Thursday, May 30, 2013

Squinkie Mania!

 Occasionally there is some wrestling memorabilia produced that leaves you shaking your head.  Sometimes, you're buying and enjoying those very items while still shaking your head.  It all comes with the territory of being a wrestling collector, especially in the days of a "PG" rated wrestling product that is partially marketed to children.  When a popular toy license such as WWE collides with a children's toy fad, the possibilities can be endless.  Behold...WWE Squinkies.

What the heck is a Squinkie?  Basically, it's a squishy rubber figure a little under an inch high that comes in a plastic bubble.  They're sort of like toys that you would get out of a machine at a store, but they remind me exactly of the "Power Ups" contained in bubbles in some of Nintendo's Mario Party games.  Instead of obtaining them in machines, they are purchased in packs of twelve with nine of the characters showing and three obscured in colored "mystery" bubbles.  Produced by Blip Toys of Minnetonka, Minnesota, the WWE Squinkies were all released in 2012.

The first three sets intrigued me upon their arrival in stores.  A mix of current stars and legends is rather odd for a toy basically aimed at kids, but I wasn't complaining.  At around $13 a pack, I originally had decided to hold out.  Recently, I picked up the first three sets for a mere $2.99 per pack.  I then discovered that two more sets were produced, with slightly different card art and all new characters.  Amazingly, these sets were also already being clearanced out.

If you were a child of the '80s, you may remember Coleco's "Mash'ems" toys.  These remind me of extremely scaled down WWE versions of those toys in that they're deformed figures that can be mashed down yet bounce back to their original shape.  The likenesses are very hit or miss, but most from the first three sets can be easily deciphered.  59 different characters in all have been produced (60 total, two versions of Rey Mysterio were made) and include Triple H, The Rock, John Cena, Sin Cara, Brodus Clay, Kevin Nash, Goldust, Big Boss Man, Yokozuna, Sgt. Slaughter, Kelly Kelly, CM Punk, and Hornswoggle just to name a few.

As mentioned above, each pack contains three "mystery" figures that are packaged in colored bubbles.  Seeing as that their names are listed on the back of the packages of the first three sets, I'm not sure what makes them such a mystery.  The mystery figures of Series 4 and 5 are a different story.  While "silhouettes" of the mystery figures are shown, the names are not.  Vickie Guerrero, Beth Phoenix, Alex Riley, and Jimmy Uso are fairly easy to figure out, but it took Blip Toys to confirm that the other two are indeed Dusty Rhodes and David Otunga.  It isn't obvious to figure out just by looking at them.

Although the first three series are very distinct as to who each Squinkie is supposed to represent, the same cannot be said for 4 and 5.  Since each Squinkie is basically a head, hands, and feet, very little shows of the body.  Most of the characters in those final series have dark hair, black shoes, and non-descript facial features.  Upon first glance I thought that The Shield were in one of the sets, but it turned out to be Tyler Reks, Justin Gabriel, and Mason Ryan.  The worst is undoubtedly The Great Khali who is wearing wrist tape and looks like "Prime Time" Brian Lee.  That being said, these last two series contain all four Divas in the collection and anything that includes Dusty is okay with me...even if it barely resembles "The Dream."

What I really like about these toys is the depth of the line.  Cena, Randy Orton, and Sheamus are on any kind of merchandise you can imagine, and rightly so.  When mid and under carders make merchandising, it makes me smile, as does the inclusion of Legends.  As a kid, I would be thrilled that the likes of Curt Hawkins and JTG were in this line.  Even Squinkies need to job to other Squinkies!

Though it seems that Squinkies started as primarily a girls toy property, other boy interests such as Marvel Super Heroes have been produced as well.  Further research shows that some cool toys that utilize the Squinkies while in their bubbles, such as claw machines and the like, are also available.  It's a shame that it looks as if no such add-ons will be produced for the WWE Squinkies, although it would be interesting to hear if any were ever on the drawing board.  There does seem to be some generically styled Squinkie peripherals available, one of which includes a small wrestling ring.  Perhaps some of those could be used to create a game with the WWE stars.

