Thursday, January 28, 2016

Mattel Goes "Behind The Scenes" In WWE

Here on the blog it seems that we've kicked off 2016 with a full month of WWE toys, mostly from Mattel. Now we're capping it off with a playset. Many figure lines that I collected as a child had playsets. G.I. Joe had spectacular bases, Masters of the Universe had castles and grottos, and even The Real Ghostbusters had their legendary firehouse. Unfortunately, wrestling playsets were usually limited to rings. Despite kids dreaming of locker room sets, an interview area, or even a Piper's Pit, the non-ring areas were usually relegated to whatever makeshift playset that a child could conjure up.

Jakks and Toybiz were the first to create additional play areas for their respective WWF and WCW figure lines in the 1990's. Despite the TitanTronLive figures being a relative disappointment, the actual Tron playset was extremely popular and likely proved to manufacturers that non-ring playsets would indeed sell. Mattel has carried this idea into the next generation, with several entrance playsets being introduced. One such set even integrates tablets in order to play your favorite entrance videos.

It was another Mattel playset that recently caught my eye. This set is the WWE Behind The Scenes Brawl. Admittedly, I pay less attention in general to these playsets than the figures themselves, but all seems to indicate that this set was originally released in the middle of 2015. This set contains all you need to recreate the backstage interview area currently utilized on WWE programming. Included is the curtain backdrop with logo sign and "lighting," a mesh "screen" that opens like a double door, a mounted camera, free-standing lighting rigs, three opening barrels, and a microphone.

You may recognize some of these pieces. The curtain backdrop pieces were included with individual figures in a Toys "R" Us exclusive set several years ago. The one figure that I picked up in that set, Mark Henry, included the older logo sign as well as a flat screen monitor that could easily be used with this set. In that release, the curtain was black and not the maroon hue that we have here. The camera, sans the stand included here, has seen several releases including most recently with the J & J Security figures.

The set is quick and easy to assemble. Once the backdrop pieces are snapped together, everything else pretty much goes wherever you decide to place it. I picked this up as something that could be used as a nice display, but you're never too old to imagine some play possibilities. What if WWE launched a World Championship Wrestling-style studio show? Plop a ring down, set an announcer or two in front of the curtain, and have wrestlers roar through the mesh "entrance." It's 6:05 all over again!

Perhaps the most fitting figure for this set is coming very soon. Despite the prototype not having a microphone-holding hand, Renee Young's first figure will be a perfect companion to this set. As the most important and impactful interviewer in WWE since Mean Gene Okerlund, I'm looking forward to the Lunatic Fringe's number one fan taking her rightful place "Behind The Scenes" in the Mattel line. In the meantime, Mattel has given us Jim Ross, Michael Cole, and Jerry "The King" Lawler to conduct interviews, hopefully with more commentators to come. A Mattel Mauro Ranallo, anyone?

The set is fun, but not flawless. I could have done without the barrels, although I understand why they are included. Smash away, kids! I'd have preferred more equipment, or even some anvil cases. For a price of $35, some of the lights should really work. It couldn't have cost much to put some tiny Christmas lights above the curtain to give forth at least a small glow. That being said, the set is selling for above retail on the secondary market. It's popular even without special effects. Once Renee is released in a short while, I wouldn't be surprised if the playset becomes even more popular.

I like this set a lot. I'd have spent hours with such a set as a kid, just cutting promos. I made my own such backdrops back then, but an official item just makes it all the cooler. Kudos to Mattel for seeing the value in extending the fantasy.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Mattel Goes "Sycho"

He was Vicious. He was Justice. He was Humongous. He was even "Sycho." A master of the powerbomb, a skyscraper, and the master and ruler of the world. He is Sid. There's little middle ground on the man. You either like him or you don't. He had a look that was absolutely made for the wrestling business in a time when big men ruled. He hit all of the major companies as well as the top titles. Although he made it to the top of the mountain, various issues prevented him from staying there, or in any promotion, for very long. Now, thanks to Mattel, the man that rules the world is back.

The WWE action figure manufacturer is kicking the year off right. New packaging and many new characters. The first Elite series already contains three Flashback figures, usually favorites on this blog, with Davey Boy Smith and The Godfather joining Sid. The new Elite packaging is very attractive. The bubble is once again "open air" at the top, looking a lot like some superhero figure packaging that I've seen. The figures are also categorized with the logo (Legends, Divas, NXT, etc) that they're most associated with, although in 2016 I'm not sure how a current star can necessarily be labeled from either Raw or Smackdown.

