Sunday, January 9, 2022

Nighttime For WWEternia

Usually novelty wrestling figure lines end without much of a whimper. This one is a tad different. In 2021 Mattel announced that their Masters of the WWE Universe line would be coming to an end. While never easy to find due to being exclusive to Wal Mart, the line was unique in that it appealed to several kinds of collectors. Of course you have the folks that have to get everything, but plenty of Masters of the Universe collectors had trouble resisting these as well. You also had those such as myself who viewed these figures, sans their fantasy gear, as "extensions" to the legendary Remco AWA line. The figures in that line were made using the body types of Remco's fantasy figures which in turn were marketed to play alongside with Masters of the Universe and looked remarkable similar.

While today we're looking at Series 7, it's actually the penultimate wave. I'm not the only one looking at Series 7 as the finale of the series for a few reasons. For starters, Series 8 hit stores before Series 7 for unknown reasons. Series 7 also includes four character who are all new to the line and, most importantly to me, all legends. Our lineup is Bret "The Hitman" Hart ("Excellence of Execution"), Junkyard Dog ("Heroic Grabber of Cakes"), Andre the Giant ("Eighth Wonder of WWEternia") and Sgt. Slaughter ("Heroic Sergeant-At-Arms").

The four come in the traditional Masters of the Universe packaging (still used to this day) garnished with just enough changes to differentiate these from the main line. Sadly, the final couple of series have included a "Collector's Sheet" as opposed to a mini-comic, possibly highlighting Mattel's lack of interest in the line.

All four are solid entries in the line and, as with most of the figures in this line, somewhat resemble actual Masters of the Universe characters. Bret Hart is based off of Tri-Klops, JYD has elements of Spikor and Slaughter is very obviously a take-off of Man-At-Arms. Andre is about the only one who isn't easy to pinpoint. There were giants scheduled for the original MOTU line before it ended, but I'm not sure if Andre is supposed to resemble them. His appearance here actually reminds me of his costume in Cyndi Lauper's "Goonies" music video. You can't argue that Andre would fit into the line best. Who wouldn't want to see He-Man battle a menacing giant? And yes, this figure is large. Upon opening the figure you have to put his boots on yourself in order for the figure to be released in the same size packaging.

For me, Sgt. Slaughter was the most wanted figure for this line. Slaughter and Verne Gagne were the biggest glaring omissions in the Remco AWA line. We finally have a Sarge that fits right in to the AWA world. As with the others in this line that I've picked up, most will probably never wear their gear again. While the figures have been hit (Hulk Hogan, Ultimate Warrior) or miss (Kane, Jake Roberts) as to whether or not you can utilize them as basic wrestling figures, this series pretty much hits the mark aside from Bret missing the singlet top. Slaughter concerned me the most and, again, he came out great. Even the hat and glasses are removable.

So far this series is a hot one. I lucked out and was able to grab a set when an online retailer briefly had them available, but most are probably going to be struggling with Wal Mart on these ones. The line replacing this one is another Wal Mart exclusive called "WWE Superstars" and is a direct homage to the Remco AWA line complete with cloth clothing and accessories. Thus far The Honky Tonk Man is the only one who truly strikes my fancy, but I'm sure we're in for some goodies. That being said, there were more wrestlers that it would have been fun to have had in "WWEternia." I pictured Bam Bam Bigelow as some sort of master of fire and Kerry Von Erich, literally a living embodiment of He-Man in his heyday, would've been amazing in the line.

Regardless, for a couple of years, you and WWE..."HAD THE POWERRRRRR!"

Friday, December 31, 2021

Introducing The 2021 Figure Of The Year...

Isn't it January 2020? As hard as it is to believe, as of press time we're hours away from January 2022. I don't have to list the reasons why time is flying faster than ever. Did we even have Christmas this year? If we did I think I missed it. On the bright side we did have another great year of wrestling figures and a wider variety than in decades. Mattel, Jazwares and all of the boutique companies have brought us a bevy of wrestlers of all shapes and sizes from the past, present and future. My wallet is already cringing at what 2022 will bring. Before we examine the power of the winner, let's check out my runners up.

