Thursday, September 29, 2011

The Top 5 Wrestlers...Who Never Had An Action Figure

For stars in all forms of entertainment, getting an action figure can mean different things. Some embrace the honor that it is, looking at it as "immortality in plastic." Others seem to make light of it or simply just don't care.

Nine times out of ten it seems that pro wrestlers really enjoy it. These days nearly every wrestler that makes it to WWE gets a figure, but what about twenty years or so ago? The Jakks WWE Classic Superstars line certainly helped more wrestlers of the past get figures that were otherwise overlooked. Who ever thought that grapplers such as Ron Bass or Rocky Johnson would finally get figures literally decades after their careers ended?

Although that amazing figure line helped "clean up" the unmade list, the fact of the matter is that there are still major wrestling names who have never had a plastic likeness made. I'm not talking about names like Frank Gotch, Strangler Lewis, or even Lou Thesz who came way before the action figure era. I'm talking about stars who made their names around the time that wrestling figures became commonplace on store shelves and in children's toy boxes.

This entry contains five wrestlers who need action figures desperately. I did use a couple of guidelines while making my list. The five names are strictly male whose greatest claim to fame were their in-ring years. Since most manufacturers concentrate on actual wrestlers, I have not included managers, commentators, or female stars. As much as I'd love figures of Sir Oliver Humperdink, JJ Dillon, The Glamour Girls, and Bob Caudle, companies like Hasbro, Galoob, and others just weren't interested in marketing more than male wrestlers. Even today, the companies struggle to make female and non-wrestler figures. Without further ado, here is my top five (in no particular order)...

#5--The Blue Meanie

What wrestler ever looked more like an action figure than ECW's best dancer? Colorful, fun, and a favorite of fans everywhere, a figure of "Da Blue Guy" would've easily been a great seller. Although The Meanie's ECW career did not coincide with the release of the company's action figures, his various WWF/WWE stints or inclusion in the Classic Superstars line would've been an ideal opportunity for a Meanie figure. And don't even get me started on how great the figure would've looked autographed!

#4--Dino Bravo

As far as the era of the LJN and Hasbro WWF action figure lines, NO ONE was more overlooked than "Canadian Strongman" Dino Bravo. A regular member of the roster during portions of both lines, Bravo just did not get an action figure. Fans have speculated that the violent nature of Bravo's death kept Jakks from including him in the Classic Superstars line. Word has been that his family is all for the production of a figure, so I hope that "Canada's Strongest Man" eventually gets his plastic due.

#3--Verne Gagne

This is one that I'll never understand. The man owned his own wrestling company WITH an action figure deal and still did not receive a figure. Although it's possible that Remco thought that an action figure of a balding, middle aged man wouldn't sell, based upon some of the toy company's other ideas I don't buy this theory. I certainly wouldn't think that it was Gagne's ego, either, although that's another story for another time. Verne is another who was overlooked in the Classic Superstars line, but the figure wouldn't satisfy me the way that a Remco version would have.

#2--Dick Murdoch

No folks, "Captain Redneck" didn't have an action figure. While he wasn't in any of the major companies for any great lengths of time during their initial action figure deals, we certainly should have seen him in the Classic Superstars line. He also would've been a great candidate for an action figure out of Japan where legends such as Mil Mascaras, Dory Funk Jr., and Antonio Inoki saw their inclusion from this list eliminated.

#1--Buddy Rogers

Including this "Nature Boy" was a decision that I went back and forth on. While his wrestling days were over for all intents and purposes by the era of figures, Rogers is one of the names that transcends eras. One could argue that Thesz should be included if Rogers is, but Rogers had the larger than life "sports entertainment" value that should have made him one of the very first Classic Superstars figures. Gorgeous George also falls under this umbrella but is disqualified due to the existence of a very rare puppet/doll of "The Toast of the Coast." Rogers had no figural representation whatsoever.

There you have my own personal top five. Before you ask, Magnum T.A., Kevin Von Erich, and Terry Taylor all have figures either released or slated to be released in the near future thus eliminating all three of those worthy contenders. Did I forget someone? Maybe you're unaware that a certain wrestler made it to plastic? Let us know here or on the Facebook Fanpage!

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

It Figures!--The 2011 Wrestling Action Figure Scene

Action figures used to be the prime toy that "Little Johnny" (Little Jimmy is someone else...) could talk mom or dad into buying on a whim. There were tons to choose from, beginning in the mid-1970's nearly every property had them, and they were relatively cheap.

There are still tons to choose from and every property be it cartoon, movie, or comic book character still have them, but action figures really aren't cheap anymore. Like trading cards and comic books, figures are no longer the cheap item that will quiet a kid during a trip to the department store.

