's really little joy in rewatching anything that was produced by the company. It isn't like a WWF or WCW show from the era where nostalgia hits you at every corner. You can tell by the performances that much of the talent was there for a payday and nothing more. Still, others worked hard and tried to make something of it. I'll leave it to you to decide which names fall under which category. It is worth seeking out at least some of the footage for the sake of history, especially if you watched the Herb Abrams documentary produced awhile back. It's also interesting to see Andre the Giant in his brief appearance. I'm sure he just wanted to hang out with his old friends.

If anything it can serve as a warning. You don't want to end up like Herb Abrams. He tried to warn you right in this very program...

Thursday, July 29, 2021

A Beefcake In The Oven For 35 Years

Yes, "The Barber" has had plenty of action figures. "Brutus Beefcake," however? One. LJN. 1986ish. Sure it was released a few times (original, Dream Team two-pack, and as "The Barber" on the black card), but every other figure of Beefcake has been as "The Barber" complete with shears and resembling his look post-WrestleMania III. Finally, in another nice surprise from Mattel's WWE Legends line, the strutting, cocky man of questionable profession from San Francisco returns to the figure world.

As is Mattel's calling card, WWE Legends Series 10 has had some odd distribution. Despite all four being available for a few minutes on pre-order day through Target's website and app, Big Van Vader and John Cena shipped first. Months early, actually. The two shipped to Target stores as well and if you weren't able to get them then you honestly weren't trying. I normally hate that kind of phrasing, but they were plentiful. Beefcake and Diamond Dallas Page were a different story. Shortly after the several minute pre-order window was over, Mattel announced that the latter two would be released months later. It then also came out that they would strictly be released online. This did two things: it automatically made collectors who missed out on the joke of a pre-sale very upset. It also automatically drove up the secondary market price upon the eventual release.

Adding to the upset is that Brutus Beefcake is the figure in the set with a chase variant. The tights are blue with a spotted design as opposed to the yellow and black stripes with the standard. It's hard to say so early into the release if one will truly be more desired than the other. Previously Legends line releases have seen instances where the standard and chase have seemingly been equal (Jake "The Snake" Roberts) and others where both have been a highly desired figure ("Million Dollar Man" Ted DiBiase). As this blog has always been on the side of collectors getting what they want, we'll hope that the former ends up being the rule.

The figure itself? I love the entire presentation. Nothing different in the packaging yet. I'm assuming that this will change eventually as there is said to be a revamp coming to the main line. Time will tell. I've never been a big fan of the entrance gear being packaged away from the figure and here we get the coat right on Beefcake. The tights are quite visible enough to tell which one you're getting and the colors are different enough to make it obvious. The belt is nicely positioned and the extra hands don't cause any distraction to the figure itself. I do like that the sunglasses are off in order to see the facial scan.

Speaking of that face...wow! This is one that is in my "look at it long enough and you feel like he's standing there" grouping. I don't know how many that I've included in this elite club (I know that it started with the Survivor Series Jeff Hardy of a few years ago) but Brutus really takes the...cake. Due to the hair this is an all new head and I really want to see it again. I'll get to that in a bit. The body is the same as the previous Mattel Beefcake figures and the thicker torso really works for him, especially when positioned near a Hulk Hogan figure. I've felt that some of the Mattel WWE figures have been a tad too slender since Day 1. We're not seeing that here.

You get a nice lot of accessories, too, including the coat, hands, sunglasses, bowtie and WWF Tag Team Championship belt. This is the first time that the silver colored tag team belt has ever been done in figure form. While it's not shiny vac-style, it looks great. The only question is who will we see another one with down the line? Do we still have the rights to Barry Windham and Mike Rotunda?

Now comes the hard part. This would be an instant Figure of the Year candidate for me...if it had better distribution. I lucked out on this one. I received one of each in two orders through two different accounts of two different people. I didn't cheat. I simply wanted one to open and one to keep carded. I certainly don't get these things handed to me like some unnamed blowhards that many of you love. I've been doing it the right way for 35 years. But just because I lucked out doesn't mean that the distribution on these is great. Thus far it's awful. Could this improve? Sure. If they're going to be Target online exclusives then make them available for days on end as Vader and Cena were. It's that simple.

And since you have this new head done, Mattel, how about a Beefcake-Valentine two-pack? Brutus in the black and yellow lighting motif and Valentine in purple. It can even be basic and include the silver titles. Too much of a dream, team?