My criteria is not only based on the figure itself, but also distribution. If there wasn't an easy way for collectors to get their hands on a particular figure, it won't be my Figure of the Year. For example, despite being one of my favorite Mattel WWE figures of all-time, their King Harley Race of several years ago would never have won the award. Had he been in a regularly distributed set I can't see anyone else having won that year. 

Coming close to winning two years in a row was The Ultimate Warrior. Another of my all-time favorite Mattel WWE figures was last the 2020 winner, WWE Legends Ultimate Warrior. That figure famously depicted him in his final WWE appearance just hours before his death. I still can't believe that we have the figure in our collections. Another great Warrior hit our collections this year, this time depicting his WWF return at WrestleMania XII in 1996. A Ringside Exclusive, the figure is still available thus certainly making it obtainable. The detail is absolutely amazing and the paint is second-to-none.

From Jazwares and All Elite Wrestling we have two runners up, both also seeing releases as Ringside Exclusives. The first is the TNT Champion Cody Rhodes. Handsomely packaged in a window box that doubles as a Double Or Nothing entrance stage, this was the first release of the AEW TNT Championship belt. Cody seems to be currently facing a backlash that has plagued more than one top star over the years. In a decade he will be talked about glowingly among most fans. Mark my words. Of course, it could all be an invention of the toxic Twitter twits in their basements.

The second AEW figure on my list is referee Aubrey Edwards. A truly pioneering figure, it's the first time that a female wrestling referee has been immortalized in plastic. The figure also looks like they simply shrunk Miss Edwards down to six inches. It's that spot on. I would've preferred that she had been released on her own as opposed to having to purchase an expensive "real scale" ring in order to get her, but I know that I'm not the only one who took the plunge. I also had the chance to talk about the figure with Miss Edwards shortly before its release. She couldn't hide her happiness.

The smaller "boutique" lines are just getting started and in my opinion we'll have a lot more of these figures showing up as runners up in 2022. My inclusion for 2021 is none other than The Blue Meanie. Perhaps the most "toyetic" wrestler ever, The Meanie has been very underrepresented over the years as far as action figures. He has two more coming in 2022 including a repaint of this one. This release not only captured Meanie but also that slightly cartoonish Hasbro style. Chella Toys is doing a great job with their Wrestling Megastars line and I do predict that they will ultimately end up as the most cherished of all of the "retro" styled figures.

Our winner? The Warlord. Yes, he was part of Mattel's "Collectors Series" program and an exclusive to Wal Mart, but there was ample time to order him from their website even if you never saw him in stores. I was blown away by the detail on him from the face paint to the tights to the entrance gear. Perhaps the only thing that could've made him better to me personally was had he been in the WWE Legends line. Of the packaging from the past several years (since Mattel dropped the rectangle boxes) the Legends colors and design appeal to me the most. Will we ever get The Barbarian from Mattel? Maybe. But this half of The Powers of Pain turned out a real champ.

We're now coming up on the third year where the blog has no longer been weekly. When I began the blog in 2009, and even further back in the '90s when I published my newsletter, very few people were writing about wrestling memorabilia. I hate to declare that the blog is antiquated, but I feel that blogging as a whole is going the way of physical print media. People want podcasts. I've been told by many that I should go the podcasting route. If I were to do so, wrestling memorabilia would not be the topic. It's overexposed. That being said the blog isn't going anywhere. I still have ideas that I would like to explore with more undoubtedly ready to pop up. For those of you who continue to read the blog, I truly appreciate you.

Thursday, November 25, 2021

Introducing...The Warlord

Over four years ago here on the blog I predicted that Mattel would "never go the Powers of Pain route." I like to admit when I'm wrong and I was indeed incorrect. In that entry I was reviewing the initial Mattel release of The Warlord which represented his look from 1990-1992. As he and many others had just become involved in a class action lawsuit led by an ambulance-chasing lawyer (the suit was ultimately thrown out), it was said that the figure just escaped cancellation. While the WWE/Mattel stance on those who were involved in the lawsuit is still murky at best, we finally have another version of The Warlord in the line.