Although the prices no longer favor kids, in 2011 there are still several different wrestling action figure brand representing the current wrestling organizations. What are they doing right and what are they doing wrong?

Jakks Pacific is a toy company that truly built its name thanks to pro wrestling. Joining up with the WWF in 1996, Jakks still holds the record for the longest company to hold that toy license. Evolving as the product did, Jakks produced countless memorable figures over their decade and a half with the WWF/WWE. Although they had their faults (including countless repaints and releases of top stars) they cemented their legacy with the creation of what is perhaps the greatest wrestling figure collection of all-time, the WWE Classic Superstars.

Starting in 2010, toy giant Mattel took over the WWE toy line. Known for Barbie, Hot Wheels, and Masters of the Universe, Mattel is a well-known toy juggernaut going back decades. Around the same time that Mattel announced their new partnership, WWE's former toy producer Jakks announced that they would be assuming the TNA Wrestling toy line.

TNA Wrestling had previously struck a deal with Marvel Comics-owned ToyBiz for production of action figures and accessories. While that line had a large following and produced many nice pieces, inconsistency with releases and distribution plagued the line eventually resulting in an early demise.

Nearly two years into the current licensees runs for both companies we've seen a mixed bag of results. Both companies have brought figures to the table that have been desired by collectors for many years. Both companies have also failed in ways that have once again alienated some collectors.

One victory that the WWE Classic Superstars line brought to the table was the return of collectors long gone. Fans who were no longer interested in the current product were suddenly able to obtain quality action figures of stars from years gone by. I've touted this fact before, but these gains to the genre have largely been ignored by both of the current companies. Jakks, who should know of this fact already, was the first to drop their "Legends of the Ring" TNA subset after the first series. While figures are still being released under this banner in other forms, series releases are no longer being produced. This all but guarantees that middle and under card names from wrestling's past will no longer be made into figures. This was a key factor in the popularity of the Classic Superstars line.

Mattel recently followed suit with their WWE Legends line by announcing that future figures will only be available on their collectors store website. Although other stars of the past will be featured elsewhere in their offerings, it is not the same as being able to obtain these figures at brick and mortar retail stores.

I fully understand that numbers both monetary and logistically are main factors, but it's crucial for the companies to know that there is a market for these figures. Mattel is currently basing their numbers on the failure of the WWE Legends Series 3 and Tag Team figure collections. These figures were clearly overproduced and, in the case of the tag teams, overpriced. Not to mention that most of the figures in both of these series were produced by Jakks a short time long ago. There is a reason that figures of Randy Savage and Ricky Steamboat have sold as well as they have. Neither man had a figure in years. This is also the reason that the Classic Superstars figures of such men as Lanny "The Genius" Poffo, Ron Bass, and The Barbarian sold briskly and are popular to this day. Fans want new characters...not rehashes of figures that didn't sell very well in the first place.

One complaint of many fans that Jakks seems to be handling better than Mattel at this time is the inclusion of female figures. Fans have requested female figures in toy lines going back decades. The excuse the companies gave has always been the same--female figures "don't sell" in "boys" toy lines. I've never known this to be the case and have always viewed it as a very flimsy excuse.

In the past twelve months Jakks has released their first three Knockout figures with several more planned. The likenesses on all three (Velvet Sky, Daffney, and Angelina Love) have been nothing short of amazing and are true highlights of the Jakks TNA, now Impact Wrestling, figure line.

Mattel, while releasing Diva figures, have taken more of the traditional approach and hesitated to release females. Although several have been released, they are short packed in the shipping cases. The company has cited both the "female figures don't sell" myth and the failure of their first Diva offering, Mickie James, as reasons to shortchange the ladies. The Mickie James figure was not only released after her departure from the company, but it also barely resembled the ladies champion.

On the positive side we have seen some very nice releases on both sides. Mattel is steadily introducing new characters into the line. Figures of the original Nexus, Internet sensation Zack Ryder, and continual new figures of Randy Savage have all graced collections. Alberto Del Rio already has several releases and Sin Cara is said to be fast on the horizon for 2012. Heavy hinting and rumors of a long awaited Miss Elizabeth figure may also be available from Mattel within the next twelve months.

Jakks has also delivered some nice TNA/Impact product, but the continuous production and distribution problems which I've chronicled before are still an issue. Series release dates continue to be pushed back as the list of vendors carrying the product dwindles. Figures such as the aforementioned Knockouts, Sting figures of various designs, and online retailer exclusives have kept fans happy but not exactly satisfied. With the amazing crop of talent under contract to the company, Jakks is not even scratching the surface of what they could do with the license. This company knows how to utilize it as they showed for nearly fifteen years with WWE. They can't let us down now.