These little guys (and gals) are quirky and fun.  The likenesses, especially with the later examples, aren't always quite there, but you can't expect much from a figure that is under an inch tall.  Many collectors love any wrestling figures that are of odd scales and designs.  These sets would fit right in.  Now may be the time to snatch them up, as I'm sure they are hitting clearance in many areas just as I found them.  At full price I would most likely pass, but for a little over $20 for sixty figures, you can't go wrong.

"A Squinkie, A Squinkie, A Wonderful, Wonderful Toy!  Fun For A Girl And A Boy!" I stole that from Slinky, but hey, it's wrestling!

Thursday, May 23, 2013

#WhereIsDixie? Right Here On The Blog!

It all started with the legendary LJN WWF figures.  They not only gave us rubber representations of the top wrestlers of the era, but also managers, referees, commentators, and even...pets!  Any child worth his or her salt knew that to have successful wrestling matches at playtime, you needed these key non-wrestler figures to accentuate the action.  Thanks to LJN, collectors today almost expect non-wrestler figures to be released in subsequent lines.  Unfortunately, the toy companies usually don't believe that these figures will sell and tend to shy away from producing them.  Jakks has been rather committed to bringing non-wrestler figures to collectors, and their latest effort is no different.  Forget managers, refs, and about a president?

Complete with her own Twitter hashtag of "#WhereIsDixie," the newest Jakks exclusive figure is that of TNA President Dixie Carter.  The past few years have been hit or miss as far as frequency of releases for Jakks regarding their TNA line.  While many great figures have been shown and promised from the manufacturer, it seemed for awhile that the line was dead in the water.  Releases were few and far between.  One of the bright points was the release of a new Knockout figure in nearly every series.  Figures of Velvet Sky, Angelina Love, Daffney, and Madison Rayne were all produced with impressive likenesses for all.  How does the President herself match up?

Immediately upon first viewing the figure, the packaging is striking.  It's an all new and very grand design that is somewhat similar to the Jakks TNA Legends of the Ring figure packaging.  The window bubble is a perfect place for an autograph, but we'll get to that in a bit.

The Dixie figure utilizes the standard Knockout figure body.  While not an in-ring competitor herself, Dixie is fit thus making the body an agreeable choice.  Although this and all of the current Jakks TNA figure bodies have the "torso joint" that I so often lament, I've always been fine with it on the Knockout body.  Thanks to the soft goods clothes on this figure, we don't even see it.  The clothes are a really nice touch and necessary since the standard Knockout body was used.  Dixie is clad in an all new "glittery" top and "leather" skirt.  She's all business with a feminine touch.

The facial likeness is dead on, perfectly capturing the classic Dixie smile.  My only qualm is that she does not have a hand that is able to hold a microphone accessory.  Though the figure does not include a microphone, it's always been my belief that non-wrestler figures should be able to hold an accessory.  She can wave to the crowd, punch another Knockout, or break up a fight, but at least she'll be smiling the whole time.  Dixie's hair is sculpted in a style that we've seen Dixie wear many times.  Through all of that Impact Wrestling action, she won't have to worry about having a single hair out of place.

TNA has done an entire commercial campaign around this figure and rightly so.  It's nicely designed, packaged, and presented.  I've been extremely pleased with all of the Knockout figures thus far and Dixie hits the top of the list.  She's not the only new Knockout on the block, though.  After being in the business for over a decade and being one of the original shining lights of the TNA Knockouts division, Gail Kim has finally been immortalized in figure form.  She is part of Jakks regular TNA offerings and will be joined by the debut figure of Brooke Tessmacher this summer.

The Dixie Carter figure is available exclusively through TNA's online store and will most likely be available at select live events as well.  Online you also have the choice of purchasing a version personally signed by Dixie Carter.  The figures are signed in silver which, as I mentioned above, look very nice signed on the plastic bubble.  Although Dixie occasionally appears at the Fan InterAction events held on pay-per-view weekends, I wouldn't pass up this opportunity if signed figures are your thing.  It's a nice authentic signature and you don't have to worry about lugging around a packaged figure.

This is yet another Knockout figure that I have to give my highest recommendation.  Seeing as that it is indeed a "non-wrestler" figure, it gets even more points with me.  When a company like Jakks puts forth a quality effort like this, everyone wins.  Dixie seems thrilled with having a figure and rightly so.  In meeting and corresponding with her several times, she has always been an extremely friendly and accommodating individual and also one that I believe has been underrated as of yet for her contributions to the company that she strives to grow.  She is a hands-on business woman, and one that you can now have in the palm of your hands thanks to Jakks!