This figure of the burly brawler represents his "Powers of Pain" look. The tag team with The Barbarian began in the NWA and lasted until 1990 when the team was split up in the WWF. The figure is an exclusive to Wal Mart and is part of the "Collector's Series" program that I've lamented many times on this blog.

The packaging has never been among my favorite designs, but I don't hate it. It works for the purpose. I'm glad to see some new, very attractive packaging taking its place shortly. With the combination of The Warlord naturally being a larger figure and only one extra pair of hands included, there isn't much floating in the bubble to distract from the figure if you're a carded/boxed collection. I will admit that this is one that I picked up an extra of for autograph purposes. The Warlord is wearing his Powers of Pain entrance gear inside the box and it looks great. Just looking at the box it's hard to fathom that we're getting this figure from Mattel, but it's certainly not the first surprise to come over the years.

There's a ton of detail in this figure from the removable arm band to his name on the back of his entrance vest. There was some initial whining from the peanut gallery as part of "Powers of Pain" is missing from the text on his leg. It was covered in real life as well. You either want realism or you don't. Like a lot of instances in society these days, they want it both ways. In truth there isn't an unrealistic part of this figure. You can argue that it's easier to get a good likeness when face paint is involved, but you still have to some semblance of a good facial scan/sculpt. The torso is the same as used from the first Warlord figure and obviously fits the bill.

Other criticism for the figure, again unfounded in my view, was that there are no known plans for a figure of The Barbarian at this time. Mattel has made it very clear that, in one of their better moves, they are fully on-board with making a half of a tag team should the partner become available for them to make somewhere down the line. The "British Bulldogs" version of Davey Boy Smith is another recent example of this thinking. I damn the company on a lot of things, but this isn't one of them. Give us more unique looks like this. 

A few weeks ago I spoke of a then-upcoming figure review where I'd look at a "Figure of the Year" candidate. This is it. In addition to being a great figure, in my view a "FOTY" must be widely available. While some have come across the figure in brick and mortar Wal Mart stores, it has been available for at least a month on their website. If you wanted this one you have no excuse of not having it. That is how all figures should be, especially cool and unique ones like this. And remember, just because a figure is easily available initially does not mean that it can't gain value in the future.

Now WWE, it's time to widen the legends variety. Bring us The Barbarian!

Thursday, November 18, 2021

The Territory Photo Albums--Pittsburgh 1969

Since its inception this blog has always had something of a Pittsburgh flavor. After all, I've made my home in Pittsburgh for my entire life. But "The Burgh" is somewhat underappreciated for its rich wrestling history. Of course we claim Bruno Sammartino as our own, but it's sometimes forgotten on a larger scale just how many big names of wrestling's past spent their time here. Bruno needed challengers, allies and plenty of other talent to fill out cards at the Civic Arena and on the immensely popular "Studio Wrestling" program.

The Pittsburgh wrestling office, like many territories, periodically released photo album publications to remind you of the great wrestling roster in your area. There were five total, all released under the banner of "Tri-State Wrestling." I've featured them on this blog before, with the 1967 edition being a previous entry in the "Territory Photo Albums" series, but today we're looking at the final one that was produced in 1969. 

While the first editon, published in 1963, has Buddy Rogers featured most prominently, Bruno has clearly become the star in his six years as champion. In fact this edition features more Bruno than anyone else. There's no doubt about it, though, he was the man. While most associate New York as his top town, you would be hard-pressed to find someone who grew up in Pittsburgh in the '60s who didn't know The Living Legend. The Italian Superman. The Champ. He was, and still is, a Pittsburgh sports icon revered alongside the likes of Roberto Clemente. 

Our cover features Bruno sharing the spotlight with Tony "Battman" Marino who we just recently lost. Marino is showing off his famous physique without the costume of The Caped Crusader covering it up. With the Batman television series being off of the air for over a year at this point, the gimmick was about to come to an end as well. Mr. Marino was a class act and is much missed. When I had this particular album signed, he even brought the original "Battman" cowl. Did I mention that the gentleman, well into his '80s at that point, had a patch of hair, on his otherwise bald head, shaved into the Batman logo? 