What would you like to see these companies do with the WWE and TNA licenses? I know that you all have ideas and I'm sure that Jakks and Mattel would love feedback from the most intelligent wrestling collectors on the planet. Feel free to share your thoughts either here or on our Facebook Fanpage and I will pass them along! You, the consumer, should be their most important decision maker.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Wrestling MarketWatch: High End Hijinx

With the financial state that pretty much the entire world is in, it should be amazing to anyone that many collectibles are still selling for the prices that they do. While I'll still argue that it's a buyers market as far as wrestling memorabilia is concerned, many items are still getting well over $50 in the secondary market.

In this installment of our recurring "Wrestling MarketWatch" series, I'll take a look at some of the recent selling prices on various items that have went above and beyond what many would think their value might be. As always, I caution that "value" is simply what someone is willing to pay for an item at a specific time. Should you go to sell the exact same item you may not get nearly the same price. It's all about supply, demand, and advertising/describing the item properly.

*We'll start with a perennial favorite among both wrestling collectors and children of the early '90s who've grown up and want their toys back. The Tonka WWF Wrestling Buddies have stood the test of time in terms and popularity...and durability. While these toys do fetch high prices there are also a ton of them out there. That can only bring one conclusion: fans simply like these things! What's not to like? Fun cartoonish caricatures of your favorite early '90s WWF stars that are sized and made to be WRESTLED with. While prices vary depending on which wrestler it is, the very popular Ultimate Warrior buddy has recently been selling for around $50 out of the box. If you've got the box, the Warrior and other stars can soar to $100 and beyond.

*Back to the year 1966 and cartoon characters of a different kind. While Bruno Sammartino ruled the northeast, he obviously couldn't be the sole hero of the area with the evil threats of Killer Kowalski, Gorilla Monsoon, and other villains of the mat. In Pittsburgh, the champ had help and an ally in the form of The Battman. No, not Batman. The Battman. Yeah. Trademarks you know. Well, the original outfit (and sidekick) would've never stood up in court these days, but nonetheless the Pittsburgh area had its own wrestling Dynamic Duo. Veteran wrestler Tony Marino virtually had a second career portraying the ring's version of the Caped Crusader. To this day, the 80-year-old Marino wears Bat Signal-shaped hair on the back of his head. Back in '66, the character made the cover of the October issue of Wrestling Revue magazine. Although certain covers of the now-defunct magazine have always sold well, this particular copy of the magazine recently sold for an amazing $202! Holy Rasslin' Relics!

*Although they didn't have quite the marketing machine of the WWF at the time, Jim Crockett Promotions produced a nice selection of merchandise that has become much sought after in recent years. The last major merchandising venture that Crockett would embark upon before being bought out by Ted Turner was a partnership with Wonderama International. The company ended up producing a set of NWA Wrestling Supercards. Featuring The Four Horsemen, Dusty Rhodes, Sting, The Road Warriors and hordes of others, the set is massive (around 350 cards) and, due in part to the offbeat nature of some of the photos used on the cards, a load of fun to collect. Since the set is indeed so massive, the easiest way to obtain one is by purchasing a complete set. These sets often include original cardboard boxes designed for the cards. Recently a set with box sold for $65. Although that isn't quite pocket change these days, I still advise collectors to pick this set up when they see it.

*I've discussed the WWWF Wrestling Action magazine quite a few times. It's a five issue set that just happens to be the first publication sanctioned by the WWWF. Prices have never been stable on these ranging from $10 to well over $100 for each issue depending on when you decide to buy. All five issues, as described here, have amazing covers chronicling the late '70s WWWF. The last issue, which is actually under the WWF banner, recently sold for $53. This and other recent prices for the magazines indicate to me that demand is on the rise again. While each issue shows up on occasion by no means are they common.

*Finally we come to a favorite of so many collectors: the LJN WWF figure line. Like with so many collectibles, packaging can often be the key to value. The LJN tag team figures greatly resemble this remark. Although the tag team sets show up somewhat frequently and usually obtain several hundred dollars each, the tag team figures packaged on cards and sold separately are a whole different story. The Killer Bees, Hart Foundation, and Strike Force individually carded would be a treasure to anyone but The British Bulldogs have become the most fabled of them all. The figures are even backed on Hulk Hogan card backs as opposed to having "clip and save" file cards of Davey Boy Smith and Dynamite Kid. Examples of each were recently sold at auction for $1,700 (Davey) and $1,009 (Dynamite) respectively marking the highest known prices for individually sold wrestling figures in recent memory.

What kind of treasures do you have stashed away? Would they carry the monetary bite of the Bulldogs or the ultimate popularity of Wrestling Buddies? As I always remind everyone, the true value is how much it's worth to you as an item. You can't go wrong investing in what YOU like. Holy Final Thought!