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Memories of Mat MAYhem

For the past month or so, friends of mine who are also wrestling fans have all heard the same thing out of me: I've been very disinterested in any of the current wrestling product as of late.  Post-WrestleMania burnout?  Possibly.  Some have said that even the WrestleMania build was lacking this year, but being involved in the weekend and at the event live completely nullified that for me.  It just seems that creativity is at an all-time low throughout the industry.  Whereas this time of year is normally full of new characters and feuds, it just feels to me like nothing is on the immediate horizon.

Will it pick up again?  I'm sure of it.  Thinking back to the month of May in years past, several of wrestling's most beloved concepts and events find their anniversaries at this time.  A legendary television program, an innovative pay-per-view, and one of the greatest matches of all-time are all a part of wrestling's "MAYhem."

Take for example the night of May 11, 1985.  It was a Saturday night and NBC was about to change wrestling forever.  The night before, the Nassau Coliseum on Long Island had witnessed the first taping of the WWF's Saturday Night's Main Event.  Four all-star matches featuring both the WWF Champion and the WWF Women's Champion?  Hulk Hogan, Wendi Richter, JYD, Roddy Piper, Mr. T, and Cyndi Lauper all on free tv?  That was Saturday Night's Main Event.  Although the WWF had produced two similarly star-packed specials earlier in the year for MTV, this was on prime time network television.  The current champions may be on television multiple times a week today, but it was always an event when Hogan made a tv appearance in 1985.  As if the first WrestleMania wasn't enough, SNME, as it came to be known, proved to anyone that the WWF was on the pop culture map.

For many fans, WWF concepts like SNME weren't exactly how they enjoyed their wrestling.  This group of fans frowned upon the heavy celebrity involvement and wanted wrestling the way that it had been presented for decades prior: two gladiators in a hard-hitting battle to the finish.  This style was by no means gone and in fact hit new heights just four years later.  On May 7, 1989, the NWA presented WrestleWar 1989, also known as Music City Showdown.  The event was held in Nashville, Tennessee to a crowd of around five-thousand fans.  The WWF, completely in war mode, ran a card in the same building the night before which has often been attributed to the low WrestleWar live gate.  No matter the tactics being played in the business, nothing was going to stop two of the all-time greats from putting on the performance of a lifetime.

The main event of the show (though not the last match) saw Ric Flair defeat Rick Steamboat for the NWA World Heavyweight Championship after over a half an hour of non-stop action.  While the pair had other blockbuster matches in 1989, this is considered by many to be their greatest.  The match is actually, for the record, my personal favorite of all-time.  It should be noted that both Flair and Steamboat have been quoted as saying that their matches in the late '70s and early '80s in the Mid-Atlantic territory were worlds better than their later efforts.  Sadly, the record of those matches are exclusive to memories of those who were there live.

The show also featured a number of other notable matches, including a very underrated encounter between Michael "P.S." Hayes and Lex Luger where the Fabulous Freebird snatched the NWA United States Championship from The Total Package.  The icing on the cake, as it were, for the show is the broadcast team.  One of my favorite teams, Jim Ross and Bob Caudle, call the action just as you would expect two of the all-time greats of the booth would.  If there were ever a broadcast team that perfectly blended the best of two eras, it was J.R. and Caudle.

Another home to classic matches was born just six years later on May 14, 1995.  It was about a month earlier at WrestleMania XI that Vince McMahon announced a new concept in pay-per-view wrestling: In Your House.  In the months where one of the "big five" WWF pay-per-view events was not taking place, a two-hour In Your House event would be available for just $14.95.  The price was about half of the cost of the larger events and only around forty-five minutes shorter.  For the first event, the WWF even gave away a house!  It's actually been said that the winner was only able to live in the house for a year.

Nonetheless, the concept worked as proven by a modern day pay-per-view calendar of around twelve events per year.  The In Your House events slowly began to receive subtitles such as "International Incident" and "Buried Alive."  These subtitles would eventually overcome the "In Your House" title which was finally dropped in 1999.  Though events of today such as "Money In The Bank" and "Over The Limit" are full length and full priced pay-per-views, I still think of them as "In Your House" events.  On April 30, 2013, WWE released a DVD and Blu-Ray compilation of the best In Your House matches hosted by a man often associated with the event, Todd Pettengill.