Inside we get Bruno right off the bat! It's actually the entire Sammartino clan. Carol, David and the twins. Despite what we know about Bruno and David's relationship later on, it's nice to see some family time shown here. This album also includes several pages dedicated to "The Bruno Sammartino Course Of Body Building." This was actually also released as its own publication around the same time as well and I would imagine that it set many a Pittsburgh youth off on the right foot as far as training is concerned. I won't go on a tangent, but there aren't any true role models left in sports today. Bruno was the role model in every sense of the term.

As mentioned above we get great glimpses of so many legends who either starred in the Pittsburgh area or at least passed through. Domenic DeNucci, Ivan Koloff, Lou Albano and Tony Altomare, Waldo Von Erich, Gorilla Monsoon and George "The Animal" Steele. We also have the Pittsburgh mainstays like Bobby "Hurricane" Hunt, Jumpin' Johnny DeFazio and Frank Holtz. The latter may actually be the final living Pittsburgh wrestling star of this era following the recent deaths of DeFazio, Marino and DeNucci.

The Tri-State albums always featured bits on non-wrestlers, too, such as Pittsburgh broadcasting legend Bill "Chilly Billy" Cardille who was our voice of wrestling, promoters (including Vincent J. McMahon in one of the early books) and the man credited with discovering Bruno, Rudy Miller. This last installment also features a full page photo featuring three young women labeled "Judo Girls." Darlene Kalb, Donna Waxter and Jordie Ludwig were local judo champions who performed exhibitions during cards at the Civic Arena. I have no idea if the three are still with us, but adding their autographs to the book would certainly be fun as would hearing their stories from the era. 

While we always hear about WWF Magazine, pay-per-view event programs and other similar publications, very little is ever written about these great photo albums. I'm both thrilled and honored to document them for posterity. For more photos of this edition, including more of the autographs that I've filled this one with, follow us on Instagram @jws_wrestling_memorabilia. 

Sunday, November 7, 2021

Move Over Dick, Earl & Danny...Aubrey's Entering The Ring

Let me start off by making a statement upfront: I hate "real scale" rings. I don't care what anyone says, they're all too big. They're cumbersome, hard to build and who has room to display them? None of them really seem durable to last long in a kid's hands, either. Sure, I would've taken care of mine, but remember those kids who would come over and slam the figures together as if that was how to properly wrestle? Yeah, these rings wouldn't last long with those brutes. Nevertheless I now own four. I've had various reasons to purchase them over the years and now in 2021 I've been given yet another reason: the first female wrestling referee figure.

A Ringside Collectibles Exclusive (it's printed right on the box so I don't see Amazon getting this thing), the ring is said to be the only way that we'll get a figure of AEW's Aubrey Edwards. For someone like me who just doesn't care for real scale rings it's quite an investment for one figure, but it isn't like I'm throwing the ring away or anything. I built it. I photographed it. It will likely now be disassembled and shoved in a closet. But what we're really here to highlight is Aubrey herself so let's start out with the positive of this playset.

I had a chance to briefly chat with Aubrey about the figure last month in New Jersey. You could tell that she was thrilled by it and she seems like someone who recognizes what a milestone that it is. The figure is spot on. From the scan to the body type, it even features a tattoo on her arm. Extra hands are included with the best being those counting "one" and "two." Aubrey had told me that it was going to include gloved hands for when blood spills. I would imagine that this was something that Jazwares told her and/or was included on the prototype as it didn't end up happening. It's a shame, but not a deal breaker.

The ring itself is nice looking. I will not dispute that. I'm just not a fan of the size of any scale ring from any company that's been released as of press time. Although it wasn't as frustrating to build as some in the past, it definitely tried my patience. I like the rubber turnbuckles and how they apply just as the real AEW pads do. Tag ropes are always a nice bonus and here they are. The steps are pedestrian but necessary. I've been a fan of the square AEW turnposts since day one and they're well-represented here. A negative is that the ring is themed to the pay-per-view event "Double Or Nothing." The first scale ring put out in the line was the basic AEW ring, but was not worth buying for the figure. It would be nice if Jazwares released a generic AEW ring accessory pack down the line, though I wouldn't bet on it. It serves them better to keep releasing more rings. The mat is fabric and that's yet another scale ring feature that I've never warmed up to.