Sid is an absolute giant. Although he always came across as gigantic on television, I don't think that I fully grasped his stature until I stood next to him. That being said, the figure is required to reflect that. The Jakks Classic Superstars Sid was one of the great disappointments in an otherwise unmatchable line. The body and limbs seemed way too wimpy for the massive Sid. The figure also came at a time when the Jakks quality was beginning to wane, making extensive posing of the figures rather risky. Mattel's Sid is big and sturdy. He absolutely looks as in-scale as possible.

This particular Sid facial likeness is one that has yet to be captured until now. Most past Sid figures went for the serious, menacing face. Mattel went the route of Sid's psychotic laugh. It works. Commentators would often point out Sid's maniacal grin and guffaws at the sight of his downed and decimated opponents. I can also recall several classic magazine covers with that exact grin on full display.

Most of the body parts themselves are reused, but they work, no questions asked. Sid was not the most technically sound wrestler, so as long as the figure can perform a powerbomb and chokeslam, you should be good to go. You could probably even reasonably recreate Sid's famous WCW injury, but who would want to do that? Sid's leather entrance vest is also included. I believe that this is an all-new accessory. It is definitely different from the one included with Barry Windham last year.

Here we have another former Horseman from Mattel. In what should be a year of great new faces from the company, Sid is a nice start. For most Mattel collectors, I'd call it a no-brainer to add to the collection. With a few different looks and outfits, I wouldn't rule out another Sid from Mattel down the road. He's certainly a name that I could see being thrown into a Basic set as is becoming more and more the case with Legends figures.

What more is there to say? Throw down your softball bat and squeegee and pick up a Sid!

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Five "Forgotten" Mattel WWE Figures

It's hard to believe that it's been six years since the Mattel WWE figure line began to hit stores and collectors hands. Some welcomed the change. Others, like myself, were bold and determined to try and ignore the line, holding on to our Jakks favorites ever so tightly. Over half a decade later, Mattel has taken their line of figures and toys and turned out some memorable and cherished product. It didn't necessarily start out that way.

Like with most figure lines, there were bumps and hurdles along the way. In an effort to correctly scale the vastly different WWE superstars, likenesses greatly suffered. I can remember an early Jack Swagger that nearly completely turned me against the line. In 2016, we've seen major improvements in likenesses as well as something that's important to me: depth. Because we are now in the sixth year of the line, we do have stars who, long gone from WWE, only received one or two Mattel figures. Highlighted here are five of those "lost" superstars. It's some of these early names that finally, years later, give us the natural depth that long-lasting lines achieve.

Kicking it off is one of my favorite people in the wrestling business: Tommy Dreamer. He is also the one on this list most likely to return to the Mattel line in the future. Although he seems to flawlessly float back and forth between organizations, Dreamer's recent WWE run was seemingly well-received. With the rapidly shrinking WWE roster due to injuries, Tommy may very well find himself bringing his brand of hardcore wrestling to the WWE Universe in the foreseeable future. Nonetheless, Mattel already has a great Dreamer figure that was released in 2010 in a two-pack with Christian. Like many of these early "one and done" figures, Dreamer has seen a large spike in value on the secondary market. That value will take a hit should he see a new release, but there has been no word of a new figure at this time.

Although he had plenty of releases through Jakks, Shane Helms only saw one Mattel figure. In his guise as The Hurricane, the green and black outfit was hard to miss on store shelves. For being an early Mattel figure, extensive detail was put into the likeness, especially surrounding the characters mask. This is also the only figure of The Hurricane to date in his later look with the stringy shoulder-length hair. Since it was only a Basic figure release, no accessories were including. For those who have to see the Mattel Hurricane "soar" into the ring, the various Jakks Hurri-capes work perfectly.

Speaking of hair, the one and only Carlito made two appearances early in the Mattel run. When the line first debuted, I decided to only collect those who had never been made into a figure before. To get Primo, you had to purchase a two-pack with his brother Carlito. The set was released twice with a slightly more heelish look for both the second time around. While Primo has remained in WWE since, Carlito departed not long after the figures were released. Rumors of a WWE return for Carlito have swirled as recently as late last year. In my opinion, the Puerto Rican star would fit like a glove in NXT where he would likely be motivated to finally live up to his full potential.

Another star frequently rumored to be on the WWE return trail is Shelton Benjamin. "The Gold Standard" also had an early Mattel entry, and the likeness was dead on. Benjamin always reminded me of "The Natural" Butch Reed in this gimmick and I don't feel that he went as far as he could have no matter the persona. Another great candidate for an NXT rejuvenation, Benjamin would likely be a great addition to the coaching area, as well. With the current rumored influx of talent to the WWE, there may be no stopping Shelton from joining the pack.