****"From The Musty, Yellowed Pages..."****

WWE Magazine, March 2007, Page 12

Although the pages of a four-year-old magazine probably aren't quite yellowed, I could think of no better "Musty, Yellowed Pages" segment to tie in with the recent selling price of the LJN Dynamite Kid.

In '07 the publishers of WWE Magazine decided to use a few photos of some of my items. I decided to highlight the Dynamite Kid LJN figure, as even toy magazine price guides were listing astronomical values for the figure and I myself had seen less than five examples of the piece. Despite TWO fact checking calls from the magazine, they still misquoted me by proclaiming the figure to be a "rare one-of-five" figure. I had told the magazine on three occasions that I had only ever SEEN around five or less in my collecting years. To this day I have still only seen around eight floating around, although I'd guess that a few more do exist.

Regardless of their mistake, I was still honored to be in the magazine. Now I'm writing about them. Coming full circle? Maybe.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Raven Figures...You Gotta Keep 'Em Separated

Anyone who had an action figure made under the WWF, WCW, ECW, and TNA banners has obviously had an extensive and storied career. Raven was the first (and thus far only) wrestler to achieve this, but just looking at the man himself will tell you he's no stranger to the wilder side of pro wrestling.

From the birth of the Raven character in mid-90's ECW, fans immediately took to the character and rightfully so. Although there were fans of Scott Levy's previous characters such as Johnny Polo and Scotty Flamingo, it was Raven that provided some of the industry's most memorable and controversial moments of the 1990's.

Some would argue that a watered down version of Raven is all that fans got to see in WCW, WWF, and TNA. The fact of the matter is that Raven's exploits are still among the most talked about WCW moments in a sometimes creatively challenged period for the company.

Raven is successful because fans believe in the character. Even with all of the shoot interviews and behind-the-scenes DVDs that Levy has participated in, a fan could attend a wrestling event featuring Raven tomorrow and immediately be brought back into "The Flock." Raven has an "it" factor that many will not find throughout their careers. This is also why Raven is a favorite among the wrestling convention scene.

At a recent appearance I had the opportunity to obtain a production sample of the newest Raven figure directly from the man himself. This was my first chance to see the figure in person and although many figures have been produced of the character, I believe that this Raven soars above the rest.

I was finally able to obtain a regular version to open and review. Despite a strong initial showing of their Legends of the Ring line, Jakks opted to change their release format to including one Legends of the Ring figure per regular TNA "Deluxe" figure series. It should be noted from the beginning that the Legends figure in each series is NOT a "Deluxe" style figure but rather a "Ruthless Aggression" style figure just like the legendary Jakks WWE Classic Superstars line.

With that being said, longtime readers will realize that I was thrilled with this figure from the start. Although it is a "Legends" figure, this Raven is based on a more recent look. With dreadlocks, eye paint, and full arm tattoos, I don't think that there will be any complaints as far as detailing. I would venture to guess that the face is actually a scan rather than a sculpt and there are no complaints as far as likeness either.

The first thing noticeable when seeing this figure is the leather jacket. Although past Raven figures have had leather jackets, they have always been molded on. This jacket is easily removable and doing so reveals the aforementioned tattoos.

Height is something that both the Toybiz and now Jakks TNA lines have struggled with. For Jakks, the problem is partially that some figures are done in the "Deluxe" style and others in the "Ruthless Aggression" style as mentioned above. Production problems or laziness aside, it's caused some weird products such as Amazing Red being as tall as any other male figure in the line.

To be honest, I believe that most collectors will be buying this figure to integrate into their Classic Superstars collection. It fits right in and, although the look isn't quite ECW, will fit right in with the Classic Superstars Taz and Sabu figures.

I recommend purchasing any "Ruthless Aggression" style figure as it is what so many collectors prefer. Jakks had the perfect balance of articulation and realism with this style of action figure and largely abandoned it in favor of the "Deluxe" style which are far too jointed and gimmicky. Many of Mattel's WWE line are the same way. All I ask for the companies to remember is the magic provided to children by LJN, Remco, Galoob, and Hasbro with their less articulated and far more imaginative figure lines. Times may change, but there is a reason that those figures are so coveted by collectors today. In twenty years how well will "Deluxe" and "Elite" monstrosities be remembered?

At least we can enjoy figures like this Raven. With the very odd distribution of the Jakks TNA line in 2011, it's safest to grab the ones that you like while you can. The next series (slated to include the very first figure of Terry Taylor as the Legends of the Ring addition) has been repeatedly pushed back and will not likely see collectors hands until 2012 at the earliest.

Quote the Raven...