Will we see any groundbreaking wrestling events take place during this month of May?  With the month half over, I'd venture to say no.  Perhaps it's a better time to take a look back at wrestling's past.  It's always a good time for that.  As I frequently say and convey, you can never go wrong with a little, or a lot, of nostalgia.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Remco Randomness: The AWA Variants

I make no bones about it, I love the Remco AWA action figure line.  Admittedly, I came to the party a bit late.  Though there is home video tape footage of an AWA program being on the television in my presence as a child, the WWF *was* wrestling in my house growing up.  That being said, when I came across a box of AWA figures at a flea market in the early '90s, I not only knew most of the faces, I was downright ecstatic.  I may have thought that the Jimmy Garvin figure was Steve Williams and didn't have a clue who the Curt Hennig figure was (can you blame me with that likeness?), but I was amazed that Larry Zbyszko, Stan Hansen, and others that I knew from the magazines and limited WCW viewing actually had figures.

As I grew, my collection did as well.  In 2013 I'm finally to the point where I'm only two figures shy of a full basic set as well as missing some accessories and variants.  The latter is what we'll be exploring today.  While I'm not usually that interested in action figure variants, the Remco AWA figures had some very fascinating differences that tie into the whole mystique of the line.  Although they had the AWA license, these figures, like most Remco toy lines, were only a few steps above being discount store toys.  It's not that they weren't made well, but they capture the primitive toy making techniques that were state-of-the-art a decade before the AWA line hit shelves.  This point is driven home by the fact that the line had only a couple of different body types for every figure, crude packaging art, and so many variations that it's almost as if each figure was handmade by a different person as opposed to being a mass-produced product.  It's these negatives that combine to make a giant positive: the finished product was awesome.

Beginning with the famous "muscular" or "fat" body types, you have to go no further than one of the many gems of the line, Terry "Bam Bam" Gordy.  The "Fabulous Freebird" brawler is a favorite Remco of many due to the fantastic facial likeness of the late star.  Where the body types often lacked, the incredible facial likenesses made up tenfold.  Looking past a few questionable examples such as the aforementioned Hennig, many of the facial likenesses are better than the scanned figure faces of today.  Gordy's face is perfect and the "fat" body type was aptly chosen as "Bam Bam" was a thick grappler.  At some point during the run of the line, Remco also produced a "muscular" version of Gordy.  Since the heads of these figures can be removed with some effort, years ago it was not uncommon to come across a collector questioning if "muscular" Gordy figures actually came from Remco factories.  Enough of these have since surfaced for that to no longer be in question.

I'm a much bigger fan of the "fat" Gordy, as the figures with that body are also taller than the "muscular" body figures due to the style of the former having longer legs.  Another example of figures in the line being produced with both body styles are Jimmy Garvin and the tag team of The Long Riders.  Brothers "Wild" Bill and the late Scott "Hogg" Irwin were a biker tag team that are actually more remembered these days because of their inclusion by Remco as opposed to their days in the AWA.  No matter the body type, this tag team came equipped with some great accessories including sunglasses, caps, duster jackets, and a black vest for Scott. 

Going back to the great facial likenesses, Remco actually made a running change to then-AWA Champion Rick Martel.  The original Martel facial likeness captured his personality to a "T."  The exciting youngster had yet to become the arrogant "Model" remembered by so many WWF fans, so a smiling face and well coiffed hairstyle was just the ticket.  After awhile, Rick Martel figures began shipping with a similar yet different face.  In fact, he began to look a helluva lot like Jim Brunzell.  The long standing story is that since Brunzell had moved onto the WWF and his "High Flyer" partner Greg Gagne was now teaming (both in the ring and on the action figure shelves) with Curt Hennig, the company was left with a surplus of Brunzell heads.  Instead of having them go to waste, Remco began painting the Brunzell heads with the dark brown paint of the Martel design instead of light brown.  Presto, a different looking Rick Martel figure began to appear in stores.  Whether or not this story is exactly true, there are plenty of Rick "Brunzell Head" Martel examples out there.