The only superstar out of our five featured to receive both a Basic and an Elite figure is Chavo Guerrero Jr. The high-flyer was still involved in many angles when Mattel began their line, but his Basic figure came along as a reminder of one of the worst. For whatever reason, Chavo found himself in a feud with Hornswoggle. The two-pack of figures reflects this epic struggle that many of us would prefer to forget, but at least a great looking Chavo figure came out of it. An Elite Chavito came complete with pancho and bandana.

I like to limit most "list" entries to five (quality over quantity), but there are others who had good and relatively forgotten early Mattel figures as well. Mike Knox and Luke Gallows spring to mind as further examples. As mentioned with Dreamer, the secondary prices on many of these figures have gone up, but you never know when a lapsed fan from a few years ago will be looking to liquidate their collection for the price paid or even cheaper.

Next week, the January figure trend continues with a look at a new "First Time In The Line" figure from Mattel...who actually made a cameo this week!

Thursday, January 7, 2016

A Big Bucket of Rumble

When I was a kid, my mother marveled at the action figures that were out there. In her childhood years, there just wasn't the same level of detail put into toys. After all, they were for kids. When I played with my G.I. Joe figures, my mom would tell me of the solid plastic figures that she and her siblings had. Army men, cowboys, space men, it didn't matter. They mixed them all together and had a lot of fun. I could understand why. It isn't about how many joints a figure has in its arms and legs. It's about what kind of hero or villain that the figure represents. The imagination of the child will take care of the rest. Now kids who are wrestling fans can relive that vintage plastic thrill.

Wicked Cool Toys has produced several different items under their WWE license, but none may be quite as unique as the WWE Micro Maulers. The item is exactly what it claims to be on the packaging: a "Bucket Of Superstars!" Inside this plastic tub are twenty-seven different WWE figures. Like the army men of yesteryear that I mentioned above, these are solid figures that don't move. They're posed in connection with the character that they represent, and there are both current and past stars included.

Making up the group are Yokozuna, Roman Reigns, Hacksaw Jim Duggan, Sheamus, The Ultimate Warrior, The Undertaker, Erick Rowan, Jake Roberts, Rusev, Jimmy Hart, Daniel Bryan, Bret Hart, Randy Orton, Kane, Luke Harper, Bray Wyatt, John Cena, Ric Flair, The Big Show, The Rock, Jimmy & Jey Uso, Stone Cold Steve Austin, Triple H, Sgt. Slaughter, Dean Ambrose, and Macho Man Randy Savage. Originally, the set was also to include Hulk Hogan and The Road Warriors as well.

The top of the bucket detaches to become a ring for our little plastic gladiators. The figures are generally easily recognizable, and only once or twice did I have to refer to the names on the bottom of the molded stand. Not being in his robe, Flair looks just a tad generic. For some reason, my bucket contained two Jey Uso figures. Seeing as that on the packaging the Uso figures look to be identical, I wasn't too bothered by this.

The figures are divided between current star and legend by color, in red and blue respectively. Kane in his current look and attire is blue while The Undertaker in a hooded robe is in red, but that's not too big of a deal, either. The sculpts are good, the poses are recognizable, and some are just downright fun. If the mini-figure of the mighty Yokozuna in all his girthy glory doesn't bring a smile to your face, then you just aren't a wrestling fan.

The set is labeled as "Series 1" and "Royal Rumble," which had some collectors upset when Hogan, Hawk, and Animal were removed as it isn't a perfect thirty-man "Rumble." With the inclusion of a manager, I think that the sets are intended to be named after big events rather than actually replicating them. After all, these are "little plastic men." If this is indeed the case and further sets see the light of day, I would imagine that we will see WrestleMania, SummerSlam, etc.

These little guys are fun to toss around or just pose. They aren't Mattel Elite figures nor are they meant to be. It's simple fun and it actually isn't the first time that wrestling figures have been produced in this fashion. Although they did not have molded stands, Remco produced Mini Mashers as part of their AWA line. The figures were solid plastic each in a different color and based on the larger AWA figures. Some collectors have taken to painting them over the years, and I could see some artsy modern fans doing the same with these.

Although I've seen the sets in brick and mortar stores, you can't go wrong for around $4 per bucket on Amazon. Hopefully the lower price doesn't mean that further sets are in danger, as there are plenty of current and past WWE stars that I'd love to see added in the future.

Yoko, Macho, Taker, and the Wyatt Family? Sounds like a heckuva Rumble to me!