I found a way to make room in my budget for this thing being a fan of the miniscule amount of referee figures that we've received since the 1980's. At a price point of over $100 it isn't for everyone and, at least at this point in time, not everyone is going to have Aubrey in their collection because of that. I can't imagine that the AEW line will end before she gets another figure but there isn't anything guaranteeing that. I will advise that the best action figure ring that I've encountered in years is the AEW version sold at retail. It's a bit bigger than the basic Mattel WWE rings and isn't quite "scale," but it's certainly a solid and unique looking ring. I've kept the stickers off of mine and in doing so it works with just about any era of wrestling figure.

Congratulations to Aubrey Edwards for breaking ground and in the process becoming a fantastic addition to the AEW figure line! Now, don't count me out...

Thursday, October 28, 2021

Bull Naka-naka-naka-nakano

Don't even lie to me. You've had that in your head for twenty-seven years just like I have. Thanks, Macho Man. You've also wanted this action figure for that amount of time or perhaps even longer if you're a longtime devotee of Japanese women's wrestling or joshi. Hasbro ignored female wrestlers (and basically anyone in the WWF at the time other than male wrestlers) and Bull has never been part of any domestic legends series. Although there were some toys released in Japan that didn't truly fit into any actual figure series, thanks to Chella Toys we finally have Bull Nakano as part of their "Wrestling Megastars" line.

You may recall my review of The Blue Meanie from this line earlier in the year. Each figure is a tribute to the aforementioned Hasbro WWF line and thus far has been much truer to that series than the Mattel WWE Retro figures were just a few years ago. As you can tell by a line featuring both The Meanie and The Bull, there are seemingly no rules as to who all can be included. Between Nick Aldis and Hayabusa already being produced and with such names as The Dynamite Kid, The bWo and British legends "Big Daddy" Shirley Crabtree and Giant Haystacks on the way, it's quite the mix.

One thing that I love about this line is the packaging. The card stock is on point with Hasbro and even without any semblance of a WWF/WWE logo in sight, it's still closer to the originals than anything Mattel did. This isn't a bash Mattel fest. There were some great figures in that line. They simply failed a lot more than they should have and it's both amazing and refreshing that these smaller companies are getting it right.

The thing that is very noticeable even while the figure is carded is that Bull is rather small. The official explanation is that the women wrestlers are smaller. It's not a deal breaker for me, but seeing as that Hasbro's were never really about scale, I'd have her preferred her to be a bit bigger. We'll see how this progresses as the line goes on as the second female figure has already been announced in the form of Luna Vachon. While Luna already has two figures, she's one that I would've gone absolutely bonkers for in the original Hasbro line. She deserved to be there with Bam Bam Bigelow and will finally take her rightful place.

Bull is designed in the image of the Hasbro "suplex mechanism" figures that included such names as Mr. Perfect, Crush and Adam Bomb. The Wrestling Megastars do not have the mechanisms, but as far as I'm concerned they aren't exactly missed, either. This was a feature designed to attract children to the line. While many of us are children who never grew up, I can honestly say that even back then I rarely utilized the "Real Wrestling Action." That's why we kids never had an issue integrating the non-moveable Galoob WCW figures right in with the WWF Hasbros.

The likeness is good and her gear is perfectly captured. I would say that the skin tone is a tad too dark, but she still looks good. The face is just the balance needed between realism and a slight cartoonish flare. This is something that has to be difficult to do, as many of the other Hasbro tribute lines just can't seem to capture it.

At the price point that they are sold at, these retro lines aren't for everyone. If you are a fan of the Hasbro line and wish to extend your collection, this is a great opportunity to do so. My advice is to do as I do and pick and choose which ones you want. That way you have the exact collection that appeals to you. There are names coming from Chella as well as the other companies making similar figures that I simply would never want in my collection, so why would I buy them? It should be noted that another Bull is also coming from Junk Shop Dog in their line continuing the Popy Japanese figures of the early '80s. I know I won't be able to resist that one, either, so expect her to show up here just as their excellent Bruiser Brody figure did.

The Bull is running wild!

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.