There's at least one more Martel "head" variant out there, and he has a Zbyszko variant to keep him company.  Most of the standard AWA figure heads are soft and can actually be squeezed a bit with some light pressure.  While it isn't one of the more talked about variants, there are at least Martel and Zbyszko figures out there made of a harder plastic as opposed to the rubbery substance of most.  The detail on these harder heads is also a bit sharper and helps capture the likenesses a bit more.  It's currently unknown when these changes happened, but I would venture to guess that these are earlier versions.

All Remco AWA discussion has to end with talk of the infamous "Mat Mania" series.  This was the final series of figures to be produced and the only one to feature single carded figures.  The Rockers, Buddy Rose, Doug Somers, Nord the Barbarian, Boris Zhukov, and Sheik Adnan Al-Kaissie were all new to the line, but four older figures were also re-released on single cards under the "Mat Mania" banner.  These re-releases were Ric Flair, Nick Bockwinkel, Paul Ellering, and referee Dick Woehrle.  Worhrle had previously only been available in the boxed "Battle Royal" playset.  Most, but not all, of these "Mat Mania" figures included an "All-Star Wrestling" copyright stamp molded onto their body below the usual Remco stamp.  After owning many different examples of almost every AWA figure throughout the years, I have seen this stamp on versions of Flair, Bockwinkel, and Woehrle leading me to believe that these "stamped" variants are indeed ones that were released on "Mat Mania" cards.  Seeing as that some of the "Mat Mania" exclusive figures don't always include that "All-Star" stamp, I'd venture to declare that's it impossible to decide if all of the single carded re-releases actually had the stamp.

Is all of that confusing enough?  Just another day in the life of a Remco AWA collector.  Another fun day, that is.  Collectors of other Remco action figure lines love these toys for the exact same reasons.  It's a charm that is completely missing from the toys of today and will never be recreated.  That is unless we get a "retro" wrestling figure line somewhere down the line.  Don't scoff at the thought!  An independent company recently began marketing a line of "fantasy" figures as a direct homage to Remco's legendary 1980's toys.  The company even used some of Remco's original sculpts.  The line is called "Realm of the Underworld" and stars a heroic figure aptly named "Hercules."  Taking a look at that figure, you may just recognize the head.  It's none other than a remolded and adjusted Nord the Barbarian!  Maybe my dreams of a Remco-styled Verne Gagne figure will still come true after all!

Thursday, May 2, 2013

The Long Lost WrestleMania Program

Early 1996 was a great transitional period for the World Wrestling Federation.  The company, although about a year-and-a-half away from the true start of the "Attitude Era," was beginning to become edgier with their content than they had ever been before.  Fans were anxious to see what the dominate monster of WCW, Big Van Vader, was going to do in his new WWF war zone.  Other newcomers such as Goldust, Sunny, and "The Ringmaster" Steve Austin were equally as intriguing.  Fan favorite Shawn Michaels seemed to be closer than ever to a run with the WWF Championship, despite obstacles both on and off-screen.  And before the first quarter of the year ended, it was known to Internet wrestling fans that stars Diesel and Razor Ramon would soon be departing.

WWF Magazine had seemingly not quite kept up with the changes.  The style of the magazine, including both graphics and writing, had become increasingly geared towards children.  With the change of the company's direction and the "knowledge" of the Internet wrestling fans, something had to be done.  Articles actually acknowledging the existence of WCW?  Photos showing the blood and violence that was creeping back into WWF matches?  Risque photo shoots of female stars?  Raw Magazine became the answer.

Debuting with the May/June 1996 issue, the magazine burst onto the newsstands with a double bang on the cover.  Not only was the iconic first Sunny swimsuit spread advertised, but the main photo was from a recent incident on Monday Night Raw where Vader had attacked beloved WWF President and icon Gorilla Monsoon.  Inside, in addition to the cover stories, were columns and features that appealed to the "new breed" of WWF fans.  From a story on Goldust's "stalking" of Razor Ramon to a full-color feature on the bloody match between Bret Hart and Davey Boy Smith of a few months earlier, this was not like the usual content of WWF Magazine.

Both magazines would continue to co-exist until the "brand split" of the following decade transformed WWF Magazine into "Smackdown Magazine."  Raw would keep its name and represent that particular "brand" of shows and talent accordingly.  Nevertheless, that first issue would never quite exit the memories of many fans.  Little did many of us outside of Anaheim, California know, there was actually a second version of that debut issue.  A version that, considering the content inside, makes it ten times as desirable to collectors.  It would, that is, if more collectors actually knew that it existed.

When the WWF ceased production of its separate "program" publication in the mid-1990's, the company would often produce a variant edition of the monthly WWF Magazine, print a $5.00 tag over the standard bar code, and include an unattached match sheet for each individual show.  The content inside was exactly the same, but many collectors, including myself, often bought the magazine at live events regardless simply for the match list included.

WrestleMania programs, however, have always been a different ball game.  Highly collectible and nicely produced,  'Mania programs are fun records of "The Greatest Wrestling Extravaganza of All-Time."  So, what happened when WrestleMania and the debut issue of Raw Magazine collided?  The WrestleMania XII program.  The LONG LOST WrestleMania program, that is.

Sold exclusively at The Pond in Anaheim on the day of WrestleMania XII, this magazine answers the question as to why there wasn't a specifically produced program for the event like most other 'Mania's had.  This is it.  The magazine's front cover is switched around a bit, most notably adding a $5.00 price, a "Tyco R/C Maximum Heat" sponsor logo, and moving the tease of Sunny's swimsuit shoot.  In place of the latter is a red corner label proclaiming that this magazine is indeed "SPECIAL" and the "EXCLUSIVE WRESTLEMANIA PROGRAM EDITION."  It doesn't get any bolder than that.

The Coliseum Video ad from the inside cover of the regular edition is replaced by one half of the two-page description of WrestleMania XII's main event, the Hart-Michaels Iron Man match.  This is followed by a two-page feature on Roddy Piper and Goldust's "Backlot Brawl" and one page dedicated to The Undertaker vs Diesel.  The photos used are nothing really unique.  They have been seen elsewhere, but that's a practice still used in programs to this day.

The paper used for these WrestleMania program pages is of a higher quality than the usual magazine stock.  They are very similar to pages used for other programs of the time such as SummerSlam 1995 and WrestleMania 13 the following year.  Following the Undertaker/Diesel page, the standard debut Raw Magazine is inside.  Nothing seems to be changed within these pages, and for the enlightenment of Sunny fans worldwide, her famous spread is completely intact.

Following the Raw Magazine we are treated to additional exclusive program
pages touting the other matches on the show.  The pay-per-view opening six-man match featuring Vader, Owen Hart, and Davey Boy Smith against Yokozuna, Jake "The Snake" Roberts, and Ahmed Johnson.  This match is notable for including a final "cameo" appearance by Mr. Fuji.  The legendary manager appears during the match itself and, in a moment that crushed the memories of so many fans, begins waving the American flag.  It just wasn't meant to be!

Next up we have a page featuring the infamous return match of The Ultimate Warrior.  Hunter Hearst Helmsley was the victim that the Warrior quickly disposed of, but this match also marks a huge atrocity committed to the wrestling business: the debut of Sable.   It should be noted that the text on this page claims that this will be the Warrior's first WrestleMania match "since he toppled Macho Man Randy Savage for the belt."  Mistakes happen.

Savio Vega against Stone Cold Steve Austin, fresh off of being known as "The Ringmaster," is on the final photographic program page herein.  Below this match description is a note that on the "Free For All" before WrestleMania, fans will be treated to the finals of the WWF Tag Team Championship tournament.  Several teams involved in the tournament, including The Bodydonnas and The Godwinns who ended up in the match, are listed.  The other side of this page is a final text rundown of the pay-per-view matches.

The rarest WrestleMania program?  Maybe.  I prefer "long lost" as a more fitting description.  The WWF made a similar move with the WrestleMania XIV program, however that was a standard April 1998 WWF Magazine with a loose paper lineup for the event inside.  The $5.00 printed price is the only thing to differentiate the actual magazine, and that would've been sold at live events throughout the month.  Only the lineup sheet could be connected to WrestleMania XIV itself.

Although the main event of WrestleMania XII puts me to sleep and the show itself is not among my favorites, I think any collector would be excited to own this program.  It's a unique variation on an already memorable magazine and a special addition to the very collectible WrestleMania program lineup.